On Sept. 11, 2001, when the passengers of United Flight 93 gained knowledge of the hijackers' true goals, they were able to make the choice to heroically fight back, preventing the airplane from destroying the U.S. Capitol. And although it's true that the knowledge of the holes in aviation security that existed before 9/11 will make Americans safer, the Transportation Security Administration stubbornly refuses to release important information. Instead of revealing errors that could lead to developing better safeguards, the TSA chooses to keep secret its data on security lapses.
As a retired special agent for the Federal Aviation Administration - the FAA is the TSA's aviation security predecessor - who was charged with protecting classified information, I am aware that many pre-9/11 vulnerabilities have yet to be revealed.
The TSA's abusive use of labeling documents as sensitive security information, or SSI, is an endless source of frustration to 9/11 family members determined to learn the truth about how their loved ones died, to watchdog organizations determined to hold our government accountable and to distinguished jurists determined to mete out justice.
In the death penalty trial of 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, Judge Leonie Brinkema was astounded that the TSA refused to provide 9/11 family members with evidence it gave to the now-convicted terrorist's lawyers.
"It's quite extraordinary that TSA has a tougher policy on disclosure than the CIA or the FBI or the NSA," she said from the bench. After Brinkema ordered TSA to share these documents with 9/11 family members, TSA refused to comply, tying it up in Appeals Court for the foreseeable future.
Airport security, therefore, will remain vulnerable until the public demands protection, which has been paid for by every taxpaying citizen. But how can we do that when TSA continues to use SSI not to protect national security, but as a shield to cloak government and airline negligence and incompetence before 9/11?
There is a solution. A Homeland Security appropriations bill would end the TSA's stonewalling by requiring the agency to release SSIs that are more than three years old, unless it can be demonstrated that doing so would present a risk of harm to the nation. The bill would also force the TSA to standardize its SSI process and permit a judge overseeing legal proceedings to allow controlled access to SSI in the proceedings.
Citizens who want to make America safer and hold our government accountable should call their senators and representatives and tell them to demand inclusion of the House's Section 525 language in the final, unified version of the bill (H.R. 5441).
It's time for our elected officials to make sure citizens are armed with the knowledge - and the power - to protect themselves from terror attacks.