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How, exactly, did this happen?
November 5, 2001 9:01 AM   Subscribe

How, exactly, did this happen? I'll tell you how. I happened to be at O' Hare yesterday, and the security drones there were about as dumb as a bag of wet mice (more in comments).
posted by vraxoin (46 comments total)

 
...I stepped through the metal detector, which did not beep, and was called over to be searched. The angry-looking man behind me set off the machine and walked right on through without a glance. The security "professional" was not interested to hear me point that out. She started running her little wand over my limbs, where it complained about the tin of mints in my pocket. She did not, however, ask to examine the contents of my pocket, which makes me wonder how she was able to differentiate between Altoids and a .25. When the next person in line beeped, she looked at me, exasperated, and said, "Well, it's too late for me to finish searching you now." Like it was my fault or something. Then she turned around and walked away.

Am I the only one who finds this INCREDIBLY disturbing?
posted by vraxoin at 9:07 AM on November 5, 2001


This is absolutely fucking ridiculous.

How often do you suppose this kind of thing happened before 9/11?
posted by preguicoso at 9:09 AM on November 5, 2001


Once again, we find Argenbright Security Inc. at the center of the scandal, the same firm that hired former criminals as screeners. Argenbright gives the security industry an undeserved bad name that could lead to a situation where even less qualified government employees act as screeners. Anyone who is familiar with Argenbright contracting knows that this company does things cheap, cutting many legal (and historically, some illegal) corners.

The Department of Justice should consider filing criminal charges against Argenbright. Perhaps such a move would eliminate a great deal of the danger in flying.
posted by mischief at 9:14 AM on November 5, 2001


What I find even more unsettling than this guy getting through the security at O'Hare, is that he is linked with the two guys picked up on the train en route to San Antonio a while back.
posted by treedream at 9:19 AM on November 5, 2001


treedream - yes, I noticed that as well, and yet the cops let him go. The morning TV news noted he's scheduled for arraignment in a couple weeks, and I thought "they don't really expect he's gonna show up, do they?"
posted by dnash at 9:22 AM on November 5, 2001


"He said he was on his way to Omaha to visit friends and he had bought the weapons in Chicago to protect himself."

Leaving aside for now the question of whether his story is true... if I ever, ever think that some place I'm going is dangerous enough to warrant bringing "nine knives, a can of Mace and a stun gun" for protection, I hope I will have the sense to just stay at home.
posted by moss at 9:26 AM on November 5, 2001


"He said he was on his way to Omaha to visit friends and he had bought the weapons in Chicago to protect himself."

Leaving aside for now the question of whether his story is true... if I ever, ever think that some place I'm going is dangerous enough to warrant bringing "nine knives, a can of Mace and a stun gun" for protection, I hope I will have the sense to just stay at home.
posted by moss at 9:26 AM on November 5, 2001


Ooh... my first double post. Somehow this isn't a moment I want to remember. ::hangs head in shame::
posted by moss at 9:28 AM on November 5, 2001


I'd say it's basically unrealistic to expect the current system of air travel to ever be really secure..

Look at the situation with prisons. Total civil rights denial, and yet they're still full of drugs and knives.. End of the day, humans are both lazy and clever.

I suspect the entire purpose of baggage screeners has always been just to make you feel better and to give possible hijackers somewhere to get nervious. If that's it, it doesn't really matter how good a job they do with the funny wand, as long as you think they did a good job..

How about getting rid of everthing but the metal uzi detectors and spending the money on one armed goverment killing machine per flight? Seems to me that would probably end up costing about the same and make the whole process of hijacking a lot more difficult for real.
posted by Leonard at 9:36 AM on November 5, 2001


Don't worry, Moss - it stings for a bit, but it happens to the best of us.

Now granted that security is a complete joke, but I'm still having a hard time understanding how federalizing security will improve it. This isn't meant to be sarcastic - I honestly don't know the arguments for federalizing.
posted by solistrato at 9:36 AM on November 5, 2001


Well, the news this morning noted that um, well, the Chicago Police Department can't exactly find him to ask him about his interesting address. Gee. I wonder why?
posted by MeetMegan at 10:12 AM on November 5, 2001


Is a wet mouse dumber than a dry one?
posted by jjg at 10:12 AM on November 5, 2001


Is a wet mouse dumber than a dry one?

It got wet, didn't it?
posted by iceberg273 at 10:16 AM on November 5, 2001


I'm a little tired of people coming up with new ways to insult the airport security people. As if a job with low pay and no benefits and little training is going to attract and retain the kind of employee that would do a better job.
There are definitely areas where the market fails and lowest cost contracts have no place. Airport security is one of those. House republicans seem unable to put aside their anti-union bias in order to improve security, how's that for bipartisanship.
posted by chrismc at 10:18 AM on November 5, 2001


megan, really? (hadn't heard.)

the semi creepy thing is that if he lived on west hollywood, and in effect right by the entrance to the lake shore drive, i've been by his house many times. as have many others of course.
posted by moz at 10:19 AM on November 5, 2001


Solistrato, there seem to be two possible ways it could be done.

