Show: THE O'REILLY FACTOR
Date: September 27, 2001
Head: THE FACTOR: Did Al Gore Increase or Jeopardize Airline Security
Byline: Bill O'Reilly
Guest: Victoria Cummock
BILL O'REILLY, HOST, THE O'REILLY FACTOR: Hi. I'm Bill O'Reilly. Thank you for watching us tonight.
President Bush gave a speech today to some airline workers in Chicago and announced a number of things including that the feds will now pay for National Guard troops to provide airport security.
This undercuts the nay sayers who boo me whenever I call for putting the military on the border, which I predict will happen.
The U.S. military is fully capable of stopping illegal aliens and drugs from entering this country, and there's no reason they should not be doing what the Coast Guard has been doing for decades.
Mr. Bush also announced that all kinds of security upgrades for the airlines will be put in place. But why didn't this happen sooner when the threat was known for years?
That's the subject of this evening's "Talking Points" memo. Soon after TWA Flight 800 crashed off the coast of Long Island killing 230,
Vice President Al Gore was put in charge of a commission on aviation safety and security. That was in 1996.
The commission recommended increased security that would have cost the airlines some money. So the airlines lobbied against those recommendations, which included that no checked bag could be loaded on to the plane unless the passenger actually boarded the flight. The airline said checking would result in delays.
In the face of the intense pressure, Mr. Gore wrote a letter to the top lobbyist, Carol Hallett, the president of the Air Transport Association of America, saying, quote, "I want to make it very clear that it is not the intent of this administration or of the commission to create a hardship for the air transportation industry."
Now, just days after Mr. Gore's letter went out, the following donations were made to the Democratic National Committee: $265,000 from American Airlines,$120,000 from Delta, $115,000 from United, $87,000 from Northwest. In all, the airlines gave the Clinton-Gore reelection effort close to $600,000in the closing days of the '96 campaign, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.
A Gore aide, Elaine Kamarck, has denied any connection between the vice president's letter and the donations that came shortly afterward.
But very little came out of Gore's commission on airline safety and security, and that's a fact. "Talking Points" knows a quid pro quo when one slaps "Points" in the face,and it's not like the Clinton-Gore never sold consideration for money. They did it all the time.
But if Gore's commission -- and I say if -- backed away from aggressively pursuing better airport security because money was promised,that is -- well, you supply the adjective. And that is the memo. Now for the top story tonight.
A person who sat with Vice President Gore on the aviation safety and security commission.
Joining us from Miami is Victoria Cummock whose husband was killed in the Lockerbie terrorist bombing of that Pam An jet.
How would you evaluate the vice president's performance on this commission, Ms. Cummock?
VICTORIA CUMMOCK, FMR. WHITE HOUSE AVIATION SECURITY COMMISSIONER: I thought his performance was appalling.
The presidential mandate was to enhance aviation safety and to enhance aviation security,and the vice president took this as an opportunity just to provide aviation enhancements overall at the expense of the flying public.
O'REILLY: Give me a specific example of what he did that you didn't like.
CUMMOCK: Well, on September 9th, there were many recommendations -security recommendations that were supposed to be systematically deployed. One of them was bag matching of passengers' two bags.
Once the airlines found out about this, we went from bag matching domestically to testing bag matching at a couple of airports to"Let's do a computerized model of a potential bag match" to having bag matching domestically totally disappear off the charts.
O'REILLY: Now why do you think that happened? And we explained in the "Talking Points" Memo that your recommendation was -and this is to eliminate any bombs because TWA 800, you know, boom, and Lockerbie where you lost your husband,boom -- you didn't want bags getting on the plane until you were sure that the passenger got on the plane with the bag. And why do you think that just disappeared?
CUMMOCK: Well, I think all of the security enhancements disappeared because of the industry's pressuring the administration, and it was a reelection year.
So there was an awful lot of pressure to make sure that there were -- that the status quo was going to be maintained,which I have to tell you left not only the back door in aviation un -- wide open, but, you know, it was unlocked and wide open.
The commission realized during the vulnerability studies and threat assessments that there were many areas of potential threat aboard an aircraft.
We were not looking at the tons of cargo that's put in with passengers every day, the mail as well as packages that are shipped with us.
We still today don't look at what's in a checked bag -- the bags that the passengers don't carry on board with them.
O'REILLY: Well, they're supposed to have some kind of X-ray thing that it's supposed to go through once it goes down into the whole. But you're basically -- you're making...
CUMMOCK: No. Not domestically.
O'REILLY: You -- all right.
CUMMOCK: Not domestically. Not on domestic flights.
O'REILLY: I thought they went through it with a little detector. I mean, that's what I've been told.
O'REILLY: So there's nothing.
CUMMOCK: No. Sadly, it's only for international flights that the metal detectors -and you have to realize that over 90 percent of all the detection equipment in all of our airports are metal or X-ray detectors -- metal detectors or X-ray machines.
They are not explosive detection machines that...
O'REILLY: No, I understand that.
CUMMOCK: ... are available.
O'REILLY: So what you're saying is that your commission didn't do anything. You met, you spent the government's money,but you didn't do anything. You didn't upgrade security on any of the airlines.
CUMMOCK: That's right, and I think what we really did is gave the flying public the perceptionthat after two aircraft had crashed that any safety or security measure that was required based on our analysis was going to be dealt with.
The airlines were allowed to make announcements from the Oval Offices saying that they were going to put in smoke detectors and fire depressants,as well as having the vice president announce some security measures which were never implemented.
And from the first announcement in September until the final report when the commission issued its final recommendations,all of the security measures had been either diluted or some disappeared entirely.
O'REILLY: Now do you think it's money?
CUMMOCK: One of the most...
O'REILLY: I mean, that's a pretty serious charge you're leveling at the vice president,that he just sold out the airline security so he could get money for the DNC.
CUMMOCK: Well, what I think is really important is that we have to realize that we have had 12 years of commissions -of presidential commissions, of GAO reports, of threat assessments, vulnerability studies.
The FAA and the government has known that the nature of the threat to the American public was no longer the threat of the Cold Warbut of terrorism and that aviation represented an area where terrorists could get the most bang for their buck.
Yet when we saw the escalation of the threat, we never escalated our response.
O'REILLY: Right. So we had 12 years...
CUMMOCK: The issue of...
O'REILLY: ... of meetings, and nothing came about. Zero.
CUMMOCK: The issue is that we have to decide whether we're going to federalize our response to securing the American people in the air.
Now I personally in my dissent -- and I was the only commissioner that dissented -felt that it was really imperative that the government not abdicate their responsibility to an industry that's bottom-line oriented.
I personally feel that it's really important to have security placed in the hands of the professionals...
O'REILLY: Well, that's what's going to happen now.
CUMMOCK: ... whether this is...
O'REILLY: The federal government...
CUMMOCK: ... whether it's law enforcement...
Bush announced today that the federal government's going to now oversee the security at all the airports. There are going to be air marshals and all of this.
But, you know, it's shocking -- it is shocking that you would meet and have all of this, and nothing would come of it. But we asked the vice president for a reply. We hope he will.
We've heard your story, Ms. Cummock, and we appreciate it. But, you know, politics as usual in this kind of a thing looks pretty bad.
So we'll hope the vice president will come on here or at least explain what happened here at this commission. Thank you.
Next, Jesse Jackson says the Taliban contacted him. The Taliban said, no, it didn't. What the heck's going on?
And then an elementary school teacher burns an American flag in front of his students. We'll tell you what happened to him in just a few moments.
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