Former FAA agent discusses possible Logan Airport ‘vulnerability’ as 20-year mark since 9/11 nears

BOSTON — September marks 20 years since the devastating 9/11 terror attacks. The two hijacked planes that struck New York’s World Trade Center flew out of Boston’s Logan International Airport. Months before the attacks, Boston 25′s investigative unit revealed shocking security lapses at Logan. We wanted to know how things have changed between now and then.

TSA, a federal agency, now uses advanced technology to manage Logan’s security checkpoints. Logan, like other airports, has full-body scanners. There are strict rules about baggage and passengers must remove their shoes as they go through security.

Massport declined interview requests after a spokesperson said the agency would speak closer to September. But the government whistleblower who sent the final warning before the 9/11 attacks did sit down with us.

Retired F.A.A. agent Brian Sullivan explained why he believes travelers should not let down their guard all these years later, saying he’s concerned even today’s security may not go far enough.

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“You say what’s changed? The players have changed. The façade of security still exits. We have to be aware of that,” Sullivan said. “The vulnerability remains, the threat remains, even to a 9/11-style attack.”

Sullivan said he remembers the months leading up to those attacks in 2001 when the airlines operated the security checkpoints. He said he and other special agents were frustrated that security at Logan’s checkpoints was so “lax” at the time.

Sullivan said unannounced tests on security showed an alarming failure rate.

“They were getting a 98/99 failure rate when they would test like the terrorists would,” Sullivan said. “I knew there was a façade of security.”

In April 2001, Sullivan teamed up with a Boston 25 news investigative reporter and tested Logan security on camera for our viewers.

A station employee sitting in a wheelchair with a fake suspicious device was waved through without a search. A photography bag that could block x-rays was not opened but passed through. Another bag, locked shut with plastic zip ties, was never cut open for inspection.

Our report aired on May 6, 2001.

Almost immediately, Sullivan delivered the Boston 25 News report to Sen. John Kerry, Massport and the F.A.A., but nothing changed.

“Bottom line, all the stakeholders would not pay attention to us. But Al-Qaeda was paying very close attention to security at all of the airports,” Sullivan said.

Four months later, the 9/11 attacks shocked the world. Several of the terrorists were armed with box cutters that they managed to get through Logan’s security checkpoints.

“The checkpoints that we tested that day with Fox were the same checkpoints the terrorists went through on 9/11,” Sullivan said.

The Boston 25 News investigation is included in the official 9/11 Commission report.

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“To be honest with you, I think that Fox report was the last best chance we had to prevent the hijackings at Logan,” Sullivan said. “They weren’t going to listen to me if I hit them over the head with a two-by-four. They just weren’t going to pay attention. And I don’t know why.”

We also sat down with former Boston Police Chief and security expert Dan Linskey for his thoughts. Linskey said he agrees security today should not put too much trust in technology like scanners over people. He said, unless agents on the front line are listened to, we can all be vulnerable.

“I call it security theatre,” Linskey said. “We can never rest on our laurels. The exchange of information has to be paramount. People need to be talking to each other. We need to think outside the box.”

Linskey and Sullivan said vigilance from people at all levels keeping their eyes open is critical. They said it’s important to chase down concerns like those that went unheeded in 2001 to be sure tragedy cannot strike again.

A TSA spokesperson said the following in an email to Boston 25 News about the concerns Brian Sullivan raised in our report:

“In the 20 years since the 9/11 attacks, the TSA has introduced security measures that are seen and unseen within the nation’s transportation system to include airports. The agency continues to test and field new technologies in an effort to remain ahead of the evolving threat, and proves itself almost daily now, unfortunately, by catching an unprecedented number of firearms and other items that are prohibited within the secure area of the airport and on airplanes.”