One would be to make it civil service, which would mean it would run with about the same responsiveness and efficiency and credibility as the Veterans Administration or the Social Security Administration. I think we can assume that this is not a good answer.

A different approach which has been suggested is to treat it as something similar to the Coast Guard, a paramilitary organization with the same kind of esprit and training. It wouldn't be easy, cheap or quick to set such a thing up, but it might actually be quite effective.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:20 AM on November 5, 2001


I was about to post something about how little these Argenbright Security employees get paid...but instead of just telling, i'll show...

Just found this link on JobFind for an Argenbright Security Pre-Departure Screener position, right here in my back yard at Logan!

"No experience is necessary as we provide paid training. "

"Starting pay is $8.25-$8.50 per hour to start with a raise after 90 days!"
posted by tpl1212 at 10:21 AM on November 5, 2001


One poster suggested that making secuirty at airports a federal job would not imporve things. The difference, though, is that if it became a federal job the pay scale would be increased and those better qualified would get the jobs. As it is, the private securityoutfits look to save money and pay as little as they can get away with. Now the GOP wants the Feds to train, oversee etc (at taxpayers expense) but have it remain in priavate sector!
You will not get decent security till such time as you hire; decent workers and you will not get this till you pay competitive salaries. Compare salaries with those paid in Europe.
posted by Postroad at 10:45 AM on November 5, 2001


Airport security has been demonstrably shoddy for years prior to recent events. Amid the call to return to business as usual, perhaps one exeption should be the usual business of supporting an airline industry that does not take security seriously.

Flying may be statistically safer than driving, but until airport screening becomes much, much more effective, I'll be putting lots of miles on my car.
posted by Tubes at 10:53 AM on November 5, 2001


tpl1212, what exactly is controversial or relevant about the fact that they train their employees and pay them in US dollars?
posted by aLienated at 10:56 AM on November 5, 2001


oh didn't read the beginning of yr comment...sorry
posted by aLienated at 10:58 AM on November 5, 2001


Compare salaries with those paid in Europe.

Granted, salaries are higher there, but isn't one of the Republican arguments against federalizing that European airport security is run mostly by private companies? I travel to Europe frequently and usually the only people I see in uniform are the customs agents with the occasional military type manning checkpoints.
posted by MrBaliHai at 11:05 AM on November 5, 2001


i like the idea of the coast guard-type unit. i am flying in early december and don't know what there is to do but hope that the wet mice are on the job that day.
posted by adampsyche at 11:09 AM on November 5, 2001


If you expect quality service from the federal govt, then you are not thinking clearly. The govt always *necessarily* does everything slower, more costly, and with lower standards. I guess some of us believe that, and some of us don't.

Personally, I liked the National Review article about airport security and actually giving these people some monetary incentives/disincentives to do their job.

In the US, everyone wants to make money, and if you tie performance to money, you will get better performance. Doesn't take a genius to figure that one out.
posted by Witold at 11:11 AM on November 5, 2001


The difference, though, is that if it became a federal job the pay scale would be increased and those better qualified would get the jobs.

Don't count on it. From the 2001 Special Rates for Law Enforcement Officers, federal law enforcement officers start at approximately $10/hour. I doubt screeners will earn that status (the title "law enforcement officer"), and they will probably start as GS-1s at $6.83/hour (2001 General Schedule). As indicated by tpl1212, that is LESS money than Argenbright pays now.
posted by mischief at 11:23 AM on November 5, 2001


The govt always *necessarily* does everything slower, more costly, and with lower standards.

Also because of the federal employees union, firing someone even for gross incompetence is next to impossible.
posted by mischief at 11:27 AM on November 5, 2001


Criticize the airport-security firms before you criticize the employees. This screener was fired for complaining about her job and her training.
posted by gluechunk at 11:28 AM on November 5, 2001


If you expect quality service from the federal govt, then you are not thinking clearly. The govt always *necessarily* does everything slower, more costly, and with lower standards. I guess some of us believe that, and some of us don't.

Probably the same people who believe in trickle-down economics, and that rich people are all just itching to give their money away and create jobs in difficult economic times.
posted by terrapin at 12:07 PM on November 5, 2001


In the US, everyone wants to make money, and if you tie performance to money, you will get better performance. Doesn't take a genius to figure that one out.

Yeah, like they do in professional sports... errr... never mind.

