As more and more news reports begin to come out about this incident, along with the inevitable “what needs fixing,” stories, let’s take a look at what really needs fixing.
The No-Fly and TIDE List
TIDE is the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center and is a repository of information on international terrorist identities. According to a recent press report, there are about 550,000 people on the TIDE list, 14,000 on the Selectee and 4,000 on the no-fly (click here for source).
We need to continue initial efforts by TSA to clean up the no-fly and selectee list. The fact that this guy wasn’t on the no-fly list may just be an indication that he had not done enough previously to warrant being placed on the list. To screen everyone on the TIDE list however, will take more time and may potentially let the bad guys know that they are on the list. Sometimes, in law enforcement and intelligence, it’s not good to let the hunted, know they are being hunted.
Deployment of Whole Body Imagers
In a House vote in June of 2009, conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats banded together, 310 to 118, to ban use of WBI machines for primary screening. This is indicative of where our country is at with aviation security, eight years after 9/11. We’re forgetting that aviation is a target. I’ve been through these machines. The imagery is not nude-image quality and no one who is viewing the imagery even knows that it’s you that’s in the machine. Don’t worry, you won’t be on the cover of Maxim magazine after getting into one of these machines.
It’s time to deploy these machines and let it be optional for those that don’t want to go through them. No problem, we’ll screen the majority with body imagers and metal detectors and then screen those few that are opposed to the WBI’s, with trace detection, pat-downs and other methods.
Why do I say both body imagers AND metal detectors, even though metal detectors don’t detect explosives? Because the WBI’s are large, expensive and take more time, and more space in a screening area. The screening checkpoint needs to be an area where security officers observe and sometimes question certain passengers they deem to be higher risk, through behavior detection, or who have flagged on a travel document check or other suspicious indicator, then they are then assigned to a level of screening commensurate with the risk presented.
Another consideration that has been mentioned about the WBI’s is that terrorist will start hiding the explosives inside their bodies, similar to drug smugglers. Well, this tactic has been attempted recently. What we understand is that the human body makes a pretty good insulator against small explosives — think of the people who have laid over hand grenades to save their friends in combat. Against large explosives, the question is “how much explosives can someone hold internally and still (a) be alive and mobile enough to conduct an attack and (b) have the device actually function?
Profiling based on Race or Nationality
I still disagree with racial profiling. It’s not effective and the bad guys will adjust as needed. They have used women and children and are known to be attempting to radicalize individuals in the U.S.. Tim McVeigh would have walked right through a racial profile using the standards some people have suggested we use. Behavioral profiling however does not involve race and is effective. Click this link for an excellent perspective on profiling and racial profiling by a very respected associate of mine, Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International magazine.
Silly Rules v. “Unpredictable” Processes
So now TSA is saying that it’s up to the pilot and flight attendants to decide what “security” procedures to follow. This has been tried before and doesn’t work. First, the pilot should worry about flying the plane. I’m a pilot and if I was flying a commercial airplane I don’t want to worry about which passenger is doing what. That’s the flight attendant’s job. They need to inform the pilot about suspicious or dangerous behavior, then the pilot decides whether or not to land. Flight attendant’s however should not be encumbered with trying to figure out which one of the “simon says,” security rules should be used on a given flight. They should be trained in behavior recognition and assess the threats as they identify them.
Some argue that these odd procedures are a way of keeping terrorists off balance. All it’s doing is keeping everyone in the system, pilots, flight attendants, passengers who are not a risk and may in fact actually see and spot a threat (like they did last week), dazed and confused. While we don’t give a blueprint to the terrorists, we shouldn’t confuse ourselves so much that even we don’t know what we’re doing. It reminds me of the old Cones of Silence in the Get Smart movie from the 80s. “We’re so secret, even we don’t know what we’re doing,” (that’s my quote, not from the movie).
In the past, we have tried to use airline ticket agents as security profilers. Remember thequestions: did you pack your own bag. . . ? That was a good security procedure that was poorly adopted. Want to know why? Read the book – I believe I explain it in chapter 6.
What should we watch for now?
In a recent media interview I was asked what threats to watch out for now. I think the bombing using the same methods that were used on the NW flight is definitely a threat. I’ve been saying that for 10 years and my attitude has not changed. Ask anyone who has been through one of my security classes and they will confirm this. What’s the solution? Hmm, have you been reading the blog? I’ve said it over and over.
Secondly, I believe the airport active shooter is a likely threat, particularly now with screening lines backing up and thousands of people tightly packed into a terminal awaiting screening. That makes a good target for a Mumbai, Beslan, Columbine, V-Tech style of attack. Airports should be deploying extra armed police officers to watch the public areas of the terminal and the screening checkpoints. If the checkpoints are close to the passenger loading and unloading areas, then additional police should be deployed to watch for abandoned vehicles, and profile vehicles that could be carrying explosives.
Finally, we should continue to work on securing the back door to aviation security – the employees. The Chechen Black Widows responsible for the downing of two Russian airliners in 2004 bribed airline personnel to gain access to the plane and there is a long history of attacks on aviation that were either committed by airline or airport employees or employees were complicit or aided in the attacks.
Should the Threat Level be Raised?
The color-coded alert system has come under attack quite a bit, but just look in the regs to see the Contingency Plans under 1542. Today, the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS) is used as a barometer for airport and airline contingency plans. TSA can have airports and airlines implement a variety of additional security measures.
Some in the press have wondered why parking garage closures, vehicle searches and other security measures not seemingly related to the recent bombing attempt have to be implemented. My answer — see the aforementioned comments on new threats to airports.
Congress has ordered a review of airport and aircraft operator security. Let’s see if they pay attention to these issues, or just come up with more silly rules.