Russell Building, anti-terrorism, airline security

By By Trent Lott
Nov. 15, 2001
Though no evidence of foul play has surfaced at this point, Americans will no doubt watch the investigation of yet another airline crash in New York very, very closely in light of Sept. 11.
Meanwhile, most Americans must be assured that Congress is taking action to stop terrorist activities. However, as the Senate and House have debated the anti-terrorism and airline safety packages, we have seen an interesting political phenomenon occur. It seems some folks on the far right and others on the far left have formed an unusual alliance.
Both extremes oppose measures that would give our nation's law enforcement and security personnel more tools to fight terrorism. Both extremes believe these tools will be abused by our law enforcement authorities and infringe on our civil liberties. Both views are wrong, and most Americans know it.
I have faith in the professionalism and ethics of our nation's law enforcement authorities. These men and women mirror our society. They are our neighbors. Like folks in all professions, they are not perfect. Sometimes they are wrong. However, much more often than not they protect us, and they are very
dedicated to making our communities safer. The vast majority of Americans support their local and federal law enforcement, and support anti-terrorism and airline security initiatives which balance security, convenience and civil liberties.
Americans know that we really have no choice but to find this balance. Our homeland is today the primary target of extremists who want nothing else but to kill us military or civilian, men, women and children. It simply doesn't matter to them.
The anti-terrorism and airline-security legislation provides for permanent counter measures to terrorist intentions. The anti-terrorism package, which has already been passed, provides new provisions for wiretapping and enhanced authority for holding those suspected of terrorist acts.
America has a new threat, and this requires a new level of response. While the American Civil Liberties Union on the left and Libertarians on the right may oppose these measures, let's not forget that it was they who initially opposed the implementation of even airport metal
detector screening years ago. Today, countless people are alive as a result of screening, which has become a vital aspect of our transportation system.
As you may know, the airline security bill has created a new federal air marshal program, putting armed law enforcement professionals on airplanes to discourage hijacking. The vast majority of Americans believe putting record numbers of law enforcement officers in the sky is entirely appropriate in light of what happened Sept. 11, and the vast majority of Americans are right.
This bill also mandates the strengthening of cockpit doors to prevent terrorists or other criminals from getting control of an aircraft. It also calls for the toughest possible passenger and baggage screening. Though there has been some debate regarding whether airport security personnel will be federal or private employees, disagreements over this issue will not stop this measure's final approval. The American people want new security plans enacted to safeguard America's status as a mobile nation.
The bill creates a national Transportation Security Agency (TSA) housed at the Department of Transportation to oversee airline security screening.
Authority will be given to TSA to contract with high-quality private security companies to perform screening where it is deemed to be safer and more effective.
On top of that, it ensures that the federal employees of the TSA supervise, manage, set standards, train and perform background checks for
everyone involved in passenger and baggage screening. Also, a federal law enforcement officer will be located at each station, and the TSA will be directed to improve the security of all airport areas with access to airplanes.
I have confidence in the American people's instinct. They overwhelmingly recognize, as does a bipartisan majority in Congress, that our nation has been attacked, and that we have to defend ourselves at home and abroad.
In this case, sound security policy must be derived from a large middle ground consensus of Americans, instead of two very small extremes.
U.S. Sen. Trent Lott welcomes questions and/or comments about this column. Contact him at 487 Washington, D.C. 20510.