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Former Security Director Bill Fink speaks out about recent airport woes

The recent incident at Washington Dulles International Airport that involved British Airways is a prime example that security gaps remain throughout the transportation system according to Tyrone native Bill Fink, the former federal security director at the airport.
Dulles International has been rocked by various security issues causing canceled and delayed foreign flights. Since the New Year’s holiday there have been additional concerns.
According to the Associated Press, authorities concerned about terrorism canceled or delayed several flights between London and Washington Dulles International Airport, tightening the security net over U.S. airspace.
The flurry of activity over New Year’s took place a week and a half after the Bush administration raised the national terrorism alert to orange, its second-highest level.
In the face of extreme security at the nation’s airports, seaports and public gathering places, no terrorist incidents took place.
Just today, new custom regulations went into effect for many foreign travelers. Some foreigners arriving in the United States will have their photograph and fingerprints taken while clearing security at airports and seaports.
The heightened security caused some inconvenience for passengers at Dulles, just outside the nation’s capital.
Based on security advice from the British government, British Airways on Thursday canceled the same flight from London that U.S. authorities had boarded on New Year’s Eve after it landed at Dulles.
The canceled flight was one of the airline’s three daily flights from Heathrow Airport to Washington. The return flight to London also was canceled Thursday.
On Thursday night, U.S. authorities delayed a London-bound British Airways flight that had been scheduled to leave at 6:35 p.m. EST, with passengers “re-screened because of security concerns,” said a Dulles airport official who asked not to be identified by name. The plane left shortly after 10 p.m. EST. The airline confirmed the late departure.
On New Year’s Eve, U.S. officials acted on intelligence information and not just suspicious passenger names when they boarded the British Airways jet at Dulles, a national security official said.
Investigators found no evidence of terrorism as 247 passengers from London waited more than 3 1/2 hours before getting off the plane while some of them were questioned.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post and its website, reported last week, the chief of the Transportation Security Administration at Dulles International Airport was placed on administrative leave after being charged with drunken driving while he was on duty for a New Year’s Eve Code Orange alert, officials said. Acting federal security director Charles Brady was pulled over about 1 a.m. by a Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority police officer who saw him driving erratically on Route 28 near Dulles, airport spokeswoman Tara Hamilton said.
On a night considered at particular risk of terrorism, with extraordinary security actions in place across the country, Brady was supposed to be at his airport post until 2 a.m. TSA spokeswoman Jennifer Marty said that Brady should have been participating in a security exercise to ensure the safety of air travelers at that hour according to the Washington Post article
Post staffer Steven Ginsberg reported when Brady was reached at his home in Oak Hill after the incident, he maintained that he was stopped at 2:30 a.m., 30 minutes after his shift had ended. He said he had spent his final work hours monitoring flights and declined to discuss his whereabouts after that.
Brady is quoted as having said “I’m just waiting for the results of [the TSA] investigation,” in the Washington Post article.
Brady was arrested not long after the final passengers from a British Airways plane detained for hours because of security concerns were released from interviews at Dulles by TSA officials and FBI agents.
Fink, served as the airport’s former federal security manager for a decade until March of 2001, cited a number of problems in an in-depth written release to The Daily Herald .
“Many entrances to restricted areas at airports, seaports, railroad stations and even over the road facilities, bus and trucking, are not staffed by security screens or equipped with metal detectors, allowing thousands of transportation workers to get near these vital areas with only the swipe of an electronic identification card,” said Fink.
“Such unsupervised access remains common nationwide throughout the transportation industry including our major airports. While the system has been enhanced its focus so far remains reactive rather then proactive and is concentrated on those traveling on planes, intimately screening such items as passengers’ shoes and pilots’ hats, the same level of attention has not yet been given to the scattered “back doors” of airports and other transportation facilities.
“Believe me when I tell you there are so many ways to breach security it would make your head spin. All it amounts to having knowledge of the inner working of the access system and the opportunities will present themselves,” said Fink.
“You keep hearing that there are layers of security behind the access system, such as background checks of most employees, automatic logs of who goes through every door and the stepped-up vigilance of other workers. Employees are trained to participate in the security process as an additional duty. However, when you are working in an environment where safety is of the utmost importance other duties tend to fade.
“There are those who believe that security is now better because workers are trained to look out for suspicious behavior and suspicious items. Unfortunately, there are also many cases where they don’t. Getting employees involved in the security process distracts them from their primary duties and responsibilities. We have known for a long time that arriving at the ultimate solutions were going to be expensive and technically demanding yet we continue to drag our feet,” according to Fink pointed out a issue of more local concern when he stated, “people should be concerned about the lack of scrutiny given to workers at all of our major transportation facilities to include our major airports – Dulles International, Reagan National, Baltimore-Washington International, Greater Pittsburgh International and Philadelphia.
“But we cannot forget about locations like State College and Martinsburg Airports. These smaller airports are feeder airports that place passengers and cargo directly into the sterile and security areas of these larger facilities. Failure on the part of these regional facilities to maintain the same level of security as is required at the larger facilities will simply cancels out what ever security measures are in place there.”
In addition to his work at Dulles International, Fink’s background also includes serving at Baltimore Washington International as well as airports in Houston and Pittsburgh. Fink also has an extensive military background. He will be continuing his career in public service when he is sworn in as Tyrone’s newest council member this evening.