By Ken Kaye
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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
"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
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
"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
"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.