Family Holidays

Guide to planning seasonal celebrations

Voters' Voices

Jobs, the economy and the 2004 presidential election

Holiday Movie Preview 2004

Multimedia slide show with capsule previews of upcoming films

Standardized Testing 101

A primer for parents

Deadly Weapons in Dangerous Hands

Special report about weapons of mass destruction

Losing Ground

Special report: Wetlands' demise ripples across nation

Iraq: After Saddam

Continuing coverage of the conflict in Iraq

Airline security overlooks potentially disastrous loophole

Click thumbnails to see larger images


Airline security overlooks potentially disastrous loophole

By Greg Barrett

Skies could be safer for $1 billion

By Greg Barrett

Study: Ground zero workers still dealing with demons

By Greg Barrett

Federal aid for 9-11 recovery plentiful, but N.Y. waiting for checks

By John Mahachek


Looking back. Moving ahead.

Two years after terrorist attacks stunned the nation and changed the world, a six-day series by The Journal News considers the impact on the past, the present and the future. (Opens in new window)


Coming later today

From WUSA-TV in Washington, D.C.: Watch streaming video of events commemorating the 9-11 terrorist attacks.


More headlines

(Links open in new windows)

Photo gallery: 9-11 remembered two years later


Tears of 9/11 rush back as children read names


Bush keeps remembrance low-key


Media devote extensive coverage to commemoration ceremonies


Trade Center survivors rebuild lives at their own pace


As tragedy's anniversary nears, 9-11 events begin


Six fronts in the war to fight terror


Closure elusive for families of many 9-11 victims


Interactive documentary: Stories from those left behind


Interactive graphic: 9-11 by the numbers two years later


Emotional impact of 9-11 blunts as world changes

From The Arizona Republic

Why no answers yet? 9-11 widows persist in asking questions

From the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press

Reminders of 9-11 everywhere

From the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press

From gray ash of landfill, families seek proper burial of 9-11 victims

From the (Bridgewater, N.J.) Courier News

9-11 led some to follow dreams

From The (Morris County, N.J.) Daily Record

Memorials offer families quiet place to contemplate

From The (Morris County, N.J.) Daily Record

Extra security alters work force, way we live

From The Indianapolis Star

Experts see gaps in efforts to guard U.S. food supply

From The Des Moines Register

Recalling 'Surreal day on Pennsylvania field'

From the Battle Creek (Mich.) Enquirer

Commentary: Secrecy clouds our liberty

From the Battle Creek (Mich.) Enquirer

Musical Flash montage of 9-11 images

From the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times

9-11 headline put feelings into sharp focus on that awful day

From The Detroit News

Public tragedy, private pain for Delaware family

From The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal

Kids still remember unforgettable day

From the (East Brunswick, N.J.) Home News Tribune

Baseball takes time out for 9-11


Official list of the victims of the World Trade Center attacks



WASHINGTON — In Florida this summer, airport security guards in Orlando discovered a loaded handgun stuffed inside a child’s teddy bear. In other airports around the nation, handguns have been found hidden in portable radios, razor blades in shoes, even a bayonet was found inside a hollowed-out artificial leg.

Since assuming control of airport security 19 months ago, the federally run Transportation Security Administration has confiscated 8.1 million banned items. And this week, the TSA announced it would begin doing preliminary checks next year on all airline passengers to single out those who might pose a threat.

But some lawmakers and security experts still regard the security measures that resulted from the 2001 terrorist attacks as cosmetic, not comprehensive. Below the seats of airline passengers every day are millions of pieces of unscreened air cargo, most of which are loaded into the bellies of planes without even a cursory check for explosives.

By most accounts, two years after the nation’s worst day of terrorism, this is the gaping hole in airline security, one large enough to fell a jet - and along with it the airline industry and Wall Street.

“Every passenger flying today must show a ticket, ID, take off shoes and submit carry-ons and checked luggage to screening,” said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., “However, the cargo that is shipped on those very same planes undergoes zero physical screening and is only subject to a brief inspection of paperwork.”

Markey is more concerned today about what’s in cargo than in coach, business or first-class. He notes that almost no airmail weighing less than 1 pound - the majority of air cargo loaded onto passenger jets - requires any paperwork or screening.

Such talk about flaws in the system makes the TSA and Department of Homeland Security officials uneasy, yet they seem reluctant to correct the security soft spot that Markey is calling “an incredible vulnerability.”

