Make “See something, say something” mean something.

Once again the spirit moves me to put my thoughts into writing on the topic of terrorism. This time the spirit is in the form of the many discussions and interviews that took place on the heels of the tragic Manchester homicide bombing (“suicide bombing” humanizes terrorists too much).

Of course it’s natural and necessary to offer emotional support to and commiserate with the victims and their loved ones after each such event, but I believe we do a disservice to ourselves as a society in the manner in which we often show that support. Time after time a talking head, or witness to the event or grieving family member will talk about how cowardly the attack was for targeting helpless, innocent civilians (children, in this most recent attack). But acts of terrorism are not meant to terrorize the military or the law enforcement community. Their purpose is to terrorize society as a whole with the goal of moving the general public toward the terrorists’ twisted ideology, even if it is for no other reason than self-preservation. Therefore, discussions that follow terrorist attacks that gloss over this fact with words that would distance the general public from its role in advancing the terrorists’ agenda hurt our collective ability to deal with the threat of attacks more effectively. To the extent that unarmed, non-uniformed members of the public are led to believe that they are not and should not be combatants in this global conflagration we risk being lulled into complacency and forget that we are all soldiers in the very highly asymmetric battlefield of world-wide terrorism.

It is true that no matter how vigilant all of us might be in watching our surroundings and reporting suspicious behavior and no matter how good the intelligence community becomes at staying ahead of the next attack, we will never be 100% successful. But, if we stick our heads in the sand and hope that future attacks only happen elsewhere and go blithely about our normal routines with our faces shoved into our iPhones we are neglecting our responsibility to have the mantra of “If you see something, say something” actually mean something.

None of this is meant to imply that we should cower in our homes avoiding the life and liberties we have come to expect and deserve and for which our country stands. But when we are out and about enjoying our freedoms, especially in crowded venues, it’s incumbent on each of us to pay attention to our surroundings and, if something doesn’t seem right or pass the smell test, don’t ignore that gut feeling. Share your concern with the nearest person who can help. After all, the life you save may be your own.

Posted in Commentary

Ft. Lauderdale shooting; a symptom of a broader problem

In the aftermath of yesterday’s active shooter event at the Ft. Lauderdale airport, I can’t help but respond to those experts who have been trotted out on CNN and have called this event a “game changer” with regard to the transport of firearms in checked baggage. Most have stated that there will, obviously, need to be some changes to the rules and regulations that exist, such as separating the weapon from the ammunition; and/or requiring handguns to be picked up at airports the same way long-guns are; or even preventing the transport of weapons on passenger planes. But these are all typical knee-jerk responses made by somewhat informed experts who are paid to have an opinion and, therefore, come up with one. In reality, does anyone really believe that any person who wants to shoot up the non-secure side of the airport (ticketing, baggage, parking, etc) will put themselves in the position of having to present themselves to the airlines, fill out forms, put their weapon through and EDS machine and buy an airline ticket when all they have to do is park on the curb and walk in with their weapon already loaded? We should not be adding more restrictions to the lawful movement of weapons simply because of one deranged individual. What we are actually dealing with in this situation is the symptom of a different problem. The symptom is the shooting event that took place and the problem is figuring out how the shooter had access to the handgun. It’s possible that he attained it legally before he was asked to leave the military for, ostensibly, non-performance, and before he presented himself to the FBI to tell them he was hearing voices and before he voluntarily submitted to a psychiatric evaluation, but it’s also possible he acquired it legally after all of the above. Either way, this is a man who should not have been able and allowed to be in possession of a weapon. That, in my opinion, is the real issue surrounding this most recent shooting.

Posted in Commentary

No Easy Future!

