Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 8, 2010

The Week (Year?) in Aviation

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on January 8, 2010

If  on December 24th, one had asked the various consultants, academic/think-tank types, and security experts what the biggest homeland security issue would be in 2010, one could expect answers relating to border security, international security, and maybe, cybersecurity. Two weeks later and only a week into the new Year, 2010 is quickly turning into the “year of aviation security.”

The December 25th underwear bombing incident refocused attention  on the vulnerabilities to our aviation system.  In his speech yesterday, President Obama did not specifically identify aviation security as part of the systematic failure resulting in the incident – most of that attention was given to failures across intelligence agencies.  That said, he did, as part of his directive on corrective actions, state that the Department of Homeland Security should:

  • Aggressively pursue enhanced screening technology, protocols, and procedures, especially in regard to aviation and other transportation sectors, consistent with privacy rights and civil liberties; strengthen international partnerships and  coordination on aviation security issues.
  • Develop recommendations on long-term law enforcement requirements for aviation security in coordination with the Department of Justice.

While the Department bear the brunt of criticism for the underwear bomber, the same will likely not be the case for the incident at the Newark incident on Sunday.   In that incident, Newark Liberty International Airport was shut down for seven-hours after a passenger observed a man enter the airport’s “sterile area” without clearing security. Unable to find the man, the concourse had to be emptied and a multi-hour security sweep endured. The failures there have pointed to:

  • The TSA officer responsible for keeping people from entering through the exit area leaving his post for two minutes.  That officer has been put on administrative leave.
  • The failures of Port Authority of New York and New Jersey cameras (purchased with TSA money) to record the incident, as the recording function of the cameras had been turned off. It is unclear whether the proper functioning of the cameras, as well as recognizing the cameras were not working, falls to TSA or the Port Authority.

While the underwear bomber and the Newark incident gained a lot of national attention, we started to see, as expected from a press with aviation security on its mind, a few other stories the past two weeks on the aviation front.  For example, last week in Philadelphia, a local ABC station featured Congressman Robert Brady raising concerns regarding the de-certification of TSA bomb sniffing dogs at the Philadelphia airport, after the failed two tests.  The dogs, as far as I can tell from reports, remained on duty  (or maybe replaced with certified dogs?) USA Today also covered the incident and pointed to a few other locations where dogs either failed to identify or misidentified explosives. I would expect that we will see more aviation security stories in the coming weeks.

So what does all this renewed attention on aviation security mean?

Pundits say we can expect some changes in our screening processes – though it is unclear what those changes (putting aside technology) might be.

Expect an increase on the international diplomacy side.

On the technology side, we know already that in fulfillment of President Obama’s directive on screening, the U.S. government is using $25 million in stimulus money to buy and install 150 more whole body image scanners in airports this year. This is in addition to the 40 scanners already in use.   Indeed, if you are to believe Jim Cramer of Mad Money, homeland security/counterterrorism companies will be one of the top investments of 2010.   He predicts more spending and more attention for companies selling screening, biometrics, and air cargo (among other technologies) solutions.

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Comment by Philip J. Palin

January 8, 2010 @ 10:43 am

My current hypothesis: President Obama is experimenting with politics as homeopathy. According to homeopaths, some diseases can be prevented (or cured) by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people. (Please see: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/homeopathy/)

No harm resulted from the failed Christmas day bombing of the Amsterdam to Detroit flight. We are as healthy as before. But after a holiday weekend for quiet consideration, the President and his team have given the event a hot wash as rigorous as if the plane had blown up and crashed into Ford Motors headquarters.

For some of us — at least for me — this has prompted a vague disquiet analogous to an over-protective parent’s zealous treatment of a three-year-old’s common cold. The parent’s concern is justifiable and difficult to criticize in any detail.

At the same time, I worry the response panders to Newtonian illusions about a quantum universe.

But my guess is this response is less about what happened or not on Christmas and much more about what is likely to happen before next Christmas. There will be a successful attack. It will be as serious — or more serious — than that planned for Northwest 253. In giving smoking underwear such stern treatment the White House is trying to accumulate political and practical immunity for the next more successful attack.

As I have sometimes told clients, treat a false alarm as the best full-spectrum exercise you have ever conducted.

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 8, 2010 @ 11:16 am

Truthfully Phil I think I agree with your comment. But there is more. Transportation systems are likely targets, not yet resilient, and clearly much needs to be done. My question is simple one? In the world of transportation security which is more important–Understanding the transportation network and its vulnerabilities or the security concerns involving the public access to those systems? After a great deal of thought, but absolutely no expertise in either various transportation systems and very little in security dating from implementing and operating safeguards on nuclear weapons long ago, I have concluded that transfer bact to DOT of TSA even though disruptive is necessary. There is plenty for Homeland Security and its Secretary to do. I don’t fault the Secretary’s comment that the system worked because her job involves trying to get press and MSM to focus on the reality not the fears. But still it seems that these events disclose together with the many posts on HLSWatch.com on aviation screening some basic flaws. Also I continue to fail to understand why puffer technology is not used as part of screening. Hoping someone has answers but what I do know is that technology can give the illusion of protection when it absolutely does nothing of the kind.

Comment by Mark Chubb

May 7, 2010 @ 2:11 pm

CNN reports on an incident of workplace violence after TSA employees trained on the use of full-body scanners. Interesting …

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