Ever since Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, nearly 15 years ago, killing 270 people, terrorism experts have recognized the danger presented by a bomb in the belly of an aircraft.
Still, airport security tended to focus on what passengers were carrying onto the plane rather than on what they were checking as baggage. That left a gaping hole in the air safety net. But until the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington 16 months ago forced a top-to-bottom review of airline security, not much was done to reduce this danger. Prior to those attacks, only 5 percent of checked baggage was being screened for explosives in the U.S. ...
The debut of screening all checked baggage for explosives has, so far at least, gone smoothly and has not resulted in excessive delays at the nation's airports. The screening is just the latest piece of the layered security system that is being built to make flying safer. The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) has hired 56,000 security screeners, as well as thousands of federal air marshals who anonymously patrol passenger flights. For an agency that didn't even exist until November 2001, the TSA deserves a good deal of credit for meeting this deadline mandated by Congress.
That's the good news. The not-so-good news is there still are plenty of gaping holes in transportation security, particularly away from the airports in the nation's shipping, trucking and rail industries. Although Congress ordered better security as part of the 2001 USA Patriot Act, more than a year later many specific rules and regulations still aren't finalized. ...
Perhaps the best that can be said of security in the nation's extensive and porous transportation networks is this: It's better than it has been, but it's not nearly as good as it must become to protect the nation.
-- Chicago Tribune
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