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.