/ Dec 29, 2009
Originally written and published 9/17/09
While the Department of Homeland Security is busy ensuring your safety as you fly, they don’t always have the time to explain why passengers are put through such rigorous security screening procedures. So here is a short primer on the origin of the various security measures.
TAGGING AND X-RAYING OF LUGGAGE -- In December, 1988, Pan American Flight 103 left London’s Heathrow Airport bound for New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. In the luggage compartment was a Samsonite suitcase transferred from a connecting flight originating in Luqa, Malta. Inside the suitcase was a Toshiba radio cassette player modified to be a time-delayed Semtex plastic bomb. There was no accompanying passenger for the luggage. The bomb exploded as the plane was over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 passengers on board and 11 on the ground. Investigations concluded that the contents of the suitcase were purchased by Libyan intelligence officer Mohamed Al AMegrahi, who was convicted of murder in January, 2001, and sentenced to life in prison. He was released on compassionate grounds due to terminal prostate cancer in August, 2009. The Libyan government has paid $2.7 billion in compensation to the victims, and another $4.5 billion was paid to compensate Pan American Airlines whose business collapsed after the terrorist attack. Because of this incident, airlines will no longer leave the terminal with unaccompanied baggage that has not been thoroughly x-rayed and tested for explosives.
IDENTIFICATION OF TRAVELERS -- In the aftermath of the 9/11/01 terrorist attack, it became clear that different federal and state law enforcement agencies were watching different potential terrorists, and these lists were not being shared among the agencies. So the Transportation Security Administration created a common “terrorist watch list” or “No Fly List” to be used by all law enforcement agencies to identify high security risks. Today there are over 1 million names on the list, ninety-five percent of them foreigners.
PROHIBITION OF CARRY-ON LIQUIDS – In August, 2006, British police arrested 24 mostly British-born Muslim suspects in a plot to simultaneously blow up 10 passenger planes over the Atlantic by creating chemical explosives mixed from hydrogen peroxide, Tang, and other organic compounds which could pass as ordinary passenger refreshments or personal care products. The potential number of casualties would have succeeded the deaths in the 9/11/01 attack. The arrests were made before the plot had been implemented due to premature leaks of information. Consequently, to date, the evidence available could only convict Ahmed Abdulla Ali, Assad Sarwar, and Tanvir Hussain of “conspiracy to murder involving liquid bombs.” All three were sentenced to life in prison. Other members of the conspiracy will be retried. As a result of this attempted terrorist attack, airline passengers are limited to carrying no more than 3 ounces of any liquid on board, except for nursing mothers. Prohibited items include water, liquor, shampoo, hairspray, etc.
REMOVING AND X-RAYING SHOES -- Richard Reid, a twice-convicted juvenile offender, converted to Islam at the Brixton Mosque in South London, UK. In December, 2001, he purchased a round trip ticket from Paris to Miami to Antigua. Because he was carrying no luggage, the airport security detained him for questioning. He missed his flight, but later was cleared to board American Airlines Flight 63 with 197 passengers and crew on board. Ninety minutes into the flight, Mr. Reid tried to light explosives hidden in his shoe. Passengers and crew subdued him and strapped him to his seat; then a doctor on board sedated him. He confessed his diabolical plan, and told the judge, “I bear witness [that Allah] alone is right to be worshiped. And I bear witness that Muhammad is his last prophet and messenger who is sent to all of mankind for guidance, with the sound guidance for everyone. . . So for this reason I think I ought not apologize for my actions. I am at war with your country.” He was given a life sentence in a supermax Federal prison and was fined over $2 million.
MAGNETIC SCREENING – Weapons have been brought on board airplanes for several hijackings, but the most notorious incident was the coordinated terror attack of September 11, 2001. Nineteen Muslim terrorists boarded four airlines in Boston, Newark, and Washington, D.C., carrying box cutters or other knives. Fifteen of the nineteen terrorists were from Saudi Arabia, and the mastermind of the attack was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a ranking member of Al Qaeda. They used their weapons to subdue the crews and attempt to fly the airplanes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Capitol building. Only the Capitol building was spared when passengers overwhelmed the terrorists who then flew the plane into the ground. The final instructions to the terrorists by ringleader of the attack, Mohamed Atta, were,
When the confrontation begins, strike like champions who do not want to go back to this world. Shout, “Allahu Akbar,” because this strikes fear in the hearts of the non-believers. Allah said: “Strike above the neck, and strike at all their extremities.” [Surah 8:12] Know that the gardens of paradise are waiting for you in all their beauty, and the women of paradise are waiting, calling out, “Come hither, friend of Allah.” They have dressed in their most beautiful clothing.
The death toll in the airplanes and on the ground was 2,993. As a result of this horrific attack in particular, no knives or even metal pointed objects like nail files or hand tools may be carried by passengers.
X-RAYING CARRY-ON LUGGAGE -- Same reasons as for magnetic screening.
PAT-DOWNS AND PRIOR TO LANDING, NO BLANKETS, NO BATHROOM, NO GPS, AND NO READING – On Christmas Day, 2009, a 23 year-old Muslim from a well-to-do family in Nigeria, named Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, flew from Lagos to Amsterdam and then to Detroit on Northwest Flight 253 with 80 grams of PETN explosive sewn into his underpants and a syringe full of oxidant taped to his leg. One hundred grams of PETN will demolish an automobile and easily down an airplane. As the plane prepared to land, he went to the bathroom and retrieved the oxidant, and then, after returning to his seat, he hid under a blanket while he injected the liquid into the PETN. Rather than exploding, the mixture ignited, catching him and part of the aircraft on fire. Nearby passengers quickly extinguished the fire and subdued the terrorist, avoiding a catastrophe which could have killed all 289 passengers and crew, plus countless people on the ground. Al Qaeda in Yemen claimed to be the facilitators of the terrorist attack. Not only was Abdul Mutallab on the suspected terrorist watch list, but he flew with a one-way ticket and without a passport, using a visa issued almost two years earlier to attend a religious conference. None of these obvious “red flags” kept him from flying.
Lacking any systematic defense against such an attack, TSA implemented a shot-gun approach to preventing a similar incident in the future which included: 100% pat-down of passengers, 100% search of carry-on luggage, no electronic communications, and for one hour prior to landing, no access to carry-on baggage, nothing on passengers’ laps, no GPS mapping on aircraft displays, and no passengers leaving their seats. Some passengers were outraged by the inconveniences, and others accepted the new rules as the only way to combat what everyone agreed was Islamic terrorism.
REMEMBER THOSE RESPONSIBLE, AND ENJOY YOUR FLIGHT
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