When Will We Have Real Airline Security?

Four simple things we should do to protect ourselves

Three…two…one…takeoff. The F-16 fighter jet piloted by Lt. Col. Kevin Kelly of the New Jersey Air National Guard’s 177th Fighter Wing —with me aboard — accelerates vertically immediately after going airborne. After rocketing two-and-a-half miles straight up — in ten seconds — Colonel Kelly demonstrates a number of combat maneuvers that are part of the “Jersey Devils’” mission role. (Except from August 2009 “Freindly Fire” article).

Included in that mission is protecting the airspace of the United States eastern seaboard from all threats.

That makes the 177th the real deal, as they were first-on-scene over the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. So it’s not a stretch to think that they were somehow involved in protecting our national interests last week when a number of inbound cargo and passenger aircraft, thought to be carrying terrorists’ explosives, were forced to the ground. [SIGNUP]

While the American people can sleep easier knowing the “wall” they live behind is protected by units like the 177th, it’s incomprehensible that some of our leaders view using them as our primary strategy to combat terrorism.

In fact, they are the last line of defense when all else fails — which, due to our continued ineptitude in formulating a meaningful, proactive strategy, is all too common.

The focus of this election is clearly about the economy, but voters should also consider who will make the greatest strides in developing a sound national security policy, because more than anything else, a major terrorist attack now can and will immediately throw the United States into a depression.

Rather than employ a strategy that takes the fight to the enemy, we continue with one based on two losing tenets: reaction and reliance on Lady Luck. By definition, since reacting to the enemy means we’re always a step behind, and luck inevitably runs out, it’s time we stop bowing to the altar of political correctness and get serious.
Based on the events of last week, here are four immediate steps the government should take:

1) Profile, profile, profile. This cannot be stressed enough. How is it possible that we profile packages, like the ones thought to contain explosives, but not people? That absurdity is blatantly obvious to all except those making the policy. And this is only an Obama Administration problem because he is President. We did the exact same thing under Bush.

It is an inarguable fact that profiling works. Just ask the Israelis, who profile better than anyone and, as a direct result, have never had a hijacking on their airline, El Al. The critical difference between us and them is that they don’t care if someone feels “offended” when they are singled out for additional screening and questions.

So why do we? Flying is a privilege, not a right. If one feels slighted by getting singled out, fine. Take the bus to Europe. But if we really want to show a “compassionate” side, we could offer a $15 gift card, good in any American airport, to anyone who is actively profiled. Such a move would go a long way towards mitigating any hurt feelings while still accomplishing our security goals, and could be easily afforded by a ten-cent surcharge on airline tickets.

2) Profile the right way. It’s not enough to just single people out, but to single out the right ones. This means not harassing 80-year old grandmothers from Missouri, but taking a closer look at those fitting certain age, gender, ethnicity, and country of origin/passage characteristics. Last time we checked, all 19 hijackers from 9/11 were males of roughly the same age, and all of Middle Eastern origin. Seems like a good place to start.

But to be proactive, we should also be keeping an eye on al-Queda’s next generation of bombers: women and children. As long as people understand that no one is off the table, and active interrogations can be performed at any step along the way, we will make huge gains in bolstering our security.

3) Discard irrelevant security measures. Dollar for dollar, shoe-bomber Richard Reid did more damage to us than the 9/11 attacks. When that bumbling bomber bent over to light his shoe, he cost us billions in useless regulations and lost productivity — even though we can bring lighters, matches and even lighter fluid onto a plane. And keep in mind that virtually nowhere in Europe are shoes screened.

One hopes this isn’t merely a grandstand play. Remember the millions of cigarette lighters confiscated because they weren’t permitted aboard planes? And after all that, the policy was discarded, with the then-head of the Transportation Security Administration saying, “Taking lighters away is security theater.”

Which brings us back to profiling. If we inspected the shoes of just those fitting a high-risk profile (and occasionally at random) rather than every single traveler, we would be in a far better position to actually catch terrorists. And the tedious monotony would be alleviated from security screeners, ensuring a sharpness that would put them at the top of their game.

4) Require Homeland Security personnel to perform all duties related to screening passengers and cargo on direct flight to the United States. This wouldn’t be necessary at all foreign airports, but those in countries posing the greatest threat to America. And if the Turks, for example, don’t approve of Americans taking the lead in security for America-bound flights, the answer is simple. They don’t fly here.

Why this need? Just think back to the Times Square Bomber. Despite being on the No Fly List, and buying a one-way ticket to the Middle East in cash, he actually boarded a plane at JFK airport trying to escape. This was made possible because Emirates Airlines hadn’t consulted the updated No Fly List against its passenger manifests. How we don’t have real-time access to every airline’s passenger records is unfathomable. Remember, flying is a privilege, so privacy concerns shouldn’t apply.

This isn’t a panacea, of course, but it is a huge step in taking away our enemies’ safe havens. Sure, they can travel to a country without American screeners and attempt to fly from there, but it makes their missions infinitely more complicated. And keeping an enemy off-kilter is the best way to thwart — and ultimately catch — them.

The U.S. government must also conduct a thorough and independent review of “lessons learned” from this latest terrorist action. Homeland Security is so large and bureaucratic, with so many competing agencies, that we must definitively know who worked well with whom — and who didn’t. We also need to assess how we worked with our foreign allies (kudos to the Saudi intelligence in this case), and what can be done to be more proactive in the future.

There is no such thing as “guaranteed security,” as we live in a high-risk world. But one thing is certain: if we continue burying our head in the sand by failing to implement a comprehensive security plan — one with no regard to political correctness — we will have no one but ourselves to blame when the next big one hits.

And by then, it will be way too late.

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com. Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.” Freind, whose column appears nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a guest commentator on Philadelphia-area talk radio shows, and makes numerous other television and radio appearances, most notably on FOX. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com.