Knives on airlines — an important subject. In “The right call for safer air travel” (June 10) the Star Tribune Editorial Board applauded the Transportation Security Administration’s decision to back off a proposal to let passengers carry small knives onto airliners.
The board and the popular press are wrong. Unfortunately, the TSA and its political bosses in the Department of Homeland Security caved in the face of uninformed clamor; the TSA will continue to waste inspector time and attention confiscating perfectly harmless little knives and infuriating innocent travelers, who just cannot believe anyone would consider them and their pocket penknife a hijacking threat.
The U.S. experienced hijackings during the Kennedy administration in the 1960s. I was directly involved as an assistant administrator of the FAA. The first hijackers were men who wanted to go to Cuba. Our policy was to let them go. Castro arrested them and sent back the airplanes and passengers.
As I remember, all of the hijackers at that time were disturbed men who wanted transport or money. They did not want to die. Our policy was to comply with their demands. No heroics.
The 9/11 attack was something different — multiple, simultaneous hijackings and the use of the aircraft themselves as weapons. We will never know exactly what happened on board those aircraft. But I believe that, with the exception of the last one that crashed in Pennsylvania (after passengers had been alerted by cellphone calls), the passengers and, at least for a time, the crews believed that the terrorists were not taking them directly to their deaths.
I do not believe such an attack will ever happen again. Certainly not if the hijackers are jihadists — and certainly not when hijackers are armed with penknives.
The bigger threat, more difficult to detect, is a bomb. The destruction of a Pan Am 747 over Scotland in 1988 was a bombing that put us to war with Libya’s Gadhafi. The bomb had been loaded as cargo. No need for a suicide bomber. Clever bombmakers in the Middle East keep trying to duplicate that atrocity. Bombs have been detected at different points in the process.
And, of course, we now have jihadists trying to destroy aircraft and themselves in flight. The shoe and underwear bombers were stopped, but I am sure there are more would-be martyrs out there waiting to try. I think of them every time I take off my shoes and have my private parts checked by a TSA inspector.
The current TSA administrator, John Pistole, had been an assistant director of the FBI. He has brought a more realistic look at the problem of terror attacks on airlines. He wants to focus the effort on the real threat: bombs sent or carried by jihadists. Not me and my little penknife.
I am sorry that he was reversed, not by the facts but by public and political blather.
George Prill lives in Oak Park Heights.