9/11 airport security pariah tries a comeback


Selected quotes from the article:

But in 2000, its parent company, AHL, pleaded guilty to allowing untrained employees, some with criminal backgrounds, to operate checkpoints at Philadelphia International Airport from 1995 to 1998. It paid a $1.2 million fine.

By 2000, AHL was an unwieldy public company made up of many disparate parts and that stock — once at $42 a share — had free fallen into single digits. In December, 2000, Argenbright Security was purchased by a British company, Securicor. Argenbright was kept on as an executive.

Argenbright Security's past came to haunt the company after 9/11. Ashcroft and other government officials repeatedly brought up the Philadelphia case as part of a successful move to federalize screeners and create the Transportation Security Administration, which now performs screening at American airports.

Argenbright called the illegal hiring of people with criminal backgrounds the actions of a rogue manager. LeBlanc said he was not surprised by the Philadelphia manager's actions. He said airport security managers throughout the industry were spurred by the unending pressure of needing new workers.

How the 9/11 hijackers got weapons onto the airlines was never answered. It is not known if the weapons were placed on the planes beforehand by others, were sneaked through the checkpoints or were carried in open view because small knife blades were allowed.

Only one checkpoint entered by hijackers had a videotape — the one at Dulles International in Washington, D.C., operated by Argenbright. Two hijackers set off the metal detectors and were hand wanded. The federal 9/11 commission report called the screener's efforts "marginal at best" because he did not properly "resolve" what set off the beeper.

Six years ago, Argenbright was a pariah. Two of the four hijacking teams passed through screening stations manned by Argenbright Security. U.S. Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft later called a press conference to condemn the company for "an astonishing pattern of crimes that could have directly jeopardized public safety."

The company was an easy answer to the big How? It let the terrorists and their box cutters through. Or at least that was the clear implication. Argenbright Security became a symbol of pre-9/11 complacency and failure."

After 9/11, Argenbright said he was told by the new owners to remain quiet, even though it was his name that was continually being battered. He said speaking would have violated the terms of the agreement he negotiated when selling Argenbright Security. It also would have cost his remaining company, AHL, and its investors millions of dollars, he said.

Holding his tongue was wrenching.

"If the attorney general says you're bad, you must be bad," he said."

"Argenbright Security was as good or better than most, observers said, and they point out he no longer owned the company on Sept. 11. He had sold it to a British firm nine months earlier and was being kept on as a management consultant.

"He was made the face of all that went wrong that day. ... They needed a scapegoat," said Don Migliori, an attorney who is representing families of victims killed in the attacks. The suit includes two airlines and two security companies, including Argenbright Security. "That was the design. There had to be a face on it. We as a culture need that.""