- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Random screening of people about to board planes could be phased out next year as Transportation Security Administration chief James Loy tries to make air travel less burdensome.
As better-paid, better-trained federal workers take over at airport-security checkpoints, there is less need for an additional layer of security at the gate, TSA officials say. The deadline for all commercial airports to have federal screeners is Nov. 19.
Once all the federal screeners are in place, Adm. Loy wants to start phasing out the random searches on an airport-by-airport basis, TSA spokesman Robert Johnson said yesterday.
Paul Hudson, executive director of the advocacy group Aviation Consumer Action Project, said he is alarmed by the proposal.
"The best security involves multiple layers, where you have backups and backups to backups," Mr. Hudson said. If the random gate screening is eliminated, "you're saying there's only one check and that's at the main security gate."
A spokesman for the Air Transport Association, which represents major airlines, said the random checks are unnecessary.
"Random gate screening doesn't really add any additional measure of security," Michael Wascom said via cell phone from Tampa International Airport, where he was about to be screened at the gate. He said more sophisticated passenger and baggage screening makes random gate screening unnecessary.
Adm. Loy, who became head of the TSA after predecessor John Magaw was accused of ignoring passenger convenience, said he wants to balance security with customer service. He already has eliminated the requirement that passengers be asked questions about whether they have kept a close eye on their baggage. He also has decided to allow passengers to carry drinks through security checkpoints. He calls the random gate screenings "hassle checks."
The TSA won't say how passengers are singled out for the random checks, citing security concerns. Mr. Hudson, a member of the Federal Aviation Administration's Aviation Security Advisory Committee, said 5 percent to 10 percent of an aircraft's passengers are screened through profiling and random checks.
The federal government, with help from U.S. airlines, implemented the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System in 1997 to root out potential terror suspects. CAPPS' defenders say it avoids racial or ethnic profiling, though some Arab Americans have complained.
CAPPS collects information about passengers' travel history from airline-reservation systems. Based on secret criteria, the system flags anyone who might pose a security risk. Some airlines print a code on the ticket to indicate who should be screened, Mr. Hudson said. In the past week, he flew Southwest Airlines and was told that if he had crosshatching on his ticket he would have to get into the separate line for gate screening.
Mr. Hudson doesn't put much faith in the CAPPS system. "It's not as effective as it should be," he said, adding it doesn't include enough criteria to sort out terrorists.
Mr. Johnson said the TSA is developing a second-generation CAPPS that will do a better job of identifying potential terrorists.
"Everyone in that process views that as the next generation of improving our ability to look at folks who need a little bit of extra attention," he said.
Before September 11, airlines paid for security. After the attacks, the government took responsibility and airlines agreed to reimburse the cost, which they originally estimated at $1 billion a year.
The airlines recently told the TSA that they only spent $300 million on security, a claim the Department of Transportation's inspector general is challenging.
Mr. Wascom said the $1 billion figure was a rough estimate, and that it's difficult to tell how much is spent on security.
The airlines say they can't afford to pay the full freight because they will lose between $6.8 billion and $7 billion this year.

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