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Town Square

Airport Security When You Have Not Cleared Security

Original post made by Paul Losch on Dec 28, 2010

Tuesday morning, December 28, was an absolute zoo at SF Airport. Understandable, given all the closures of airports on the US east coast due to snow conditions in prior days.

Consequently, the place was packed this morning with people of all shapes and stripes trying to make connections that they had missed due to weather in the prior days. Lines to check in, lines to check baggage, lines to clear security.

My college age daughter left today for a semester of study in China, so her travel was a bit more complicated than jumping on a Southwest Airlines flight to LA. The wait in line was a nuisance, but here is what really disturbed me:

Someone left unaccompanied two bags in the international check in line we were in--go to the ladies' room or something else? Here were these two bags that had not been through security clearance, abandonded for all intents and purposes. An airport employee noticed them, contacted SFO police, and in the meantime, my daughter, her mother and I had to walk by these suspect bags.

I could not but think how this could be a situation where someone looks innocent enough, gets far enough from the bags to detonate explosives that would have killed and injured hundreds of people who were in the area.

SFO persnonnel just watched the bags, would not move them. SFO police, supposedly with a bomb sniffing dog, did not appear within the ten minutes until the somewhat older woman, with limited grasp of the English language came back to claim her bags and place in line. In fact, I never saw a police officer at any time while this scary incident was going on.

I am an experienced traveler, and this occurence today really bothers me. It turned out to be an incident where a perhaps naive traveler, not familiar with US airport protocols, an unclear procedure between airline and airport employees on how to deal with these bags, and most importantly, no response from SFOPD for over 10 minutes after the situation was reported.

I am alive, but I am appalled.

Comments

Posted by Security please, a resident of Stanford
on Dec 28, 2010 at 3:19 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by passenger, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 28, 2010 at 3:21 pm

This kind of thing could happen anywhere, not just at an airport. Think of that line of people carrying boxes at the post office. What is in all those boxes?

The cops can't be everywhere. They have to focus on the highest value targets. A suitcase bomb at a check in counter might kill a few dozen people. A suitcase bomb on an airplane will kill hundreds. And airline schedules are predictable well in advance, unlike weather-related airport conditions.

If you want to blame someone for this incident, talk to the woman who left her luggage unattended. Don't blame the police for doing their best with a limited budget.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 28, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Security Please,

I agree with you that I could have/should have done more. It was a blur at the time, and even if I had asserted my concerns at the time, I am not sure how things would have gone differently. SFO personnel on the scene were expecting the SFO Police to show up and deal with the situation. These people were not prepared to take any action until the police showed up.

The two things that bothered me about the incident is that there was no action to move the bags away from all these people in various lines. I don't know squat about airport security, but I suspect that people who are not sworn law enforcement officers are not allowed to touch or move bags. So the bags sat there.

I am equally bothered by how no SFOPD showed up, this could have been an awful occurence, thank heavens it was not.

This is not about me. This is about a situation that occurs daily, hourly around all airports. I just happened to experience it, and I think there is a flaw in how things work with abandoned luggage. At least in the United Airlines domestic terminal at SFO on a very heavy travel day.


Posted by Kerry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Paul,

Is this the first time that you have considered how an open society, like ours, is vulnerable to a terrorist attack? It is everywhere, everyday.

The best approach to the current threat is to profile against Islamists and their fellow travelers. Arrest them, disrupt them, kill them...and (oh, hold your breath!), pick them out of the line at the airports, without apology...based on appearance, religion and database reports. Instead, Paul, you prefer to blame the police and officials for not immediately responsing to you own fears.

Time to grow up, Paul. It is a war, and innocents, like yourself, will be disturbed...especially if you don't demand profiling.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 28, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Ok, I can tell already this posting is going to bring out some off the wall observations.

Passenger--SFO has its own police force, their job is to respond to reports conveyed to them. In this case, as best I can tell from being there, they did not respond in a timely manner about something that could have been a life threatening situation. This is not about budgets, it is about managing one aspect of security operations on an extremely busy flying day. No excuses.

Kerry, I will acknoledge your comments, but leave it at that. An old lady left her bags in the line to pee, had poor English skills, and was confused on a horrible morning for international flights, including my daughter's, at SFO. I am concerned about how poor security is before checking in as a result of this experience. Any nut case could have had some explosives in the neglected baggage I saw today.

