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9/11 commission leaders cite gaps in aviation security

Kean: Terrorists 'target transportation'

From Mike Ahlers
CNN Washington Bureau

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Air Transportation
September 11 attacks
Transportation Security Administration
Asa Hutchinson

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. airlines continue to check passengers against incomplete, truncated lists of suspected terrorists, almost three years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the heads of the 9/11 commission testified Monday.

Appearing before a Senate panel, commission chairman Thomas Kean and vice chairman Lee Hamilton described that as one of numerous lapses that leave aviation vulnerable to another attack.

The two men said the commission's highly publicized intelligence recommendations should not overshadow the need to address security lapses in aviation and other modes of transportation.

"We are a mobile, dynamic society," Hamilton said told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. "We depend upon open, accessible transportation systems. Terrorists know that. It's the reason they target transportation, and it's why we must stop them."

One of 9/11 panel's big concerns, they said, is making sure airline passengers are screened against complete government terror watch lists.

Currently, they said, the federal government does not give airlines the names of all suspected terrorists because it does not want to tip off terrorists or compromise intelligence sources.

"I want to ask you ... how the United States government can explain to the American people if an individual were allowed to board and attack a commercial plane when we knew that person was a terrorist, and we had the power to stop them," Kean said.

Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson, who also testified at the hearing, said the list of suspected terrorists provided to airlines has expanded "dramatically" since September 11, and the job of checking passengers will be taken over by the government.

That change, he said, "will allow us to further expand the list to include information not previously included for security reasons." But Kean and Hamilton urged Hutchinson to expedite the change.

Several other aviation security items were addressed at the hearing. Among them:

  • Federal air marshals:
  • Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, asked Hutchinson about a Washington Times story that estimated federal air marshals are on only about 5 percent of commercial flights.

    "I think it's pathetic ... if true," Boxer said.

    Hutchinson said that while not all flights are covered, "there are targeted flights, special flights of concern, that are particularly covered. And we're trying to make sure, through additional resources, that we really increase the number of flights that are covered."

  • Security screeners:
  • "Checkpoint screening still isn't as effective as it must be," Kean said. He said the Transportation Security Administration should conduct a human-factor study to understand problems in screener performance and set objectives for individual screeners.

    Hutchinson testified that screener performance has improved 70 percent since a performance improvement study was completed.

  • Blast-resistant cargo containers:
  • Kean said all passenger aircraft should have at least one hardened, blast-resistant cargo container to hold suspect or randomly chosen cargo.

    "The FAA identified this reform as a goal. They did it, by the way, six years ago. It still hasn't been done," he said.

  • Explosive detection machines:
  • Kean said explosive screening machines should be moved out of airport lobbies and into the baggage processing areas, to promote security and convenience.

  • Matches on flights:
  • Members of the committee questioned the TSA's policy of allowing airplane passengers to carry two butane lighters and four packs of matches on flights.

    Hutchinson said the lighter and match policy is being re-examined. But because the TSA doesn't have the capability of detecting matches, he said, a ban might simply inconvenience passengers while doing little to improve security.

  • Radio spectrum:
  • Kean said New York police and firefighters complained that the lack of radio spectrum hampers rescue efforts, and has gotten worse over time, not better. More space should be allocated to first responders, he said, adding, "It's absolutely essential, we believe."


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