Mitigating the IED Threat at Airports: A Three Step Approach
As airport terminals are vulnerable to the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), there exists multiple means for mitigating the risks of such devices to airport patrons and personnel.However, it is the opinion of this security consultant that three of the most feasible means of mitigating the risks are:
(1) Randomizing security checks of incoming vehicles to the airport terminal roadways and parking areas, whether occupants are boarding flights or not;
(2) Installing a facial recognition system in the terminal area to identify known or suspected terrorists, with the added benefit of identifying other criminals and persons of interest not necessarily at risk of executing an airport terminal bombing; and
(3) Randomizing security checks within the airport of passengers who have just arrived or are otherwise en route to the security checkpoint.
These methods are simple to explain but difficult to implement, considering the huge volume of passengers and transport vehicles that pass through the terminal itself and the supporting infrastructure — such as parking lots and drop-off/pick-up points on airport terminal access roads.
Step One: Vehicle Checks
Randomizing security checks of incoming vehicles to the airport terminal roadways and parking areas is an essential practice which has a primary purpose of deterring terrorists from bringing in IEDs and VBIEDs to the airport terminal area.The obvious caveat here is that airport security officials must use their discretion when identifying vehicles for a security check.If a flat-bed truck is carrying manure and heating oil, this is an obvious red flag for airport security to initiate a directed — rather than random – security check, to immediately ascertain whether or not the truck has a legitimate reason to be in the airport terminal access road area with such cargo.
Step Two: Facial Recognition
Installing a facial recognition system in the terminal area to identify known or suspected terrorists, with the added benefit of identifying other criminals and persons of interest, is yet another method to mitigate the risks associated primarily with IEDs.The dedication of the system to known or suspected terrorists only, however, will decrease the volume of images necessary for the system to retrieve for identification purposes and increase the speed of searching through that volume (Stokes, 2006).This could buy valuable time for the system to relay matching identification, if available, to the airport security officials to initiate action prior to the person boarding a flight.Ask any aviation security consultant what the number one step is in identifying a terrorism threat to commercial aviation, and they will likely obviously reply, “Putting a face to a name of a suspected or known terrorist.”
While the TSA accomplishes this with Safe Flight based on information collected and reviewed of every passenger making reservations on a US commercial flight, the information provided can be falsified (Secure Flight Program, 2011). This includes, unfortunately, the image itself ( Martinez, 2010).The evasion of facial identification software is a possibility for dedicated terrorists, which further reinforces the need to enhance the software to make sure that the tuna (terrorists) — not the dolphins (innocents) — are caught in this electronic net (Stokes, 2006).
Dedicated facial recognition software provides an additional layer of security in identifying known or suspected terrorists.For example, capturing images of all incoming persons to the airport terminal prior to reaching the security checkpoint; attempting to match such images to a database of known or suspected terrorists (if access is available); and, if a positive image identification was made, comparing the resultant information to that which was used by the known or suspected terrorist prior to entering the airport terminal; airport security officials can initiate action to remove the threat by any and all legal means.With a facial recognition system that matches identifying facial features of known or suspected terrorists, airport security officials can identify, isolate and bar a known or suspected terrorist from boarding a commercial flight.
This is, of course, a complementary method to existing systems of identification that relies on automated methodology.The hole in this system is that if an image of a known or suspected terrorist is not available, or the person uses an alias unknown to aviation security officials, the fall back method of typical checkpoint security screening is absolutely necessary for identifying an IED carried in the luggage or somewhere on the person’s body. So far, facial recognition software has shown mixed promise, but as an effort to identify known or suspected terrorists and criminals that is still in its infancy in the wake of 9/11, further development to a higher rate of success is absolutely necessary.
Step Three: Random Terminal Security Checks
The third and final means for minimizing the risks of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and Vehicle-Borne Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) is randomizing security checks within the airport of passengers who have just arrived or are otherwise en route to the security checkpoint.In addition to running the faces of arriving passengers against databases of known or suspected terrorists, the random security check in the terminal allows aviation security officials the latitude to target passengers who are exhibiting all, some, or none of the signs of suspicious activity. This acts as a deterrent to would-be terrorists who may fear being the subject of a random search, only to have their means of executing nefarious plans revealed through the thorough search of their person and belongings.
As none of these elements are 100 per cent reliable on their own, the combination of all working in concert with one another is a truly great method for insuring a multi-faceted and effective approach to mitigating the IED threat at United States airports. The take away here is that these methods and the related devices are useless without a trained security screener to interpret the results and apply the correct action.
Martinez, Edecio(2010)Young Man Wearing Old Man Mask Nabbed on Flight to
Canada.Retrieved from CBS News: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-20021889-504083.html
Secure Flight Program(2007)Retrieved from Transportation Security Administration:
Stokes, J.(2006)NSA Wiretap Followup: Why Computer-Automated Mass Surveillance
Is a Bad Idea.Retrieved from Ars Technica: