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Airline Insecurity

Aired November 3, 2001 - 14:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Devastating attacks lead to dramatic change. The new face of aviation security in America: armed troops, tougher screening. No ticket, no passage. And don't think about brining on more than one bag. Restrictions and reinforcements, from air marshals to cockpit doors. Lots of reassurances, but are the skies really safer since 9/11?


MARY SCHIAVO, FORMER DOT INSPECTOR GENERAL: It's the same security plans. It's the same security company. So it's the same thing.


ANNOUNCER: Where are we vulnerable?


STEVE ELSON, FORMER FAA EMPLOYEE: I have actually taken a badge with somebody else's name and picture on it, and walked right around an airport.


ANNOUNCER: Lingering security concerns. What can be done?


NORMAN MINETA, SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: What I'd like to do is to utilize new technology.


ANNOUNCER: The promise of the future, combined with the lessons of the past. An equation for sizing up aviation security in American today.

WILLOW BAY, HOST: Welcome to CNN PRESENTS. I'm Willow Bay. What will it take to get the nation flying again?

It's a question troubling not only the airlines, but also the U.S. government. Despite a robust effort to reassure the flying public, many Americans remains nervous about getting on a plane. Over the next hour, we'll look at airline safety and security after the 11th of September. Just how safe is it to fly? What's being done to improve security on the ground and in the air? And what more do we need to consider?

We begin with the view on the ground. Here's CNN's Frank Sesno.


FRANK SESNO, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): This is the new face of airport security, the National Guard armed with M-16s. Conspicuous bag searches. Frequent ID checks. Wanding of passengers at checkpoints. And long lines.

But beneath the surface, much has not changed. Those who know airports best, say serious vulnerabilities remain.

(on camera): Many pilots and flight attendants whom I have spoken with, don't think the commercial aviation industry is really fundamentally that much safer now than it was on September 11.

MINETA: Well, I think that's basically true, because the system, as we have it right now, is the screening is done on a contract between an airline and a screening company.

SESNO (voice-over): For the time being, anyway, the people who man the frontlines of airport defense, the screeners who staffed checkpoints before the 11th of September, are still on the job.

SCHIAVO: It's the same security plans. It's the same security companies. So, it's the same thing and the only thing different is we are supposed to have increased vigilance.

SESNO: The nation's 28,000 screeners are being more closely supervised. Just this week, the Department of Transportation announced more of its agents would be deployed to watch over them.

And since September 11, screeners are instructed to confiscate all knives, and any other potentially dangerous items.

(on camera): And yet, securing our airports is a gargantuan task. In the weeks following the terrorist attacks, there were reports of passengers getting through security with knives, a loaded gun, a disassembled shotgun with ammunition. Some security guards were reported asleep at their posts, or missing all together.

SESNO (voice-over): The basic airport security structure works like this: screeners work for security companies under contract to the airlines, and the airlines admit the bottom-line is a big part of their equation.

MINETA: This is a low-bid shoot-out, and so you have minimum paid employees doing the screening, $8 an hour, which translates to $15,360 a year.

SESNO: This may be a case of you get what you pay for. Last year, Argenbright, the nation's largest provider of airport security, was fined $1.5 million and put on probation for, among other things, hiring screeners with criminal records. And when the government found some of those problems weren't corrected a year later, the companies probation was extended.

MINETA: They had a previous case in which they had promised to do background investigations. And then we found subsequently they weren't doing background investigations. They had felons on the payroll. They had illegal immigrants on their payroll. And so that's the thing that just makes me very angry.

SESNO: Following the attacks in September, a board member of Argenbright's parent company said Argenbright had mended its way.

MIKE RUTTER, SECURCOR: They were the actions of three rouge employees who, with the help of Argenbright and its disclosure, they were not only dismissed, but they were jailed for their activities.

Since that stage, Argenbright had implied a complete new compliance program and a compliance board.

SESNO: But even for those who are hired properly, there is the issue of competence. In mid-October, the Department of Transportations Inspector General found that seven out of 20 Argenbright employees at Dulles Airport, outside Washington, were unable to pass a basic skills test.