TSA is getting a lot of heat of late and I find myself driven to offer up my perspective on the topic. The topic is screening checkpoint processing and TSA’s apparent inability to fix the long lines. My perspective comes from many years of having responsibility for airport security and a bunch of years challenging TSA’s senior leadership on what I viewed as their incompetent performance. TSA’s problem today is that they are trying to talk their way out of a problem they acted their way into years ago. Right from the beginning, TSA’s style was one of pandering to congress on security related issues and running in fear of bad press and public opinion. If that were not so, for example, they would have argued vociferously against arming pilots via the FFDO program and fought against efforts to add firearms into the sterile environment for no useful purpose. This fear and pandering was, and still is, coupled with an unwillingness or inability to conduct any form of risk analysis during their decision making processes. The result is that they continue to layer more security at the checkpoints, largely ignoring the softer underbelly of the airport environment. The underbelly I am referring to has two parts, the front of the terminal adjacent to the public curb and the backdoor of the airport, where the employees enter the work place. Let’s take a look at what I believe to be the facts that exist.
TSA, apparently, still has a primary goal of preventing another 9/11 style attack, so they regularly redouble their efforts at the checkpoints (especially after they have been found to be deficient in their efforts there) even though that problem was eliminated years ago with the reinforced cockpit doors and an aware and participative flying public. No one intent on entering the cockpit in-flight to take control of the aircraft will live long enough to reach the cockpit doors, in my opinion. A number of folks have been killed just because they were off their meds, so a terrorist doesn’t stand a chance. So what does the TSA accomplish with all the scrutiny and obnoxious routines at the checkpoints? They create a level of deterrence to those who would bring an explosive onto the aircraft for the purpose of blowing it out of the sky. There is always the possibility that some rookie terrorist will try to do just that and, if he (or she) is really lucky, may actually succeed in taking an aircraft down. But that is a risk of dubious proportion and one that deserves stronger analysis. Meanwhile the non-rookie terrorists are looking for the soft and easy way of getting an explosive onto the aircraft, and they are finding those ways at airports in underdeveloped areas of the world. They are not bringing bombs through the checkpoint.
So, back to my original point, if TSA had started out in its infancy doing a solid risk assessment as part of their decision-making process they would now be able to correctly assess the situation that exists and understand that the real risk does not lie in contraband items coming through security. It lies in front of the checkpoint in the form of a VBIED with a suicide bomber/ driver or a swarm shooting event in the crowded ticket lobby. TSA queues up tens of thousands of travel weary members of the public every hour and treats them as if they are all equally likely to have terrorist intent. (This is true even though, statistically, 100% of the traveling public is harmless.) In the process, TSA has created a target of opportunity in the form of thousands of travelers all milling around in the same place, as if daring someone to attack them. This is where TSA’s past actions come back to haunt them. Without a history of risk analysis behind them, TSA has lost its ability to convince either congress or the court of public opinion that there is no useful purpose in screening the bejesus out of everyone at the checkpoints. If they had continuing credibility with those in oversight positions, TSA would be able to remove the divestiture requirements of the vast majority of the traveling public (in effect giving them all free and immediate PreCheck status), speeding up the throughput at the checkpoints in significant fashion and removing the public from the danger zone in front of security. But TSA has no credibility, doesn’t do risk analysis (ironic for a “risk-based, intelligence
driven” organization), and, therefore, no easy future. That means that the traveling public has no easy future, either.

Posted in Commentary

If you see something, do something!

While watching the interview with the Chief of the Washington, D.C. police department on “60 Minutes” on Sunday, Nov 22nd, regarding the still unfolding events in Europe following the terrorist attack in Paris, I was reminded of the situation that existed in the world of aviation security on the heels of the terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001. Those of us who were most closely engaged in airport security before and after the events of 9/11 held the opinion that three major factors came into play following the hijackings that would be of paramount importance in preventing any future similar aircraft involved event. These three factors were, and remain, the replacement of the airlines’ low bid checkpoint operation with a professional staff of TSA screeners; hardened cockpit doors and, most importantly, an aware and participative flying public. The opportunity for a terrorist to ever again gain access to a cockpit during flight was, in our opinion, basically eliminated because of just these three dynamics. It is the third dynamic, public engagement, that Chief Lanier addressed during her interview. Here is how the events in Paris and of 9/11 are related, and I hope this article does not come off as just more of the fear-mongering currently underway in the media.

The 9/11 hijackings made soldiers of each and every civilian in the U.S. because, on that date, all of us were brought into the war on terrorism, a highly asymmetric war that cannot be waged successfully by conventional military forces. That means each of us has a duty, to our country as well as for our own safety, to be willing to engage as necessary in response to terrorist activity forced upon us. And it involves more than just adhering to the mantra of “If you see something, say something”. It is that, of course, and so much more. In this regard, Thomas Burnett Jr. and the others who stormed the cockpit of United Airlines flight 93 over Shanksville, PA. set the standard for us all, and I think it is this standard of performance that Chief Lanier was espousing last Sunday. She said statistics show that during a terrorist attack most of those who will die at the hands of the terrorist(s) will be killed within the first 6 minutes, and that waiting for help to arrive rather than taking action is likely a deadly decision, because help is usually more than 6 minutes away. The first action, of course, would be to run away from danger, if you can, or lock yourself away from danger if there is no safe exit. Failing that opportunity, the next course of action is to do something other than crouch and wait in the hope that you will be overlooked or a gun will jam.

After the French police arrived at the scene of the Bataclan Concert Hall it took another 35 minutes before any of them entered the concert hall to engage the terrorists, during which time the gunmen shot and killed one concert-goer after another. Obviously, the options for those who were trapped there were few, especially since the terrorists were all wearing suicide vests, but in other circumstances overt action might save some lives. Just as an aircraft cabin of air travelers has proven over the ensuing years since 9/11 to be able to deal effectively with someone trying to break into a cockpit, so can hundreds of potential hostages deal with two or three gunmen, if they decide to act together. Yes, some innocents will probably die in the process, but many more will likely survive because of their unwillingness to just lie down and hope for the best.

