Commercial aviation remains a favored target for terrorists, experts say

It's been suspected for years that terrorists would try to sneak volatile liquids onto airliners because it wouldn't be that hard. For instance, someone could inject gasoline into a wine bottle using a syringe, he said.

"You seal the bottle and no one would know the difference," said Badler, former U.S. security chief for Israel's El Al Airlines.

 

 
 

The Threat isn't new, just varied

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By Ken Kaye

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

(MCT)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Despite elaborate security in airports, commercial aviation is the most tantalizing target for terrorists because it remains vulnerable and offers the best opportunity for worldwide shock and economic turmoil, aviation security experts said Thursday.

"Just imagine what would have happened if they had been successful in blowing up just one of the planes," said Don Koorse, a former federal aviation inspector and retired Continental Airlines pilot, referring to the failed plot to blow up Britain-U.S. bound airliners. "How many people would be flying now?"

An airline disaster would create more global fear and chaos than a strike against oil pipelines, bridges or nuclear plants, and that would be the terrorists' ultimate goal, experts said.

Marvin Badler has suspected for years that terrorists would try to sneak volatile liquids onto airliners because it wouldn't be that hard. For instance, someone could inject gasoline into a wine bottle using a syringe, he said.

"You seal the bottle and no one would know the difference," said Badler, former U.S. security chief for Israel's El Al Airlines.

Robert Mann, an airline consultant in Port Washington, N.Y., said terrorists could more easily sneak explosive devices aboard ships or across unprotected areas of the U.S. border. But they prefer airliners because "that would create the greatest terrorism signature," he said.

Although officials in Britain uncovered the plot to blow up airliners, the incident shows the need to focus on passengers who fit the profile of potential terrorists, Koorse said.

That means taking a harder look at people from the Middle East because that is where many terrorists call home, he said.

"As long as we pursue the politically correct instead of the logically correct path, we're going to leave ourselves open," he said.

Bob Poole, an aviation security expert in Los Angeles, agrees, saying the U.S. government is too preoccupied hunting for dangerous objects.

"To focus huge amounts of people and spending on confiscating lighters and Swiss Army knives is a very questionable use of resources," he said.

Poole said under the current system, terrorists could spot security weaknesses in any number of foreign countries - and place an explosive device on a U.S.-bound airliner.

That is what the suspects in Wednesday's bomb plot tried to do; they saw that the United Kingdom wasn't inspecting carry-on items very thoroughly, he said.

Christopher White, a Transportation Security Administration spokesman, said the agency employs a "multi-layered approach" that focuses on both individuals and the items they carry.

Further, he said the agency in conjunction with the airlines uses computer-assisted pre-screening programs to identify potentially dangerous passengers.

"The TSA has unique access to intelligence that allows us to focus on individuals who pose a risk to aviation," he said.

If anything, he said, the failed plot demonstrates the need for the TSA to rely more on explosive detection. And it illustrated that the agency has the ability to react quickly, he said.

"When 43,000 security officers went off duty last night, the procedures we're employing today didn't exist," he said Thursday. "We implemented these procedures in mere hours."

 

However, Michael Boyd, an airline industry analyst based in Evergreen, Colo., called the government's order to ban all liquids in carry-on items a "knee-jerk reaction."

"Not being able to bring suntan lotion or toothpaste on a plane doesn't make us any safer," he said. "We need to have real security, not an object patrol."

Boyd said the TSA needs to be better managed and its personnel better trained to provide comprehensive security in terminals, on ramps and around airport perimeters.

"We have a problem, and it starts at the White House," he said.

Badler said the real problem is that the government reacts to incidents, such as the one on Wednesday, rather than trying to prevent them in the first place.

He said his job is to spot airport security gaps. He noted that terrorists do the same thing.

"And they are constantly testing," he said.

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