The questions about Argenbright are merely symptoms of a larger problem, a contract system that seems to defy accountability, and invites all parties, the security companies, the airlines, and the FAA, to pass the buck.

RUTTER: The economic conditions brought about in the airline industry means that there's always a potential conflict between putting security at the top of the agenda, and dealing with the conditions they have within their marketplace.

CAROL HALLETT, AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION: We can't do a thing on our own. Everything is in fact established, when it comes to security, established by the federal government.

MINETA: We cannot go in and aggregate a contract between an airline and a screening company.

SESNO: But existing law does give the FAA the authority to crack down.

SCHIAVO: Right now, today, if the FAA chose to do so, they could get tough. Security screening companies with criminal convictions, failing to do background checks, failing to live up to the security, they could simply revoke the security approvals. They, literally, could shut down carriers if they chose to, for security violations. They just don't do it.

SESNO: Congress is now working on legislation that would change the system, tightening performance standards for screeners and nearly doubling their pay. There is debate on whether the screeners should work directly for the federal government.

Whatever the particulars, though, and despite the urgency, these improvements will take valuable time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPRESENTATIVE: But I'm asking my colleagues today to think about this legislation very strongly.

MINETA: Right now I think once the legislation passes, I think we can handle the new system up and going in about four to five months.

SESNO: Even if the government improves screening, there are other holes in the system.

While every carry on bag is X-rayed, in almost every case checked bags go into the belly of the plane without any screening at all, even though concerns about this have been raised for years.

In 1988, over Lockerbie, Scotland, PanAm flight 103 was blown out of the sky by a bomb in the cargo-hold. 270 people were killed. Eight years later, TWA flight 800 exploded off the coast of Long Island. At the time, a bomb was suspected, though that was later disproven.

But a White House commission recommended bomb detection machines be deployed with the goal of screening all checked bags.

As of this summer, data from government reports revealed fewer than 5 percent of checked bags on U.S. flights were subject to X-ray screening.

HALLETT: Obviously, with a billion bags a year or more going into the planes just domestically, that's a huge undertaking, and we're going to have to do a better job.

SESNO: The number of bags is just one problem. This is the type of machine used to X-ray checked bags for bombs. It's big, difficult to fit into existing conveyor belt systems, and expensive. Each one cost about $1.3 million. As a result, out of nearly 450 airports in the nation, only 55 actually have these machines as of September 30 of this year.

What's worse, an inspector general report, issued after September 11, found that even machines that had been installed aren't always being used. Some were found turned off, despite the FAA's directive mandating continuous use.

JAMES MCKENNA, CNN AVIATION CONSULTANT: It's hard to see in the post-September 11 world why everybody wouldn't make full use of the security devices that are available, and why people would choose to argue over what the meaning of continual use is. I mean, if the device is there and it's available, does it not makes sense to run as many bags through it as you can?

SESNO: Though the vast majority of checked bags aren't screened, airlines are using a passenger profiling system to help make sure the most suspicious passengers are scrutinized and their checked bags X- rayed. And since September 11, the FBI has supplied a watch-list which includes 100's of names.

The airlines and the FAA have declared their commitment to screen all checked bags, but that's unlikely to happen anytime soon.

HALLETT: The screening equipment, we are told, as of today, can be on-line so that there will be 100 percent of all bags screened before they go into the hold of the airplanes by 2004.

SESNO: The first lines of airport defense, human and mechanical systems alike are under intense pressure to do a better job to protect the traveling public. It's an interlocking system that's proved woefully and tragically inadequate in the past. And in the future, will only be as good as it's weakest link.


BAY: Better screening of passengers and their luggage is just part of the prescription to improve airline security. Just ahead, coming and going at the airport; restricted areas and the concern over access. Stay with us.


BAY: You've got your boarding pass, you've made it through the metal detectors, and you're on your way to the gate. But the security challenges aren't over. As CNN's Art Harris reports, some of the most secure areas at the airport may not be that secure after all.


