Think back to 9/11. Do you remember the news coming over the television? There were four coordinated terrorist attacks launched by Islamist terrorists upon the United States -- in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. The weapons used were hijacked airliners, spray, box cutters and knives. The 19 hijackers died, as did 2,990 innocent people.
So great was the damage that the United States created the Department of Homeland Security and enacted the U.S. Patriot Act to give the government greater power to detain foreign terrorists. Airplane cockpits were reinforced. Sky marshals were assigned to flights. Security was increased and passengers and luggage subjected to greater searches. Everything possible was done to protect the traveling public. Carry a weapon onto an airliner and you were in big trouble.
So wow and holy cow. TSA head John Pistole has announced that beginning in April, it is permissible to carry knives aboard airplanes. He feels reinforced cockpit doors, better intelligence and motivated passengers have made the carry-on rule about pocket knives unnecessary. Is he living on Cloud 9? Flight attendants, sky marshals and some people, just like me, are surprised and confused. Maybe we missed something. Aren't knives just as dangerous as a box cutter or razor blades, which are still illegal to carry on to an airplane? Maybe the pilot is safe behind his reinforced door, but what about passengers and crew?
Suppose a hijacker decides to take command of an airliner. He grabs a crew member, puts a pocket knife to her throat, and begins issuing demands. Is the captain, safe in his cabin, going to sacrifice his crew member rather than follow the demands? Are those motivated passengers going to take a chance that the crew member will not get her throat cut if they take actions? Did it help when airport security neglected to look for knives when screening because it gave them more time to look for bombs and reduced the time it took to go through the detectors? Are passengers and crew to be made more expendable in the interest of saving screening time?
Yes, right after 9/11 we were deeply concerned and we placed more emphasis on airport and public safety. We did not want a repeat of what had happened to us on American soil. We relied on multi-layered security measures to make our aviation system safer. It has worked, so why mess with something that isn't broken? Why take pocket knives out of the safety layer?
Undercover agents just recently smuggled a mock bomb through Newark airport security. This shows we need more, not less, vigilance. Even Sen. Charles Schumer is asking TSA to roll back the decision permitting pocket knives on aircraft. Maybe he cannot see the logic of considering passengers and crew expendable and irrelevant to our safety in the skies. Keep cockpits safe and by all means gather more intelligence, but please do not insist that Americans believe little damage can be done with a weapon as small as a pocket knife. Didn't the 9/11 hijackers prove this claim untrue?
Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday.