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Context of 'August 1998-Late-September 2001: Inexperienced Manager Heads FAA’s Boston Security Field Office'

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Virginia BuckinghamVirginia Buckingham [Source: Publicity photo]Data compiled by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) shows that over this period Boston’s Logan Airport has one of the worst records for security among major US airports. Flight 11 and Flight 175 depart from Logan on 9/11. While it is only America’s eighteenth busiest airport, it has the fifth highest number of security violations. FAA agents testing its passenger screening are able to get 234 guns and inert hand grenades and bombs past its checkpoint guards or through its X-ray machines. Though it is possible that the high number of violations is because the FAA tests more frequently at Logan than elsewhere, an official later quoted by the Boston Globe says lax security is the only explanation, as all checkpoints at every major airport are meant to be tested monthly. In contrast, Newark Airport, from where Flight 93 departs on 9/11, has an above average security record. Washington’s Dulles Airport, from where Flight 77 takes off, is below average, though not as bad as Logan. Officials familiar with security at Logan will, after 9/11, point to various flaws. For example, the State Police office has no video surveillance of the airport’s security checkpoints, boarding gates, ramp areas, or perimeter entrances. (Brelis and Carroll 9/26/2001) Security cameras had been put into use at most US airports in the mid-1980s. When Virginia Buckingham takes over as executive director of Massachusetts Port Authority in 1999, she is surprised at the lack of cameras at Logan, and orders them that year. Yet by 9/11, they still will not have been installed. (Hanchett and Washington 9/29/2001; Belkin 9/30/2001) In spite of Logan’s poor security record, after 9/11 the Boston Globe will report, “[A]viation specialists have said it is unlikely that more rigorous attention to existing rules would have thwarted the 10 hijackers who boarded two jets at Logan on Sept. 11.” (Carroll 10/17/2001)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finds at least 136 security violations at Boston’s Logan Airport between 1997 and early 1999. Flights 11 and 175 will depart from Logan on 9/11. Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates the airport, is fined $178,000 for these breaches, which include failing to screen baggage properly and easy access to parked planes. In summer 1999, a teenager is able to climb over the airport’s security fence, walk two miles across the tarmac, board a 747, and fly on it to London. In September 1999, the Boston Globe finds that doors are often left open at the airport, making it possible for potentially anyone to gain access to planes on the ground. (Howe and Brelis 9/12/2001; Slevin and Warrick 9/12/2001) After 9/11, an analysis by the Boston Globe will conclude that Logan’s security record is “dismal” (see 1991-2000). (Brelis and Carroll 9/26/2001)

Mary Carol Turano is appointed director of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Boston Civil Aviation Security Field Office (CASFO). This is the office that oversees security at Logan Airport, from where Flights 11 and 175 depart on 9/11. Yet Turano has little experience in airport security, and has not even begun the basic training that all FAA special agents must undergo. During her tenure, according to an agent who is assigned to Logan, staff that document security violations become frustrated, as she allows violations to accumulate without taking appropriate action. After 9/11, it will be revealed that she lacks the identification badge necessary for unescorted access to secure areas. An official familiar with airport security procedures will comment, “An organization does well what a commander checks, and how can you check what they do if you don’t have a ramp access badge?” Turano is subsequently reassigned. (Associated Press 9/29/2001; Brelis and Murphy 9/29/2001; Thys 10/4/2001; Thomas 2003, pp. 61; 9/11 Commission 3/11/2004 pdf file) Logan Airport’s poor record for security continues while she heads CASFO (see 1991-2000 and 1997-September 1999).

