The people problem.
Caldwell's voyage began in Shreveport, Louisiana, with stopovers in Atlanta and Paris. According to the newspaper, no one in Shreveport asked about the contents of Caldwell's luggage, and he did not volunteer the information. In Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport the luggage was transferred from the domestic segment of the flight to the international flight bound to Orly International Airport in Paris.
After boarding in Atlanta, Caldwell was approached by a security officer. The officer explained that the X-ray machine had detected the weapons and asked if he would verify the machine's findings. After Caldwell confirmed the machine's detection, the officer asked if the weapons were loaded. Caldwell said no. Then, he was asked to sign a red voucher confirming that the arms were unloaded. A red sticker was attached to the bag. In Paris, the luggage was transferred to the flight bound for Ben-Gurion International Airport in Israel.
On arrival at Ben-Gurion, Caldwell was interviewed by Israeli security officers and asked about the purpose of his visit, a routine procedure in Israel. After going through the passport checkpoint, Caldwell claimed his luggage and approached the customs station. The customs clerk on duty waved him through. If the clerk had been paying attention, he would have noticed the sticker on Caldwell's luggage, but Caldwell was not asked about the contents of his bags.
Caldwell's successful transfer of weapons on board commercial flights serves as a reminder of a continuing threat to air travel. In the 1970s and 1980s, airlines and airports were prime targets of terrorist attacks. The numerous incidents throughout the world prove that airlines are an important part of terrorists' overall strategies of violence. They know that attacks on the airlines draw more public attention and interest than any other type of terrorist attack.
Although he was not a terrorist, Caldwell's experience must be considered a severe breach of security. Was the Caldwell episode an unusual incident, or is it something that commonly occurs when transferring from domestic to international flights?
Examining the record of terrorist attacks reveals that the Caldwell case is not so unusual. On May 30, 1972, four Japanese Red Army terrorists boarded a plane to Tel Aviv. Their semi-automatic weapons were concealed in their checked luggage. In the baggage claim area of the terminal in Israel, the Japanese terrorists pulled out their weapons and fired indiscriminately. It was a bloody massacre in full view of airport officials and security officers. Twenty-six people were killed and more than sixty wounded.
My personal experiences over the past two years have also resembled those of Caldwell's. I have encountered lax security at airports in Atlanta; Cincinnati; Frankfurt, Germany; New York; Paris; and Zurich, Switzerland. On several trips I carried diving gear in my luggage, which included a spear gun and arrow, a dive knife, and compressed air tanks. These tanks create vivid images on the television screens at the security checkpoints, and the spear gun is a lethal weapon since it operates on compressed air. Yet, baggage screeners neglected to examine the objects or even ask about them.
Numerous airports in the United States and Europe are vulnerable because those on duty are not paying attention. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) security inspectors have demonstrated this with the sporadic mock exercises they have been continuously conducting since 1986. According to an Associated Press report from October 23, 1987, FAA inspectors attempted to smuggle 6,000 mock weapons through airport checkpoints at 136 U.S. airports from 1986 through 1987. Approximately four-fifths of the weapons were detected.
The General Accounting Office (GAO) also conducted an investigation. According to a story published in 1988 in Rocky Mountain News, the GAO found that over a period of ten months at six major airports screening personnel failed to detect an average of 20 percent of the weapons passed through the system.
Airport security consists of two factors--the hardware factor and the human factor. The hardware factor includes equipment, such as hand-held metal detectors, metal detector gates, X-ray machines, thermal neutron analysis (TNA) machines, screening stations, and TV monitoring systems with instantaneous imagery capabilities, including replay. Most airports around the world have this equipment, which is regarded to be high quality.
Specialists and passengers will testify that the equipment, when operable, is highly sensitive and reliable in detecting metallic items. Yet, the credibility and usefulness of the equipment can reach its full potential only when those who operate the machines are of equally high quality. Hence, the human factor comes into play.
The human factor includes the personnel operating the machines and the passengers being screened. Security personnel engaged in passenger profiling, operating the equipment, and screening luggage have to be trained and familiar with various signals given by the machines.
But one of the biggest challenges these people face is to remain positive and upbeat in the face of boredom. Monitoring TV screens is a monotonous occupation, and remaining alert is difficult. People, despite their training, lose interest and rely more on the machines than on their judgment.
The reason I was never asked about the spear gun, the tanks, and the knife is because the security officers were either engaged in a conversation, looking in the other direction, listening to a radio, or watching TV. Their full attention was not on their job.
Couple that dilemma with a person determined to break through the security system, and a security breach is born. Even sophisticated technological measures do not always succeed in thwarting determined individuals. Technically skilled persons can elude security officers after they have closely studied the target area and its existing security procedures and systems and planned their strategy for action.
Recommendations. Airline and airport security personnel can improve aviation security by implementing the following recommendations:
* Ask questions. Passengers must be asked more specific questions about the contents of their bags. If items are listed in a dangerous category for transport, they should be tagged, packed, and held separately during the flight. These objects can be returned to the passenger after clearing them with the local authorities.
* Inform passengers. Each country has different rules and licensing regulations pertaining to arms possession. The passenger must be informed by travel agents and airlines about such policies.
* Inform airport authorities. Transport of arms by commercial airlines is not a violation in and of itself. Yet, when arms are taken across international boundaries, such action has to be reported to the authorities at the departure and destination sites.
* Address the boredom. Some of the problems plaguing security personnel, such as boredom, have been recognized by the industry. Mental withdrawal can indicate dissatisfaction with the work itself. These issues have to be addressed. Personnel should be provided with constant awareness training and incentives to ensure their alertness.
* Follow the rules. Established procedures and regulations, if not strictly observed and applied, are meaningless.
Both Caldwell's and my experiences point to existing breaches of security principles. The errors lie with the people operating the equipment, not the equipment itself.
The key to good security is alert employees. Having people who are technically trained does not guarantee effective security. It is the alert person, the one who is conscious of his or her duty to monitor the machines, to pay attention to the regular and routine events rather than just the idiosyncratic and unusual ones, who really guards the safety of the airport.
R. Reuben Miller, PhD, is the chair of the political science department at Teikyo Loretto Heights University in Denver.
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|Title Annotation:||Physical Security; airport security personnel|
|Author:||Miller, Reuben R.|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1993|
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