ART HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At airports across the country, they are the other side; places passengers don't see. Secret doors that lead to loading docks, cargo holds and aircraft galleys.

Restricted places, supposedly safe from terrorists.

But Steve Elson says he's nervous when he flies, still doesn't feel airports are very secure.

ELSON: I don't see a whole lot different from what I saw several years ago.

HARRIS: A former Navy SEAL in Vietnam, Elson tested airport security for the Federal Aviation Administration before he left in 1999. A member of its elite Red Team for three years.

ELSON: Red Team was a very small group of people formed after PanAm 103, to basically go out and probe and test the system, entire civil aviation security system, see what was really going on.

HARRIS: What's going on now, he says, access doors opened by secret codes and push button locks in full public view. Access to restricted areas that varies widely from terminal to terminal, airport to airport. At some, just flash a badge and the guard let's you pass. At others, an electronic swipe card and code opened doors. Or, just a code does the trick.

ELSON: With a little planning and surveillance, as the terrorists did, you pick the right time, you go back, you dress a certain way, and you can go place pretty much anything you want in a plane or commit sabotage.

HARRIS: However they do it, officials are concerned about outsiders breaching secure areas.

(on camera): This 1998 document details the results of an airport security test ordered by the FAA. It describes how an outside security team managed to get through security doors 19 times, by slipping behind other staff. Once in the secure areas, team members weren't challenged, despite IDs that had a woman's picture on it and were noticeably fraudulent.

HARRIS (voice-over): The same thing happened to Steve Elson when he worked security for the FAA.

ELSON: I have actually taken a badge with somebody else's name and picture on it and walked around an airport. At one point, somebody even looked at it, and it was a picture of somebody who looked nothing like me, and the guy looked at it, called me by that persons name, and told me to have a nice day.

HARRIS: The 1998 security document also details how the team managed to breakthrough different security screenings 446 times. They were caught only four times. According to the document, the FAA team boarded planes where they could easily have placed a bomb.

After the hijackings, transportation secretary Norman Mineta conceded weaknesses in the airport ID system and said he had plans to modernize it.

MINETA: I want to go to fingerprints. I want to go to retinal examinations. There are a number of new technologies. For someone to have an ID card, go up, swipe it through the machine, put in a four digit code, you know, that to me is not security.

DION BURKARD, CNC INDUSTRIES: The system is designed for the good people. It's not designed for the evildoers.

HARRIS: As an airport contractor, Dion Burkhard knows all about the security loopholes he encountered before the hijackings. Burkhard held nine different airport ID badges. And only recently returned them when the FAA ordered all security badges issued before the attacks turned in and re-validated.

(on camera): Under the guidelines and regulations, are airports supposed to ask for ID badges back when work is completed?


HARRIS: Did they in your case? BURKHARD: No.

HARRIS: Cause for concern?



BURKHARD: They don't know where all the badges are.

HARRIS (voice-over): Last year, the Inspector General investigated six airports and found 9 percent of IDs issued remained active even though the employee no longer needed the access. The IG report warned the FAA about its inadequate control of secure areas.

There's also debate about just who is getting these badges.

BURKHARD: People getting false badges, false ID, they go, they get a badge, they're hired to change tires, to wash airplanes, to do whatever, and now they have a badge that's air-side, and they're function was not to get that job, it was to get that badge.

HARRIS: The Inspector General urged the FAA to screen applicants for good character before granting ID badges. Any new employee should be able to pass tougher criminal background checks, credit reports, drug tests.

But it was not until after the hijackings that FAA administrator Jane Garvey ordered mandatory criminal background checks on all airport employees who qualified for security badges.

JANE GARVEY, FAA: Immediately after the attacks we required re- validation of the identification of everyone with airport access badges and also matched them against the FBI watch list. But we know we must do more.

HARRIS: There's also talk about making all airport ID badges look the same.

But some airports are still using the same old badges, recoded and rematched to the badge holder. At other airports, brand new badges, different colors, different codes.

However airport security workers in the end, critics all want the same thing: to feel safe when they fly.

