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10 Years After Sept. 11, Logan Security Still Up For Debate

This article is more than 12 years old.
Passengers pass through security, including a full-body scanner, at Logan International Airport on Nov. 24, 2010. (AP)
Passengers pass through security, including a full-body scanner, at Logan International Airport on Nov. 24, 2010. (AP)

BOSTON — Logan International Airport was where 10 terrorists managed to board two aircraft and crash them into the heart of New York City 10 years ago. On Monday, the day after the killing of Osama bin Laden, security at Logan was tighter. But at least some security experts believe it's still largely ineffective.

On Sept. 11, 2001, it took officials at Logan several hours to realize that the catastrophic day's events started with a security breach at the airport. Joe Lawless, then director of public safety for the Massachusetts Port Authority, began shutting the airport down.

"We've increased our security measures," he said at the time. "We've shut down all of our construction sites within Logan Airport, both air-side and land-side, and we have shut down all security checkpoints, and removed all passengers who had been previously screened out into the non-secured part of the airport. We've activated our family assistance center at the Hilton Hotel based upon some reports that some of these flight may have originated from Boston."

Two did because hijackers got through security at Terminals B and C. The next day, Virginia Buckingham, then Massport's executive director, could only hope that the airport would reopen.

"With the new FAA requirements and the additional security at Logan, we are confident that when the airport is reopened, the safety of the traveling public will be ensured," she said.

Logan would not reopen for four days. When it did, it was with significantly more security. State police ran security checkpoints. The National Guard patrolled the airport. A month later, Massport brought in Rafi Ron, former director of El Al Airlines and of Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Aiport, to evaluate the airport's weaknesses. At the time, he would only make general observations about the airport's state of security.

"The main thing is determination," Ron said. "Once you are determined to provide security, it can be done with the help of everybody that is using this airport, both passengers and the airlines and other operators at this airport, and this is what we have set ourselves to do."

Over the past 10 years, Logan became the first airport to screen checked bags out of sight from passengers and to install full-body scanners. State police and Logan employees learned to spot suspicious behavior. And, of course, like all other airports, Logan saw the arrival of the Transportation Security Administration. Mike Bavis, who lost his brother on Sept. 11, says we've come a long way.

"I think there have been significant improvements to security and I think it's very important we continue to demand that those things are improved," Bavis said.

Bavis and his family are suing United Airlines and Massport. They hope to reveal how Logan failed to meet even the relatively lax security requirements then in place.

For Brian Sullivan, who used to work as a FAA special agent at Logan, all that money spent on airport security since Sept. 11 has not caught any terrorists. Sullivan says the biggest deterrent to hijacking was the airlines' hardening of cockpit doors.

"And probably second to that, the most significant security change has been the awareness of the public," Sullivan said. "If you recall the last couple of events that we had — the 'shoe bomber' or the 'underwear bomber' — it was the flight crew and passengers, actually American citizens, that subdued the potential attackers."

And no matter how good security may have become in this country, it may not be enough.

"What we have learned is our airport security and airline security is only as strong as the international airport and airline security is," said Juliette Kayem, who was Gov. Deval Patrick's Homeland Security director and President Obama's assistant secretary of Homeland Security.

Kayem worries about an attack on the U.S. now that bin Laden has been killed. She says because airports have become hardened targets, it's soft targets like Times Square, where a bomb fizzled last year, that she thinks would be attacked first.

This program aired on May 2, 2011.

Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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