We Don't Need More Security - We Need Security

After watching the hour-long CBC Fifth Estate special on the state of airport security I'm not sure where to begin. In this post-9/11 world one would think airport security has drastically improved. Hold onto your hats.

Despite the creation of a new federal agency called CATSA or the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority with its estimated $1.9 billion operational price tag, despite the purchase of some very high tech and very pricey machines - some costing a million bucks per - despite the implementation of supposedly new and rigorous standards, airport security in Canada is a joke according to numerous persons interviewed. Bill Butler, a passenger screener who has now been suspended from his duties for speaking to the Fifth Estate's Hana Gartner, claims security is actually worse now then it was before. He claims that his superiors drilled the notion of customer service into his head and the heads of his co-workers. He charged that for the most part, they were only allowed to spend 2-3 minutes per passenger during peak periods. It was vital, he said he was told, to keep the line flowing smoothly during busy times.

Another worker, whose identity was electronically camouflaged, stated workers with access to sensitive areas are supposed to be subjected to random screenings. He claimed he hasn't been screened in over a year. He wasn't alone - others had similar claims. Since he works as a baggage handler, he said that it was entirely possible for him to smuggle anything he wanted on board thanks in large part to the lack of security.

Not wanting to go on the words of the employees they spoke to, the Fifth Estate enlisted the aid of Steve Elson, a former US Navy Seal and FAA security inspector. Along with a hidden camera, Elson breached security at an alarming rate all over the country. Evidently, the high tech x-ray machines cannot see through the lead lining of film bags - anything hidden inside these bags appear as a black blob on the screen. Elson hid various objects - all legal by themselves but which could be used in the construction of an explosive device - in the film bag. Of 13 checkpoints he passed through, only 3 screeners bothered to ask him if they could look inside the bag. He also wandered aimlessly around various airports intentionally trying to draw attention to himself by taking photographs of what should appear to be strange items to bystanders such as doorways etc. No one found him to be acting suspiciously. He then ventured into restricted areas and watched as employees punched in the numbers to the electronic combination locks on supposedly secure doors. He made note of the combos then gained access to all sorts of restricted areas! If that's not cause enough for concern the fact that he wasn't even observed doing so should be.

When Hana Gartner presented this info to Mark Duncan, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of CATSA, he didn't seem the least bit concerned. He said he wouldn't be concerned since Elson was already cleared by the passenger screeners. Huh? When Gartner pressed him on the fact Elson obtained security codes then used them to gain access to restricted areas he again seemed unfazed. Again he repeated since Elson was given a clear bill of health why worry? What the hell kind of logic is that? On the topic of random screenings, Duncan was not concerned that the baggage handler hadn't been screened in over a year. He stuck to his guns that it is a system of random checks. When asked if perhaps a different system should be used he disagreed saying it works just fine.

They then spoke to a cleaner who also had her identity electronically hidden. She said that it was part of her job description to conduct a final security sweep of the airplane. When Gartner asked her that as part of her job of cleaning the washrooms she must search for bombs she replied "yes". She stated that she is a cleaner and knows nothing about these things nor has she ever received any training in this regard.

In another segment, they demonstrated how little an amount of explosive powder would be required to seriously damage an automobile by blowing it up. Elson then took a liberal amount of this powder and smeared it all over the arm of his jacket as well as his travel bag. No one bothered to take a closer look at this powder, no one bothered to utilize these high tech and pricey machines, no one batted an eye. Elson could very well have had a bomb in his baggage. The following is an excerpt of the interview with him,

Steve Elson: No we don't need more security. We need security. We need a rational group of people to sit down, clearly assess the situation, not just throw money at the wall, not run in circles, scream and shout, look at what the situation is and start figuring what can we do quickly, simply, cheaply and easily getting basic things done and prioritizing those. Start fixing the basic things so that we can actually force and channelize terrorists to do the more complicated things.
That pretty much sums up the entire situation. No we don't need more security. We need security.

If you didn't get a chance to watch the program (Canadian readers) check out the CBC website for details.

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