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 Terrorist Tragedy
 
Published Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Expert tells of inside help

BY DAVID KIDWELL
dkidwell@herald.com

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 involvement.''

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 Officers.

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 front end.

``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.

``It's interesting 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.''

Security issues 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 period.

Massport security 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 forged signatures.

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.


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Credits: Hiram Henriquez, Jere Warren, Lynn Occhiuzzo, Marco A. Ruiz Herald Staff; Robertson Adams, Special to the Herald; KRT; AP; Herald Wires.
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