Boston airport CEO says security must remain tight

By Bob Salsberg
Associated Press / May 2, 2011

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

BOSTON—So much has changed at Logan International Airport in the nearly 10 years since two teams of al-Qaida-trained terrorists calmly walked through security checkpoints and boarded the jetliners that would become lethal weapons in America's worst terrorist attack.

Airport security personnel have doubled. Bomb-sniffing dogs and officers toting automatic weapons are routine sights. Cars entering the airport are randomly searched, and the trunks of all vehicles entering one parking garage are searched because of its proximity to the terminal.

Eight-foot-high chain link fences around airport gates and terminals have been replaced by 10-foot-high concrete walls with rings of barbed wire on top. Concrete posts have been erected outside terminals to prevent drive-thru attack. Hundreds upon hundreds of cameras allow officials to quickly spot and identify anyone who arouses suspicion.

On Monday, the man who heads the agency that oversees Logan said the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces in Pakistan was no reason to relax the protocols that have emerged since Sept. 11, 2001.

"The war is not over," said Thomas Kinton, chief executive of the Massachusetts Port Authority. "Terrorism has many heads. We've got one of them. Others will emerge."

While security enhancements have occurred at every major airport in the United States, Boston's was put under even greater scrutiny because that is where the 9/11 attacks were launched. Two jetliners, heavily fueled for cross-country trips, were hijacked by terrorists using box cutters and were flown into the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center, killing thousands of people.

Kinton was returning from a conference that day and knew even before he arrived back at Logan that the unfolding events were going to change everything about airport security in the future.

"It was all new to this country, because these kinds of attacks happened elsewhere," he said.

And Massport quickly looked elsewhere for expertise -- to Israel, a nation that, unlike America, had spent its entire existence in the shadow of terrorism.

A team led by Israeli security expert Rafi Ron, who previously worked for El Al Airlines and Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, arrived as consultants. Before long, concepts were being embraced that were not only new to American airports but that in the past might have been uncomfortable for Americans to swallow.

A direct result of the Israeli influence was a program of behavior pattern recognition training. State police and others were taught techniques for scanning crowds and picking out people who may be acting in a suspicious manner and questioning those people to make sure they did not pose a threat.

"We developed a layered security approach with the best in the world to try to understand how to deal with terrorism and defend our facilities," said Kinton, who was the airport's director of aviation at the time of the attacks.

Kinton worries that because large-scale attacks are infrequent and often spread years apart, it would be easy for complacency to creep in. That is partly why at 8:30 a.m. every day -- starting the day after the 9/11 attacks -- officials meet at the airport to discuss and review security. On most days, Kinton said, it's standing room only at the meeting, with representatives of airlines, the Transportation Security Administration, state police, border patrol, air marshals and the FBI, among others.

As CEO of Massport, Kinton no longer attends all the meetings. But he did attend the one on Monday, to discuss the death of bin Laden, the possibility of retaliatory attacks, the ongoing terrorist threat and the importance not to let up.

Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick said Monday that he was not aware of any new threats following the death of bin Laden but that security presence would be stepped up at the airport, on public transit and at large sporting events.

"We have nothing now that has caused us to raise the threat level, we have just put out the word that everyone needs to take special care," Patrick said.

John Ogonowski, of Dracut, Mass., was the pilot of American Airlines Flight 11, one of the doomed aircraft that took off from Logan on 9/11. On Monday, his widow, Peggy Ogonowski Hatch, said airport security enhancements have clearly made it more difficult for terrorists.

"They haven't been able to be successful with another incident so I guess that is some testament to the new security measures," said Hatch, a former flight attendant who remarried last year.

Hatch, who said she was glad bin Laden "no longer walks this earth," said she has often wondered if terrorists would "try to find a way to circumvent our security."

Kinton has announced plans to retire and expects to leave his job soon. He was asked what would be the most important advice he would give his successor.

"Never forget that safety and security is your No. 1 priority," he said. "If you don't get that right, nothing else matters."