Saturday, January 08, 2011

Fly The Friendly Skies

Much has been written about the tragicomic state of airport security in America.  Less outrage, surprisingly, has been directed toward the utter indifference of federal officials to perhaps the biggest terrorist risk in the country: private planes and corporate jets.

In May, 2009 the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security issued a report that reassuringly stated: "We determined that general aviation presents only limited and mostly hypothetical threats to security." Unlike, say, the 4 ounce shampoo bottle you tried to carry through airport security last week. Of course, on the very next page, the report admits that most security measures at the thousands of small, private airports are completely voluntary and "The extent to which [General Aviation] operators employ TSA’s voluntary guidance is not easily determined."  So the geniuses at DHS were satisfied that the risks are "hypothetical" and "limited" despite the lack of proof that even voluntary standards are being followed.  Don't you feel safer now?

The 2009 report was triggered by a television exposé in Houston, Texas about the lax security at regional airports.  Reporters were able to enter the premises without identifying themselves and also were able to walk up to planes on the ground without interference.  The next time you are being groped by a TSA guard and having your water bottle confiscated, contemplate the subtle contrast with the "security" at private airports.  Among the security measures highlighted by the Inspector General as sufficient to protect the nation from flying bombs were little things like partial fencing around private airports.  You don't need fences since they are "ineffective because anyone who wanted to sneak onto the field could scale a fence."  The largest private airport examined "has two full-time security staff, an FAA tower operator who provides visual surveillance, and 24-hour video surveillance."  Let's hope the terrorists can't read: The largest airport has only 2 guards.  And no fence.  So it would be impossible to figure out a way to take over the airport, right?  Oh, wait.

And hijacking a plane is also impossible, right?  Oh, wait.

Of course, Die Hard 2 (1990) and Air Force One (1997) were both released before 9/11 -- and everything changed after that.  Or something like that.

Besides, the only terrorists who ever took flying lessons were the ones who died on 9/11, right?  Oh, wait. Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested 4 weeks before 9/11.  Often rumored to be the "20th hijacker,"
... Moussaoui attended flight training courses at Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma. Despite 57 hours of flying lessons, he failed and left without ever having flown solo. This school was visited by Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, who piloted planes into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center respectively.
During his time in Norman, Moussaoui had a roommate named Hussein al-Attas. On August 11, 2001, Hussein al-Attas drove Moussaoui to Minnesota from Oklahoma. Hussein al-Attas said that he and Moussaoui planned to take a trip to New York City in late August/early September 2001. In 2002, al-Attas admitted that he lied to the FBI to conceal Moussaoui's name, lied to the FBI to conceal Moussaoui's jihadi and anti-American beliefs, lied to conceal his own jihadi tendencies, lied to conceal that Moussaoui had been trying to convince him to become more active in the jihad, and lied to conceal the names of other Middle Easterners who were taking flight lessons in Oklahoma.
Moussaoui allegedly received $14,000 in wire transfers from Binalshibh, originating from Düsseldorf and Hamburg, Germany, in early August. This money could have helped him pay for flight training about two weeks later at Pan-Am International Flight Academy in Eagan, Minnesota. On August 13, Moussaoui paid $6,800 with $100 bills to receive training in a 747-400 simulator.
So maybe, just maybe, terrorists can take flight lessons in the United States or overseas.  And maybe, just maybe, they know how pitiful the security is at private airports.  And maybe, just maybe, they have figured out that a Gulfstream G650 has a 7000 nautical mile non-stop range with a top speed of Mach 0.925 and a "maximum payload" (how appropriate) of 6,500 pounds.  This "gold standard" of corporate jets allows you to "Enjoy wider seats, more aisle room and a large stateroom option for resting up between world capitals."  A 6,500 pound payload traveling near the speed of sound between world capitals?  Nothing to see here.  Move along.

But there is an even better reason that we don't need to impose mandatory security standards on the operators of private airports and the owners of private jets.  They're not like you and me.  They're rich.

UPDATE:  The latest Atlantic magazine has an article on the same topic.

No comments: