Oct 11 2001


Statement of Sen. Richard Shelby

U.S. Senator Richard C. Shelby today commented on S. 1447, the Aviation Security Bill, which the U.S. Senate is expected to pass this evening:

"There are many aviation security issues facing the Senate, in light of the tragic events of September 11."

"To put these issues in perspective, I'd like to recall the extraordinary actions of the passengers on United flight 93 on September 11, the ill-fated flight that crashed in Pennsylvania. In the ultimate act of self-sacrifice and heroism, a group of passengers rushed the cockpit and thwarted the terrorists aboard that flight from inflicting additional damage and loss on this great nation."

"Without doubt, those fathers, mothers, husbands and wives _ patriots one and all _ saved the lives of hundreds of Americans wherever that aircraft was targeted. They understood what was happening, that they would probably never again see their loved ones _ but they acted heroically and, in sacrificing their own lives and dreams, probably saved the lives of hundreds of their fellow citizens."

"This nation, and perhaps this Congress on an even more personal level, owes them a debt of honor and gratitude that is hard to articulate. They deserve our recognition and our commitment that we will meet, address, and repel the threat that forced them to pay so great a price."

"They were among the many Americans in New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and around the nation who acted courageously during and in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on September 11th. They brought honor to all who love this country and what it represents _ they are what America is all about."

"These were not warriors or law enforcement officials. You might say that they were neighbors, members of parishes, or people we might meet in our grocery stores. They were just `average' Americans. And the world should wonder and our enemies should tremble at their mettle."

"As devastating as the heinous act of September 11th was, and as incalculable as the pain, disruption, and loss inflicted upon the victims at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and on onboard the four hijacked United and American flights was, America and our very way of life we cherish will endure."

"No one can make right the loss that the families, the co-workers, the friends and loved ones of the victims suffered because of these despicable acts. I know that all of us here in the Senate and across this great nation continue to reflect and pray every day for the aggrieved and the fallen."

"We must take every step to assure the nation that this tragedy cannot be repeated. That is a tall order. I commend to your attention the comments made by the pilot of United flight 564 on Saturday, September 15th to the passengers aboard that flight after the doors closed and as they prepared to depart from Denver International Airport. He is reported to have said: `I want to thank you brave folks for coming out today. We don't have any new instructions from the Federal government, so from now on we're on our own.' He continued: `Sometimes a potential hijacker will announce that he has a bomb. There are no bombs on this aircraft and if someone were to get up and make that claim, don't believe him.
`If someone were to stand up, brandish something such as a plastic knife and say `This is a hijacking' or words to that effect, here is what you should do: Every one of you should stand up and immediately throw things at that person _ pillows, boks, magazines, eyeglasses, shoes _ anything that will throw him off balance and distract his attention. `If he has a confederate or two, do the same with them. Most important: get a blanket over him, then wrestle him to the floor and keep him there. We'll land the plane at the nearest airport and the authorities will take it from there. `Remember, there will be one of him and maybe a few confederates, but there are 200 of you. You can overwhelm them. `The Declaration of Independence say, `We, the people. . .' and that's just what it is when we're up in the air: we, the people, vs. Would-be terrorists. I don't think we are going to have any such problem today or tomorrow or for a while, but some time down the road, it is going to happen again and I want you to know what to do. `Now, since we're a family for the next few hours, I'll ask you to turn to the person next to you, introduce yourself, tell them a little about yourself and ask them to do the same."

"That pilot's guidance is serious _ but these are serious times. Americans are a people who empower themselves to do great things. Clearly, the actions of the passengers and the crew on the American airlines flight earlier this week illustrate that the flying public, the pilots and the crews are willing and committed to maintaining the safety and security of our airways."

"We should not delude ourselves into thinking that simple pronouncements from the FAA _ with all due respect _ or tweaking the Federal Aviation Regulations, will allow us to sleep comfortably on transcontinental flights."

"It is all of our responsibility to ensure the safety of our airways. The passengers aboard United flight 93 knew that instinctively _ the pilot on the United flight out of Denver merely reminds us of it."

