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Transcript: Analysts Discuss Airline Security on 'FNS'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published August 21, 2006 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a partial transcript of the Aug. 20, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":
"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Following last week's foiled plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic, we want to take a look at whether there are still serious gaps in air safety.
To discuss that, we're joined by Pete King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and here in studio by Rafi Ron, former chief of security at Israeli airports, and Rand Beers, who served as a counterterrorism aid to President Bush before becoming a top foreign policy advisor to John Kerry.
Well, let's start with the issue of profiling, the politically incorrect idea that some passengers should be treated differently. I asked Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff about that on Sunday, and here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: If we become too focused on a particular profile, we're likely to be dropping our guard precisely where the terrorists are going to be acting next.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Chairman King, what do you think of that, this idea that if you say target young Muslim men, then the terrorists are going to find someone else to carry out these acts?
REP. PETER KING, R-N.Y.: Well, I'm not saying we should be targeting people, Chris, but I think we should put political correctness somewhat to the side and say that a screener or even an airline should have the right to factor in a person's national origin.
But the fact is the overwhelming odds are that it is going to be someone of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent and of the Muslim faith. And I think a screener should be allowed to factor that in as one of many factors.
Like if we were told that the Ku Klux Klan was going to attack Harlem or Bedford Stuyvesant, I think we'd spend more time looking more closely at whites than we would at African-Americans. Or if it was the IRA, you'd look more closely at Irish Americans.
So I'm saying it's a factor that should be in there and a screener or an airline shouldn't be worried about being sued, or losing their job or being hit with a civil rights action if they factor that in as one of a number of other issues they look at.
WALLACE: Mr. Ron, anyone who's flown in or out of Israel knows that your security people give everyone the third degree, but do you profile — do you focus, for instance, on young Muslims?
ISRAELI SECURITY EXPERT RAFI RON: Well, not necessarily. I mean, we do take into consideration the background of the person and that is one of the things that we certainly look for.
But we pay more attention to details that would characterize them as a potential high-risk passenger, or in other terms, what is the probability of him being a terrorist compared to others.
WALLACE: Mr. Beers, should TSA profile, if — to take an example like Peter King's, if we suddenly heard there was a plot of Norwegians against our airplanes, would it be wrong to take into account that someone is blond and blue-eyed and speaks Norwegian?
COUNTERTERRORISM EXPERT RAND BEERS: No, of course it wouldn't be a problem, but as Secretary Chertoff said, we shouldn't leave ourselves in the position of only focusing on one particular profile as opposed to making sure that we're still keeping up our guard more generally.
But I don't think there's any way around the notion that you at least have to take into account the possibility of this kind of threat.
WALLACE: But you know as well as I do, Mr. Beers — I mean, the 85-year-old grandmother being pulled out of the line — isn't that...
BEERS: Oh, I'm not saying that 85-year-old grandmothers need to be pulled out of the line. I'm...
WALLACE: But they are.
BEERS: I understand that they are, and I have a problem with the rigidity of the random checks that are being instituted. So I'm not saying it should be random. What I am saying is that there are a number of factors that can be taken into account.
And I think, quite frankly, there's no way around the notion that perhaps asking a question or two of an individual traveling passenger may be the best way to come up with some kind of a reaction that says I better talk to this person or inspect this person.
WALLACE: Let's get to that, Mr. Ron, because taking a broader look at this, you say that U.S. airport security makes a mistake by focusing too much on trying to find the weapon instead of trying to find the bad guy, the terrorist. Explain.
RON: Yes, this is true, because in order to find the weapon, you need to invest tremendous amount of resources both in terms of time as well as in other terms, which is impossible to do for 100 percent of the passengers.
So you need to develop a tool that will allow you to focus on a very small number of people that you want to spend a lot of time before you allow them to fly. This was the case with Richard Reid when he flew to Israel.
WALLACE: Well, let's explain. Richard Reid, of course, was the...
RON: Richard Reid, the shoe bomber.
WALLACE: ... alleged shoe bomber who tried to blow up a plane with an explosive in his sneaker in December of 2001.
RON: That is correct, and Richard Reid flew seven month prior to his attempted attack on American Airline to Israel by El Al. And he was determined as a extremely suspicious individual through this interview and was subjected to close to a one-hour search, one on one, before he was allowed on board.
And only after it was made sure that he was clean that he was allowed on board. That's something you cannot afford to do to everybody, so you need to develop this tool which is based both on behavior as well as on verbal encounter or, in other term, on an interview.
And it is these tools that allow you to decide who are the high- risk people you want to spend more time with.
WALLACE: But, Mr. Ron, would Israeli security techniques work in this country? Take a look at these numbers. There are 8.9 million passengers a year in Israel and 62,000 flights. Here in the U.S. there are 746 million passengers a year and 11 million flights.
Question: Can you do the same kind of intense screening when you have so much more air traffic in this country without grinding the system to a halt?
RON: Let me put it this way. I think that if the level of risk and the way the risk is being perceived here would be similar to the one in Israel, I think you would go as far as necessary in order to stop it, even if we are talking about using similar steps like the Israelis are using.
But at this point in time, I don't think that it is similar. I don't think that there is a justification to impose a system like the one in Israel on American aviation, and we can still use steps that are a little bit milder than that that, that we are still not doing.
WALLACE: Let's talk about that, Chairman King. There's been a lot of criticism of DHS recently, that it is too focused on fighting the last war, too concerned in preventing another 9/11 instead of dealing with newer threats.
