9/11 commission report came out today, briefly
knocking aside the great Sandy Berger non-story
that the Republicans were hoping to turn into
a major scandal, at least as soon as they could
figure out what Berger did wrong besides violate
handling of secret materials regulations.
with the report came a separate news story, of
video stills released by the prosecuting attorneys
in a civil suit filed against American Airlines
which showed four of the hijackers being checked
out and passed through airport security that fateful
of the hijackers even set off the metal detectors
and were subsequently wanded. You've all seen
the wands. Bored security guards wave them around,
the wands make a continuous stream of squeals
and moans, and basically tell the security guard
that he is, in fact, wearing a wrist watch on
his own left wrist.
photos will shock people who have never spent
much time around airline security. For folks in
the airline industry who ARE familiar with security,
the images will doubtlessly spark rounds of stories
in the employee lounge about how Uncle Fred got
eighteen pounds of plutonium through American
on a trip to Hawaii, or the one about the guy
who carried an Uzi through in plain sight and
none of the guards recognized that it was a weapon.
If one of the security guards swings through and
shares a fatty with the mechanics, the topic might
turn to the incredible things the guards DO find
in luggage, and tell the tale about how a woman's
vibrator shut down LAX for an hour and a half.
was back in the eighties, and airport security,
then as now, was at best ineffective and at worst
a bad joke. In fact, it may be worse now. I'll
get to that.
1982, airlines contracted with private firms to
provide the warm bodies, and maintained the scanning
equipment themselves. They would pay the security
firms something like eleven dollars per man hour,
and in return would get somebody in a blue pseudo-cop
uniform who was making $4.25 an hour.
had friends on the Airport Patrol, none of whom
were real hesitant about sharing their disdain
and concern regarding airport security (AP only
interacted with actual airline security when there
was a bellicose passenger accosting one of the
unarmed security guards (not so much as a nail
file. The macho boys were always disgusted that
they couldn't wear their PR24s and just whack
the hell out of some asshole liberal who really
had it coming).
got a pretty hair-raising look at what airport
security consisted of.
minimum wage, the quality of employee you get
is something of a crap shoot. You might get someone
who is sober, reasonably intelligent, conscientious
and reliable, but that's generally not the way
to bet. As a rule, we would get the dregs.
showing up drunk usually wasn't a ongoing problem.
Those type would show up three hours late, barf
on the shoes of a pilot, get hauled away, and
we would never see them again. The dealers usually
didn't self-destruct as quickly, and as often
as not, a dealer guard might leave the job at
the age of 25 in order to retire to Hawaii, after
six months at minimum wage. The drug war hadn't
yet turned into the draconian exercise in prohibition
that we see today, and nobody much cared if the
guard made a couple of bucks getting the skycap
ripped. If Joe Friday got caught selling acid
to one of the airline mechanics, there would be
hell to pay, of course, but they rarely got caught.
Usually guards used more than they sold, with
the result that you would see a guard watching
vaguely menacing shadows scroll right to left
across his xray screen with the same big fascinated
grin that someone watching his team take a two
point lead in the third quarter of the Superbowl
might wear. If the guard was seeing weapons, he
thought they were hilarious.
combination of minimum wage and fake authority
brought some interesting pathologies. You would
get guys who spent every minute of every waking
hour realizing that under all those clothes, all
women are naked. Gawd alone knows what finding
a vibrator in a suitcase did to their general
state of mind.
guy decided he felt the need for a little job
security, and took up calling in bomb threats
every week or so.
the guards who weren't dealers, dopers or psychotic
could present special problems. We had a girl
from Belize who was pleasant, intelligent, reliable
and sober. Her name was unpronounceable, so we
all just called her Gertie. The only trouble is
that she was technologically illiterate, and had
no understanding of why she was sending suitcases
through that conveyer belt tunnel affair.
girlfriend was watching the screen with a Superbowl
smile when the contents of one of the shapes MOVED.
She watched, incredulous, as a cat skeleton stretched
and then proceeded to start licking about a half
inch from the vertebrae in its tail. Gertie had
sent someone's pet cat in a carrier through.
flight included lots of mothers taking newborn
babies to visit doting grandparents. Everyone
decided to start keeping a closer eye on Gertie.
did her in, however, was sending through something
that was quite appropriate: a package containing
canned milk. The guy, father of a baby, hit the
roof, screaming that Gertie had irradiated his
child's milk, and raising such a fuss that the
airline sent Gertie home on the spot. Security
back then took a distant second to customer relations.
still does. Post 9/11, it was agreed that airline
security should be a federal agency. Good pay,
benefits, job security meant permanent, motivated,
well trained guards. It was a good idea that would
have addressed the glaring problems of airline
Putsch dug in his heels and demanded a federal
agency that had guards at low pay, few bennies,
little training, and no job security. Ideology,
you see; he didn't want guards that were part
of any evil union. Much better that the lives
of millions be put at risk.
was a system designed to fail, and fail it has.
Guards are ill-equipped to prevent a 9/11. They
are still at the mercy of nervous airline PR guys,
subject to abuse from passengers who are fed up
with having to wait three hours to board a plane,
and still unrespected and unloved by the airlines,
by police, and by the public. To add insult to
injury, they are resented because it's supposed
that as federal employees, they have good pay,
good training, good benefits and job security.
In fact they have none of those things because
Putsch's libertarian buddies keep telling him
that the free market could prevent 9/11 from happening
like they did the last time.
you look at the still vid shots of the terrorists
going through airport security, don't look at
the terrorists - they're just nutjobs who died
a few hours later.
watch the guards. Nothing has changed since then.
consider taking the train for your next vacation.
Posted: July 23, 2004