Airport Security: Damned If You Do; Damned If You Don't
by Jim Kouri, CPP
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is underfire from Democrats and the news media for his "lack of imagination" by not having airport security officers check liquids being brought onto planes by passengers.
In the aftermath of the British arrests of suspected terrorists who were plotting to use liquid explosives to bring down a number of passenger flights leaving Heathrow International Airport for destinations in the United States, American lawmakers and the news media have been critical of the Transportation Security Agency for not screening liquids being brought onto passenger flights.
However, airport security personnel in 2002 were ridiculed and condemned for doing just that -- checking bottles that may have contained explosives or biological and chemical weapons. And as a result of the negative press coverage, the TSA abandoned the procedure for screening liquids.
In one case in 2002, a mother was asked to taste the contents of her baby's milk bottles. The incident occurred at JFK International Airport in New York. The mother said she refused to drink the baby bottle contents because it was breast milk. When asked about the incident, the screeners said the bottles could have contained explosives or a toxic chemical. The story was used to ridicule the security screeners at the airport and the TSA ordered officers to cease checking bottle contents.
In another case, also in 2002, a Saudi Arabian student had a bottle of cologne in his carry-on bag at Philadelphia International Airport. The security screeners questioned the young man about the bottle's contents. Then, according to news reports, the agitated student sprayed himself with the bottle and then sprayed the airport security officers. Everyone involved was rushed to a hospital emergency room to be decontaminated in case the cologne was actually a bio-chemical weapon.
As with the breast milk incident, the security screeners came underfire for overreacting to a simple bottle of cologne. They were also criticized for signaling out a Saudi man and were accused of racial profiling, in spite of the fact that attackers on 9-11 were Saudis.
The security screeners were reprimanded and told to stop checking liquids.
"It's a perfect example of damned if you do and damned if you don't," says Sid Francis, a former New York police detective and former intelligence officer.
"There's nothing like being a Monday morning quarterback when it comes to airport security. You get to have it both ways," he said.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.