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General: Air security is now vastly improved
arizona daily star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 02.05.2006
Sitting high above clouds, you're safer on a plane now than you were before 9/11.
That's according to some top-level aviation administrators and experts, including Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star general and current adjunct professor of national security at West Point and a national-security and terrorism analyst .
"It's like night and day," McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey, who was an assistant to Colin Powell at the National Security Council and U.S. drug czar under President Bill Clinton, was in Tucson Saturday to speak to a gathering of North American airport CEOs.
"It is extremely difficult to imagine that the same kind of attack that we saw on 9/11 could work again," he said.
Before Sept. 11, 2001, McCaffrey said, aviation was almost completely undefended.
He cited the formation of the Transportation Security Administration, armored cockpit doors, armed pilots, passenger awareness and the screening of passengers and cargos as improvements.
You might not have noticed the "awful lot" that has been done locally to protect us, said Bonnie Allin, president and CEO of the Tucson Airport Authority.
Allin said several of the measures at Tucson International Airport have been done "behind the scenes, so the customers won't know," such as bag screening.
"If it's visible, someone can figure out how to beat the system," she said.
By the end of March, Tucson air travelers also can expect to see bomb-sniffing dogs as a full-time presence at the airport, Allin said.
"We still have a long way to go," said Greg Principato, president of Airports Council International-North America.
McCaffrey agreed, and said more work needs to be done at the aviation level. How to protect pilots on approach to the runway from blinding lasers and keeping nuclear weapons off planes are two such areas.
"Some of them are so difficult a challenge, it's tempting to not think about it," he said.
McCaffrey, who has traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan, said he had no idea why another terrorist attack on America hasn't happened yet, but added he does not think the war in Iraq is making the country less safe.
The United States has some diplomacy issues that need to be worked on, particularly perception that U.S. foreign policy is unilateralist and arrogant, he said.
"I think we are widely distrusted throughout the Muslim world," he said.
McCaffrey also said he believes the United States' military is being spread too thin to sustain its current rate of deployment. By next Christmas there will be significant reductions, he predicted.
"It's a race against time," he said.
● Contact reporter Kevin Smith at 434-4079 or firstname.lastname@example.org.