"Accordingly, as we review and reform our safety and security procedures, we must ask a simply question: would the actions and initiatives we propose to undertake have prevented the recent terrorist attacks and will they prevent future acts. Unfortunately, I'm concerned that the bill as currently drafted may fall short of meeting that standard."

"Our actions must be meaningful, effective, and they must restore the confidence of the American public in the integrity and safety of our transportation systems."

"If there ever were a time for bold and aggressive steps to improve the safety of our transportation systems _ now is that time. I believe, no, I know, that this Congress and the American people will accept and embrace meaningful steps toward that end."

"We only need look at the full measure of sacrifice made by the passengers aboard United flight 93 to know the depths of our responsibility and I am heartened by the fact that I know that same spirit is aboard every plane in the sky."

"I believe that it all starts with our intelligence capability _ we have to have the best possible intelligence about potential or imminent threats in order to constantly focus and modify security procedures and efforts. Intelligence is the first line of offense in our war against terrorism; "The principle that should guide us is that through human scrutiny and technological screening, we should put passengers through sufficient security procedures to identify potential threats;
"For the passenger, that might mean answering computer generated and tailored questions at the ticket counter which might be followed by interviews with security personnel; passage through a metal detector which might be followed by a thorough physical search of carry-on baggage, and perhaps passage through another magnetometer or wanding before boarding the aircraft. "For checked baggage, that should mean passage through various and increasingly sophisticated explosive detection systems followed by thorough physical search for any bag that requires further scrutiny -- there should also be random physical searches for all bags to improve proficiency and to raise the security penetration. "In addition, we should accelerate our research into emerging technologies to improve our ability to detect weapons carried by people or explosives secreted away in baggage. We also may need to consider stronger limitations on both hand carried and checked bags "For the aircraft, that should mean armed air marshals on flights and hardening the cockpit door (as Delta Airlines has already begun), revising access procedures to the cockpit, and increasing the security training of pilots and crews, including allowing pilots to option of defending themselves.

"We should requiring background checks of everyone who has access to the aircraft: whether pilots, crew, ground personnel, baggage handlers, caterers, and other contract personnel _ with regular and periodic reviews. "For the airport, it entails a more substantial armed police force, conspicuously and constantly present in the public areas and concourses. In addition, we need to improve the airport access procedures and technologies to make sure that people are where they are supposed to be and not in places that could present a threat to the aircraft or passengers. "Simply put, we need to expeditiously pursue security technologies and procedures at airport access points that cannot be defeated by even well organized and clever terrorists. "And so, we come full circle back to intelligence -- without a robust and aggressive intelligence effort that is constantly questioning where, how, and who may plan the next attack, our security measure will not evolve to meet the challenge. Unfortunately, if that is the case, we're merely waiting for the next attack. "Clearly, we must approach airline, airport, and aircraft security issues in complementary and overlapping ways to establish a security "net" around our aviation system. What do I mean by a "net?" If we are suspicious about a bag or a passenger, that information is relayed and additional, more extensive security measure like I've described would be employed. "The increased tempo and breadth of security operations pose dramatic cost increases for airlines and airports and for the Federal government. I note that the legislation before the Senate contains an authorization to reimburse airports for the direct costs of increased law enforcement requirements mandated by the FAA. "I think this is a legitimate and reasonable approach. The federal government should not place unfunded federal mandates on our airports or any other unit of local government. "Clearly, the FAA mandated security directive requiring airports to increase the law enforcement presence is necessary. I intend to work with my colleagues on the appropriations committee to provide funding to help defray these costs and I commend the authorizing committee for providing that authorization in this bill."

"However, notwithstanding that there are some useful provisions in this bill, I'm concerned that this legislation and this debate has gotten bogged down about whether we should "Federalize" the aviation screening functions. I doubt that "Federalizing" is the panacea that some would have you believe. "For some, it is an instinctive response to turn to the Federal government in the wake of a crisis without ever questioning if it is the responsible action to take or if the federal bureaucracy will be any better. So, "Federalization" may be a bad idea whose time has come. "We're missing the point if we misinterpret the mandate from the American people to improve aviation security with a public desire that the people searching our bags or manning the security checkpoint must be receive a paycheck from the U.S. Treasury."

