By Jeffrey Denning
Mark my words: an attack on air travelers is imminent. At a time when many begin to doubt the likelihood of any terrorist attack to civil aviation, yet such an event grows closer to happening with every passing day.
A dangerous precedence has been affixed towards those charged with security the nation’s airports. Security practices and protocols, while developed on the premise of best practices and have an appearance of security, are at best giving many air travelers a false sense of security. Many others, however, even those untrained in ways of public or personal protection, have recognized the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as leading charlatans in the business. Depicted as nothing short of circus clowns in most Hollywood productions, one who’s “been there” and “done that” cannot help but give credit to Hollywood for accurate reporting this time.
The most likely place of attack lies not past the security screeners or on the airplane, though these areas will likely be attacked at some future point. No, the most vulnerable spot and the enemies’ most likely course of action is to attack the huddled masses gathered at the ticket counters and standing in the clustered lines.
After sending a letter to a Congressmen about this concern in 2004, I received a note back from his staffer saying something like, “Don’t worry, the TSA’s in charge.”
That’s exactly why I’m worried!
Last month a man was arrested at the Los Angeles International Airport after walking up to officers and claiming he was a terrorist and had a bomb. The airport was evacuated and the roadways were immediately shut down. One tiny incident caused mass chaos. It gathered together literally thousands of people. In an effort to create greater security, the response only brought the masses together making them less secure! Any lunatic willing to blow up some people now have a perfect opportunity, the ideal distraction, the sought-for ruse.
Hiding homemade explosives in a backpack or large piece of luggage is just what the madman considers. He surfs the Internet for instructions on bomb-making, then makes a device from components purchased from the local hardware store. If he watches the news or is reminded about the car bombs in Iraq, he might just go bigger.
Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs or car bombs) present an enormous, colossal threat to civil aviation. Any car, limo, bus or passenger van could be easily altered into a mobile explosive calamity. Surprisingly, some airports lack strategically placed barriers to stop a car or truck from plowing into a terminal full of people.
While the Holiday crowds loomed at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on July 5, 2004, a former Olympic wrestler drove his vehicle through the doors of Terminal 3 at 45 mph. Thankfully, the Cuban exile, after exiting his vehicle, was wrestled to the ground by a Federal Air Marshal and a uniformed police officer. Fortunately, even though he plowed through a ticket counter and hit a wall, no one was seriously injured or killed. And, it’s a good thing his Lincoln Navigator wasn’t laden with explosives!
The lessons the Israelis learned the hard way are likely to happen to Americans. The crowds of people in the so-called non-sterile area of airports are easy targets for any Columbine-type bushwhacker. Terrorists favor the bomb, but terrorists and criminals alike still recognize the power of firearms. Terrorists with guns or bombs, or a combination of them both, would do grave damage.
On May 31, 1972 at the Tel Aviv Lod Airport (renamed Ben Gurion Airport in 1974 after the Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion), terrorists with machine guns killed 26 people and wounded 76. On December 27, 1985 terrorists simultaneously attacked El Al ticket counters at the Rome, Italy and Vienna, Austria airports using machine guns and grenades. Nineteen civilians were killed and many wounded. Israel learned to stop such massacres by drastically improving security measures around the Israeli airports and supposedly providing plainclothes armed guards, at each foreign airport.
In Kileen, Texas October 16, 1991, George Jo Hennard, an emotionally disturbed person (EDP), drove his Ford pickup truck through the plate glass window of a Luby’s Cafeteria during the crux of lunch rush hour. Once inside, after running over a few unsuspecting restaurant goers, he exited his truck and began randomly shooting the patrons. He shot dozens, eventually killing 23 before committing suicide. Twenty people were injured.
Should an EDP, criminal or terrorist go on a shooting spree at an airport s/he could literally set the record for mass shootings in a single incident…
An angry airline employee, a jilted lover, a gang member, or a person high on drugs could likewise do irreparable damage. Considering America’s school and workplace violence record over the last decade, the possibility is not so farfetched. How long would it take before any murderer would be stopped by the unarmed TSA?
On November 23, 1999 an Ethiopian immigrant, Negusse Zeleke, shot two people at the Kansas City Airport during a shooting rampage. On May 22, 2002 Muslim convert Patrick Gott screamed out Allahu Akbar (“God is Great!”) in the ticket counter area at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans before opening fire with a shotgun. Two weeks later, on July 5, 2002, an Egyptian immigrant from Irvine, California, armed with two pistols and a six-inch knife, opened fire at the Israeli El Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles International Airport. An airline employee, an undercover Israeli security agent, shot and killed the assailant but not before the gunman shot and killed two innocent travelers. A third victim died later. Had the armed Israeli not been there, who knows how many would have died?
In sum, established concentric circles of safety exist to every good security program. Layers of perimeters designed to both discourage and stop threats exist. In Israel their airport security screeners look for terrorists. They don’t focus on finding weapons, per se; they focus on finding bad guys. They don’t check the cleavage or bra line of every woman (a TSA policy now rescinded), nor demand belts or shoes get removed.
Israel’s last airline related terrorist attack was in 1986 when a security screener noticed a suitcase full of explosives. The bag did not get onboard, but it did detonate in the terminal, injuring 13. (Note: The 2002 LAX El Al shooting was not considered terrorism related, and the surface-to-air missile fired by militants at an Israeli airline after it took of from Mombasa, Kenya in November 2003 missed.)
Surely we ought to take a look at what’s made Israel’s security measures so successful and follow suit.
It’s high time the rainbow wig and clown boots come off. It’s not a circus and the threats are certainly far from being over.