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Mineta praises Logan on security

By Glen Johnson, Globe Staff, 9/12/2002

One year after the World Trade Center towers were felled by a pair of jetliners hijacked after taking off from Logan International Airport, US Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said yesterday that Boston and Logan bore no responsibility for the terrorist attack and were, in fact, leading the nation in improving aviation security in its aftermath.

''I don't think Boston was chosen for any other reason than the fact that these were wide-bodied airplanes fully loaded with fuel to go transcontinental,'' Mineta said. ''These folks knew that they were going to be using these planes as guided missiles, and it was just a bad stroke of luck in terms of Boston being the origination point.''

In an interview as he flew back to Washington after an anniversary service at the State House in Boston, the secretary also recalled watching on television as the second hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight 175, slammed into the World Trade Center's south tower. Soon thereafter, Mineta ordered the nation's aviation system shut down as he descended into a command bunker beneath the White House with Vice President Dick Cheney, where the two sorted out reports about hijackings.

''There was probably no loose skin on my body. It was just a taut day,'' remembered Mineta, who 365 days later stood calmly holding a cappuccino outside the US Airways Club. ''It was just one of those things where you don't want to relive it, but there's also a very strong vow that, in my capacity, I'm going to do everything to make sure that something like this never ever happens again.''

The ticket for his flight to Washington yesterday, like those of all the travelers around him, included a $2.50-per-leg tax aimed at paying the costs incurred because of the federal takeover of airport security screening that began Feb. 17.

''What we're trying to do is to elevate the standard at which they're working and also trying to make sure that there's consistency and uniformity on what the passenger will expect, whether they board the airplane in Miami; Boston; Chicago; Grand Rapids, Mich.; or Resume Speed, Iowa,'' Mineta said. '' With the increasing number of the airports that are having federal screeners on board, I think that will be the case.''

Logan became a flashpoint after the attack, both because half the flights hijacked that day had departed from the airport, and because it was operated by the Massachusetts Port Authority, an agency with a reputation for political patronage. In the aftermath of the attack, Logan's security director, a former state trooper and gubernatorial bodyguard, was reassigned, while Massport's director, Virginia Buckingham, a onetime aide to former governor William F. Weld, resigned.

A commission subsequently appointed by Acting Governor Jane Swift recommended a series of changes for Massport, some of which have already been implemented. Chief among them was the hiring of Craig Coy, a security specialist and retired Coast Guard helicopter pilot, as the agency's chief executive officer.

In waving off the criticism of Boston in general and Logan in particular, Mineta lauded Massport's decision to spend $146 million to build 15 stations where passenger bags will be screened for explosives. Congress has set a Dec. 31 deadline for installing systems to screen all checked bags. So far, Logan is the only major airport to have a screening plan approved by the Transportation Security Administration, the federal government's new security agency. Some airports are balking at installing the machines until a funding plan is settled.

''You've really got to give credit to them for being ahead of the curve and not whining,'' Mineta said of Massport officials.

Glen Johnson can be reached at johnson@globe.com.

This story ran on page A22 of the Boston Globe on 9/12/2002.
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