“The TSA considers it irresponsible to identify a cutoff weight in which packages are not screened for explosives. … We don’t want to provide a road map for terrorists,” said Brian Turmail of the TSA, the largest of 22 federal agencies within the $36 billion Department of Homeland Security.

Markey has incessantly grilled Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge about the loophole during congressional hearings. He has introduced legislation to close it, and he penned two letters to Ridge this summer, all to no avail. His outrage is understandable. Markey’s district includes Boston Logan airport, where two of the four jets hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001, originated.

“The Homeland Security Department seems to believe that this issue is too sensitive to talk about, but not sensitive enough to actually do anything about,” Markey said, adding that terrorists can get all the intelligence they need about the flaw simply by searching the Internet.

“What makes the Homeland Security Department think that terrorists don’t know how to use Google?”

‘Plausible threats'

A pilot program using explosives-sniffing K-9 units is now being tested at 12 airports, Turmail said, and TSA security regulations are carefully weighed for “plausible threats” and the amount of explosives deemed necessary to take down a passenger jet.

“We’re not going to make regulations and arbitrary rules just for the sake of making regulations and arbitrary rules,” Turmail said.

But the jerry-rigged shoe bomb worn by al-Qaida sympathizer Richard Reid two years ago on a Miami-bound American Airlines flight contained far less than 1 pound of explosives. Experts said it could have blown a hole in the fuselage of the Boeing 767.

In 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was downed over Lockerbie, Scotland, by what was believed to be a suitcase bomb weighing 1 pound or less and loaded into the cargo hold.

“Is it possible? Sure, anything is possible,” Turmail said of the threat of unchecked airmail crashing a passenger jet. “But we’re matching up to what we consider to be real and credible threats.”

About one-fifth of air cargo is transported via passenger jets. The TSA estimates this generates $3 billion annually for an industry staggered by the fallout from 9-11. The U.S. Postal Service routes more than 10 billion pieces of mail onto passenger jets and last year paid 34 airlines a total of $370 million, said postal spokesperson Mark Saunders.

There are redundancies built into the postal service’s delivery - trains, trucks, FedEx jets - that would allow the service to reroute its mail without significant delay, Saunders said. But the loss in revenue to the airline industry could be crippling.

The TSA is attempting to safeguard passenger jets without disrupting the economy. “We do not want to do the work of the terrorists” by hurting industry with new and needless rules, Turmail said.

Congressional mandate

The Aviation and Transportation Security Act passed by Congress two months after 9-11 requires the screening of all passenger-jet baggage and cargo by federal employees. Turmail said the mandate is met by TSA’s “known-shipper” database, a system of checks and balances with its own set of flaws - including an exemption for lighter packages.

The program certifies a freight company’s trustworthiness by tracking the safety of its packages over the course of two years and at least two dozen mailings. But packages are handled several times between drop-off and delivery by truckers, the freight company and cargo loaders.

Last week, a 170-pound New Yorker intent on visiting family without buying a plane ticket hid in a crate labeled for computers and monitors and had a known-shipper freight company deliver him to JFK Airport. He then traveled in air cargo undetected to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Last summer, when Ohio truck driver Iyman Faris was arrested for aiding al-Qaida, he told federal investigators that he and members of the terrorist group had discussed his work delivering cargo to airports.

Terrorists also could penetrate the known-shipper system simply by being patient, said Charlie LeBlanc, an aviation security specialist with Houston-based Air Security International.

“What’s the best way to stop being labeled as an ‘unknown shipper?’” he asked. “Become a known shipper.”

An Air Cargo Security Bill passed in the Senate this spring would toughen the rules of the known-shipper program and mandate inspections of cargo facilities, but it would not require inspection of packages weighing less than a pound.

“When you start talking about those smaller packages, then it becomes a political hot potato,” LeBlanc said. “Then you are talking about forcing all U.S. airmail to be screened and that slows it down. People ship by air for one reason and one reason only - speed.”

Markey hopes so.

Legislation would expand screening of cargo Title: Universal Screening of Air Cargo Act. Pros: Would require physical inspection or screening of all airmail loaded into the cargo hold of passenger jets and regular inspections of air-cargo shipping facilities.

Cons: Costly and possibly time consuming. Lacks support from affected industries and federal homeland security officials, who do not believe the cargo threat warrants blanket measures.

Status: Referred June 12 to House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Sponsor: Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.

© 2003, Gannett News Service