The Vulnerable Front Door
By Andrea Stone The Huffington Post
WASHINGTON — The video is graphic. Machine-gun toting terrorists emerge
from an elevator and move methodically through the busy airport terminal,
mowing down travelers, police and everyone else in their way.
"When I show it in my airport security training courses, there are usually
only a few people who are familiar with it," says Jeffrey Price, who teaches
aviation management at Metropolitan State College of Denver. "[There is]
hardly any airport that’s prepared to defend against it."
The violent clip, it turns out, is from the controversial "Modern Warfare"
video game series. But the fictional scenario — terrorists attacking
airports — has played out in real life. Terrorist groups have staged
assaults on airports across Europe in recent years, including an attack that
killed two U.S. airmen in Frankfurt last year, and a suicide bomb attack in
Moscow that left dozens dead.
Terrorists haven’t ignored U.S. airports, either. On July 4, 2002, a gunman
killed two people at the El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles International
Airport. More recently, in 2007, federal authorities broke up a plot to blow
up fuel tanks at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Terrorists can strike anywhere — from Times Square to a civil rights march
in Spokane, Wash. But despite spending billions of dollars to make air
travel safer since Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four airplanes on Sept. 11,
2001, law enforcement agencies are unprepared for a major attack inside an
airport, some security experts warn. Complacency, other priorities and lack
of funding, they say, have combined to create vulnerability in a place the
public assumes is one of the most secure of all.
The main mission of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is to
keep weapons and explosives off of airplanes — a mandate that has led to
the rise of full-body scanners, banned liquids, intrusive pat-downs and
complaints over profiling.
The job of guarding the terminal, patrolling the airport parking lot and
watching the fence around the runways, however, belongs to state and local
"The federal government doesn’t tell you how to do security," says Thomas
Kinton, a consultant who was aviation director at Boston’s Logan
International Airport on 9/11 and is a former head of the Massachusetts Port
The TSA sets minimum security standards at airports and provides some
training to outside security officers from these state and local
authorities. "Airport security is a shared responsibility, and airports and
airlines are required to adhere to TSA-approved security standards," the TSA
said in a statement to HuffPost. "TSA does not employ airport police
officers, but works closely with airports to incorporate local law
enforcement into an overall TSA-approved security plan."
In other words, Kinton explains, "it is up to each airport" to decide how
much security it will provide.
Some of the larger airport authorities, such as the Port Authority of New
York & New Jersey, have their own specially trained police forces. Many
others, though, rely on the state or local law enforcement agencies for
Many big city police departments view the airport as "just another strategic
facility" to protect along with power plants, train stations and sports
stadiums, says Rafi Ron, a former head of security at Israel’s Ben Gurion
International Airport who has advised the TSA and airport authorities.
In a time of tight government budgets, such law enforcement has neither the
resources nor the motivation, Ron says, to make airports a top priority.
Federal spending on passenger and baggage screening and other homeland
security measures has soared since 2001, but strapped state and city budgets
mean "funding shortages have forced many airports to operate at the minimum
local legal threshold," Ron told Congress last year.
As a result, he says, "The so-called tired and weary end up at the airport,"
with officers viewing the post as just a stop along the way to retirement.
Price, the aviation management professor, also says that — with a few
exceptions like Boston’s Logan and the three airports in the New York area