First, the good news: thanks to a $1.6 billion investment over ten years, security at LAX airport has "improved significantly" since before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The bad news: as the world's biggest origin and destination airport and the sixth busiest airport on the globe, LAX still remains a significant terrorist target. It has sustained more "incidents" than any other airport in the United States.
These are just some of the findings of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's blue ribbon commission on airport security. The panel just wrapped up their year-long review of LAX on Wednesday with a 162-page report (PDF) that focuses on five areas: Counterterrorism/Homeland Security, Law Enforcement Operations, Emergency Management, Fire Protection and Prevention Services and Information Technology.
Some of the commission's recommendations, which include a top-to-bottom review of the airport's resources and enhanced collaboration between agencies, are already being implemented, said the mayor in a statement.
Chief among them is the creation of a new position for LAX: Deputy Director for Law Enforcement and Homeland Security. The Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) hired Arif Alikhan, who once worked for the city of Los Angeles as the deputy mayor for homeland security and public safety. He was also a former assistant secretary for policy development at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Several portions of the report are redacted because they point out the airport's vulnerabilities. Villaraigosa explained, "we want this to be a blueprint for the good guys, not a blueprint for the bad guys," reports The City Maven.
One portion of the report that has been heavily redacted is a section on "the insider threat" to LAX, which refers to employees who could exploit the airport's vulnerabilities to commit terrorist acts. The panel called it one of "the most pressing concerns for LAX," because while the airport fulfills the minimum TSA standards in regard to limiting access to secure areas, it's simply not good enough considering how busy and strategically located LAX is. Out of 13 recommendations that the panel has to address this concern, 10 were redacted.
The Daily Breeze highlighted the report's mention of the "historical tension" between LAX police (LAWAPD) and the LAPD, which has hurt security at the airport. From the report: "The lack of close planning and coordination between LAWAPD and LAPD increases the risk that critical information may not be disseminated to each other in a timely fashion."
The Los Angeles Times called attention to the panel's recommendation to expedite the screening process by creating a class of "trusted travelers" -- passengers who had previously been put through rigorous background checks in order to pass security checks more easily than others. The panel claims that risk assessment would decrease the chance of a terrorist attack at what it called a "choke point" at the airport. From the report:
TSA does not use different levels of passenger screening based upon risk posed by the passenger. For example, TSA does not have a trusted traveler program to expedite screening for those who qualify. Nor does TSA apply any other risk assessment to the passenger screening process to reduce the time that passengers wait in line to go through the TSA screening.
As with any airport, areas accessible to the general public at LAX prior to TSA screening checkpoints remain vulnerable to attacks; any choke point where crowds assemble – (redacted) – presents a target of opportunity. With over 59 million passengers last year, LAX will remain a target for terrorist plotters in the future. (redacted)
On the same day that the report was released, a busy terminal at LAX was shut down for about 45 minutes as airport police searched for a man who had been spotted with possible drug paraphernalia. The Associated Press reports that the man was arrested on an outstanding warrant, not a security breach.
In October of this year, a man and a TSA officer were arrested for coordinating several drug smuggling operations through LAX. The man had paid TSA officer Dianna Perez thousands of dollars to help him bypass security checkpoints by approving checked baggage filled with marijuana. Later on that month, it was discovered that an undeclared loaded handgun was about the be stowed on a plane at LAX. TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers had told the Los Angeles Times, "TSA screens for firearms stowed in carry-on luggage but that it was not the agency's responsibility to detect firearms in checked luggage."