BURKHARD: We need to have accountability of who is on that aircraft from the pilots to the flight crew to the bags, to who serviced that aircraft. Our airports need to be secure. We don't have to have another 9-11 incident.

HARRIS: Federal investigators have yet to link the hijackers to ID badges and access to secure areas in airports. But the airport ID system is a large part of the overall debate about how aviation security needs to change.


BAY: Airline security may begin at the terminal, but the next stop is the plane. Coming up, fortifying the last line of defense.


BAY: Fighter jets ready to scramble. Reinforced cockpit doors. Air marshals. When it comes to security, there's a new way of doing business in the air. Here's CNN's Charles Feldman.


CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Everyone we talked with agreed that in order to make flying safer, the first, second and third lines of defense have to happen even before you actually board the airplane.

But suppose the unthinkable occurs and the pre-boarding security measures fail? Although there have been some changes made aboard the airplane, many of the flight crews we spoke with worried the measures don't go far enough.

PATRICIA FRIEND, PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: We are no less vulnerable today to an attack then we were on the 10th of September. Not the same kind of attack, because the methods used on September 11, those doors have been or are in the process of being closed. But there are other doors that are open.

FELDMAN: In a literal sense, one potential terrorist door has been closed, the cockpit door. Most domestic airlines are refitting their planes with armor-plated doors, dead-bolted from the inside of the cockpit. By now, 90 percent of the airlines affiliated with the Air Transport Association should have completed that job.

And inside those cockpits, more and more pilots are keeping fire axes at their sides, just in case.

While the pilots may now be better protected, what about the passengers and flight attendants in the cabin? There was a time when self-defense wasn't a consideration. Back in the 1930's, when this American Airlines promotional film was made, flight attendants were thought of as glorified waitresses, although some airlines required them to be registered nurses.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: If it's a bit cool, the stewardess will turn the heat on. If it's too warm, she'll open up the ventilators to let in the cool, fresh air that's clean above the dirt and soot and smoke of the earth below.

FELDMAN: In light of September 11, flight attendants may have to take on a more direct role in protecting the plane and passengers.

MONICA SMITH, FLIGHT ATTENDANT: A lot of times when there was some sort of incident on the airplane, we'd call the cockpit, like one of the pilots, and they would come back and help us. Now they cannot. So we, basically, are fending for ourselves. FELDMAN: On some flights, though, the flight attendants may have the help of anonymous armed air marshals. On the day of the terrorist attacks, there were only 32 trained air marshals to cover some 30,000 flights per day in the U.S.

Even though the FAA has received more than 67,000 fresh applications for an unspecified number of new positions, clearly air marshals can't always be counted on to save the day.

MINETA: I'm not sure that a flight from Dubuque to Grand Forks is really a critical flight. If we look at the MO of what was used on the 11th of September, transcontinental flights, because they have 85,000, 90,000 pounds of fuel on those crafts. So, you want to make sure that there's a federal marshall on those.

FELDMAN: As we've said, the government is being secretive about just how many air marshals it's adding to the program, and how the training may differ from the past. Before September 11, the presumption was that the hijackers could be negotiated with, convinced to let the passengers, crew and pain go.

But at least one security company, pitching its training techniques to the FAA, says modern-day air marshals may be less likely to negotiate and more likely to resort to deadly force.

JOSEPH KNOLLER, PRESIDENT, NASTEC INTERNATIONAL: We're dealing with a different kind of threat. With a different kind of terrorist, in which the ideology is so strong that their purpose, their sole purpose, is to basically kill as many people as possible without taking any hostages.

FELDMAN: On some airlines, if you get the feeling big brother is watching, you may soon be right.

DAVID NEELEMAN, CEO, JET BLUE AIRWAYS: We're going to put a video monitor up in the cockpit with hidden cameras all through the cabin, and the captains -- the pilots will be able to see what's happening in the back of the cabin.

FELDMAN (on camera): But a much more low-tech way for flight crews to monitor what's happening in the cabin, keeping the curtain that separates the cabin classes open during flight, is apparently meeting with resistance from some airlines.

