Remember when the Emergency Broadcast System would do those tests on TV? They still do from time to time, but without the threat of being annihilated by Soviet ballistic missiles, we don’t seem then much anymore. However, terrorists and bad guys continue to conduct tests of aviation security, and they just did another one. Click here for details.
When two men were apprehended in Amsterdam after traveling from Birmingham, AL to Chicago and Dulles, were found to have several items such as cell phones, watches, liquid bottles and box cutters taped together in their checked luggage your first thought should be that they were testing the aviation security in preparation for a future attack. Whether they were testing for a future bombing or hijacking attempt or just to be stupid, it was still a test.
The fact that there were air marshals on the flight increases the likelihood that not only was this a test but that the U.S. government may have already known about these guys and were tracking their movements. While the FAM’s don’t release statistics on how many air marshals are out there, the numbers are too few for it to be a coincidence that they were on the same flight.
The items themselves are not prohibited in checked luggage. However, the manner in which they were found is suspicious. Additionally, not a lot of people toss their cell phones into their checked bag. Most passengers take their cell phones everywhere. If the TSA was aware of the individuals and ensured that air marshals were on the flight to monitor their behavior, then the system likely worked. It’s a process known as authorize-and-monitor (sometimes called “approve-and-monitor”), where suspected bad guys are allowed to continue about their business but are kept under surveillance. The process is used when someone hasn’t done something bad yet, and therefore can’t be arrested (yet), or when the good guys hope the bad guy will unknowingly provide them more information about a planned operation. For it to work, the bad guys can’t know they are being tracked.
The “underwear bomber” from last Christmas showed that terrorists are still interested in attacking aviation. Past history shows that terrorists rarely deviate too far from the playbook that has made them successful, unless those past avenues of attack are completely closed off. In other words, if bombing a flight worked before, the same methods will continue to be used until enough protections are put into place to deter that type of attack from working again. Liquids, box cutters, cell phones which can be used to trigger an improvised explosive device, are items that we are looking for. It makes sense that the bad guys will try to determine how effective we are at detecting them before trying an attack using such items.
What also makes this odd is the box cutters. Passengers cannot access checked bags during flight. It seems that these items were carefully constructed to attract the attention of screeners. If they would have gotten through, that’s valuable information for the bad guys. If they are caught, that is just as valuable information for the bad guys.
I have received various information about the bad guys testing our aviation security systems. I have heard that U.S. airport plans and maps have been found in terrorist hideouts Afghanistan. While I cannot confirm this myself, I consider my sources to be competent and accurate. Make no mistake — this was a test or dry run. Aviation will continue to be attacked — the 9/11 attacks will turn 9 years old soon and although we’ve made great strides, we have not turned terrorists away from aviation as a target. Let’s remember that while rail, bus and other forms of transportation must also be protected, aviation is how we move in this country. It’s our Achilles heel.
It will be interesting to see the facts of this case come out. In the Times Square bomber and the Christmas Day bomber the attackers own incompetence ensured a tragedy did not happen. It would be nice to see if the fact show that we actually caught these guys on a dry run or system test through our own competence.