Published Wednesday, September 12, 2001
Expert tells of inside help
BY DAVID KIDWELL
A former security
director at the Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday that
terrorists likely had inside help from employees at the three airports
where they chose to embark on their missions.
``It's the only
thing that really makes sense to me,'' said Billie H. Vincent, now
president of a Virginia-based airport security company Aerospace
Services International. ``To have three successful operations at three
separate airports without getting caught suggests some inside
The longtime FAA
security chief said that while there have been well-publicized security
lapses at Washington Dulles International Airport, Boston's Logan
International Airport and Newark International Airport, the airports
are no any more vulnerable that any others in the region.
Vincent joined a
host of aviation security experts who spent Tuesday speculating on the
terrorist's strategy before and during the early morning attack, and
bemoaning what he calls perennially lax security at many of the
country's major airports.
All agreed the full
complement of fuel loaded in the airplanes for their cross-country
trips might have been attractive to the terrorists by increasing the
explosive effect of the impact. In addition, the choice of
cross-country flights meant the transportation system would be
disrupted coast to coast.
``This has been an
enormously long-planned and obviously carefully planned operation,''
said Gene Poteat, president of the Association of Former Intelligence
Vincent said he
cannot imagine security gaps so huge as to let armed men through
checkpoints at three separate airports on the same morning.
``These people had
to have the means to take control of the aircrafts,'' Vincent said.
``And that means they had to have weapons in order for those pilots to
relinquish control. Think about it, they planned this thing out to the
last detail for months. They are not going to take any risks at the
``They knew they were going to be successful before they started,'' he said.
Vincent said exploiting security weaknesses would have been risky without help from inside each airport.
to me why they didn't pick any of the New York airports,'' Vincent
said. ``The security is no better or no worse at any of them. There is
nothing that's obvious that would leap out at me as to why they would
choose one over another.''
have been raised at each of the airports, including lack of training
for security screeners and flimsy background checks on employees. These
security concerns are not unigue to these airports.
From 1997 through
early 2000, the FAA inspectors least 136 security violations at Logan.
The Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan, and airlines
operating there were fined $178,000 for security lapses during the
director Joseph Lawless, at a morning press conference, defended
Logan's security record, but added: ``We're going to assess all the
measures we've taken.''
At Dulles, an FAA
study in 1996 found widespread training violations by companies
responsible for passenger screening - including the use of improperly
trained or untrained workers. In some cases training records contained
Steve DiPrima, a
vice president at Argenbright International Security Inc., the company
that conducts passenger screeners, would not comment Tuesday.
Also in 1996,
following the crash of TWA Flight 800, port authority executives
acknowledged security lapses that allowed a newspaper reporter to walk
unchallenged through restricted areas and let baggage on board planes
without required x-rays.
``If a determined
terrorist wants to take out a target, they will get it,'' said Brian
Sullivan, a retired FAA special agent who has worked to expose security
concerns at Logan. ``The question we have to ask is, `Have we done
everything possible to prevent that?' and I think the answer is no.''
This report was supplemented with Herald wire services.