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Old-Fashioned Intelligence Stops Air Cargo Terror Operation

This past Friday, in the wake of the developing air cargo terror operation related to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), concealing explosive devices in freight shipments, I was invited to contribute expert commentary to CBS affiliate talk radio WCCO in Minneapolis.  At the scheduled time, I was called by WCCO and asked to standby, as President Obama was about to address the nation on the issue.

Immediately following the President’s words, I was introduced to the live broadcast as Kevin McCarthy, a consultant to the Homeland Security Institute. Apparently this tag line was picked up from the published program on the 6th Annual IDGA Border Management Summit where I had given a presentation on Enhancing Passenger Screening Through Collaborative Intelligence, just three days earlier.

My interview lasted less then two minutes, during which time I articulated that the plot had been interdicted through “old-fashioned” intelligence, not fancy hi-tech screening devices. I opined that the most critical aspect of the intelligence operation is information sharing between agencies and with the private sector partners who are targeted by these actions.

I stressed the need for developing public-private partnerships to enable the sharing of essential data between the government intelligence agencies and the private sector operators. It was subsequently disclosed how the Saudi government clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of timely information sharing when they uncovered this plot.

Had there been more time for discussion, I would have elaborated on my concept of intelligence-based technology–supported aviation security. In this system, the intelligence-based portion requires the cooperation of the entire aviation and government enterprise, as every stakeholder has a vested interest in participating.  Government intelligence agencies have the responsibility and expertise to accomplish detailed analysis while the private sector holds the trove of data and operational knowledge of how the air transport system truly functions. The technology-supported portion empowers analysts with the latest computer aided tools and enables passenger and cargo screeners to more effectively locate banned material and suspicious individuals.

Next week, in Frankfurt, Germany, the International Air Transport Association is holding AvSec World 2010, “Intelligent Security through Collaboration.” John S. Pistole, Administrator for the Transportation Security Administration will be delivering the keynote address, and it would be a very appropriate time for the public and private sector to become true partners and not just offer more soundbites and photo ops. Define a timeline to bring together the major stakeholders in collaboration, commit to establishing an honest broker coalition to oversee the operation and safeguard data possible misuse while enabling intelligent security.

  • http://twitter.com/bobc_mass Bob Connors

    I hate to be the cynic, but this was another case of luck being on our side. The fact that explosives made it on an airplane means not only was there an intelligence gap, but there was also a failure to properly screen cargo for explosives (what a surprise).

    They've successfully got an operative on a plane with PETN in his underwear. They've successfully got an operative to place a VBIED in Times Square.

    They've successfully placed undetected IED's (PETN again) in cargo planes.

    We're getting closer and closer to dealing with the aftermath of a successful operation. Luck is going to run out. Terrorists have no bureaucracy to work through, so they are quicker to react and adapt to our actions.

    We're back in the eighties when Libya and Iran were facilitating terrorist attacks at will. We need a good dose of unrelenting offensive fury – or – we can just wait for the successful attack and have a scarred nation asking “why?” again

    • Believepeaceispossible

      I must agree with Mr. Connors,, I don't really see this as a security success,, I see it as a failure,, the bombs got on the airplanes ! And people charged with security are patting themselves on the back for this ? Quite honestly, I suspect a hoax, especially when the tip came from Saudi Arabia,, a country sorely in need of doing anything to make it look good. More fear,, more need for our troops to be in the area,, more scare tactics. I smell a rat.