Security hearings begin at Logan Airport
US aviation security has dramatically improved in the decade since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but leaders of a congressional panel said yesterday that weaknesses remain in the system, including passenger screening techniques and the protection of airport perimeters.
Days following the 10th anniversary of the attacks, Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas and chairman of the Homeland Security subcommittee on oversight, investigations, and management, and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Representative William Keating of Massachusetts, held a field hearing at Logan International Airport in Boston. Two planes hijacked from Logan were flown into the World Trade Center on 9/11, but the airport has since earned praise as a leader in implementing innovative security procedures.
Logan was the first US airport to meet a federal deadline for screening 100 percent of checked baggage and in 2003 pioneered a behavioral observation program to identify potentially dangerous passengers that has been expanded to 160 airports and resulted in hundreds of arrests, though none directly linked to terrorism.
The Transportation Security Administration recently began experimenting with a new technique at the airport in which officers engage in brief, casual conversations with passengers and listen for any hints of suspicious behavior. The program is modeled after an approach that has long been used by Israeli security officials, but does not employ profiling, TSA officials said.
The Department of Homeland Security is still assessing the scientific validity of the approach before deciding whether to expand its use.
McCaul said the “chat-downs’’ are preferable to the pat-downs that airline passengers have become accustomed to since 9/11.
“I’d like to see it more rapidly deployed in all the airports, so we can get past this kind of nonsense of patdowns of World War II veterans, grandmothers, and kids,’’ said McCaul, who said members of Congress frequently hear complaints about children and the elderly being searched when they would appear by all accounts to pose little risk.
Edward Freni, Logan’s director of aviation, said there was no evidence that the program has led to longer lines at terminal checkpoints.