"Keep in mind, the weapons that the terrorist carried on the aircraft were legal to carry on the aircraft. What failed was intelligence, our response time, and the lack of security onboard the aircraft. Let's fix those things. Until September 11th, it was legal to take a 4 inch knife on board an aircraft, and metal knives were commonplace in first class meal service. "The price tag for full Federal assumption of airport security is not small -- in excess of $2 billion annually and that cost will only rise. And that's forever. "We must weigh that commitment of taxpayer dollars against whether it would result in either improved security, or the perception of improved security. There are a lot of things that the Federal Government does well, I would argue that this is not one of them. "Let's not mislead the public into interpreting `federalization' to mean that baggage screening is going to be conducted by a law enforcement officers. Not even the supporters of full federalization are contemplating having federal law enforcement officers search passengers or carry-on baggage."

"In a federalized world, the metal detectors and bag searches would be conducted by federal bureaucrats. I don't think that over time, the American taxpayer is going to look at a bureaucrat bag screener and say, `I feel safer because a Federal employee is checking my bags.'

"Remember, the money we spend on replacing private sector employees with government bureaucrats means we will have that much less money for other security improvements -- and we're talking about hiring as many as 30,000 new federal employees. That's three Army divisions. "I'm also concerned about the concept of a two-tier airport security construct. Some have advocated that we `Federalize' at the largest airports while not `Federalizing' at other smaller airport. That logic is inconsistent with its proponents' other flawed reasoning that security will somehow be magically improved and tightened by virtue of `Federalization.' "The simple fact is we must improve aviation security at all airports. We cannot have weaker points and stronger points in the system. Instead, we must tailor our security architecture to stop terrorists no matter where they attempt to get into the system."

"Further, I fail to see how creating a new Deputy Administrator at the FAA or a new Deputy or Assistant Secretary at the Department of Transportation moves the aviation security ball down the field. "Since both the past administration and this administration have had such difficulty in filling the Deputy Administrator of the FAA position, I'm concerned that we're unnecessarily confusing and complicating the Federal bureaucracy. "I can't remember a case where an additional layer of bureaucracy led to the swift, decisive leadership I believe is necessary, especially in regards to safety and security. I'm also not certain that either the DOT or the FAA are the only, or the best place, for any new security function to reside.

"I would hope that the relevant committees of jurisdiction would explore whether these responsibilities wouldn't be better executed at the Department of Justice, the Department of the Treasury, or in the new Office of Homeland Security. "Personally, I believe that the President got it right in his proposal. The Federal government would assume management and oversight of the Security function. It is imperative that we have standards for personnel, background checks, and training, as the President proposed, to improve the security net. That is the appropriate role of the Federal government. I'm disappointed that the bill before us today seems to be taking this issue in a different direction."

"When we addressed the imminent financial crisis facing the airline industry two weeks ago, we acted expeditiously to restore the confidence of the financial markets that Congress and the Administration had confidence in the future of air travel in America. Congress and the Administration must move expeditiously, but deliberately, to augment the interim security procedures already instituted by the Administration. This is not a one time infusion of capital or liquidity as was necessary in the Airline Stabilization legislation. "Make no mistake, we must get this done and get it right before the end of this Congress. Taking a few more weeks as this bill moves through conference will not shake the confidence of the American public. "The American people will live with our decisions on aviation security for a long time. It is critical that we address the problems in the system without rushing to judgement. If we act precipitously we run the risk of failing to address security in a thoughtful and comprehensive fashion, and, we may well lose the opportunity to make the meaningful improvements that are essential to provide a system worthy of the American public's confidence. "In the extreme, we run the risk of perpetrating a fraud on the American public by misleading them into a false sense of comfort that we have met the security challenge in this bill. "Congress has time to get this right. This is a complicated and crucial issue and we should take the time to get it right. The Administration has taken the interim steps to restore public confidence and to bolster security at airports _ our actions should augment and complement those steps, not quibble over organization charts and who mans the security checkpoints."

"Clearly, the airlines, the airports, and pilots, such as the United Airline captain I quoted earlier are taking responsible and meaningful steps to improve safety and security. We should follow their example."