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February 6, 2004
Walk Right In, Sit Right Down

In the middle of a winter punctuated with flight cancellations and delays due to heightened fears of terrorist attacks, the LAX security detail allowed a known felon to stroll past security and lodge himself onto an airplane without a ticket:

Airport cameras captured it all: On a busy morning at Los Angeles International Airport last month, a convicted felon wearing a sweatshirt, sunglasses and gloves strolled unnoticed past two security checkpoints in Terminal 5 and walked onto a jumbo jet without a ticket.

Kareem Thomas, a 19-year-old Decatur, Ga., resident on probation for burglary, was discovered hiding in an airplane restroom by passengers and was apprehended by police before takeoff.

Thomas was unarmed and passed through the airport's metal detectors along with other travelers. But the ease with which he boarded the Jan. 15 Delta Airlines Flight 1972 to Atlanta — particularly at a time of heightened security at the state's No. 1 terrorist target — alarmed passengers on the flight and triggered investigations by two federal agencies and the airline.

"Clearly this was a monumental security screw-up," said Santa Monica resident John Hall, who was a passenger on the flight. "Here I am, along with all the other passengers, taking off our shoes and waiting in endless lines to board a plane and this guy just strolls past the security net."

Even more disturbing than this incident was the response given by the TSA's security director at LAX, Larry Fetters:

"Of course it's worrisome that this happened and we need to make sure that it doesn't happen again," Fetters said. "But we also need to put it in perspective." At LAX, he said, "Millions of people have gone past screening checkpoints in the last year and only one person got through who shouldn't have been in there."

Perhaps Fetters would also like us to keep 9/11 in perspective. After all, in the first eight months of 2001, many millions of people passed through American airport security check points, perhaps even a billion. And only 19 managed to slip through, a failure rate of only 0.0000019%! That certainly makes me feel foolish for even thinking that we were unsafe on 9/11 or any time before or since.

Fetters clearly does not grasp the nature of his job if he expects the public to accept this "perspective" on security. As a retired security expert notes later in the same article, it only takes one person getting past security with bad intent to create a grave danger for travelers and people on the ground as well. The nature of the security breach is so blatant that clearly Fetters wants to distract from his group's embarrassing failure and direct focus to the thousands and more that suffered through the intrusive, but necessary, preflight security procedures. Unfortunately for Fetters, it is these same people who will resent the fact that TSA allowed someone without a ticket to pass through unnoticed because security agents were too busy watching them take off their shoes.

Fetters' response undermines public confidence in this TSA unit's focus on its mission, which is not to play numbers games but to make sure everyone goes through the screening process. If TSA supports Fetters' philosophy of playing the percentages instead of 100% compliance, then perhaps TSA isn't qualified to handle this job, either.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 6, 2004 6:01 AM

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» MORE FUN WITH AIRPORT SECURITY from Patterico's Pontifications
As reported here, some schmo simply walked past the crack airport security folks at LAX and boarded a plane with no ticket. UPDATE: Captain Ed provides commentary.... [Read More]

Tracked on February 6, 2004 8:30 AM

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