The Englishman, Christopher Norman, who participated in subduing the gunman on the French high-speed passenger train in August, said it best when he said “ Either you sit down and die or you stand up and die.” or, in his case, fight back and live; a strong lesson for all of us in this new, terrible age in which we live.

While the law enforcement community in the U.S. and around the world does its best to prepare for the next multi-shooter event, it is incumbent upon all of us as “soldiers” to also be prepared as best we can, both mentally and emotionally, to be ready for that next event, as unlikely as it may be, in case we are called upon to act as “first responders”.

Posted in Commentary

Identifying “terrorism”

Following the recent shooting incidents in the U.S. there has been much talk in the media (among the many talking heads that surface when cameras are around) on the issue of what constitutes a terrorist event. These are all banal, meaningless discussions because no person can ascribe a terrorist act for another person. Terrorism, like art, is in the eye of the beholder. If an act of violence occurs that causes me to fear for my own future safety if I were to be in the same setting (think movie theater) and drives me to change my behavior as a result, then I have been terrorized. But only I can determine that. If a man walks into his place of employment and, for whatever reason, kills a number of his past co-workers before killing himself, I am not terrorized. In fact, even if the gunman survives, walks away and is roaming around free, I am not terrorized. The reason is because I do not picture myself as a potential future target of a similar event, or continuation of that event.

 

Now, let’s say a man gets up from his seat in the middle of a show at a movie theater and fires into the crowd killing numerous patrons before being cornered and killed by responding police. Am I terrorized at that point? Not yet; not if I was not in that theater.

 

But let’s say two theaters in the same city are each attacked by two lone gunmen, within a 24 hour period, each causing numerous casualties. For argument’s sake, let’s name these two gunmen James Holmes and John Hauser. Now how do I feel? Well, I can imagine, quite easily, that these two nut-cases were just conducting coincidental mass murders, or perhaps the second was influenced by the first. At any rate, while I am incensed by their actions and may be more watchful in the future, I still don’t see myself in any real future danger, since both shooters were quickly placed in custody and no longer a danger to me or anyone else and I have no reason to believe either was affiliated with a larger group bent on conducting similar attacks.

 

Now, however, let’s expand the scenario and rename the shooters Mohammad Abdulazeez and Ibrahim Mohammad. Do I feel less secure about my future safety at this point? You betcha, even though there is no information at this juncture that the two shooters were in cahoots or even acquaintances. Why do I feel this way? It’s not because I go to movie theaters in the first place (and do you actually know anyone who does anymore?). It is simply because of the names of the shooters. It would be difficult for me to believe that these two young and probably Muslim men both simply went “nuts” for no apparent reason at the same time. Only us “real” Americans do that, right? It’s much easier for me to believe that the theaters were just a convenient starting point for future events that will take place at crowded and unguarded (soft) facilities. And I am often in an unguarded, crowded facility, as I pursue my day-to-day activities. And now I just may start changing my practice of going to crowded and unprotected locations, unless I absolutely have to, and at those times I will be nervously checking my surroundings for suspicious activities and characters and will likely be seeing both wherever I look. I am now on the road to being terrorized. And I bet I am not alone.

Posted in Commentary

You’ve got to be kidding me!

Having just read an article from the Detroit News regarding Transportation Security Officers (airport screeners) “asking that the federal government hire armed security to protect them.”, all I can say is, you’ve got to be kidding me! Since every commercial airport has licensed (and armed)  law enforcement officer presence, either from the airport’s own police department or assigned to the airport from the city or county, it defies common sense to suggest adding armed staff from a separate agency or private company into the mix. The reason has to do with the confusion that inevitably will result from multiple agencies responding to the same scene with guns drawn, especially if some of those responders are not in uniform at the time. The best we could hope for in that scenario is that, in the efforts to take down whatever terrorist(s) might be found, we would minimize the number of  friendlies who might accidentally get killed in the process. Communication is always the bugaboo in any emergency response and good communication is jeopardized with every added responding element.The best thing for the TSOs and their union leaders in the American Federation of Government Employees to be doing with their time and energy is helping airport authorities lobby TSA for greater funding of airport police staffing. I know how difficult it is to hire staff at an airport and, since TSA already has a mechanism in place for providing airports with dollars to hire officers for checkpoint response, it just makes sense to expand upon that program and fill the ranks of those who are already licensed and better trained to respond to airport emergency situations.