FRIEND: They have declined. They have declined on the basis that it might make it inconvenient for passengers who are trying to sleep. This is the sort of reaction that we're getting. Those are simple, not cost-related items that they could do.

FELDMAN (voice-over): Some pilots say that better measures are tricks the pilots can do while flying the plane to throw hijackers off guard, like depressurizing the cabin or throwing the plane into a dive.

But safety experts say such measures are potentially dangerous and tricky to perform by even accomplished crews, and should only be thought of as an absolute last resort.

Whether or not a limited amount of air marshals, hidden cabin cameras, plastic knives for dinner, and karate-chopping flight attendants really make us that much safer in the air, there is one safety measures that many safety experts think will work wonders, and it is already being practiced on flights across the U.S.: better passenger awareness.

DUANE WOERTH, PRESIDENT, AIRLINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION: I noticed that all the passengers are a lot more focused than they used to be, especially if somebody stands up and goes near the front of the airplane. Everybody is kind of watching what's going on here. Everybody's predetermined, like the passengers on Flight United 93 -- nobody's just going to sit idly by if anything happens.


BAY: As the United States looks for any edge in the battle against terror in the skies, many point to airline security procedures in the Middle East. When we come back, the challenge of duplicating a winning formula.


BAY: If the U.S. needs a role model for airline security, it probably couldn't do better than Israel, and it's El Al Airlines.

As CNN's Miles O'Brien reports, El Al's security record is, in a word, stellar.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What is it that El Al airlines knows or does that U.S. air carriers don't?

ISAAC YEFFET, FORMER HEAD OF SECURITY, EL AL AIRLINES: We have to ask ourselves did we do all it's necessary that the flight will fly safe. Once the answer is yes, let them take off.

ISSY BOIM, PRESIDENT, AIR SECURITY INTERNATIONAL: So if you a passenger on El Al, most likely you will be observed from the minute that you left your car or you've been dropped out and then you would have met a security agent before you go to the check-in to check in your flight.

O'BRIEN: In essence the security experts say El Al airlines leaves absolutely nothing to chance and I mean nothing. They haven't had a single hijacking in more than three decades. David Hermesh is the President of El Al.

DAVID HERMESH, PRESIDENT, EL AL AIRLINES: Unfortunately because of our situation we developed the system not because we want to because we had to do it because of the fact that we had.

O'BRIEN: When El Al passengers arrive at Israel's Ben Gurion airport or any other airport that El Al services, three hours before departure they are interviewed by trained security personnel.

Among the questions: Who paid for your ticket? Why are you traveling? And, when did you book this flight? During the extensive interview ticket holders will also be psychologically evaluated, their entire make up judged, mood, body language, everything.

YEFFET: He will decide what kind of a passenger I am -- if I could go for this way or I could go through the other way.

O'BRIEN: The information is then sent on by computer to international intelligence agencies like INTERPOL or Scotland Yard for instant evaluation. If there are any lingering doubts, the passenger won't be allowed on the plane.

BOIM: You build up different criterion that you have taken even from previous incidents or terrorist attacks and you put everything together so you know that the persons that comes to you -- to meet you, he needs to go through your interview clean and clear.

O'BRIEN: Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, each and every El Al plane around the globe is carefully guarded. If the plane needs cleaning or food services, guards are watching whether there are passengers on board or not.

HERMESH: We have a special program for training. It depends what is your position. It's -- you know, it's like in the army. You have the first soldier, the second soldier and you are going to upgrade in the times that you are going to get more experience. It takes a few weeks to receive the first stage and another few months to get more professional during your training job.

O'BRIEN: All pilots flying for El Al have flown in the Israeli Air Force and are professional in weaponry and hand to hand combat.

However, one El Al official tells CNN, pilots do not carry guns in the cockpit. There isn't a need. Two bulletproof doors activated by a keypad from inside the cock pit act as a barrier between those flying the plane and the cabin.