It has nothing to do with any particular group, so don't try that line with me or my readers.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 28, 2010 at 4:08 pm

We value our freedoms. Unfortunately there are terrorists out there who will act on our freedoms to their own ends.

Of course an airport, like any place with many people (sports arena, crowded shopping mall, major rail station) are the types of places where it would be so easy for terrorists to infiltrate and cause terror. That is their plan. The airport could just as easily be the target of a suicide bomber with a vestbomb who blows himself/herself into oblivion along with as many of the crowd as possible. If this were the situation there is very little the police, bomb sniffing dogs or even vigilent members of the public could do to prevent it.

If we want the freedom to travel throughout the world taking our own luggage with us, then this is something that we need to weigh into our decision to travel. If we want to be protected 100% of the time then we are going to have to pay for it in both monetary ways as well as losing some of our freedoms.

It is up to each one of us to be vigilant, but then to live our lives knowing the risks. If we consider the risk is too much then we must stay out of crowded places and be afraid.

Yes, you could have been right. These suitcases may have contained bombs and yes they may have blown up. On the other hand, you may have been hit by a driver having a heart attack on 101 and been killed yourself, or you may eat contaminated spinach and contract ecoli.

The point is life is dangerous. We can't protect ourselves against everything. We can just take as many precautions as necessary and trust in the powers that be (earthly as well as heavenly) to protect us. After that, we just do our best and take our chances like everyone else.

Life isn't fair. You just may be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or not.


Posted by Ricky, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 28, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Paul-did you and your family leave the airport? Obviously you did not feel it was a real threat since you stayed in line.
Kerry-looks like we will have to follow your advice with regard to white christian men also since they blew up the building in oklahoma city.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 28, 2010 at 5:10 pm

My ex-wife and I went through the line, got our daughter off, and discussed the experience therafter, as we drove back to our places on the Peninsula. We both were concerned and relieved.

None of us perceived the situation to be such a threat that we needed to change our behavior, but I can assure you that we all felt very uncfortamble, as did others in front and behind us in line.

The point I have attempted to make is that secuirty at SFO, and mayby other airports, is not getting handled safely. Proocdures between the SFOPD, airline personnel, and airport eimployees do not seem to be coordinated, in my my epxerience this morninf with these bags.

This is execution by those paid to be responsible for such matters.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Ricky, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 28, 2010 at 7:01 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] In this country you are innocent until proven guilty. Walter ignores the fact that the second worst terrorist attack in this country was pulled of by a white christian male.walter also ignores the increasing number of terrorist attacks carried out by women.not sure where he comes up with that "members of a suspected class"mumbo jumbo.


Posted by Kerry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2010 at 7:35 pm

"Kerry, I will acknoledge your comments, but leave it at that. An old lady left her bags in the line to pee, had poor English skills,"

Paul, perhaps the security authorities are actually doing their jobs, by profiling those in line. You saw some bags left alone, and the cameras watching those lines did not consider it a threat, because that old lady did not match the profile. You got nervous, but the security folks did not. That is how profiling works, when it is done right.

Ricky, I will worry about white Christians, when then demonstrate a real threat. McVeigh was not a Christian, from what I have heard. He was a disillusioned vet who was anti-government. There will always be a few of those lone wolfs out there, but they are not part of a grand movement. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Kerry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2010 at 7:52 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 28, 2010 at 8:50 pm

I think Mr. Losch was completely correct to be highly concerned about the unattended bags, especially in International.
I thought there are those oft-repeated announcements at ALL airports about not leaving luggage unattended and notifying authorities if you spot some, and not accepting the duty of watching other peoples' supposed luggage at any point.
I think the airport police should have responded instantly and made a line detour of some sort for checkin. Maybe the procedure is to not move suspected bags?
I think the woman should have been directly reprimanded when she returned. This is NOT OK to affect public safety like this. People have a right to protect themselves and be concerned with direct safety violations like this.
I think there HAVE been incidents similar to this that ended w/explosions...what LAX attempt??? Scotland airport???
I am with Mr. Losch and take this incident plenty seriously.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 29, 2010 at 8:08 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

It would appear that editing is more concerned with protecting Paul's image than with removing "objectionable" material.
I had suggested that profiling was indeed called for, and that concentrating on males 18 to 35 would make sense.


