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Phil Ryan to California Senator John Vasconcellos re Airport Security 

    WHAT IF  By Phil Ryan - Ethics 1

            On the morning of September 11, 2001, two terrorists boarded American commercial airliners destined for the west coast. A month earlier, the CIA had notified the INS to place these two individuals on their terrorist watch list. When they purchased their tickets for cash, neither airport law enforcement nor airlines security had any information of the danger they posed. It was therefore a failure of intelligence not a paucity of security that led to cruel mass murder at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

            At the same time, some nineteen-suicide terrorists boarded four commercial jets, three employees of Callixa Corp., a San Francisco based information technology company with offices in New York City, were attending a major trade show featuring their company’s software on the 105th Floor of the World Trade Center. Their names were: Naomi Solomon, the number two executive at Callixa and a resident of New York city, Wayne Evans, a veteran of the 82nd Airborne and combat in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, a resident of Virginia, and Chris Wemmers, originally from Hamburg, Germany, a resident of San Francisco. Along with thousands of others, they perished instantaneously when the first plane exploded into the World Trade Center.

            It is an unfathomable irony that had Callixa’s software, which these three people were about to display at the World Trade Center, been employed at Logan Airport, it would have prevented the two watch-list killers from boarding their fateful and fatal flight. Eulogies are always inadequate to the losses suffered, but Callixa’s employees have offered a technology memorial to their fallen colleagues. Before America was attacked, Callixa’s software provided enterprise information integration on a real time basis to the financial services industry. Callixa’s product accesses any number of databases stored on different platforms in multiple languages and integrates this information instantaneously. How then can a technology designed to serve vast, international and multinational financial institutions provide airline passengers with a meaningful sense of security that air travel is safe from the madness of September 11th?

            First, federal and local law enforcement and commercial airlines must recognize the horrific lesson of September 11th; namely, that bombers not baggage murdered thousands in New York and Washington, D.C. The history of American airport security is one of divided authority over the paramount public responsibility for human safety. From the airport parking garage to the ticket counter, local law enforcement has public safety jurisdiction. From ticket purchase through baggage checks to boarding, private airlines and their minimum wage contractors are the guardians of public safety. Once on the plane, federal jurisdiction assumes responsibility for passenger safety. Thus institutionally, a tripartite command structure has existed over air travel for more than thirty years at the very point of terrorist attacks. President Bush has properly stated that we are at war. Yet our airport defenses, the mission of terrorists’ attacks, are commanded by a disparate committee, part civilian and part paramilitary with conflicting responsibilities and interests and sparse intelligence communication. Thus even though the CIA and the INS possessed intelligence that at least two of the World Trade Center bombers were wanted terrorists, they did not and could not share this information with airlines’ security, since law enforcement investigative material is prohibited from disclosure to non-law enforcement, non-governmental entities. 

The post-September 11th congressional debate offers little in the way of restoring public confidence in the safety of air travel. Without questioning the sincerity of either the Democrat or Republican proposals, both miss the point that it is bad people who threaten Americans not the quality or content of their luggage. Both political parties propose, “federalizing” airport security and neither suggests federalizing much less sharing criminal intelligence. Predictably, Democrats insist that replacing minimum wage and minimally trained private security personnel with well-paid, civil service federal employees screening bags will restore public confidence in air safety. Republicans counter with the notion of a public/private partnership similar to the present system with direct oversight of private security employees by the federal government as the better plan. If September 11th teaches anything, it is that the means of mass murder are not stored in baggage but in the souls of evil passengers. In short, neither proposal invests public safety professionals with the power and authority to do their jobs – the jobs of crime prevention and public safety.