YEFFET: We don't want the pilots to be fighters. We want them to stay in the cockpit. In case of emergency land in the nearest airport. Leave the Air Marshalls that are really professionals.

O'BRIEN: On board every El Al flight there are at least two undercover Air Marshalls seated among the passengers. They dress in plane clothes and are armed, licensed to shoot and kill in situations where time is of the essence.

YEFFET: We tell them less than 30 seconds we save life. After 30 seconds, we did not save life. People lost a life -- even one we don't want to see.

O'BRIEN (on camera): If all this sounds overwhelming, Air Marshalls, the guns, bulletproof cockpit doors, around-the-clock security, there are many industry watchers who say it should be the standard for U.S. airlines. But is that really possible? El Al has 34 airplanes carrying 3 million passengers a year. In the U.S. there are 25 airlines carrying as many passengers in two days as El Al carries in a year.

Still, there is a new phase of terrorism out there and at least one expert told us, the airlines need to take action or risk becoming easy targets.

YEFFET: Remember we are dealing with sophisticated enemy. And this group of terrorists that hijacked the four aircraft, they had to go many times to the airports, to learn the airports, to learn the terminal, to learn the check in, to learn the sky cap, to learn the security check point, even to know some of the FAA regulations.

BOIM: The solution for the future is to integrate I would say centralized security for all the airports in America. Terrorists will understand that they cannot use aviation to fight with it against our life. Aviation is commuting. Commuting is not weapons. And let's keep it out of their hands.


BAY: Coming up: What's next for airline security? We'll examine a new wave of technology.


BAY: America's struggle to improve airport security is causing a fresh look at new technology, everything from facial recognition to pilotless planes; ideas that now have experts asking "what if?"

Here's CNN's David Mattingly.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the early morning of September 11, two suspected hijackers are captured on video by a surveillance camera. Hours later, terrorists are behind the controls of four commercial airliners -- and ground controllers can do little more than watch them disappear from radar.

Could anything be done to prevent this from happening again? The answer, according to experts, is yes. And it lies in technology that can make surveillance cameras -- even airplanes -- smarter.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will look at all kinds of technologies to make sure that our airlines are safe, and for example including technology to enable controllers to take over distressed aircraft and land it by remote control.

MATTINGLY: The White House is firmly behind technology that can allow airplanes to be controlled remotely from the ground. This is already in use in the skies of Afghanistan: unmanned Predator drones, pre-programmed and guided by satellite to gather intelligence in dangerous airspace.

Professor Eric Johnson is an expert in aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech University.

(on camera): So eventually the technology would allow for a plane to take off by itself, fly by itself, land by itself?

ERIC JOHNSON, AEROSPACE ENGINEER, GEORGIA TECH: There are vehicles that are -- that are doing that right now, and operated by the military. But they are much less reliable than their equivalent manned vehicles.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Which means that making the leap from the lab to the cockpit of a 747 is problematic, and may be decades away.

JOHNSON: There's an intermediate level where we simply -- where we do allow the -- a person on the ground to take over control, but we don't prevent the pilot on board from being able to revert back to their own control. Looking longer term, we could actually make that a one-way process where the control would revert purely to the ground where the person on board would have no control anymore whatsoever, presumably a hijacker.

MATTINGLY: And it's on the ground where the first technological leaps in air travel security are already taking place. At a recent aviation security conference, a showcase of the latest anti-terror devices.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We would have the person stand in the footprints in front of the unit.

MATTINGLY: With such technology as X-ray back scattering, which uses low-energy radiation to penetrate clothing and detect contraband and weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even in the pants pocket. Down here on the side is a box cutter.

SCANNER: Please move over a little.

MATTINGLY: Also on display: biometric devices like this retinal scanner, which can be combined with an encoded ID card to add another layer of security.

SCANNER: Identification is completed.

MATTINGLY: Breakthroughs in biometrics can also create cameras that do more than just watch.


MATTINGLY: Don Yoakum is an executive vice president for Axis Biometrics, a firm that offers facial recognition technology.

(on camera): What is that device doing when it sees me?

