In watching the news stories, one has to wonder if the TSA is doing Security Theater or do they really believe they are protecting our nation. The basic flaw I see with today’s screening system is that we are looking for bad things instead of bad people. Our focus is on many inanimate objects, which in and of themselves are not likely to pose a threat to airliners. The terrorists of 9/11 did not carry any banned items onto their flights. In fact, the only illegal thing they carried was the intent to do grave bodily harm.
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. My interview lasted less then 2 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.
The piracy question and how to deal with it is huge and is about to become a much larger question in the global supply-chain management continuum. A Presidential Executive Order EO issued in April prevents U.S. citizens/entities from making payments to certain named individuals. It also has the potential to prevent any payments to individuals or groups involved in or supporting piracy in Somalia. Given the recent Shabaab attack in Kampala, Uganda, in which at least one U.S. citizen was killed, one can reasonably expect enforcement measures for the executive order to be forthcoming. The new adage, “bring lawyers, guns and money,” is certainly apt.
What the TSA needs now is a good makeover; hopefully Major General (retired) Robert Harding is going to be the one to bring in the new broom. TSA has languished for years under a cloud of mistakes, errors and just plain carelessness with respect to their public image and their overall effectiveness. Generals lead by implementing policies set down by their civilian leadership. It is long past time we let the professionals do their jobs and expect the politicos to do theirs.
During his formative years, Founding Father Ben Franklin is reputed to have said, “out of adversity comes opportunity.” From a homeland security standpoint, we saw this parable in operation over the past week. DHS Secretary Napolitano traveled to Europe to meet with colleagues in Spain. It appears that the International Air Transport Association, in conjunction with the CEOs of 20 international airlines, has agreed to enter into global public-private collaboration to strengthen security. This is an epoch event and a solid-gold opportunity to cease an initiative long over due.
The news cycles, talking heads and many elected officials seem to be in a bit of a tizzy over the images created Whole Body Imaging (WBI) systems. Solutions to enhance security through the use of WBI will become more effective when the data is synthesized to produce a depiction of the entire situation on a generic form, enabling real-time interpretation without the distraction of raw data. If we take a moment to consider the efficacy of WBI and the invested public and private funds, we are likely to witness a clear example of Moore’s law.
Now that the Administration has fully engaged in evaluating the systems failures, which allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian Islamic terrorist, to board a US airliner with a bomb concealed in his underwear, I feel compelled to contribute my insight. Based on 33 years flying large transport aircraft worldwide for both the US Air Force and a major US airline and concurrently being an aviation security and operations expert, I see the return of many old issues.
The House has scheduled a Tuesday vote on a bill (HR 1178) to order an assessment of whether the volunteer Civil Air Patrol can help the Department of Homeland Security with aerial reconnaissance and communications on border security and other operations. It seems only logical that CAP would and should be tasked with providing a similar volunteer airborne reporting service to DHS.
Over this past weekend I was pleased to be asked to participate in a first-of-its-kind exercise. The Summit County Utah Health Department’s Emergency Response Coordinator / Public Information Officer, working with state and local partners and Zions Bank, had designed and built an exercise to test a new method of dispensing emergency medications in the event of a major disease outbreak. The idea was simple and resourceful: can drive-thru tellers at local banks be used as a safe and rapid means of delivering medications to the local population?