As airports race to augment security because of the shocking shooting incident this past Friday at Florida’s Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport – when one Esteban Santiago “allegedly” took a 9mm handgun from its case in his luggage and killed 5 people, injuring 8 others – it seems a bit after the fact.
The typical knee-jerk reaction would be to ramp up security at airports across the country to prevent future attacks. So maybe we can just take it easy and relax a bit because the authorities have this covered, right? Wrong!
The airport security paradigm shifted dramatically after 9/11. The problem is when we have operational terrorist attacks – such as plane passenger Richard Reid’s attempted shoe-bombing and the 2006 liquid-bomb plot, when bad guys tried to smuggle liquid explosives aboard in drinking bottles – we respond with a direct countermeasure against those attack methods.
For example, we are still taking our shoes off during airport screenings and screeners are still checking water bottles.
And along the same thinking, we will likely never see a situation again where a captain of a commercial aircraft surrenders the cockpit to hijackers who have box cutters – because of new standard operating procedures and reinforced cockpit doors.
- Active shooters and terrorists learn from the past and they alter their operational framework to strike points of vulnerability that we have neglected, have not detected or have felt are secure.
- And these terrorist groups have been in business for a very long time. That means they have had the time to test and develop tactics and techniques to defeat whatever countermeasures or security we put in place at these airports. And in turn, we develop further technologies designed to prevent or thwart their attacks.
We live in an environment where hostile operational planning has shifted so many ways that even the advanced scanners we use to screen people for weapons are not fool-proof – including the powerful millimeter-wave body imagers.
The point is that vulnerabilities exist in every corner and crevice of our airports. It is technically and physically impossible to cover every person and inch of a large airport.
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Airports in general are vast areas that are difficult at best to closely monitor at all times. Couple that with all the people coming in and out, the enormous numbers of flights per day, the ground crews and airport personnel, and you have a recipe for disaster.
The reality is that while we have implemented many security practices that help us mitigate large-scale collective attacks, and tightened and heightened security measures that make it harder for these people to enter the country, it is not the foreign radicalized terrorist or terror cell that concerns me. It is the lone wolf such as Esteban Santiago.
People such as Santiago do not have to move across borders to carry out acts of terror or active shootings, because they are already in our backyard. And they move about relatively undetected!
There is a distinct shift in conflict from the conventional to asymmetrical and we must let that dictate and shape our mission from this point forward. Because of this change, the way and manner in which we must engage the enemy have also changed.
No longer do we use a one-size-fits-all approach to screen airport passengers. These days the strategy is risk- and intelligence-based, which is intended to augment security, efficiency and effectiveness.
|Due to longer screening lines, travelers are essentially sitting ducks for active shooters.|
However, this approach has also created some not-so-grand consequences for travelers. Longer screening lines mean congestion and a higher predictable density of people who will congregate in certain areas of the airport. That makes those travelers vulnerable to an attack. They are essentially sitting ducks for active shooters, slashers and suicide bombers.
And what about standards of policy and regulations that allowed Santiago to legally carry a firearm in his checked baggage?
The policy and regulations surrounding submitting and preparing your firearm for travel have traditionally worked in the sense that good, law-abiding citizens who wanted to transport their weapon from one destination to another were able to do so fairly unencumbered and with little hassle. Having done this on many occasions myself, the process is very easy and has very little oversight.
Actually, in my experience, checking in my weapons meant nothing more than looping the cable key lock that came with the gun through the trigger guard.
There were no security personnel who oversaw or inspected what I was doing. And they gave no more than a cursory glance in my direction as I was trying to show them that I followed the security regulations for weapon transport.
Seeing time and time again how exposed the security procedures were and that the whole process was not executed with any professional oversight, I knew that it was only a matter of time before someone with mal-intent disrupted the delicate vulnerability matrix to cause mayhem in what has conventionally been considered a relatively safe space.
Additionally, once your weapon arrives at its destination, the process to retrieve it is just as easy!
So once someone has transported their handgun from point A to Point B in-country, and retrieves it, how difficult would it be for them to slip into the nearest bathroom stall, insert a fully loaded magazine into the weapon and re-enter the airport with a “hot” firearm? Pretty darn easy!
In fact, that’s just how Santiago perpetrated his heinous act.
Over the coming weeks and months, I am sure this is one process at the airport that will come under scrutiny. But we will have to wait to see if it is simply a knee-jerk reaction to this most recent tragedy or a more serious layered approach that will stand the test of time and the evil individuals and groups that will test it.
Until next time, stay alert, check your six, put your back against the wall and stay safe!