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[This Just In]

Security? What security?


TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 3:40 P.M. ó One question on everyoneís mind as we try to comprehend what happened in New York and Washington is this: how could two airplanes have been hijacked from Logan Airport? Well, I have a partial answer: airport security sucks.

Two weeks ago, I went to Logan Airport to test airline security. I succeeded in getting my cell phone through three gates without inspection. My phone could have been a bomb. And I could have brought it on a plane. Why was I doing this? Well, I graduated from Tufts last spring. Iím 23 years old. And I want to be a reporter. So Iíve spent the past month calling editors and journalists trying to get my work in print. A few weeks ago, I called the editor of the Dorchester Reporter about writing freelance articles for his paper. He asked me to come up with a short, original piece. So I figured Iíd go to Logan and see whether I could get my cell phone through the gates unchecked. (According to the FAA Web site, cell phones and other electronic devices are supposed to be examined at security checkpoints.) I frequently fly home to Minnesota, and in my past trips to the airport I noticed that some guards would send my phone through an x-ray machine, others would turn it on to verify that it was a phone, and others wouldnít even bother to check it.

Hereís what happened when I went to Logan:

Armed with my Nokia, I approached United Airlines gates C11 through C21. I cleared the metal detector with the cell phone in my pocket and sat down near the gate. I observed Huntleigh Security supervisor Sunday Taylor and her duty manager apply mascara and chitchat while passengers easily passed through security. I left the area and approached the same checkpoint for round two. This time, I handed the guard my cell phone, which was turned off, and cleared the metal detector. Without checking the phone by turning it on or sending it through the x-ray machine, he handed it back to me. I approached Taylor and told her what had happened. " He didnít ask you to switch it on? " she asked, surprised.

" No, " I said.

" They are all supposed to, " she said angrily.

" Why do they check them? " I asked.

" So they donít go boom, " said her smiling co-worker, spreading her hands apart to demonstrate an explosion.

Next, I tested Deltaís security by going through the checkpoint for gates C25 through C36. I voluntarily handed the guard my cell phone. He put the phone through the x-ray scanner and I walked through the metal detector. After I cleared, I took my cell phone and left the sterile area. Five minutes later, I approached the gate again, but this time I kept the phone in my pocket. The same guard monitored my approach. He did not ask me to empty my pockets or check to see if I was carrying a cell phone. Of course, the guard may have remembered me from my first trip through the gate. But he didnít know whether I had subsequently tampered with my phone ó he should have checked it again. I easily cleared the detector.

My final target was Northwest Airlines gates 1A, 1B, 1C, and 1D. When I approached the checkpoint, I noticed the Globe Security supervisor sitting at his desk, far from the checkpoint, talking to a colleague. He was not watching his employees. I passed through the metal detector with the phone, which was turned on, in my pocket. This set off the alarm. I took out my phone and intentionally placed it face down in a plastic bin to prevent the guard from confirming its authenticity. As I passed through the detector I kept my eyes peeled to make sure the guard didnít turn over the phone ó and he didnít. I cleared the second metal detector. I took my unchecked phone from the bin and walked toward the gates. As with United, I could have boarded my flight with a bomb hidden in my phone. I approached the Globe supervisor and told him what had happened. " The guard didnít check my phone, " I said.

" They are always supposed to ask you to turn them on, " he answered.

" Maybe we should tell them [the guards] to send them [the phones] through x-ray, " his colleague suggested.

A few days later, I called the FAA and spoke with a civilian aviation-security specialist. I asked him whether the metal detectors were supposed to detect cell phones. He became apprehensive and demanded to know why I was interested. I told him that I was writing an article on airport security and told him about my experience at Logan. Suspicious, he asked me for my phone number and hung up. A few minutes later, he and a Boston FAA agent called me back and we held a three-way conference call. I explained my past travel experiences to the Boston agent and told her about my investigation. She thanked me for my help and assured me that she would take care of the problem immediately.

Apparently, she didnít do it fast enough.

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Issue Date: September 11, 2001

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