With this type of logic we wouldn't have CEOs who sit on their ass all day earning 30 times more money then the people who do the actual work for companies—until they are laid off to make more money for the CEO and the stockholders.
posted by terrapin at 12:11 PM on November 5, 2001


CEOs who sit on their ass all day

Name one CEO who sits on his or her ass all day. Employees are not "laid off to make more money for the CEO and the stockholders", they are laid off because the stockholders have lost (or are about to lose) a substantial amount of money. Statements like yours show gross ignorance of basic business operations.
posted by mischief at 12:21 PM on November 5, 2001


"the same firm that hired former criminals as screeners"

Well, hey great. Once a crim, always a crim, right? Once you've been convicted of a Crime, I think you should be tattooed, probably on the forehead, and banned from ever being employed again. I mean, criminals don't really want to make an honest living anyway. If they apply for a job it's because they've got some evil motive, like murdering us all in our beds. Sheesh.
posted by Catch at 12:27 PM on November 5, 2001


Once a crim, always a crim, right?

Right! From the article:

a Department of Transportation audit of the company's operations at 14 airports found the company was still employing numerous airport screeners who had been convicted of crimes that should have disqualified them.
posted by mischief at 12:49 PM on November 5, 2001


Why federalization of aviation security is a good idea:

(1) IMPROVED BENEFITS. Even if the new federal aviation security employees were paid less than they receive from private contractors (though I doubt they would start at GS-1), they at least would be entitled to life insurance, health insurance, dental plans, etc - which I believe are not options with the current contractors. Also, serving in airport security would potentially put you in line for other job opportunities with the Justice Dept, FBI, etc.

(2) DIRECT RESPONSIBILTY. As shown by the Argenbright case, private companies often duck responsibility or fudge compliance figures. The government is not infallible, but at least they are directly accountable to the citizens.

(3) GREATER COOPERATION WITH OTHER LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES. Airport security could more easily coordinate with the FBI, CIA, Justice Dept, etc. if organized as a governmental agency.

(4) NO MORE PROFIT MOTIVE. Simply put, private companies are motivated by profit; the government is not. The pursuit of profit can make companies do things that are not in the best interest of security (as shown by the many recent examples).

(5) FEELING LIKE PART OF A GREATER CAUSE. There is a certain psychological benefit (pride, self-worth, etc) that goes along with feeling like part of a greater calling. Senator Kerrey compared it to being a member of the military. I think that increased pride in work often results in better work product.

Notes for those opposed to our civil service system:
* The at-will employment system used in the private sector is not ideal for the government sector due to many concerns unique to government, including the need for political insulation, the need for stability, and greater scrutiny for civil rights violations.
* If you are looking for just one example of privatization gone wrong, visit a privately-operated prison in Texas.

Another question for those that oppose federalization of aviation security:
*Do you also think the border patrol, the Secret Service, the sky marshals, or the Congressional security detail should be privatized? If not, how are those security forces different or more important than airport security?
posted by conquistador at 1:06 PM on November 5, 2001


re: conquistador

(1) You are assuming that screeners would have the same status as law enforcement officers. This is an area for debate even among senators and reps who support federalizing screeners. Customs inspectors (who need 4 years of college or 3 years related experience) only start at GS-5.

(2) You are assuming Argenbright is representative of security companies working the public safety beat. It is anything but...

(3) Do you have any idea of the infighting among federal agencies? That situation is the reason we now have Tom Ridge as Director of Fatherland Security.

(4) The biggest reason government employees are such a waste is because the lack of profit motive gives them no motivation to aspire.

(5) After three months on the job that "psychological benefit" turns to a feeling of drudgery.

The government bureaus you mention in your last paragraph are all bona fide law enforcement agencies. Convincing the American public that screeners are at the same level and sustaining that conviction far into the future will be a daunting task.
posted by mischief at 1:37 PM on November 5, 2001


conquistador, you're missing the point.

The reason aiport security sucks is because no one really cares about it. I'm not suprised that this was the case before Sept 11th. I am a bit suprised that it's still the case now, but all signs are certainly pointing in that direction.

If we really cared about security, we'd say "These are the standards that have to be met, we'll conduct random audits to ensure that they are, and failures will be met with hefty fines." You know, like the Europeans do. Instead we're arguing over how long of a knife can you take on a plane and who should be signing the paychecks of the guy manning the X-Ray machine.

The Secret Service and Sky Marshals are law enforcement, not security. The Border Patrol and Congressional Security Detail are likely to have to use deadly force in the performance of their jobs. Airport security screeners are neither.
posted by jaek at 1:58 PM on November 5, 2001


"the company was still employing numerous airport screeners who had been convicted of crimes that should have disqualified them"

Good on them.

"Previously, criminal background checks had only been required for airport or airline employees hired after December 2000 and for any employees hired before December 2000 who showed gaps in employment."


"Sorry kiddo, the rules have changed, now you're fired."

