Black September History Lesson Might Have Prevented 9-11
(April 22, 2002)
When it comes to random searches at the airport,
reader Judy Egner isn't so random. The 57-year-old, fair-haired
Dallas native was perplexed as to why in the six times she's flown
since September 11 she has been wanded, been padded down, and had
her bags dissected. Egner isn't alone. Fruitless random searches of
elderly women, toddlers, and uniformed airline pilots have become
mainstream in U.S. airports as more and more innocent passengers are
treated like suspects rather than customers.
There's no doubt
about it, multiple failures on multiple levels led to the security
lapses of September 11. However, if government and aviation
officials had heeded the important findings from historic hijackings
31 years prior, the events of September 11 may never have
September 11 wasn't
the first time four airplanes were hijacked in one day. On September
6, 1970, the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)
hijacked four aircraft in Europe bound for New York City:
Three days later, the PFLP hijacked another
plane, BOAC (now known as British Airways) flight 775, a Vickers
VC-10 aircraft from Bahrain that was forced to fly to Amman.
Overall, 600 passengers and crew were involved with many held for
weeks as prisoners. Thankfully, none lost their lives. The terrorist
event was dubbed "Black September."
- TWA flight 741, a Boeing 707 from Frankfurt: Forced to fly to
- El Al flight 217, a Boeing 707 from Amsterdam: Hijack
thwarted; lands in London.
- Swissair flight 100, a DC-8 from Zurich: Forced to fly to
- Pan Am flight 93, a Boeing 747 from Amsterdam: Forced to fly
The El Al hijacking
failed because the aircraft had a re-enforced cockpit door, and
armed sky marshals onboard were able to thwart the terrorists. The
similarities between September 6, 1970, and September 11, 2001, are
too strong to ignore. Now, although U.S. airlines have imitated El
Al by installing re-enforced cockpit doors and placing sky marshals
on some flights, there's another El Al tactic that should no longer
be pushed aside: Profiling.
foiled hijacking, El Al officials developed an extensive passenger
profiling system, and there hasn't been a hijack attempt since.
Currently, U.S. airlines use a computerized profiling software
program called CAPPS to pick out the high-risk passengers. Yet,
it's not enough according to security expert Charlie LeBlanc,
managing director of Air Security
International, a Houston-based international security and
intelligence company. "We need to have trained security officers
profile and ask questions of passengers. Officers trained to listen
to how passengers answer questions and to watch body language.
Flushing out a potential terrorist or individual that may pose a
security threat is something trained security officers should do and
no machine is capable of doing that," says LeBlanc.
point, suspected terrorist Richard Reed, who tried to blow up an
American Airlines plane with a shoe bomb this past December, was
closely scrutinized last June on his El Al flight to Israel. Prior
to boarding the aircraft, he was immediately identified as
"suspicious" and taken for a thorough security check, which included
checking his shoes. He was cleared and allowed to board; however,
two sky marshals sat next to him the entire time.
Some say El Al's security system would be
difficult to incorporate fully, given that El Al is much smaller and
runs fewer routes than the major U.S. carriers. Nevertheless,
although re-enforced cockpit doors, sky marshals, bomb-detection
machines, and positive bag matching are steps in the right
direction, random searches are not. The current random search
procedures don't work because security officers spend most of their
time scrutinizing people like Judy Egner who do not pose a threat.
It's time to focus all resources and efforts into systems with
proven track records that are able to ferret out the real
terrorists. If we don't, history will surely repeat
Read more about "Black
September" at BBC News
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