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Tracing the FAA's Warnings

Wednesday, February 16, 2005; Page A18

The Feb. 11 news story about the Federal Aviation Administration being alerted to potential attacks ["Report Says FAA Got 52 Warnings Before 9/11"] was the tip of the iceberg. Not only did the agency have more than ample notice and only issued a tepid warning, but it didn't follow its own advice.

In 1969 the agency created the Task Force on Deterrence of Air Piracy. The group focused on a characteristics-based passenger profile developed by the team psychologist, John T. Dailey. A three-man team tested the profile at nine airports and concluded that no more than 2 percent of the flying public triggered enough of those characteristics to be detained.

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Eighteen months later, the FAA disbanded the task force and replaced it with the Office of Civil Aviation Security. Almost immediately, the profile was ignored in favor of searching every passenger, even though the American Civil Liberties Union approved of the profile and a federal judge in New York ruled it constitutional.

In 1978 the agency issued the task force's final report, in the form of FAA Manual AM-78-35. It contained a prediction that terrorists might hijack U.S. aircraft to attain their political objectives.

From all reports, all 19 terrorists fit enough of that three-decade-old profile to have been detained at least long enough to miss their flights.

I was interviewed by the staff of the Sept. 11 commission, but none of these facts were made part of the record. If the FAA is to have its bureaucratic knuckles rapped, the blame should go back to 1969-70.


Boynton Beach, Fla.

The writer was the press officer for the Task Force on Deterrence of Air Piracy and is the co-author of a book on the Sept. 11 attacks.

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