To the Editorial Staff of Time:
We have received an unprecedented number of complaints from Greek-Americans and other concerned citizens that your magazine has made wildly irresponsible representations potentially blaming the TWA Flight 800 tragedy on lax security in Hellenikon Interna tional Airport in Athens, Greece. Worse yet, you have published statements singling out the "Greek-American lobby" as the reason for lax security at Hellenikon and thus potentially for the crash. These biased statements, singling out a particular ethnic or racial group and implying illicit, un-American activities, are not only wholly irresponsible but smack of a malevolent bigotry that is dangerous to the very fiber of our democracy. In the past such discriminatory representations have often led to wid espread bias, hate-crimes and, if allowed to achieve widespread legitimacy, have even led to the horrors of holocaust. A news source of Time's stature ought to know better.
Attributing the TWA tragedy to Athens Airport's lax security when the cause of the tragedy has not even been ascertained is nothing less than absurd. Moreover, the facts clearly contradict your representation that Hellenikon Airport has poor security. In March of 1996, Congressman John J. Duncan, Aviation Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of Congress, described Athens Airport as "one of the safest in the world", also citing the fact that it had won the Safe Skies Award from th e World Development Council. As recently as May 15, 1996, Secretary of Transportation Federico Pena issued an order that Hellenikon Airport "maintains and carries out effective security measures" after the Federal Aviation Administration found that the a irport clearly complied with international security standards.
Security experts have maintained that Athens Airport's safety measures not only meet international standards but are sometimes regarded as extreme and burdensome to passengers. Suspicious passengers are subjected to body searches and every piece of susp icious baggage is opened and inspected; ten percent of all hand-baggage is opened and hand-inspected after passing through X-ray machinery. Aircraft crews pass through the same security check-points and are subjected to the same inspections as passengers . All luggage is X-rayed and, if a passenger is missing, all luggage is unloaded and must be identified by the plane's passengers. Any piece of baggage found to be unaccompanied is subjected to special inspection and taken off the plane.
A third security check, which does not exist in many European international airports, is effected by security personnel if deemed appropriate -- Israel is the only country in which a fourth check is effected at the discretion of security personnel. Many European airlines, such as Lufthansa, KLM, and Swissair, have discontinued performing security checks on their passengers and luggage and have relied wholly on Athens Airport's own stringent security measures. Even after the Flight 800 tragedy, a TWA sp okesman recently confirmed that Athens Airport's safety measures were trustworthy and doubted press reports of ineffective security as being responsible for the crash.
Regrettably, the allegations against Greece have gone beyond accusations of poor security in Hellenikon Airport, accusations already greatly damaging to a country whose economy is dependent on tourism; allegations implying Greek complicity with Arab terr orists have exceeded simply reckless and irresponsible journalism but have risen to the level of invective and defamation. The terrible nature of this disaster does not grant journalists the license to promote wildly speculative accusations, particularly where they are targeted against a specific ethnic group. Greek-Americans and Hellenes throughout the world share in the pain of this horrible tragedy. Innuendoes of Greek collusion in such a terrible act, especially where they are founded upon little m ore than baseless conjecture, are highly offensive and corrode the public trust in your organization as well as in our nation's media at large.
Please respect our urgent appeal to you to engage in a more responsible and conscientious coverage of a tragedy that has affected all of us so deeply. Thank you for your consideration and please feel free to contact me regarding any issues or concerns y ou may have.
P. D. Spyropoulos, Esq. Director