- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2002

Last week, alert security screeners at the Phoenix airport intercepted a man attempting to carry what they concluded were dangerous metal objects onto a Washington-bound flight. Among the metal objects in his possession were a metallic star, a nail file and another object that appeared to be a bullet. No gun was found. After about 45 minutes of questioning and repeated searches, the man was allowed to board the aircraft, minus the bullet and nail file. As a result of this careful observation and quick thinking by our highly trained federal experts, Joe Foss, retired Marine Corps general and former governor of South Dakota, eventually got to Washington, still carrying his metal star.

The metal star that the 86-year-old general was carrying was not a ninja throwing star or other exotic weapon. It was the Medal of Honor that Franklin Roosevelt pinned on him in 1943 after Gen. Foss shot down 26 enemy aircraft. How is it possible that airport security people can't distinguish between the dangers created by an 86-year-old gent carrying the nation's highest military honor and another Mohammed Atta carrying a box cutter? Let's not even mention the small nail file. People like Atta, who are smart and well-trained, know that you can find a good weapon in any lady's purse or gent's briefcase. A stick pen is a much better stabbing weapon than a little nail file. We hope all scribes are not going to be banned from air travel.

Another aspect of this scandal is that the "bullet" taken by our protectors was an inert dummy bullet, which had been drilled through to be hung on Gen. Foss' key ring. We hope you are as frightened as we are that the people who are doing the security screening can't tell a harmless piece of metal from live ammunition. People who know so little about weapons simply cannot be trusted with airport security. Training and the enforcement of security standards produce safety. The bait and switch Congress pulled last fall promising professional security at the price of federalization requires neither.

The fact that the people searching Mr. Foss didn't know the difference between live ammunition and an empty cartridge proves that they, and their supervisors, are incompetent. Making them federal employees does nothing to correct that. If airport security is to be improved, urgent action is essential.

When Congress returns, the members who opposed the federalization of airport security and Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, who apparently is missing in action should demand that these problems be solved immediately. Turn security back to the private sector, draft and enforce federal training and security standards, and insist that they be implemented without delay. Unless this is done, the bullet-headed dummies who seized Gen. Foss' dummy bullet will be all that's between us and the next Mohammed Atta.

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