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TWA Flight 800

Are U.S. airports secure?


July 19, 1996
Web posted at: 12:30 a.m. EDT

From Correspondent John Holliman

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- When you check in at an airport, you'll be asked to show a picture ID card and questioned on whether you were asked to carry something onto the plane.

Those are some of the airport security rules put in place by the Federal Aviation Administration a year ago. But if the crash of TWA Flight 800 should prove to be no accident, those tougher measures may not be considered tough enough.


"If this event turns out to have been a terrorist event, then obviously we have a problem," said L. Paul Bremer, a former ambassador-at-large for counter-terrorism.

"And, one of the first things we will have to do is figure out whether the problem is with the overall security system that's in place, or whether somebody failed to implement existing security regulations."

The Department of Transportation keeps a list of international airports considered unsafe. Until May, Athens Greece, the TWA plane's last stop before New York, was on that list.

But security for international flights already is tougher than it is within the United States. On international flights, passengers and their luggage are matched so if you don't board the flight, your luggage will be removed from the cargo hold. There also are more sophisticated devices available to screen luggage and people for explosives.


However, experts say implementing these steps in the U.S. would be extremely expensive.

"The cost of implementing several of these measures will be in the billions," said Marty Salfen with the International Airline Passengers Association. "There is one estimate that it will cost roughly a billion dollars to even get started to upgrade some of our current technologies. "

Inconvenience worth it

And would Americans put up with more security?

"I am so much for them checking it that I'd be willing to travel without my luggage to get to my destination, just so that I knew everyone was safe," one woman said.

"In my opinion, terrorism can't stand, and so whatever it takes you gotta put up with it," another man said.

Former Deputy Attorney General George Terwilliger agreed.

"It may mean you have to suffer a little more inconvenience at the airport. It may mean that you have to subject your baggage not just to electronic search but to physical search; maybe your person to increased scrutiny," Terwilliger said. "I think the American public will put up with that."

Federal officials say there are four levels of airport security that can be imposed; U.S. airports were at Level 3 Thursday.

However a decision to go to Level 4, the highest level, could come if officials decide terrorists were responsible for the crash of TWA Flight 800.

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