Hallett’s Parting Shots

 - January 9, 2008, 8:53 AM

Like many a “Washington hand” leaving a position, the Air Transport Association’s Carol Hallett was more forthcoming in her comments to the Washington Aero Club than she might have been in the past.

Declaring that she wanted to leave no “I should have said” moments behind, Hallett took the media, Congress and the industry to task for revealing too much about security methodology. She also told the group that unless the airline industry’s meltdown is reversed, nationalization may be the only answer.

Other points included her assertions that true security experts should be designing the program and building the process; pseudo-experts should not set aviation security policy; and the government should pay to protect the system from terrorist attacks.

Harking back to the World War II admonition that “loose lips sink ships,” the soon-to-retire ATA president said the nation needs to get serious about keeping quiet regarding security processes and procedures.

“What goes on today is nothing more than shameful,” said Hallett. “There is public discussion in Congress of how, when and where baggage is to be checked for explosives. Detailed articles appear in the press reflecting confidential information about how a passenger profiling system might work.” How can the country be serious about building deterrence and detection, she asked, while publicly airing the most sensitive and specific details of those systems?

Hallett conceded that the irresponsible parties are not just in government. The airline industry has been the source of far too many “detailed” leaks, she said, and added that the enemy has used the openness of our society as a weapon against us. Instead of dissecting the aviation security program in public, she warned, “We need to be as unflinchingly serious and circumspect about aviation security as we are about national security.”

Congressional hearings touching on any details about the workings of the program must be closed, she said, and reports by the DOT inspector general, the General Accounting Office or anyone must be classified and tightly held. “Leaks of information must be dealt with forcefully,” Hallett continued. “And government employees, as well as industry employees, from top to bottom, must be sanctioned for security breaches–including disclosure of program details.”

While she acknowledged that the public has every right to know the general parameters of the security system, it also has every right to expect that “we will not provide a road map” to terrorists. “If we’re truly serious about improving security, we must tell the media–with all due respect–that we will not compromise our security system with disclosures,” Hallett suggested.