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Monday, March 07, 2005

Is Airline Security Their Objective Or Their Cover?

7 March 2005

Check out James Bovard's excellent article on who and how guards us up in the air. Basically, here's the story:
After the pervasive failure of airport security on 9/11, the Air Line Pilots Association sought federal permission for pilots to carry handguns to defeat hijackers. Capt. Steve Luckey, chairman of the association’s flight-security committee, explained, “The only reason we want lethal force in the cockpit is to provide an opportunity to get the aircraft on the ground. We don’t have 911. We can’t pull over.”



The Bush administration rejected the request, preferring instead to rely on jet fighters to shoot down hijacked civilian planes. U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta declared on March 4, 2002, “I don’t feel we should have lethal weapons in the cockpit” — as if airplanes themselves were not among the most deadly lethal weapons.



Congress eventually trumped the administration, passing a law in September 2002 to create a program to train pilots to use firearms to defend their planes. (The Transportation Security Administration — TSA — effectively buried the program with red tape, ensuring that only 48 pilots would be permitted to carry guns in early 2003.)



Former TSA chief John Magaw was the administration’s point person in the fight against permitting pilots to be armed. Magaw announced, “The use of firearms aboard a U.S. aircraft must be limited to those thoroughly trained members of law enforcement.” The federal air-marshal program was touted as a silver bullet against hijacking threats. A White House statement on aviation safety in the wake of 9/11 declared, “The requirements and qualifications of Federal Air Marshals are among the most stringent of any U.S. federal law enforcement agency.”



The TSA was determined to quickly expand the number of marshals from a few hundred to more than six thousand. However, most of the applicants failed the marksmanship test. The TSA solved that problem by dropping the marksmanship test for new applicants — even though the ability to shoot accurately in a plane cabin is widely considered a crucial part of a marshal’s job.


So, a government agency seeks monopoly on a certain task (providing armed guards on commercial flights), fails at it, but instead of fixing the problem rewrites the requirements of the task so as to conceal the issue. Given that the issue is directly related to national security I think it would not be entirely unfair to refer to such behavior as sabotage. And last time I checked sabotage was a criminal offense.

As I have already mentioned, the TSA is quite aggressive in its ways and views intimidation as an important part of its mission. Given how little it seems to care about what is apparently its main objective - the safety of the traveling public - it almost appears that intimidation of the said traveling public may be a goal in itself.

The powers TSA is appropriating seem to go beyond merely harassing airline passengers and extend as far as censoring the airline pilots not in agreement with the "party line".
Brian Darling of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations condemned the TSA’s slant: “They should not be trotting out federal flight-deck officers to say good things about the program while muzzling pilots who are critical of the program.” After grumbling about TSA’s policies on armed pilots spilled into the media, a TSA official sent an e-mail warning to all pilots authorized to carry guns prohibiting them even from communicating to their congressmen about their concerns about the program.



In 2002 Bush bragged that the law creating the TSA “greatly enhanced the protections for America’s passengers and goods.” Rather than making Americans safe from terrorists, the TSA has made them prey to federal agents. There is no reason to expect the agency to turn over a new leaf. And there is no reason to expect a small army of undercover federal agents flying on planes to make Americans safe.


To summarize this, let me just state that I am beyond believing that the TSA is trying to do a job but failing. I believe they are using their task as a pretext for something else. Most likely, it is just a pretext for maintaining a large team of armed federal agents. The governments throughout history have used danger, real or perceived, as an excuse for beefing up the "palace guard" - and they can be viewed as that of sorts. The worst case scenario might be that they are intended as a clandestine internal intelligence service of sorts.

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