YOAKUM: It's actually taking certain areas -- regions in your face. In our particular products, they are three dimensional.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Using his company's software, watch what happens when I step in front of camera.

ANNOUNCER: Sorry. I do not recognize you.

MATTINGLY (on camera): With the click of a mouse, my face is logged into a database. Now every time the camera sees me...

ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Dave Mattingly. You can proceed.

MATTINGLY: It recognizes me, and can alert security if I go someplace I'm not supposed to be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can even use composite sketches.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): And it may not be too long before this kind of technology can make cameras smart enough to even record our mannerisms and detect unusual or suspicious movements. Properly installed smart cameras of the future could see terrorists walking through an airport, recognize their faces, match them to law enforcement records around the world. But systems today have a ways to go.

ANNOUNCER: Sorry. I do not recognize you.

MATTINGLY: A pair of sunglasses, even a suntan, can throw the system off.

ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Dave Mattingly. You may proceed.

MATTINGLY: The system requires continuing updates. Nevertheless, airports around the country are looking into facial recognition technology: including Boston's Logan Airport, where hijackers boarded the planes that brought down the World Trade Center. But why did it take September 11 to bring about such upgrades?

YOAKUM: There has not been a compelling reason to spend the additional money. And it is -- it's an ROI, a return on investment.

MATTINGLY: And if there wasn't a reason to invest in high tech security before September 11, there certainly is now.


BAY: As we're looking to the future, it's also important not to forget the past. Just ahead: the lessons learned from the longest hijacking ordeal in U.S. history.


BAY: A plane hijacked, and a threat to use it as a missile. Sound familiar? Well, we're not talking about September, 2001. We're talking about November, 1972, an event that, like the attacks of 9/11, forced America to rethink its air security.

With that story, here again is Miles O'Brien.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): Like many of us, pilot Harold Johnson (ph) heard about the World Trade Center attack on his car radio.

HAROLD JOHNSON, PILOT: I thought, this is so tragic, so horrible; but yet I recognized years ago that something like this could happen.

O'BRIEN: It almost happened to him. Twenty-nine years ago onboard a Southern Airways flight, three hijackers took over the plane Johnson was copiloting, and during a 30-hour ordeal threatened to crash it into a top-secret nuclear weapons plant.

Flight 49 was supposed to be a routine flight from Memphis to Miami, but everything changed after a scheduled stop in Birmingham.

JOHNSON: Suddenly the door burst open, and in came the flight attendant. And a black man had his arm around her neck, a gun at her head, and said "we're taking over the airplane."

O'BRIEN (on camera): The hijackers demanded $10 million, and took the flight crew and 27 passengers on a wild ride to eight airports in three countries.

JOHNSON: We went to Jackson, Mississippi, refueled; and then flew non-stop to Detroit. The weather was bad in Detroit. We circled for a long, long time. In the meantime, the company was trying to round up the money.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Johnson's predicament wasn't that unusual for the times.

It was November of 1972, and Southern Airways Flight 49 was the 31st U.S. hijacking of the year. In the previous decade, 130 domestic airliners were commandeered.

BRIAN JENKINS, COUNTER-TERRORISM EXPERT: In the 1960s you could board an airplane as easily as you board a bus. That is, you simply drove out to the airport, went to the ticket counter, checked your baggage, walked out to the gate and boarded the airplane when it was ready to go. There was no security at that time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I told the captain "there's a man behind me with a gun."

O'BRIEN: While common, hijackings 30 years ago rarely turned violent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He surrendered the knife to the deputy.

JENKINS: The hijackings of the late '60s and the early '70s were intended primarily to change the destination of the airplane. In all such cases, the safest thing to do was get the airplane safely back on the ground and let the local authorities deal with the problem. O'BRIEN: But the armed takeover of Southern Airways Flight 49 was different. It was not only the longest in U.S. history, it also turned violent. After stopping in Detroit, the plane flew to Cleveland, and then on to Toronto.

From there, Harold Johnson and his captain flew south, heading toward Knoxville, Tennessee when the hijackers made a potentially catastrophic threat.

