- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2003

All airline passengers will be “encouraged” to put their shoes through X-ray machines before walking through metal detectors — or, if they decline, face more-thorough screening, even if the footwear does not set off an alarm.

The new policy by the Transportation Security Administration sets in motion nationwide what is practiced only at select airports to prevent a shoe-bomb terrorist from boarding a plane.

Admiral James M. Loy, TSA administrator, said the increased focus on screening shoes is necessary given information gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Al Qaeda terrorist Richard C. Reid was sentenced to life in prison this year for attempting to ignite a bomb hidden in his tennis shoe while flying from Paris to Miami. Federal officials said an accomplice helped Mr. Reid construct the bomb, which he tried to ignite on an American Airlines flight Dec. 22, 2001.

“Our screeners have always worked hard to make sure a shoe-bomb does not get on an aircraft. Now we must make sure our security process is consistent so air travelers know what to expect at every airport in the country,” Adm. Loy said.

Screeners will be given guidance on which shoes require X-ray and will be “instructed to encourage passengers to remove their shoes and submit them for X-ray examination. Passengers will not be required to take off their shoes before going through metal detectors, but should understand their chances of being selected for a more-thorough secondary screening will be lower if they do.”

One commercial airline pilot said the policy was not likely to benefit security but would help airline screeners speed up the process.

“My feeling is it will increase the speed and flow, which will help the screeners focus on other problems,” the pilot said.

Billie H. Vincent, chief executive officer of Aerospace Services International and former head of security for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the TSA is struggling with what could be called conflicting directives to increase security and speed up screening.

Metal detectors are doing their job and detecting metal in shoes, but creating a heavier workload for screeners.

“That is not a nuisance alarm; the equipment is working the way it is supposed to but the consequences are higher workloads,” Mr. Vincent said.

So, to compensate, some onus is being shifted to passengers.

“It appears they are trying to deal with it like the old scam artists used to do to cool the mark out,” said Mr. Vincent, referring to a technique used to put the target at ease, unaware of being scammed.

“They pacify the passenger coming through by putting out the word that if you want to avoid increased hassle, don’t [complain] about taking your shoes off and do it voluntarily so you won’t have any problems,” Mr. Vincent said.

Mary Schiavo, former inspector general for the Transportation Department and a critic of the FAA, said the new policy will be a “terrible problem” for older passengers. Others, she said, should “get used to doing it.”

“Once you ring the bell you are stuck in the slow lane to be prodded, padded and searched. If you can switch to footwear that is easy to put on and get off you will go through a lot faster,” she said.

However, one frequent flyer said he found the new policy “absolutely appalling.”

“To me, it’s absolutely amazing how one crazed lunatic can interfere with the entire footwear of a nation of 285 million people,” he said.

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