By Robert L. Ord – President Falken Industries, LLC
Originally published in In-Security Magazine
Terrorists have long favored an attack on civil aviation; in a risk versus gain analysis, the return for a potentially successful attack is much higher than for other targets. A successful hijack of an airliner, its crew, and passengers ensures immediate international attention to political demands, or grievances. When an airliner is hit, revenge is exacted and a heavy, fearful price is paid as we witness the aircraft and passengers’ destruction in graphic horror. Most experts are familiar with these tactics and have crafted defeat measures to mitigate these concerns; however, security manpower and technology remain fragmented, mismanaged, and under-utilized.
Airport security will remain in the calculus of terrorist planners so long as civil aviation is a target of attack. It is the access point for aircraft on the ground, passengers, airport and aircraft ground support personnel, and key personnel who have routine access past the passenger security checkpoint. The following are some key vulnerabilities to areas of an airport:
Perimeter of airfield:
Access to the airfield is often poorly monitored, particularly along the far reaches of the fence line around an airfield. There may be CCTV coverage, but due to the size of the field, coverage does not overlap, and monitoring of the live feed occurs only in support of a physical patrol in the area. Access from these areas can be gained to aircraft tied down on hardstands, or support vehicles used to service aircraft, simply by breaching the fence at isolated points. Access can also be gained via drainage pipes or conduit leading beneath fence lines to runoff sluices.
Ground Operations zone of airport:
This is the zone between the terminal and the taxiway and runways. It is a very busy and cluttered area that includes aircraft parked at hardstands and at gates, baggage/stair tugs, guide vehicles, airline crew, baggage handlers, food service personnel, maintenance personnel… the list is long. It is very difficult to secure, because it is so dynamic in nature.
Ticketing and departure area of terminal:
These are publicly accessible areas that are lightly guarded at best, and relatively unmonitored. It is also a very vulnerable area for the traveling public. It is an easy place for a specific ethnic group or nationality to be targeted, while waiting for their national airline or a flight destination to their country of origin. Also, it is in this area of the airport where a terrorist, with a plan to get through security and onto an aircraft, puts on his “game face.8” Any last vestige of nervousness, or apprehension about what is intended, will manifest itself at the ticket counter, either when answering specific security questions, or waiting on the security screening line.
Screening technology has improved the system, but there remain major gaps that need to be closed. One such gap is screening for non-metallic items under clothing, such as ceramic knives, or body conforming plastique type explosives.
Airport employee vetting:
In the planning phase of a criminal or terrorist operation, groups initially explore the opportunity to plant or recruit one or more employees of an airport facility to assist and facilitate the surveillance and the actual attack, or criminal act, itself. Their surveillance, in this initial phase, usually neutralizes most of the adopted security procedures and allows the group to devise an efficient scheme to launch the attack. Individuals with physical access to aircraft, such as baggage handlers, ground staff, or airline ticket counter staff, are given only cursory background checks for their minimum-wage level jobs; this is a particularly acute problem at so-called “spoke” or “feeder” airports, because it leaves them critically vulnerable to recruitment by criminal, or terrorist groups.