As president and CEO of Intel Corp., Craig R. Barrett knows a thing or two about chipmaking, but he's also an expert of sorts on the airline industry. Every year he logs some 150,000 miles -- and that doesn't include his numerous trips overseas. And flying, never one of his favorite experiences, has only worsened since the September 11 attacks. Barrett himself has been targeted for searches on half the flights he has made since then, apparently, he believes, because he often travels on a one-way ticket.
Indeed, even prior to September 11, Intel execs had become so frustrated with domestic air service that the company chartered its own fleet and created a miniature hub-and-spoke system serving its most-used routes.
On Nov. 6, Barrett flew to Washington, D.C., to accept an award from the National Alliance of Business. He took time to speak to BusinessWeek's Lorraine Woellert about his experiences with the aviation system and his assessment, so far, of the Bush Administration's homeland security effort. Here are edited excerpts from their conversation:
Q: How was your flight? Was security tight?
A: Look, if you write about aviation security at all, go to www.phonyID.com and tell me what good it does to check a driver's license three times in the airport.... For $100 and a photograph, they'll provide you with a driver's license from any state in the U.S. or in Canada -- or a Social Security card which looks better than the real thing because, as they say in their advertisement, they use more modern equipment than the [government].
Q: In general, how do you assess the Administration's homeland security effort so far?
A: [Tom] Ridge, [Director of the Office of Homeland Security] has inherited, obviously, a very difficult problem, something we haven't focused on. What the government has done so far has been targeted to be highly visible, probably more as a public relations response rather than a physical security response. I'm not criticizing from that standpoint. Putting National Guard people with their M-16s right behind security checkpoints at the airports is interesting, but you don't see people crashing through the security gates.
Q: What about passenger profiling? You personally have been picked out for searches several times since September 11.
A: I find it interesting that I must be profiled as a terrorist. I have flown about 12 times since September 11 on commercial flights. On six of them, I've been singled out at the counter for a full body search. So I obviously have all the characteristics. I don't find it amusing anymore. If I'm profiled as a terrorist, think of the [software] program they're using. I got singled out the other morning on America West, on a flight which I have taken every Tuesday morning every week for 13 years.
Q: As a member of Corporate America's high-tech brain trust, do you have any input on how to fight this war on the homefront?
A: There has been a lot of discussion in the press about high-tech solutions. If you look at the three [recent] terrorist attacks we've had, the [weapons used] have been a fertilizer bomb, box cutters, and the U.S. postal system. There are hardly high-tech solutions to the first two.... I have flown through Tel Aviv on El Al and [been through] the Israeli security system too many times to think there is a simple high-tech solution to any of these problems. The solution is probably going to be meeting force with force.
That's probably why you'll be increasingly seeing, for example, armed sky marshals. I think the only way you can really resolve this is to make it clear to a terrorist that if you engage in one of these activities, you're going to be eliminated. And passengers have already made up their minds. We're never going to see another hijacked jet because if there's any passenger alive and kicking on a plane, you know what they're going to do.
Q: What advice would you give Homeland Security Chief Ridge?
A: The only advice I would give is that unless what the government does is steeped in common sense and passes the red-faced test, the government will lose the enthusiastic support of the citizens.
Q: Is he at risk of losing that public support?
A: Well, I'm profiled as a terrorist. Yes, of course he's at risk of losing the support of people who find themselves in such a position. The public, myself included, supports more airport security. We wish the government would stop debating if the important thing is whether airport security is unionized or not. This is the most ridiculous debate in the world.
The problem is security. The problem is putting standards in place, training people to enforce the standards, then monitoring the standards. The problem is not whether they're government employees or not. Anytime the government politicizes a pragmatic solution, they lose the confidence of the public, and they're doing precisely that right now. And by the way, I'm sure I'll get checked [searched] again on the way back to Arizona because it's a one-way ticket.
Q: In terms of security, are you doing anything different about your foreign workers on visas?
A: We've always had a degree of scrutiny because we're a very intellectual-property-intensive company. You want to make sure the employees you hire are in fact valid employees. We've done due diligence for years on that.
The only thing we've probably had to do differently is stress to our employees that terrorists are individuals, and they're not racial or ethnic stereotypes. I continue to remind people about Oklahoma City. I think our employees are pretty understanding of that. We're a pretty diverse company. We operate in Israel, we operate in Malaysia, a Muslim country.