ARLINGTON, Va. — The country's official memorial to the Pan Am 103 bombing sits atop a hill in Arlington National Cemetery. Known as a cairn, it is a cone-shaped stack of 270 stones, one for each victim when the plane exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988.
On a recent morning, a groundskeeper laid fresh sod around the base, preparing for Monday's memorial service with President Clinton. A distant bugler readied for a funeral by playing scales. Rifle volleys from another service echoed past the rows of bleached gravestones.
Two miles away is a less emotional legacy of the terrorist bombing: A bomb-detection machine, sitting astride a baggage belt at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. It scans checked baggage for bombs, like the plastic explosive wedged in a cassette player that was used to destroy Pan Am's Boeing 747.
In the decade since the jumbo jet was reduced to scrap, the nation has done much to prevent a similar act of terrorism involving a U.S. carrier.
Airlines quiz passengers about who packed their bags. Bomb detectors screen luggage at 74 airports across the country. Carriers have started matching baggage to passengers, ensuring, as happened in Pan Am 103, that someone doesn't check a suitcase on a flight and then fail to board.
Even more stringent rules apply in Frankfurt, Germany, where the bomb got aboard the first leg of Flight 103, and at Heathrow Airport in London, where the luggage was transferred to the connection to New York.
But some safety experts and relatives of the Pan Am victims--35 of whom were students from a Syracuse University semester-abroad program--complain that U.S. officials have acted too slowly over the last 10 years.
"We have not taken advantage of the really advanced equipment out there because the airlines are balking at the bottom line," said Kathleen Flynn, whose 21-year-old son, John, was killed on Pan Am 103. "Frankly, I'm not sure that it's any safer nor have we learned any lessons."
Paul Hudson, whose 16-year-old daughter, Melina, was also on the flight, said aviation security had improved from a "1" to a "5" on a scale of 10. One lingering loophole is the practice of carrying unscreened packages in the mail aboard commercial planes.
"It's more secure, but it's still not adequate," Hudson said.
Billie Vincent, who headed the FAA's security unit from 1982 to 1986, said another vulnerability is the people working at security checkpoints.
"They're generally minimum-wage employees. They have very little initial training. They have almost no employee benefits and almost no chance of career progression within the aviation security field," he said.
"All these are disincentives to good performance."
After Pan Am 103 exploded, President Bush created a commission to study aviation security. It concluded that the United States "should undertake a vigorous effort to marshal the necessary expertise to develop and test effective explosive-detection systems."
It also recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration "begin stronger security measures for controls over checked baggage."
Days after TWA Flight 800 exploded in July 1996, President Clinton created a second study group amid speculation that terrorists blew up that plane. Investigators later concluded the crash was not caused by an explosive device.
The so-called Gore Commission, which was led by the vice president and included Flynn among its members, called for implementation of bag matching and passenger screening. Congress provided $297 million to implement those and other safety measures.
"Certainly those horrible events of 1988 and Dec. 21 were really a beginning, I think, of a real focus on security. I think the Gore Commission, post-TWA, certainly reinforced that," FAA Administrator Jane Garvey said.
Agency workers defend their progress over the last decade, arguing that research and development takes time. Now the equipment spawned by that work is reaching the field. Garvey said the FAA is also preparing a rule requiring more extensive training for airport security workers.
When the president heads to Arlington National Cemetery for today's service, he won't have to look hard to find the name of Melina Kristina Hudson. It is carved into the top row of the granite ringing the cairn.
But Clinton will not see Paul Hudson when he looks into the crowd. Hudson plans to skip the service, a display of frustration because the United States has not brought the Libyan bombing suspects to trial.
"I personally feel that the time for memorials has gone past," Hudson said.