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Why they chose Logan
The New Republic ^ | September 20, 2001 | Michael Crowley

Posted on 09/21/2001 8:16:42 AM PDT by testforecho

Into the Breach
by Michael Crowley

Post date 09.20.01 | Issue date 10.01.01

Two years before Osama bin Laden's suicidal disciples boarded a pair of planes at Boston's Logan Airport destined for the World Trade Center, a minor Boston politician was nabbed in a humiliating scandal. Under the screaming headline "Booze Cruise," The Boston Herald published photographs of Peter Blute, the executive director of the Massachusetts Port Authority, on a publicly funded Tuesday-afternoon boat ride around Boston Harbor. Blute's companions included a sleazy lobbyist and fawning young women, including a girl named Gidget, who immortalized herself by defiantly flashing her breasts for the Herald photographer capturing it all from shore.

At the time the disgrace seemed to have little relevance beyond the cutthroat world of Boston politics; Blute was just another small-time local politico caught slacking off on the job. In light of September 11, however, Blute's story looks somewhat different. For it is Massport, the agency he once headed--an agency still managed by an appalling roster of political appointees--that runs Logan Airport.

For years Massport has been a dumping ground for Bay State pols, a place where the state's governors have rewarded friends and allies with comfortable sinecures, qualifications be damned, "a patronage trough where every hack's loser cousin feeds," as The Boston Globe put it last year. Blute was installed as executive director--with ultimate responsibility for all airport operations--by then-Governor Bill Weld within weeks of losing his congressional seat in 1996. His prior experience consisted of five years as a state representative and a short career working in public relations for professional sports teams. Blute's predecessor, Stephen Tocco, was little better: a pharmacist by training who had served as Weld's economic affairs adviser.

Weld's successor as governor, Paul Cellucci, proved even more shamelessly patronage-minded. When the state's secretary for elderly affairs resigned in 1998 amid accusations that he wasn't showing up for work, Cellucci promptly named him to be Massport's director of special projects. After an undistinguished Democratic state representative named Gus Serra supported the Republican Cellucci's 1998 election campaign, he was rewarded with a $119,000 per year job as Massport's director of strategic planning. And when Cellucci became ambassador to Canada earlier this year, his deputy chief of staff found a new job--where else?--at Massport, as deputy executive director. The cronyism has extended all the way down to the agency's bottom echelons, where the brother of Cellucci's former chief of staff landed a job as a Logan firefighter in 1997.

ut the patronage hires who deserve the strictest scrutiny in the wake of the double hijacking at Logan are Virginia Buckingham, the current Massport executive director, and Joseph Lawless, the current director of airport security. Buckingham, a 36-year-old political operative who served as Cellucci's campaign manager and chief of staff, was put in charge of Massport two years ago, after Blute was ousted for the booze cruise fiasco. Cellucci never even went through the motions of searching for qualified outsiders--leading the late South Boston Congressman Joe Moakley to scoff, impolitely, that Cellucci had taken "some girl sitting in the next office and put her in charge." For his part, Lawless is a former Massachusetts state trooper who entered Boston politics by serving as Weld's chauffeur for two years; he, in turn, replaced another state trooper and driver (for former Governor Michael Dukakis's wife, Kitty). In other words, Logan's last two airport security chiefs took the job with little or no experience in airport security. But that didn't stop Lawless from demanding that he be free from oversight by one of the few respected professionals in Massport's upper management, Aviation Director Thomas Kinton. According to The Boston Globe, Lawless largely got his way because Massport officials "did not want to challenge the governor's handpicked choice." The agency did hire William Jaillet, a longtime Federal Aviation Administration security official, to serve as Lawless's deputy. But Jaillet resigned the post in 2000 amid sexual harassment charges, and it went unfilled for over a year--until just days before the attacks.

Incredibly, even September 11 doesn't seem to have changed the culture at Massport. Lawless stunned Justice Department officials the day after the attack by telling a federal marshal in charge of overseeing airport security upgrades that her input, in the words of the Globe, "was not welcome." Says Leigh B. Boske, an expert on transportation and port authorities at the University of Texas at Austin's Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, "I know of no other airport quite like Logan." Most large airports or port authorities, Boske says, are headed by experienced transportation professionals chosen either from within the agency or after a thorough nationwide search. (There are other exceptions, notably New York's Port Authority, which oversees Kennedy and LaGuardia Airports and has recently been run by political allies of the governor.) The terrorists, he adds, "have been planning for a year. That says to me they have had some time to go around the country and look for the weakest link. I have a feeling that [Logan] was not an accident." Aviation consultant Michael Boyd agrees: "Political appointees ... have allowed [security problems] to fester over the years" at Logan.

