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Logan rebounds from disaster with aggressive new security measures
By Jennifer Peter, Associated Press
BOSTON — The eyes of the world turned toward Logan International Airport for answers last fall as the questions multiplied about the Sept. 11 devastation at New York's World Trade Center.
How could 10 men have boarded and hijacked two passenger jets there? What security lapses -- if any -- allowed them to pass through security with box cutters? What could have been done to save the 157 passengers and crew members who last touched earth at Logan?
"Logan was the subject of international scrutiny," said former state police superintendent John DiFava, who took over security at the airport on an interim basis after the attacks. "They were really reeling."
Now, a year later, after an early series of security gaffes and a management shakeup, Logan is emerging as a national role model in its response to the attacks, which forever will be fused with its history.
Although adamant the airport was a victim of circumstance Sept. 11, Logan's new leaders have worked feverishly to test new security measures and meet federal deadlines that other airports have called unrealistic.
The new leader of the federal Transportation Security Administration said Aug. 5 that no other airport had stepped up "more strongly and more aggressively" to make security improvements.
"We feel that special place in history and want to make sure that we assume that role of leader in security," said Craig Coy, the new chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan.
Logan was the first airport in the country to win federal approval of a system to screen all baggage loaded onto planes. While many major airports argue it will be impossible to meet a Dec. 31 deadline, construction already is underway on the $100 million project in Boston.
Logan also was among the first airports to test facial recognition technology, with mixed results, and the first to give security officers hand-held computers that allow them to directly access law enforcement databases.
In early August, Logan announced it would begin a new program of identifying passengers who exhibit irregular behavior, a controversial endeavor that many aviation experts believe can be more effective than randomly screening all passengers.
"Massport has been extremely willing to make the changes necessary to make this the safest airport," said George Naccara, the transportation administration's new federal security director at Logan. "There's a sensitivity here among the leadership."
Federal and state officials now say with conviction that Logan was simply a convenient launching pad for the terror attacks, chosen for its proximity to New York and array of fuel-rich cross-country flights.
American Flight 11 and United Flight 175 took off on schedule that morning bound for Los Angeles. Within an hour, they had been taken over by terrorists and flown into New York's twin towers. Two other planes, from Washington Dulles and Newark airports, also were hijacked that day.
"They didn't break any rules getting onto the planes," said Naccara, who began overseeing Logan security in June. "The terrorists just happened to choose Boston."
In the days and weeks following the attacks, however, Logan worked frantically to improve security, bolstering law enforcement patrols and instituting random checks of baggage and cars.
Despite this, there were embarrassing lapses, with one passenger saying he was able to walk from the parking garage to his gate without passing through a metal detector or security checkpoint.
Within a month, acting Gov. Jane Swift had reassigned Massport's security leader and replaced him with DiFava, who said he found the agency in shambles. DiFava has since taken over as the head of campus security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
As Swift convened a task force to review Massport's operations, the agency hired Israeli aviation consultant Rafi Ron to provide recommendations about how to improve Logan.
The federal takeover of aviation security began Feb. 17. And in August, the first of 16 security checkpoints became fully manned by federal employees.
Included in the revamped checkpoints is a special machine to screen shoes, a byproduct of the international flight that was diverted to Logan in December after a passenger allegedly tried to blow up the jet with explosives hidden in his shoes.
The reviews from Logan's frequent-flyers have been mixed.
Some argue the airport has gone too far. In an attempt to eradicate even the perception of lax security, they say, Logan has made the flying experience needlessly inconvenient.
"It's the worst," said Pete Balash, 29, of Dartmouth. "I understand they all have to do it, but there's a little more checking of bags, a little more security at the metal detectors. It becomes kind of a pain."
Barbara Miller agrees that flying through Logan is more of a hassle these days, but she said most passengers are happy to put up with it.
"You really don't mind," said Miller, 46, who travels frequently from Georgia to see her Boston-area family. "I don't mind if they take everything out of my purse in security, just as long as they don't take anything."
Looking forward, Naccara said, part of the focus will be on increasing passenger convenience while maintaining a strict level of security. One option, he said, is instituting some sort of frequent-flyer security procedure, which would provide quicker clearance to passengers who agree to submit to a rigorous background check.
Logan officials say they will try to remain at the head of the pack as the federal security deadlines approach.
"The fact that two of the airplanes left from here has rallied us all to
do what we can to confront this war on terrorism," said Thomas Kinton,
Massport's aviation director. "That is what's driving us."