Posted by Security please, a resident of Stanford
on Dec 29, 2010 at 9:38 am

I agree with Walter's assessment about the editing of this thread with regard to Paul's comments. My post from yesterday questioned that if Paul thought it was such a threat then why did he not take the initiative and do something about it.


Posted by concerned2, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 29, 2010 at 9:43 am

Paul your wish that police or security would have removed the bags would not have happened. First, the area would have been evacuated and the bomb squad called in to deal with the bags.

If you were really worried, you would have immediately removed yourself and family from the area. You would risk loosing your place in line but that is a small price to pay for being safe.

But I do agree with you that as soon as bags have been left unattended the airport staff should be alerted and I do think you are right that someone official should have arrived and informed people standing in line what they were going to do. That woman and her suitcases should have been taken aside for special screening.


Posted by Kerry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 29, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Let me try one more time: I am about to use the most banned word in Palo Alto:

"Profile"

Let's see how long it takes to get this word banned from this site, once again. Old fashioned book burnings were more honest than the Palo Alto word burners!


Posted by Ricky, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 29, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Kerry, while I disagree with your comments about profiling,i completely agree with you regarding the ridiculous censorship/editing on this thread.shocking behavior coming from journalists


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Atherton
on Dec 29, 2010 at 8:06 pm

"Ricky, I will worry about white Christians, when then demonstrate a real threat. McVeigh was not a Christian, **from what I have heard.** He was a disillusioned vet who was anti-government..."

Profile white Christians, republicans and NRA members:
"McVeigh's only known political affiliations were his voter registration with the Republican Party of New York when he lived in Buffalo, New York, and a membership in the National Rifle Association while in the military.

McVeigh was raised Roman Catholic. During his childhood, he and his father attended daily Mass at Good Shepherd Church in Pendleton, New York. In a March, 1996, interview with Time magazine, McVeigh professed his belief in "a God", although he said he had "sort of lost touch with" Catholicism and "I never really picked it up, however I do maintain core beliefs.""

Profile old white men:
"AUSTIN, Tex. — Leaving behind a rant against the government, big business and particularly the tax system, a computer engineer smashed a small aircraft into an office building where nearly 200 employees of the Internal Revenue Service were starting their workday Thursday morning, the authorities said. The pilot, identified as Andrew Joseph Stack III, 53...."

Profile old white Christian men:
52-year-old Scott Roeder murders George Tiller in cold blood IN A CHURCH.

Profile listeners to Glenn Beck:
Byron Williams, inspired by Beck's rants against liberal organizations, sought to murderer members of the Tides Foundation & the ACLU, ends up in shootout on I-580 with police.

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

You know the rest.


Posted by Kerry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 30, 2010 at 9:46 am

"9:5 When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. God is forgiving and merciful."

Anybody who professes a belief in this verse of the Koran should be profiled. Why? Because it is the central theme in which the jihadist Islamists are committing terrorist acts.


Posted by Security please, a resident of Stanford
on Dec 30, 2010 at 10:31 am

"i completely agree with you regarding the ridiculous censorship/editing on this thread.shocking behavior coming from journalists"

Ricky--you wrongly assume that the Weekly is a newspaper--it is an unabashed cheerleader for the city elite, which they feel will increase their ad revenue. The majority of people in Palo Alto use the weekly to line their kitty litter boxes (before you delete this comment, kitty litter liner producers, just remember how this is an example of recycling)


Posted by anonymous, a resident of another community
on Dec 30, 2010 at 11:16 am

Kerry:

Even George dubya Bush says Islam is a peaceful religion. But honestly, I can't remember if it was before or after he held hands with and kissed the Saudi King.

Web Link

the kiss

Web Link


Posted by Kerry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 30, 2010 at 11:33 am

The Saudi King has been very well profiled. He is not considered to be a travel threat.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of another community
on Dec 30, 2010 at 11:44 am

Travel threat? He doesn't fly public, probably not the other guy either.

But neither are threats? Ha.

Arguable.