e may never know to what extent Massport's hack culture made Logan vulnerable to last week's hijackers. But the airport's security flaws were well-known long before last Tuesday's cataclysm. Since 1997, agents from the FAA have succeeded in breaching Logan security nearly 200 times--slipping weapons past careless screeners at x-ray machines and metal-detectors, or accessing restricted areas like ramps, baggage rooms, and even empty airplanes. According to The Boston Globe, the number of violations found by the FAA at Logan in a 1999 audit was three times the national average. That same year a teenager dressed in Hasidic garb (he later said he was trying to impress Israeli intelligence agents) breached an airport fence, walked two miles across the tarmac, and stowed away in the cabin of a 747 bound for Britain. In 1999 the General Accounting Office found that Logan's turnover rate for airport baggage screeners was 207 percent--fourth-highest in the nation (Reagan National Airport, by contrast, reported a 47 percent turnover rate; New York's Kennedy had a 53 percent rate).

In fact, the FAA has repeatedly warned Massport management about Logan's security. But with each new revelation of a security lapse, Massport's leaders have insisted that their record was not substantially worse than that of other major American airports, and pointed defensive fingers at the airlines and the FAA. And with some justification: It's the airlines, after all, that are in charge of hiring screeners and maintaining security at their gates. And, until last week, FAA regulations actually allowed passengers to carry small knives like those the terrorists used.

But ultimately, it is Massport officials who are responsible for the overall security of the airport. Specifically, the agency controls access to most passenger-restricted areas--such as the tarmac and baggage handling areas--where many previous security failures have taken place. It's also the agency's job to keep an eye on everyone else with access to airplanes--such as mechanics, cleaners, and caterers--a highly relevant duty given that searches after the attacks found two more knives hidden on planes at Logan. And if Massport truly believed the airlines were being lax, they could have leaned on them to improve security. Instead, last February, the agency did the opposite. A memo from Executive Director Buckingham's office vowed to "measure the performance of airlines and hold them accountable for delivering basic customer services." The new requirements, many of them intended to speed up the check-in process, included a mandate that no passenger should have to wait in line for more than five minutes at a security checkpoint. Failure to comply could cost airlines gate or terminal space, Buckingham warned.

Until last week, Boston's political establishment winked indulgently at Massport's rampant patronage. State leaders--most with their own friends, relatives, and allies on the public payroll--were reluctant to cry foul. Business leaders didn't want to offend the politicians by complaining. And Boston's passengers--like passengers everywhere else in the country--were more concerned about convenience than safety. When journalists raised a fuss, they were generally dismissed as naïve goo-goos. In short, no one really considered the shortage of experienced oversight at Logan Airport to be much of a problem. Until it was too late.

MICHAEL CROWLEY is an associate editor at TNR.

TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Extended News; News/Current Events
More Logan airport/Massport corruption coverage.

Nice to see some rocks being lifted up in the Bay State.

1 posted on 09/21/2001 8:16:42 AM PDT by testforecho
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To: testforecho
It's fun for this magazine to bash a Massa Repub. And there's no denying that these "mistakes were made" and must be fixed.

But to pin the major blame on Logan is silly. The highjackers were looking for cross-country flights loaded with jet-fuel (priority #1) which were close to their targets (priority #1A). Which left only a handful of airports vulnerable, including some other than Logan. If the highjackers had wanted to target Disneyland, they would have used airplanes from airports staffed by dead-wood from Democrat-controlled governments.

2 posted on 09/21/2001 8:39:00 AM PDT by Elvis van Foster
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To: testforecho
Why they chose Logan.

The normal routes would allow them to gain control of the planes while heading near NYC allowing optimum time with minimal fuel burn and least chance of interception.

3 posted on 09/21/2001 8:46:52 AM PDT by cinFLA
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To: Elvis van Foster, cinFLA
Plus, the supposed "leader" of the 19 hijackers, Mr. Atta passed through airport security in Portland, ME and merely walked to his connection at Logan without having to go near an X-Ray machine or security check-point... How many others who flew from Logan that morning also made connections? We only know about Atta because he left a trail with his rental car. I guess it's easy to kick Logan in this case, but there's plenty of blame to go around...
4 posted on 09/21/2001 9:05:01 AM PDT by vrwinger
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To: cinFLA
The normal routes would allow them to gain control of the planes while heading near NYC allowing optimum time with minimal fuel burn and least chance of interception.

I agree. But were the problems at Logan so bad that they assisted the terrorists?

I went back and searched and found this Howie Carr thread from the Boston Herald

5 posted on 09/21/2001 9:18:09 AM PDT by testforecho
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To: vrwinger, Elvis van Foster, testforecho
I've been asking the same question in a couple threads, but have yet to get an answer.

Seeing as how the knives and boxcutters that were used to take control of the planes were legally taken on board, how is this a failure of airport security?

6 posted on 09/21/2001 9:30:41 AM PDT by TomB
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