JOHNSON: The demands at Knoxville were that if we didn't have the money by 1:00 that we'd crash into the nuclear reactor there.

O'BRIEN: It was much more than just a nuclear reactor. It was the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the top-secret sight where the fuel for atomic weapons is processed.

Running low on fuel, they stopped in Lexington, Kentucky and then landed in Chattanooga, Tennessee. There, authorities handed over cash, bulletproof vests, crash helmets and reportedly a six-pack of beer.

But the odyssey was far from over. From there, the hijackers demanded to go to Havana.

JOHNSON: When we landed in Cuba, I think they thought they could negotiate and strike a pretty good deal with Castro with $10 million; and Castro wouldn't talk to them. This made them quite upset.

O'BRIEN: The plane needed fuel again, but the Havana ground crew didn't know how to refuel it.

JOHNSON: So I crawled out the window and slid down the escape line and helped them to fuel the airplane. I was very tempted just not to get back on the airplane.

But then I thought, if I don't get back on the airplane, then they will shoot the captain, they'll shoot the flight attendants or they'll shoot passengers and start kicking them out the door.

And so I made the decision to get back on the airplane and go.

O'BRIEN: From Cuba, the plane headed back to the U.S. By this time, authorities were losing their patience, and when the plane landed in Orlando, the FBI shot out the plane's tires on the runway, sending the hijackers into a rage.

JOHNSON: They just kind of went wild. And they drug me out of my seat and flung me back into the passenger compartment. And suddenly one of the hijackers appeared in the doorway and told me to stand up in the seat, that he was going to kill me.

And we exchanged a few words. I told him that we tried to be cooperative, and that we'd done everything they asked us to. And so it became quite obvious that he was going to shoot, and I dived for the floor. And as I did, he shot -- the bullet went through the seat back and the tray table and into my arm, just immediately below the shoulder.

O'BRIEN: Now the hijackers wanted to go back to Havana, but the captain said he couldn't fly without his copilot at his side. So Johnson returned to the cockpit. It was a rough landing in Cuba, but it was their last.

JOHNSON: They immediately grabbed their bags of money, all they could carry, and hopped out the over-wing exits, off the wing. And Castro had his troops out there and they nabbed them just as soon as they got on the ground.

O'BRIEN: The hijackers spent eight years in a Cuban prison before returning to the U.S. to serve additional jail time. Harold Johnson's shoulder healed and he returned to fly. And the commandeering of Southern Airways Flight 49, like the hijackings of September 11, 2001, was a catalyst for major change.

In January, 1973, for the first time the FAA mandated that all airline passengers had to pass through metal detectors and put their carry-on baggage through inspection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch your step sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your training is all going to have to be brought into focus...

O'BRIEN: The Air Marshal Program, which began in 1970 and provided armed undercover agents on select flights, remained in place. There was also talk of fortifying cockpit doors and arming the pilots. Those measures were never adopted.

In the years ahead, as domestic hijackings dropped to near zero, the Air Marshal Program was effectively phased out.

(on camera): Twenty-nine years later, following the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history, the Air Marshal Program and other security measures are very much back in play. And the FAA has issued at least one directive with eerie overtones to Flight 49: The airspace directly over nuclear facilities, including Oak Ridge, is now restricted.

(voice-over): Harold Johnson supports these reforms. He'd also like to see pilots armed. And after what happened in September, he says there may now be another weapon in the arsenal.

JOHNSON: I think that the passengers are going to be a lot more interested in this than they were in the past. And in the past they probably thought "well, we're going to land someplace and this nut's going to get off here with his money and everything will be all right." And I think most passengers would certainly rather risk their lives if they knew they could save a few thousand other people on the ground.


BAY: Whether mandates from Washington or initiatives from the airlines themselves, there's little doubt that additional security measures and upgrades are on the horizon. There's also little doubt that whatever the changes, fear, at least for a while, will remain a passenger.

That's this edition of CNN PRESENTS. I'm Willow Bay. Thanks for joining us.




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