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FBI says no-fly list isn't as long as people think

Thursday, January 27, 2011

On a recent business trip I sat next to a gentleman who told me he was on a government watchlist. Trying not to look nervous and in my head debating whether or not I should ask for a different seat, I asked him how he knew this. He said every time he went through security he was pulled aside and subjected to secondary screening. The man was obviously a seasoned business traveler and he said after the fourth or fifth time he started telling TSA officers that he was on the list. They immediately pulled him aside, screened him, and sent him on his way. "It's great," he told me. He hasn't waited in a security line since.

Well, few of us would have the same sentiment about being included on a government watchlist, especially the no-fly list. I just read an article on NPR that the FBI is saying the list isn't as long as people think:

"About 10,000," said Timothy Healy, director of the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, which maintains the list. "And [the number of] U.S. citizens on the no-fly list is even much smaller, between 500 and 1,000."

But, the government won't say who is or is not on the list. Douglas Laird (also of SDN fame) told NPR that the system isn't perfect—and would-be terrorists can get around it.

"If that person is a professional, it's too easy to change an identity, so for that reason I wouldn't put a lot of faith in the system," Laird says.

I think having such a system has its place - there are certainly people we don't want on planes - but like every other system, there needs to be checks and balances. Intelligence gathering is probably the most challenging, and, also one of the most important tasks for federal agencies and it has to continue refining such systems to make sure it only hinders the bad guys. And, the government also has to expand training so personnel can spot suspicious behavior or activity and people who aren't on such watchlists are still identified and scrutinized.

Looking for a career after law enforcement? Perhaps you should consider this occupation

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I just got back from a quick trip to Chicago for a Siemens event. Every time I fly I always scope out who my flight attendants are for that trip. Sometimes I think to myself: 'Wow, in an emergency I'm not so sure that is the person I would look to for assistance.' Granted, I fly in and out of the Portland Jetport and I'm pretty sure that's not a highly sought after route from the perspective of flight attendants. Not to say that they're not properly trained, but factoring in things like age and fitness level - let's just say I remain skeptical.

Well, apparently jetBlue (my airline of choice, by the way) has taken this into consideration when hiring flight attendants. According to this Wall Street Journal article the airline hires a considerable number of former New York law enforcement officers and fire fighters. The airline estimates that 10 percent of its total cabin crew workforce of 2,400 has emergency response experience, according to the article. That's pretty impressive. Overall, the airline takes a different approach to hiring:

JetBlue decided from the beginning that hires didn't have to have airline experience and it wanted to hire locally. When Mr. Spivey showed up, it dawned on recruiters that people who had been through emergencies routinely wouldn't panic onboard airplanes. Fire fighters and police officers come from careers where they dealt with the public and provided customer service, jetBlue officials say. They're used to working holidays. They knew how to handle people in stressful situations and could take command of an aircraft cabin.

One former fire-fighter-turned-flight-attendant says he thinks of himself more as a "security chaperone'' than a flight attendant. He says he teaches younger flight attendants a firefighter's tactic—how to vary the tone and volume of their voice to get and keep someone's attention, according to the article.

Although, I'm betting he didn't train Steven Slater. I'm sure you've heard of this (former) jetBlue flight attendant who got into a verbal altercation with a passenger, told the plane to "F-off" over the intercom, grabbed a beer from the beverage cart, and activated the emergency evacuation slide in a very dramatic exit. While he is being hailed by some as a "working class hero" and fulfilling the dreams of many a disgruntled worker, his behavior is far from professional, to say the least. As entertaining as that incident may have been, I'll take the former fire fighter any day.