Especially to the families of 5,500 American soldiers. And millions of Iraqis. Didn't dubya use the word "crusade"? Seems that relates to your twisted, out of context quoting of holy books.


Posted by Kerry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 30, 2010 at 12:35 pm

I wonder if Paul Losch would have been even more nervous had the woman in question been dressed in Muslim garb? Juan Williams, formerly of NPR, said he was...then he got fired.

The correct PC answer from Paul would be: "Of course not...I do not generalize or profile, I simply saw some unattended bags." However, Juan Williams actually spoke the truth to the current facts: Muslims have been very silent about Sura 9:5 (which abrogates any earlier verses that might be contradictary to it)...they have not openly rejected it. In not doing so, they are part of a silent jihadist majority. This is why they need to be profiled, as travelers.

Those 9-11 hijackers were all solid Muslims, who believed Sura 9:5, without question.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of another community
on Dec 30, 2010 at 12:49 pm

K:

And which parts of the old testament do you believe in fervently? Stoning wives? Slavery? Selling daughters?

And King James,? about money changers?

You can pull random phrases, out of context, out of any of the great holy books.

But not to ignore your pivot and ignoring other folks questions: well played.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 30, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Kerry,

You are entitled to your opinions, and are welcome to ask me questions, but you cross a line when you presume to quote me. Don't do it.

It was not at all apparent to whom the bags belonged, the woman who turned out to own them was nowhere to be seen by the time an SFO worker noticed them sitting there. And he twice, in a very loud and clear voice, asked if the owner of the bags would come bag to them. No response, because she was not close by the bags for a period of time.

Let me add that the United terminal was a very confusing place that morning, I never have seen it so crowded. Multiple extremely long lines running parallel to each other, many inexperienced travelers trying to get home after the holidays, many trying to get flights since their flights earlier had been cancelled due to the snow conditions on the eastern seaboard. It was unpleasant under the circumstances, and abandoned bags excerbated an already stressful experience.

I have no comment on the profiling statements on this thread. From my vantage point, profiling is tangential at best to what my daughter, ex-wife, and I witnessed.


Posted by Kerry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 30, 2010 at 1:04 pm

If there were terrorists hijacking planes and flying them into buildings, mass killing soldiers on our own bases, setting off bombs, cutting off heads, murdering their own women in "honor" killings...based on Christian texts, then I would be alarmed. But, of course, that is not the current case. It is Islamists who are currently terrorizing the non-believers. The Isllamists have shown a great propensity to commit suicide bombings, including aboard airplanes. That is why they need to be profiled.


Posted by Kerry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 30, 2010 at 1:26 pm

"but you cross a line when you presume to quote me."

Paul, I did not quote you. I gave a hypothetical quote from you, should you decide to give a PC response. If you are not constrained by PC handcuffs, what would your response be, if you saw a woman, in Muslim garb, leave her bags?


Posted by anonymous, a resident of another community
on Dec 30, 2010 at 1:34 pm

I find it fascinating that you ignore comments above about white guys flying planes into government buildings last year, etc..

And I guess I'll ignore your distaste for privacy protections in our great constitution (see: first they came...)

But go ahead and institute profiling as a policy (ugh, did I type that?!?!) and you'll find it doesn't work.

All it takes is one blond Lebanese, or a Muslim with a look you don't get scared of (Indonesia?) or a converted white guy from Marin. I met an (half) Afghan woman I swore was Sicilian...

What do you do when they take down a plane?

You live in such fear. Get off the Beck. It's a beautiful day out there.

If dubya could ignore 60 warnings about 9/11, and still kiss and hold hands with a Muslim King afterwards, you should be able to get past your fears of brown folk.


Posted by Kerry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 30, 2010 at 2:09 pm

If mad white guys were part of an international conspiracy to kill non-believers, you would have a point. But they aren't, and you don't.

Israel profiles their airline travelers, and it has the safest airline in these current times. They focus their resources on those who are likely to be a bigger threat. We waste enormous resources by screening boy scouts and nuns and non-Muslim grandmas. Proper profiling is based on database information, ticket purchase criteria (one-way, cash?), country or origin, passport information, appearance (including Muslim garb), and suspicious behavior, during an upfront and personal interview by tough interviewers who don't buckle at their knees when they are challenged, or when the women start to cry. Such effective profiling would significantly decrease wait times in line, and make us all safer.

