The Unsettling Failure of Airport Security Worldwide

by W. THOMAS SMITH, JR. December 9, 2010
Plane taking off from Beirut-Rafik Hariri International Airport.
With all the recent hoopla over the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA), airport security-screening procedures – one side justifiably arguing they’re being unreasonably groped and prodded, the other side saying they’re being unfairly targeted because they fit the physical, stereotypical terrorist profile – the fact remains airport security is flawed here in the U.S. And international airports are far worse than what most Americans might imagine.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve received reports from several sources – traveling regularly to-and-from the Middle East, Europe and Africa – of complete security bypasses, particularly in Beirut (where Hizballah literally controls airport security), Cairo (on flights bound for Europe and the Americas), and, in fact, many African countries (in addition to Egypt), through which terrorists regularly transit.

According to one source, in both Beirut and Cairo, security guards are frequently too busy chit-chatting to effectively observe travelers, much less monitor the luggage x-ray screen. And in some instances, guards are easily bought-off with cash.
At Beirut-Rafik Hariri International Airport it gets worse. Hizballah, which is in charge of airport security (Remember, Hizballah fought a bloody battle with the Lebanese government in May 2008 when the government attempted to remove the airport security chief from his post. After much fighting, the government conceded. The security chief kept his position.), allows Iranian and Hizballah travelers to move freely – unimpeded by security – at the same airport used by all international travelers to-and-from Lebanon. 
Dr. Walid Phares, director of the Future of Terrorism Project at the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says the airport – “under direct control of Syrian intelligence” after 1976, then in the 1980s, Hizballah, which has increased its grip on the international hub since 2008 – is controlling “in camouflage.”
According to Phares – author of the new book, The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East – Hizballah’s “elements” are present, but “in civilian clothing,” and all security particulars are controlled by Hizballah.
“The chiefs of the organization claim this grip is due to the intense activities of their enemies, the Israelis,” he says. “In reality, Hizballah controls the airport on behalf of the Iranian and Syrian regimes to monitor the travel of both local opposition to this axis as well as European and American travelers.”
Phares adds, “There are multiple tales about Hizballah and Syrian use of the airport as a monitoring station but also as a passage for their assets into and outside the country.”
Cairo may be just as bad. According to the Kuwaiti newspaper Alseyassah, a delegation from the TSA is in Cairo this week evaluating Egyptian airport security. It’s an annual evaluation says Alseyassah. But it’s window dressing according to one source who has flown to Cairo in the last few weeks, and says “the airport security guards will look the other way for five bucks.”
Cairo is actually “the better” of many African airports where security guards are frequently described as “lax” and “corrupt.”

Another close source, a U.S. Defense Dept. advisor, who frequently travels to and from the African continent, says, “It's not so much corrupt and lax, especially if you know someone or are a supposedly important person.”
The problem is that in many African airports there seems to be no security whatsoever.
This particular source, whom we’ll refer to as “Mr. A,” recently logged “about ten flights” over a three-week period, including one wherein he flew to Europe enroute to the U.S. “Because I was a VIP, I skipped the airport terminal altogether and went to the VIP terminal from where a bus took us to the plane at boarding time,” he says. “Not once did I go through any sort of screening. On my flight to Europe, I was with [two VIPs, an American and a Brit], but there were also well-connected Africans who left via the VIP lounge. Not one of us had any screening.”
Mr. A adds that a trusted foreign-national employed by the U.S. government collected Mr. A’s bags and passport from the hotel, drove Mr. A to the airport, checked Mr. A in, presented a boarding pass to Mr. A. Then Mr. A and another VIP took a car to the VIP lounge and waited for their flight.
“While we were obviously fine, one wonders about the Africans in the VIP building,” says Mr. A. “I imagine that our underwear bomber would have been considered a VIP given that his old man (who turned him in) was a billionaire. Imagine if dad had supported his extremism.”
I also spoke with retired CIA operations officer Clare Lopez (a member of the U.S. Counterterrorism Advisory Team and a senior fellow with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Security Policy) – who regularly briefs Defense Dept. agencies and sections.
According to Lopez, security at international airports is indeed a problem – far more serious than one might imagine – but so is domestic airport security.
The American people are justifiably furious at the outrageous behavior of TSA airport security employees, who lately have been subjecting the flying public to the kind of invasive groping that would be called sexual assault in any other setting,” Lopez tells me and then reports on Seeking Reason, a political blog. “Were TSA's official ‘pat down’ procedures even minimally effective at what its leadership claims to be their purpose – airline attack deterrence – there might be less reason for complaint. But they're not.”
Lopez adds, the problem stems from “the obdurate refusal of TSA chief, John Pistole, as well as his boss, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, to acknowledge just who it is that has been launching plot after plot against the U.S. airline industry. … Our enemy is all who work to impose Islamic law (shariah) whether by violence or stealth. Death by a thousand cuts, economic overload, constitutional gridlock, and national leadership failure are all part of that process. P.S. They're winning.”
What’s the answer? Lopez says, “Until our national security leadership goes after the enemy and the enemy's ideology, not the enemy's paraphernalia, Americans will never be safe from Islamic jihad.” Contributing Editor W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a former U.S. Marineinfantry leader and shipboard counterterrorism instructor, who writes about military/defense issues and has covered conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq and Lebanon. Visit his website at

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