The FAA notes in it's final rule on background checks etc, (.doc download):
"A number of commenters, including National Air Transportation Association (NATA), Regional Airline Association (RAA), Air Transport Association of America (ATA), and Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), say that requiring employment background checks on current screening personnel and supervisors is not justified because these employees have already undergone a 5-year verification check and on-the-job observation."

In other words, why should proven staff lose their jobs due to a hysterical reaction.

posted by Catch at 2:07 PM on November 5, 2001


re: mischief
(4) The biggest reason government employees are such a waste is because the lack of profit motive gives them no motivation to aspire.

Um... I am a government employee. Do you even know any government employees, or do you just consult your Conservative Simpleton's Training Manual, make broad sweeping assumptions, and congratulate yourself for having all the answers?

Do you really think that all government employees are inefficeint slugs? Do you really think all people are motivated by money and only money? It's called "public service" for a reason. And do you actually refuse to acknowledge that a profit-motive can sometimes lead to bad consequences, particularly when public safety is involved? Sheesh.


re: jaek
conquistador, you're missing the point. The reason aiport security sucks is because no one really cares about it.

I think the fact that federalization of airline security is a serious possibility shows that many people are concerned. Explicit standards and random audits are already in place for private contractors and apparently are not very effective. Maybe we could first try tougher standards and more regulation of private contractors, but that's just heading down a road to federalization.

My point is just that some things (like public safety) should not be left to the lowest bidder.
posted by conquistador at 2:41 PM on November 5, 2001


Wet mice are really, really dumb.
posted by vraxoin at 3:10 PM on November 5, 2001


Isn't it obvious?

The screeners are too bussy checking for books and cameras to worry about knives and stunguns.
posted by delmoi at 4:45 PM on November 5, 2001


One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the peculiarly american call for new legislation every time an issue makes the evening news.

How about enforcing the laws that are already on the books instead?

How about regular checks to ensure that the current regulations are being followed? random tests of the airport security system by NTSB and/or FAA personnel? you know, that sort of old-fashioned thing?

If this country is unwilling to verify that the job is being done correctly, it doesn't matter at all whether the job is done by private contractors, federal employees, or aliens from Mars. If there is little to no chance that any error will be detected then complacency is sure to set in among airport workers. Perhaps I'm the only one to whom this seems obvious...
posted by clevershark at 6:42 PM on November 5, 2001


Um... I am a government employee. Do you even know any government employees, or do you just consult your Conservative Simpleton's Training Manual, make broad sweeping assumptions, and congratulate yourself for having all the answers?

HA! :-) You go, conquistador!
posted by verdezza at 7:10 PM on November 5, 2001


In other words, why should proven staff lose their jobs due to a hysterical reaction. Or plain old bigotry

Because they are legally excluded from holding their jobs, capable or not -- certain criminal offenses automatically disqualify people from serving in certain capacities, especially in areas of public trust. This is not the case of someone with a ten year old conviction for unpaid parking tickets losing their job unfairly, this is a case of convicted felons, guilty of theft, weapons violations and all manner of violent crimes, losing jobs that they were never to have held to begin with.
posted by Dreama at 8:03 PM on November 5, 2001


Incidentally, the CPD have the man in custody, and the "W Hollywood address" supposedly in common with a terrorist was, in fact, not true.
posted by dhartung at 10:44 PM on November 5, 2001


Explicit standards and random audits are already in place for private contractors and apparently are not very effective.

Only recently -- random audits were almost never done, because there was no real penalty.

The profit motive will work, if there is a significant impact for failure (hefty fines that stick and aren't overturned after lengthy court review, for example).

And, I was a government employee, and am friends with several. And I can state, without a doubt, that my experience leads me to believe that excellence in work is motiviated by financial gain and peer acclaim. If there is no capacity for pay-grade improvement, and if nobody cares about the work particularly, the government workers (just like private sector workers) get incredibly lax and lazy.
posted by dwivian at 6:59 AM on November 6, 2001


conquistador:

I spent 16 years either as an employee or as a consultant for the federal government. The entire time I fought against an employment system that hired unqualified personnel just to fill a chair, promoted incompetents to satisfy Minorities-in-Management quotas, and was powerless before the employees' union to remove, as just one of many examples, an enforcement officer who openly drank on duty.

The phrase "public service" is meaningless. Of those that still believe in it after 3 months on the job, only a small percentage (around 10 percent) can be considered productive; the rest only have worth in their collective imaginations. If "public service" has any meaning, that would be "job security" because firing anyone is virtually impossible.

Why do you think government employees make 1/3 less than their commercial equivalents? Why do you think that in the long run, the situation would be different for airport screeners?
posted by mischief at 7:48 AM on November 6, 2001


Also, I will acknowledge that lacking a profit motive usually leads to bad consequences and that there is no such thing as true altruism anyway.

;-P
posted by mischief at 7:56 AM on November 6, 2001


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