Months before the planes from Boston hit the Twin Towers, FOX Undercover exposed serious security shortcomings at Logan International Airport, and at least one expert is still wondering why it took warnings like that weren’t heeded and whether it'll take another one to finally fix lingering security concerns.
That expert, Brian Sullivan, a retired FAA special agent, is still haunted by what happened that day.
“When I saw the two planes hit the World Trade Center, I was devastated because of what we had done. What do we have to do? Hit them over the head with a two by four?” he said.
“When you make an attempt to prevent something and nobody listens and it happens to the catastrophic degree it did on 9/11, it rips your guts out. Not only for the future of aviation security, but in a sense out of my commitment to the folks who died that day,” he told FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet.
Sullivan worked with FOX Undercover five months before 9/11 helping test security at Logan Airport.
Then, our hidden cameras caught screeners repeatedly failing to notice a metal knife in a money belt even though it kept setting off alarms.
Time after time, screeners also missed an electronic medical device carried by someone in a wheelchair. A suitcase secured with a plastic tie and packed with lead bags that are used to carry film also stumped security at Logan, our test revealed.
Screeners were supposed to check inside the suitcase because the lead bags blocked the X-ray machine they used.
But a screener was confused by the plastic tie securing the luggage, so he just searched the outside pockets.
Even his superior didn't know how to open the luggage, and so they finally waved the person through without ever opening or examining the suitcase.
After the FOX Undercover report, Sullivan wrote a letter, warning U.S. Sen. John Kerry about the security lapses. Kerry passed on the concerns to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Days after 9/11, we caught up with Sullivan, who read us the letter he had written only a few months earlier.
“’We don't have to wait for a tragedy to occur to act,’” Sullivan read. “That's chilling. It's chilling, but you have to ask yourself: what good does it do you to be right when so many people died?”
Ten years later, Sullivan is pulling no punches.
“If Massport and the airlines had reacted to the report FOX did, it would have been observed by the terrorists and it might have served as a deterrent at Logan at the very least,” he said.
Since 9/11, those private security screeners who failed our test so miserably have been replaced by government screeners from the Transportation Security Administration.
In 2004, the 9/11 Commission issued a report detailing flaws and making recommendations for preventing terrorist attacks. The report even acknowledged FOX 25 uncovered security problems at Logan before 9/11.
“Do you believe a 9/11 style attack could happen today?” asked FOX Undercover’s Beaudet.
“I think it could,” Sullivan replied. “I don't think it's as likely as a bomb in the cargo hold…a shoulder fired missile. There are other measures that they could use.”
“Now, 10 years later, are we any safer?” Beaudet asked.
“I think there are some things that we have done that make us safer. The key one is passenger awareness. If you think of the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber, who stopped them? It was passengers and crew. It wasn't the TSA and the billions that we've spent on security,” Sullivan replied.
Security at Logan has come a long way in a decade. All checked bags are now screened for explosives. Full body scanners started being used last year. And Logan recently expanded its use of questioning passengers to identify suspicious behavior.
Just last month, Massport and the FBI announced the opening of a Joint Terrorism Task Force Office at Logan, which is staffed daily by law enforcement agencies working to prevent another terrorist attack.
“Thanks to the people here in this room today, Logan is now recognized as a national leader in aviation security,” said Ed Freni, aviation director at MassPort.
But Sullivan wonders if the new office is more about public relations than public safety, even though the FBI insists that's not the case.
“Isn't the timing somewhat suspect? Here we are 3 or 4 weeks before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11. It took you 10 years to come up with this concept? 10 years to develop this at Logan? The place where the two planes were taken from? Who you kidding?” he said.
Sullivan isn't the only critic of airline security.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General issued a report in July, saying the TSA needs to do a better job overseeing who's getting access to secure areas of airports.
"(T)he safety of airport workers, passengers, and aircraft is at risk due to the potential of inappropriate individuals obtaining airport badges," the report said.
A new report issued by the former chairmen of the 9/11Commission cites nine major unfinished 9/11 Commission recommendations including transportation security.
"We are not satisfied with improvements to TSA's explosives screening capability,” their report says. “The next generation of whole body scanning machines…are not effective at detecting explosives hidden within the body."
It's proof to Sullivan that more needs to be done.
“The terrorists right now are looking at body cavity bombs. We don't have anything that will stop body cavity bombs. None of our technology will stop body cavity bombs,” he said. “Why are we always reacting rather than being proactive?”
The TSA tells FOX Undercover it is being proactive when it comes to airport security and says in a statement, "TSA currently employs the world's best available technology to screen passengers and bags for explosives and continually works to deploy security measures together with the newest technology to stay ahead of evolving threats."