Monday, June 8, 2009

A Pathetic Confession

I wondered why so many people would swarm into an airport at such an unsociable hour. The sun wasn't even up. Decent folks were supposed to be still in bed. But the security screening line at the Tampa airport teemed with humanity. Our crew flashed our IDs to a sleepy uninterested agent and walked past hundreds of people, dutifully lined up for what they believed was a necessary and thorough checking over of their bodies and bags for items of evil potential.

We assembled at the front of the line and started the numbing drill of emptying pockets and hoisting bags onto the belt. While I wa
ited my turn I noticed a worker coming alongside the screening portal pushing a large cart piled high with material. He appeared to be a repairman or construction worker.

His cart contained boxes and large storage cans. He circumvented the screening station, pushing the cart through the exit portal. T
his didn’t surprise me; anything too big to go through the x-ray machine normally went around it and was visually inspected. After pushing his cart through, and as I expected, the worker came back around and got in line for screening.

He got in ahead of us crew members because he only had to empty his pockets, while we took longer. He quickly went through the walk-through screener without a problem.

On the other side of the security screen I noticed a man wearing the emblem of the security screening contractor on his jacket, standing with his hands behind his back smiling and observing the activities at the two screening stations. This I took to be the shift supervisor. I watched to see how closely he would inspect the cart.

The supervisor smiled at the worker, nodded and said something, a greeting perhaps. Obviously they knew each other. Then I stood
dumbfounded as the worker took his cart and pushed it along his merry way without the screening crew giving it so much as a glance. My blood started to boil.

After collecting my stuff on the other side I approached the supervisor.

“That work cart that just came through he

He smiled and nodded. He would have made a great Walmart greeter.

“I was watching. You didn’t inspect it. Aren’t you supposed to do that?”

He shrugged. “Well, yes. I guess I should hav

Then he just stood looking at me with a dumb grin. I fumed. I had to get a hold of myself. I felt like grabbing the man’s neck. “DON’T YOU KNOW HE COULD HAVE HIDDEN WEAPONS IN THOSE CONTAINERS?” I ba
rked the question through my teeth, trying to constrain myself.

He looked at the floor, then back I me. “We know him.” He shrugged again. “He comes through here every day!”

My glare bore a clear message: This isn’t over!

I hurried to our Tampa station operations office and asked where the station manager was. The company used its station managers as local security coordinators. I was told she wasn’t in yet. I called airport security a
nd told them what I saw. Then I went about my business of flight planning and getting the plane ready to fly.

When I landed in Chicago later that morning my cell phone rang as soon as I turned it on. It was the FAA. The agent said he had reviewed the surveillance tapes. He saw the cart go through, saw the security crew ignore it, an
d saw me talk to the supervisor. The FAA and the airport authority had suspended the security crew pending an investigation. He told me they considered the incident serious and that I was to expect a call from the FBI.

Later that day when I landed in Denver m
y phone rang again when I turned it on―FBI. They were intensely interested in what happened and wanted to schedule me for a deposition. The agent told me to expect a call the following week. The day was September 5, 2001. I never got the call.

The security supervisor's pathetic confession to me (“I guess I should have.”) is one that an entire nation may well have said of its complacency and carelessness—and come to profoundly regret.


lakotahope said...

A thought provoker. No doubt-I was looking at the story as being since 9112001, until I got to the end...Yeah, and now we have to have TSA clearance at every airport we visit if we hope to get out of the aircraft and walk around--to the head, snack bar or just to stretch one's legs. Unless accompanied by a local airport employee with his/ her badge....This could get expensive.

Capt. Schmoe said...

I wonder if TSA actually does a better job than the contractors that used to staff checkpoints. I don't fly enough to really know. I know the inconvenience and actual cost is far greater. I hope we have gotten our money and times worth.

Jeffrey Synk said...

You know the saying, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

Everytime I go through security it ruffles me. I could be in a perfectly good mood but going through security at an airport definitely changes that.

It would be one thing if they changed procedures intentionally to keep travelers off guard but I find that it is often similar to other bureaucracies that often doesn't know what the right and left hands are doing. Now granted, it is not an easy task. It is complicated but nonetheless, considering the importance of the task at hand, their should be a consistency of some sort.

Anyway, thanks for reminding me to be diligent and thanks for the story.



Jim said...

Bruce Schneier has coined a phrase - "Security Theatre". There is far too much justified for "homeland security" and "war on terror" which is ineffective of primarily for show or - worse - because it can be done, not because it should be done. Or has a ROI.

Alas, the 9/11 terrorists have awesomly over-achieved their goals. Aside from the tragic events of the day itself, they've plunged too many countries into a state of nervous near-lockdown, consuming an immense number of dollars, and employing far too many bureaucrats.

Buzzoff said...

Nope. The screeners of 9/11 did nothing wrong. They complied fully with procedures in place at the time.

chad said...

Lisa and I just got back from the Bahamas. When we went through their airport, I was checked 3 times........3 off, pockets emptied, patted down at the end, bags gone through and at first I was upset. 3 times - the second time all I did was turn a corner - down a doorless hall - then BAM another one. THEN as I sat on the plane and looked out the window.....I didn't was for the better....