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Blame the Airlines
An Essay by Victoria Cummock

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Sept. 25, 2001 -- More Americans have died at the hands of terrorists than in any war since Vietnam. This statistic was fact before the Sept. 11th terrorist attack on America. The fact that terrorists were successfully targeting Americans for over 20 years was no secret to our government. National threat assessments were routinely done by many government agencies. Extensive vulnerability studies concluded that the nature of the threat to the American people had changed from the threat of Cold War to the threat of terrorism. Also concluded routinely was that aviation represented an extremely vulnerable area. It was there the terrorists could get the most bang for their buck.

In 1990, President Bush's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism concluded that, "The US civil aviation security system is seriously flawed and has failed to provide the proper level of protection for the flying public. This system needs major reform. Rhetoric is no substitute for strong, effective action." This, after the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103, killing 270 people, mostly Americans. Legislation and regulations were written requiring mass deployment of automated explosive detection technology at our airports to replace antiquated X-ray and metal detectors. Additionally, standards were set for minimum training and certification of airport and airline personnel, including national criminal background checks. This is just to list a few mandates spanning over a decade.

The outcome? The aviation industry fought and won more than a decade of delays. Big business prevailed and the government failed to provide security measures already recognized as essential for our protection against terrorists. The airlines hired unskilled, unqualified, untrained minimum-wage employees who, for all we know, might have criminal backgrounds themselves. Fighting the war against terrorists was done ineffectively with minimum wage.

Our government has so much to do to gain the confidence back of the flying public. Now, once again, Americans are being asked to get back to our business at hand. But the mass murder of thousands have left many feeling fearful, vulnerable and angry, and for very good reasons. For myself, left widowed with three small children, and the other families of terrorists' victims across America, the pain we have lived with alone for so many years is now shared by all Americans who saw what happened on Sept. 11th. It's time to end 12 years of inaction and implement adequate aviation security measures so other Americans would not suffer our fate.

Victoria Cummock is a former White House commissioner on aviation security and terrorism.