Yet we dither under the PC mandate of non-discrimination....


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 30, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Don't split hairs with me on the quote thing Kerry. You can express your own opinions without speculating about what I or anyone else might say.

ANYONE who abandons bags is violating airport rules, as I understand them, and should be confronted about going back to their bags immediately. Someone who was next to this older European woman who had limited grasp of English when she took off should have done just that. Clearly, it did not happen.

I was not near the bags at the time she took off--as I said, the lines were very long, and we eventually got close to the bags, shortly after the SFO worker noticed them.

As I also said earlier, there was a great deal of general pandemonium, and I would not be at all surprised that people who were next to her when she left the line were inexperienced travelers and did not understand that she had pulled a huge "No No."


Posted by anonymous, a resident of another community
on Dec 30, 2010 at 2:42 pm

K:

"If mad white guys were part of an international conspiracy..."

Am guessing this comes from a "white guy." Ya think?

"Yet we dither under the PC mandate of non-discrimination.... "

Sorry. I can't belittle the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as easily as you dither/dismiss it....

Perhaps you need to move to another country if you don't care for American values. Try Oklahoma. You'd be safe from the great scourge that is Sharia. When the traitors secede, I hear they're renaming it Beckistan.

Uh-oh, maybe not: Web Link

And a bonus for ya: more than 3 of 4 people there are white, why, it's almost a veritable utopia!! They probably stop brown folk at the border.

Fear, baby, fear.


Posted by Kerry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 30, 2010 at 3:34 pm

If we do sensible profiling, there is less to fear. If we continue to check everyone, as if they were a threat, there is more to fear, because we dilute our resources.

The US Constitution absolutely allows discrimination (and profiling). For example, FDR put thousands of German-American residents in relocation camps during WWII, because he considered them a potential threat. He did the same thing to Japanese-Americans. Perfectly Constitutional.

However, we are not, yet, at that point. The question at hand is Airline travel security. Profiling works; mass screening does not.


Posted by Ricky, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 30, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Considering all the evidence provided here for acts of terrorism by white christian malta I think it is time to profile them. Christianity is the greatest threat to america today. The ten commandments are very clear on worshiping false gods.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of another community
on Dec 30, 2010 at 3:55 pm

"Perfectly Constitutional. "

Yup. Except for those pesky 4th and 14th amendments. Please show me where the Constitution allows racial profiling.

re: Fear - I was referring to *yours*. My fear? Those, like yourself that are willing to so easily give up someone else's liberties.

Turn off the beck-ster. He's just an old morning shock jock with a new shtick.


Posted by Ricky, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 30, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Whoops.that should have been "males" and not malta


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 30, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Nony & Paul - The Constitution does not prohibit profiling. It prohibits acts beyond questioning based on nothing but suspicion but does NOT prohibit suspicion.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Palo Alto
on Dec 31, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Paul Losch is a registered user.

This topic got off course very quickly, to my disappointment.

"Profiling" is a legitimate topic of discussion, and that was not what this topic was about. My cynical observation is that the topic was "hijacked" by some folks who have points of view about profiling, instead of staying on topic. Go back to 5th grade or post your own topic, guys.

A passenger cannot profile two abandoned suitcaes while in line, on deadline for international check in

I will close this blog off with an observation and 2 requests:

1. Don't change the subject, this one got closed off because that was what happened, it went from a local airport security experience to "profling."

2. Keep this at a level that is substantive. I post what I do, and my dear loves such as Walter think I have some influence that he imagines, and not true. I can handle personal disparagements, but IMHO they are largely not helpful in the discourse. Disagree with me, fine. Disparage me, where are you coming from? Focus on the substance.

3. Register to PA Online if your are a serious part of this community and the conversations. You can keep your anonominity and I for one will take what you say more seriously.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year. I am at a party tonight with a bunch of Bridge players. Not sure how champagne and cards work well together.

To close on my SFO experience this week, my daughter got off fine to her destination in Beijing, where she will spend her junior year college semester. As a blond, blue-eyed girl who speaks fluent Mandarin, she will fit right in.