While I’m on the subject, I think it’s also time that TSA took a solid look at this real threat facing airports that poses the greatest danger to passengers and employees alike, the threat of a lone shooter  or multiple shooters coming off the street into a crowded terminal ticket lobby. It’s not going to be a laptop or a 4 ounce bottle of some type of liquid that is most likely to make headlines. So with this in mind, why isn’t the TSA doing more to reduce the crowded terminal environment (aka targets of opportunity) by easing up on restrictions at the checkpoints and moving folks faster from the non-secured to the secured side of screening? I know the TSA is proud of reaching the 1 million mark of those enrolled in PreCheck, TSA’s trusted traveler program, but that program has been around for 4 years now and, with around 800 million travelers arriving at US airports each year, reaching the 1 million mark is hardly a reason to celebrate. Since the vast majority of the traveling public (statistically, 100% of them) are not terrorists, why not automatically open PreCheck to all travelers, removing the current divestiture requirements, and only make those suspicious characters and random others go through the full monte of the Whole Body Imaging machines? In other words, make PreCheck an “opt-out” program rather than an “opt-in” program. TSA could call it a “managed exclusion” program. If TSA were to do this than not only would the ticket lobby be less crowded but those TSOs no longer needed at the checkpoint could be used as eyes and ears elsewhere in the terminal complex.

And, since I’m on a roll, it’s time to stop thinking that we are making things safer at the checkpoints by placing a fixed-postion LEO there. Those men and women in uniform are no more than the canary in the coal mine when it comes to a lone shooter coming out of nowhere. With the funding that airports could get from the feds for staffing, officers should be patrolling at the checkpoint areas in pairs, although not joined at the hip. They need to be close enough to the checkpoints to respond immediately, and close enough to each other to respond to one another when the first shots ring out, but not so close that they are both hit with the same initial volley.

There are ways to make our airport terminals safer and the public more confident in the flying experience ( at least until they get on the aircraft, at which point they now have to wonder what is really going on in the cockpit), but it requires TSA to be less engaged in the politics of security and more attuned to the reality of security.

Posted in Commentary

Airline experience vs. customer experience.

In a recent article  in USA Today (http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/02/05/fuel-prices-fliers-airlines-for-america-editorials-debates/22952677/), Nicholas Calio, CEO of Airlines For America (A4A), discussed the billions of dollars airlines are putting toward providing the flying public a better customer experience. The article is not, however, about how airlines are improving the “customer experience”. It could be called “Airline Business Practices 101” or “Airline Marketing” but the airlines are spending no money on true customer service (aka customer experience) initiatives. If they were to do that they would board their planes from back to front regardless of how much individual tickets cost and they would hire cabin crew who could be trained in Disney style to smile even when they don’t feel like it and they wouldn’t keep cramming more seats into the same space making flying more obnoxious and uncomfortable. Of course, if they were to do all of these things they might attract more business and that would mean having to put more aircraft on-line and that would blow their “capacity discipline” (a term that might also be called oligopolistic pricing). So, the average member of the flying public (those sitting in the back) will have to continue putting up with second class service while the High Value Customer (those sitting up front) are having the “experience” of their lives (and still building miles, by the way).
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Posted in Commentary

So many fears, so little time.

The terrible killings this week in Sydney have prompted me to write my first ever blog because, if I were to believe the broadcast news reporting on the topic, I would put my head under the covers and never again emerge from my bedroom in fear for my life at the hands of the next ISIL wannabe. Because a self-annointed Muslim cleric finally went over the edge, an edge that he has been, apparently, working his way toward for some time, I am now to fear that copy-cat Islamist fanatics will be lining up to do me in on my next coffee stop. Never mind that the deranged individual was, likely, nothing more than a common sociopath with no connections to anyone outside of the voices in his head.

Similarly in Oklahoma, a disgruntled ex-employee murders, horribly, a co-worker and the press would have us believe that there were associated ISIL overtones because of the nature of the killing. Why should I attach importance to any of that fear mongering when I know full well what I should really be afraid of is going to a movie produced by Sony Pictures? (By the way, I fail to understand why the World gives no credence to the sabre-rattling of Kim Jong-un, who may have some type of nuclear capability at his disposal, but I need to worry about North Korean assassins or their proxies snuffing out a theatre full of americans. Worse yet, CNN will call that story “Breaking News” for a week.)

It seems to me that on this anniversary of the school massacre in Newtown we could be focused on more important domestic issues than ISIL (or Daesh, if you’re not too afraid of ticking them off). What happened to the debate on gun-control? Here’s what I fear:  Our collective concern over Home Grown Violent Extremists and deranged copycats or someone “going postal” (if you will pardon a tired and no longer relevant analogy) will add fuel to the argument that everyone should be packing heat and our politicians will back farther away from dealing with the issue, if that’s possible.

Posted in Commentary