Airport Police May Prove Unprepared For Terrorism In The Terminal

The Vulnerable Front Door

By Andrea Stone The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — The video is graphic. Machine-gun toting terrorists emerge

from an elevator and move methodically through the busy airport terminal,

mowing down travelers, police and everyone else in their way.

"When I show it in my airport security training courses, there are usually

only a few people who are familiar with it," says Jeffrey Price, who teaches

aviation management at Metropolitan State College of Denver. "[There is]

hardly any airport that’s prepared to defend against it."

The violent clip, it turns out, is from the controversial "Modern Warfare"

video game series. But the fictional scenario — terrorists attacking

airports — has played out in real life. Terrorist groups have staged

assaults on airports across Europe in recent years, including an attack that

killed two U.S. airmen in Frankfurt last year, and a suicide bomb attack in

Moscow that left dozens dead.

Terrorists haven’t ignored U.S. airports, either. On July 4, 2002, a gunman

killed two people at the El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles International

Airport. More recently, in 2007, federal authorities broke up a plot to blow

up fuel tanks at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Terrorists can strike anywhere — from Times Square to a civil rights march

in Spokane, Wash. But despite spending billions of dollars to make air

travel safer since Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four airplanes on Sept. 11,

2001, law enforcement agencies are unprepared for a major attack inside an

airport, some security experts warn. Complacency, other priorities and lack

of funding, they say, have combined to create vulnerability in a place the

public assumes is one of the most secure of all.

The main mission of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is to

keep weapons and explosives off of airplanes — a mandate that has led to

the rise of full-body scanners, banned liquids, intrusive pat-downs and

complaints over profiling.

The job of guarding the terminal, patrolling the airport parking lot and

watching the fence around the runways, however, belongs to state and local

authorities.

"The federal government doesn’t tell you how to do security," says Thomas

Kinton, a consultant who was aviation director at Boston’s Logan

International Airport on 9/11 and is a former head of the Massachusetts Port

Authority.

The TSA sets minimum security standards at airports and provides some

training to outside security officers from these state and local

authorities. "Airport security is a shared responsibility, and airports and

airlines are required to adhere to TSA-approved security standards," the TSA

said in a statement to HuffPost. "TSA does not employ airport police

officers, but works closely with airports to incorporate local law

enforcement into an overall TSA-approved security plan."

In other words, Kinton explains, "it is up to each airport" to decide how

much security it will provide.

Some of the larger airport authorities, such as the Port Authority of New

York & New Jersey, have their own specially trained police forces. Many

others, though, rely on the state or local law enforcement agencies for

airport security.

Many big city police departments view the airport as "just another strategic

facility" to protect along with power plants, train stations and sports

stadiums, says Rafi Ron, a former head of security at Israel’s Ben Gurion

International Airport who has advised the TSA and airport authorities.

In a time of tight government budgets, such law enforcement has neither the

resources nor the motivation, Ron says, to make airports a top priority.

Federal spending on passenger and baggage screening and other homeland

security measures has soared since 2001, but strapped state and city budgets

mean "funding shortages have forced many airports to operate at the minimum

local legal threshold," Ron told Congress last year.

As a result, he says, "The so-called tired and weary end up at the airport,"

with officers viewing the post as just a stop along the way to retirement.

Price, the aviation management professor, also says that — with a few

exceptions like Boston’s Logan and the three airports in the New York area

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