And there's a story today that indicates that the House, your side of Congress, is so concerned with the way that the research arm of DHS is failing to do its job that there is talk about cutting its budget in half. Is DHS off the tracks here?
KING: I think they're going in the right direction. I think for several years they were behind the curve. I do think in the last year, though, with people like Kip Hawley and Michael Jackson, the department is starting to go forward.
But for instance, my own committee is having a hearing. And this was scheduled a month ago. It's going to be held on September 7th when we get back on the science and technology directorate at the Department of Homeland Security. I think more does have to be done as far as technology.
But also, if I can go back to what Mr. Ron said, we can only go so far with technology. Listen, we have to get the best technology possible. But we're never going to be 100 percent safe. We have to have as many layers of defense as possible.
So I think we should be going more for behavioral training and looking at that, because even Ben Gurion Airport is not 100 percent safe. But as many layers as we can throw up as possible we should. So we should go more to behavioral training.
Also, they do have to do more as far as technology. I do think that Kip Hawley at TSA is moving more in that direction than they had been in the past. But more has to be done. Yes, I agree with that.
WALLACE: Would you briefly, Congressman King, like to see questioning of every passenger before they get on a plane?
KING: I don't know if we can do every one, because again, you know, 740 million passengers a year is an awful lot. We have to be selective. We have to realize we can never be perfectly safe, but we have to go where the greatest threat is, the greater threat, and try to minimize those threats and, you know, really go after them. But we should certainly, again, be screening everyone.
And there's another place where DHS has to do a better job, and that's getting the terrorist screening list more up to date so that we'll know — have a better idea in advance who's coming in, who's not, and also better backgrounds on the people, focus on them, screen others randomly.
But you can't do 100 percent, no. But we should really try to narrow down those who we know we want to get or who could be a potential risk.
WALLACE: Mr. Beers, there is some rudimentary form of behavior screening which, in fact, Mr. Ron helped set up at Logan Airport, but it's only at a dozen airports now. They've created these puffer machines that you go through and it blows some air and it tries to detect any trace of explosive residue. That's only in 36 airports. Is DHS still behind the curve?
BEERS: I think that they are. My biggest concern here is, as we've been talking today, it's not technology. It's people. And the people start at the very top, and the turnover at DHS is extremely troubling to me.
The fact reported in the paper today that we have now the fourth person to head the science and technology directorate in three years represents, I think, a serious indication that we haven't gotten the management at the top right yet. And we really need to focus on that, and then all the way down to the TSA screeners.
And I agree with Congressman King. Kip Hawley appears to be doing a very good job as a manager at that level. But he has to make sure that his management guidelines translate into effective screening by the screeners at each and every airport around the country.
WALLACE: Chairman King, let's do a lightning round, if we can, and — quick questions, quick answers. Let me ask you about some of the threats out there right now, new threats, and our ability as we sit here today to be able to deal with them. First of all, liquid explosives.
KING: Liquid explosives — the technology is being pursued. We have technology that can do bottle by bottle. It cannot do it quickly enough. It's really not ready for prime time. Hopefully that can be perfected within the next year.
WALLACE: So basically, liquid explosives right now — if they wanted to carry it on a carry-on bag with a bunch of stuff, there'd be no way of detecting it.
KING: It's possible. Not the guarantees that we should have, no.
WALLACE: Air cargo on passenger flights — I was astonished to read that only about 10 percent to 15 percent of the 6 billion pounds of air cargo that's put on passenger flights is ever inspected.
KING: All of it is screened — again, not effectively enough. They have known shipper programs. There's also 4,000 different lists as far as known shippers, and what is being done at San Francisco Airport has to be looked at. It's a combination of canine and technology which hopefully can bring us a lot more along as far as screening all of it or actually inspecting all of it.
But no, that is a concern. I think industry should be doing more and the department should be doing more.
WALLACE: Finally, shoulder-fired missiles — how real a threat and what are we doing to try to prevent that?
KING: Well, it's a remote threat, but on the other hand it is possible. It costs about $11 billion right now, and that doesn't include maintenance.
I think one thing we should consider is what DOD is actually looking at, and that's having perimeter security at airports to stop MANPADS from being shot out. But again, we're never going to get 100 percent security. And besides, we have subways, chemical plants, tunnels, bridges, all of these out here.
We have to decide what we're going to protect against. I think perimeter security at airports is probably more feasible than actually equipping 6,800 different planes with protections against MANPADS. But again, it is being looked at. It is being researched. We have to go forward.
WALLACE: Mr. Ron, as you look at air travel in the U.S. today, what's your biggest concern?
RON: I think my biggest concern is that terrorists can still make their way through our system and reach the aircraft. It has been only lately that TSA started to divert more attention under Kip Hawley to the human factor, as we have been discussing this morning.
We still have a way to go. We don't yet talk to people enough at the airport. We have to increase the skills of the people that are doing it in order to be much more effective.
WALLACE: And we have less than 30 seconds left. Mr. Beers, if you were suddenly secretary of Homeland Security, what's the first thing you'd do?
BEERS: Well, I would agree with Mr. Ron, but I would also say on the cargo inspection I think we have to do a better job. That's a self-inspection system by shippers, and there is no inspection of packages that are one pound or less.
And we had one pound in Pan Am 103 and it blew the side of the plane, and it went down in 1988. We can't afford to do that again.
WALLACE: We're going to have to leave it there. Gentlemen, thank you all so much for coming in today.
KING: Thank you, Chris.
RON: Thank you.
BEERS: Thank you.