Congress has passed and the President signed into law the federalizing airport baggage checkers. Increasing luggage scrutiny has never prevented hijackers and killers from wreaking their havoc. What is missing from the public debate is the central and fundamental truth that security starts and ends with intelligence. No one would suggest that a military commander undertake an offensive or defensive operation without solid intelligence on the enemy. As the Al Qaeda terrorists plotted their mass murder and mayhem, numerous government agencies possessed information about their goals, identities and activities. Presumably the CIA was trying to recruit Al Qaeda comrades as informants and, a month before the bombings, notified the INS to place two of the terrorists on their watch list. The State Department has attempted to persuade Arab governments to arrest terrorists; the Treasury is freezing their assets. When they entered the United States, they had to go through U.S. Customs and the INS must have checked their names against the terrorists watch list. In fact, there are forty-three different agencies that have at least some jurisdiction in the war on terror. But at the crucial moment when they boarded their chosen planes to transform them into flying bombs, none of these government agencies shared the information contained in their various databases with the frontline of airport security – local police! Uncommunicated intelligence is conveyed ignorance. And this, more than anything, is the cause of the enormity of America’s tragedy.

            Ambassador Mary Ryan (no relation to the author), head of the State Department Consular Affairs, has testified that American Embassies and Consulates could have stopped some of the terrorists from entering the country if agencies such as the CIA and FBI had shared information with the State Department. California Senator Dianne Feinstein has urged: “The agencies need to get together and create a single database with information about terrorists…I am concerned about continuing to appropriate money to systems that don’t talk to each other.”

            Mayor Rudy Giuliani has been quoted in the New York Daily News, saying, “We need the information and we need it right now. We need real-time information about what is happening.” Former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, James Woolsey has said: “The Nation is in trouble if the agencies continue to create databases that cannot communicate with one another.” Sandy Berger, former Clinton National Security Advisor stated: “The first dollar I would spend would be on data integration.”

            Thus America’s war on terror is faced with both policy and technical issues. New York Senators Schumer and Clinton have introduced legislation to break down the inarticulate barriers of multiple databases not on speaking terms with federal and local law enforcement. The State of Florida is discussing data warehousing, a technology primarily used for analysis of marketing of historical data, as a solution. But even assuming that federal agencies share their terrorists’ data with the state of Florida, such a project would take years and billions of dollars to complete. And, most significantly, the information would never be current! Former National Security Advisor Berger cut to the heart of the issue when he said: “Real-time, intelligent data-sharing among agencies such as the INS, Customs, Federal, state and local law enforcement is a must.” But Mr. Berger cautioned that real-time data integration faced formidable bureaucratic hurdles. “Sharing data presents policy and turf issues…give up part of your database and you lose part of your budget,” he said.

            Callixa’s Airport Threat Detector may be thought of as a virtual data warehouse. The moment a passenger’s name is punched into an airline ticket computer Callixa’s powerful Threat Detector accesses multiple databases and instantaneously determines if the passenger is on any watch lists. Callixa has built a prototype for a demonstration to San Francisco International Airport and the San Francisco Police Department. Callixa has propounded a series of questions to airport and local police officials. They are being asked:

            What if there was a way for the background of every single American and foreign airline passenger at the airport to be checked against the FBI’s databases?

            And what if there was a way to simultaneously check this information against databases maintained by more than 40 federal agencies as well as state and local law enforcement agencies or even international agencies?

            What if this could be done even though those databases are written in a variety of computer software platforms across an assortment of operating systems and even foreign languages?

            What if there was a way to do all this by existing airlines personnel using existing passenger reservations systems at passenger check-in?

            And what if this could take place in real time, automatically notifying local law enforcement of any passengers matching potential threat profiles before they board the flight?

            What if you could do all of this while protecting the civil liberties and privacy of every passenger screened by the system?

            And what if you could do this all now?

            Perhaps the most sadly ironic admission by anti-terror officials was Transportation Secretary Minetta’s recent statements that he doesn’t have enough sniffing dogs and electronic baggage scanners to meet Congress’ airport security requirements. What should be obvious in the 21st Century is that government measures that fail to improve and enhance law enforcement’s abilities to prevent evil people from boarding American flights, is, in an old Texas expression, simply a dog that won’t hunt.

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