A group representing family members of those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks said it opposes a new proposal to allow knives and other potential weapons aboard commercial airlines.
The group, Families of September 11, is responding to proposals outlined by the Transportation Security Administration this month as part of a review of whether airline security measures are effective against today's terrorist threats. An agency panel has recommended allowing passengers to bring knives and scissors less than 5 inches long aboard airplanes, as well as ice picks, throwing stars, and bows and arrows. The proposal also would allow groups of fliers, such as members of Congress, Cabinet members and military officers, to be excluded from security screening before boarding a plane.
Officials familiar with the plans say the TSA's new leader, Edmund S. "Kip" Hawley, and other top security officials are no longer as concerned about another Sept. 11-style hijacking as they are about other threats, such as suicide bombers boarding airplanes. In particular, TSA officials say that reinforced cockpit doors and air marshals are now in place to prevent hijackings and that passengers have subdued many travelers who act violently on aircraft.
Carie Lemack, whose mother died aboard one of the hijacked planes, characterized the TSA's plans as ridiculous and said they are a sign that the government's attitude toward security has become too relaxed four years after the attacks. The TSA is "forgetting the people used mace and pepper spray on 9/11," items now banned, to keep other passengers from interfering, Lemack said.
As co-founder of Families of September 11, which monitored the progress of the 9/11 Commission and pushed for passage of the intelligence reform bill, Lemack said she has been trying to meet in person with Hawley, but has run into bureaucratic problems.
"I don't know if he's ever met a 9/11 family member," Lemack said. "To think he's considering these measures is unfathomable to me."
Families of September 11 joins several other groups, such as the nation's largest union of flight attendants and some Democrats in Congress, who see the measures as a return to the lax security days before the terrorist attacks. Security experts appear to be divided on the agency's proposals, with some experts agreeing that the agency should focus on new technologies and new threats while others warn that the TSA's proposal will put more lives in danger.
A week ago, Lemack said she phoned a man whom she believed was a special assistant to the TSA's Hawley and he listened to her concerns. She called and sent e-mails to Hawley and sent him a letter but did not hear any response. In a follow-up call to the aide, the man told her he had changed jobs and could no longer help her. He encouraged Lemack to call the agency's toll-free number for filing public complaints with the agency, a move that angered her.
"I called and waited for a while and then I thought, 'I can't do this anymore,'" Lemack said.
Several hours after The Washington Post called the TSA for comment yesterday, agency spokeswoman Yolanda Clark said Hawley spoke with Lemack by phone to listen to her concerns. Clark added that Hawley also spoke yesterday to Patricia Friend, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, about her concerns regarding the proposals.
"Kip's style is focused on the people -- listening and hearing concerns," Clark said. "He explained to her that our intent is to have an inclusive process that includes all groups. We've not forgotten 9/11, nor the victims of 9/11."
Lemack said Hawley apologized for not receiving her e-mails, mail and messages. "I'm happy we're starting a dialogue."