Tags: Testimony: | Percent | Dulles | Security | Screeners | Not | U.S.

Testimony: 80 Percent of Dulles Security Screeners Not U.S. Citizens

Thursday, 20 September 2001 12:00 AM

The House and Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittees held a joint hearing for the first time in recent memory to look into what security improvements are being implemented in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 tragedies. The committees later closed the hearing to the public to discuss sensitive security issues with the witnesses, who included Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Jane Garvey.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairman of the Senate subcommittee, presided over the hearing, and said legislators were not trying to lay blame for the hijackings and subsequent catastrophe.

"We can't expect an $8-an-hour security screener to foil an attack that a multibillion-dollar intelligence system couldn't prevent," Murray said. "The airlines are no more to blame than the FAA for allowing such a vulnerable system to persist."

Some of those vulnerabilities were highlighted as Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House subcommittee, questioned Kenneth Mead, inspector general for the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, and Gerald Dillingham, director of physical infrastructure issues for the General Accounting Office. Rogers pressed Mead for the percentage of non-citizens employed as security screeners at Dulles, one of the airports where the hijacked flights originated.

Mead said more than 80 percent of the screeners there are non-U.S. citizens. His office had not checked the statistics at Logan International in Boston nor at Newark International, the starting point for the other doomed flights, he told the committees.

Mead pointed out existing federal rules do not include any citizenship requirements for screeners. High turnover rates for the screeners are another problem, Dillingham said, precluding the possibility of having highly experienced people in an important position. The arrangement also creates a very large pool of people with working knowledge of security and screening methods. Left unsaid was the fact that such a talent pool would be useful to those trying to circumvent the system.

Mineta told the committees his department had been ready to implement tougher requirements for screeners before the disaster, but the rules had been under review by the Office of Management and Budget. The upcoming rules could be modified further, Mineta said, based on the work of two rapid response teams he created to suggest improvements to the system.

Garvey told the committees other "very fundamental changes" are in store for U.S. aviation safety and security programs. Mineta said every mode of transportation in the country, including trains and ships, is being scrutinized to ensure operational safety and security.

Another focus of Rogers' questioning was Argenbright Holdings, the company responsible for security at Dulles and 45 other U.S. airports. Rogers asked Mead if anything unusual had occurred with the company's activities at Philadelphia International Airport.

"Less than a year ago, because of falsification of training records and problems with background checks, there was a criminal plea to a $1 million fine by Argenbright," Mead testified.

"Let me get this straight," Rogers said. "One company is checking for terrorists at 46 of our nation's airports, and the company itself is in violation of America's criminal laws?"

"That was true, at least at Philadelphia," Mead responded.

Revelations such as this had many legislators, including Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., calling for immediate federalization of airport security.

"It ought to be in the Department of Justice ... so the FAA isn't conflicted with promoting aviation (and overseeing security)," Wolf said. "There (would be) no contracting out ... we don't contract out the FBI, the Customs Service, we ought not contract out this."

Another recurring issue brought up by committee members was fortifying the cockpit door or even creating a separate crew entrance entirely. Hank Queen, vice president of engineering and product integrity at Seattle-based Boeing, said doing so would take some time. Several engineering factors would have to be considered, not least of which would be the need for the cockpit door to react properly to a sudden loss of cabin pressure, Queen said.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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The House and Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittees held a joint hearing for the first time in recent memory to look into what security improvements are being implemented in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 tragedies. The committees later closed the hearing to the...
Testimony:,Percent,Dulles,Security,Screeners,Not,U.S.,Citizens
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2001-00-20
Thursday, 20 September 2001 12:00 AM
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