Alleged 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is seen by at least two people, examining the security checkpoints at Logan International Airport in Boston—the airport at which he will board Flight 11 on September 11—but no action is taken when the witnesses report their concerns about his suspicious behavior. (Sullivan 12/23/2013 pdf file; Martin 10/6/2014)
Supervisor Sees Atta Filming a Security Checkpoint - Theresa Spagnuolo, a supervisor for Globe Aviation Services, sees a Middle Eastern man videotaping the main security checkpoint at the airport. The man, Spagnuolo will later describe, is between 5 feet 5 and 5 feet 6 tall, with one day’s beard growth. After 9/11, she will recognize him as Atta from photos she is shown by investigators and seeing Atta’s picture on television. Worried by the man’s behavior, she tells her supervisor, James Miller, what she has seen. Miller, though, says nothing can be done about her concerns because the man is in a public area. According to the New York Post, however, this is untrue. “[A]irport security had clear authority to investigate anybody surveilling a checkpoint,” it will state, “and [Atta’s] activity should have raised major red flags.” Shortly after 9/11, Miller will claim he has no recollection of this incident and his alleged conversation with Spagnuolo. (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms 9/17/2001 pdf file; Sperry 10/5/2014)
Technician Sees Two Men Behaving Suspiciously - Meanwhile, Stephen Wallace, an American Airlines technician, notices two Middle Eastern men acting suspiciously sometime between 8:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. outside the main security checkpoint. He sees one of the men taking photos, and recording video of the checkpoint and the flight information display screens. He sees the other man speaking loudly in Arabic on a cell phone. Wallace will describe the men as having a dark complexion and being of medium height or perhaps slightly less than medium height. The man he sees talking on a cell phone has “no chin and dead eyes,” he will say. After 9/11, he will identify this man as Atta from photos he is shown by investigators. Whether he will be able to identify the other suspicious man is unstated. The two men are dressed like they are from Miami, Florida, Wallace will say. Atta is wearing a shiny grey shirt while the other man is wearing a tan shirt with stripes and flowers on it. Both men are wearing new leather shoes but no socks. Wallace observes them behaving suspiciously for about 45 minutes.
Port Authority Employees Think the Men Are Speaking Portuguese - Wallace alerts a couple of Massachusetts Port Authority employees who are nearby. He tells them the men have been taking photos, recording video, and talking Arabic on the phone. However, the Port Authority employees are apparently unconcerned. They tell Wallace the two men are “okay” and are speaking Portuguese, not Arabic. Wallace, though, is sure the men have been talking in Arabic.
Technician Questions the Suspicious Men - Due to his concerns, Wallace eventually walks up to the men and questions them about their carry-on luggage. They have what he will describe as “brand new” pilot bags with them. One of the bags is open and Wallace sees three disposable cameras, a video camera, files, and a cell phone in it. He points to a kiosk display of items that are prohibited on planes and says, “You guys don’t have any of this stuff in your bags, do you?” In response, one of the men addresses the other and refers to Wallace using an Arabic swear word while gesturing toward the technician. The two men then nervously pack up their bags and hurry toward another security checkpoint.
State Trooper Takes No Action - Wallace follows them and, before they reach it, alerts a Massachusetts state trooper to them. (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms 9/17/2001 pdf file; Merrill Corp. 7/17/2007 pdf file; Sperry 10/5/2014) He tells the state trooper: “These two clowns are up to something. They’ve been taking videos and pictures down at the checkpoint.” However, nothing is done in response to his concerns. The men are not stopped, questioned, or asked for IDs. (Martin 10/6/2014) Wallace is unsure if they subsequently get on a plane but he thinks they board a flight to Washington, DC.
Action Today Could Have Prevented 9/11, Expert Will Say - There are no security cameras at the airport’s security checkpoints (see 1991-2000 and September 29, 2001), and so no images of Atta and his companion are recorded. Brian Sullivan, a retired special agent and risk management specialist for the Federal Aviation Administration, will express frustration at the lack of response to the sightings of Atta today when he learns of this incident after 9/11. “I’m convinced that had action been taken after the sighting of Atta, the 9/11 attacks, at least at Logan, could have been deterred,” he will say. Referring to Atta, the New York Post will comment, “[T]he worst terrorist hijacker in history was allowed to waltz through security without anyone stopping him, asking his name, checking his ticket, taking a picture, looking at his driver’s license or passport, opening his bags, or patting him down.” (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms 9/17/2001 pdf file; Merrill Corp. 7/17/2007 pdf file; Sperry 10/5/2014) Atta will again be seen behaving suspiciously at Logan Airport on September 9 (see September 9, 2001). (PBS 1/17/2002; Associated Press 5/28/2002; Corbin 7/5/2002)

All five Flight 175 hijackers reportedly check in at Boston’s Logan Airport, pass through a security checkpoint, and board their plane during this period. The five hijackers are Marwan Alshehhi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Hamza Alghamdi, Ahmed Alghamdi, and Mohand Alshehri. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 89) The FAA has a program in place called CAPPS, which selects passengers for more thorough security screening based on suspicious behavior such as buying a one-way ticket or paying with cash (see (6:20 a.m.-7:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Although reports claim that between two and five of the Flight 175 hijackers have one-way tickets, none are selected by CAPPS. (Sperry 4/24/2002; US Congress 9/26/2002; US Congress 9/26/2002; Goo and Eggen 1/28/2004; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 18) Two of them have problems answering security questions at the ticket counter (see (6:20 a.m.-6:53 a.m.) September 11, 2001). At the security checkpoint, all five would pass through a walk-through metal detector, and an X-ray machine would screen their carry-on luggage. But Logan Airport has no video surveillance of its checkpoints (see 1991-2000), so there is no documentary evidence of exactly when they go through, or how they are processed. Jennifer Gore, the young supervisor overseeing the checkpoint, is later unable to recall seeing any of them. The Globe and Mail will explain, “[S]he was trained to look for metal bits in bags and in clothes, not people.” (Saunders et al. 9/7/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 2; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 18)

During this period, all five Flight 11 hijackers check in at Boston’s Logan Airport and board their plane, bound for Los Angeles. The FAA has a program in place called the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS), which is designed to identify those passengers most likely requiring additional scrutiny by airport security (see (6:20 a.m.-7:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Ticket records will show that CAPPS selects three of the Flight 11 hijackers at Logan: Since Waleed Alshehri checks no bags his selection has no consequences; Wail Alshehri and Satam Al Suqami have their bags scanned for explosives, but are not stopped. All five hijackers would need to pass through a security checkpoint to reach the departure gate for their flight. Each would have been screened as they walked through a metal detector calibrated to detect items with at least the metal content of a small-caliber handgun. If they’d set this off, they would have been screened with a handheld metal detector. An X-ray machine would have screened their carry-on luggage. However, Logan Airport has no video surveillance of its security checkpoints (see 1991-2000), so there is no documentary evidence of exactly when they pass through them, or if alarms are triggered. According to the 9/11 Commission, none of the checkpoint supervisors later recall seeing any of the Flights 11 hijackers, or report anything suspicious having occurred. (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 1-2; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 5-6) However, a WorldNetDaily article will claim that some Logan staff members recall seeing Mohamed Atta (see (6:50 a.m.-7:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sperry 9/21/2001) The Boston Globe will later comment, “aviation specialists have said it is unlikely that more rigorous attention to existing rules would have thwarted the 10 hijackers who boarded two jets at Logan on Sept. 11. At the time, the knives and box-cutters they were carrying were permitted.” (Carroll 10/17/2001)


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