sensible memo from BTC: Aviation Security After Detroit
INDUSTRY ANALYSIS: Aviation System Security
Business Travel Coalition December 27, 2009
By Kevin Mitchell
The Christmas attempt by a Nigerian man with PETN (one of the most powerful explosives known) affixed to his body to cause harm to an internationally-originated Delta Air Lines flight on approach to Detroit shone a bright light on much that is wrong with the U.S. approach to aviation system security. It is welcome news that President Obama has ordered an airline industry security review so long as it is strategic in nature.
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The immediate post 9/11 security priority for the U.S. was to prevent a commercial airline from ever again being used as a weapon-of-mass-destruction. Airport screening was strengthened substantially, the Air Marshall program was expanded, cabin and cockpit crews were trained in advanced anti-terrorism techniques, many pilots were armed, F-14s were placed on alert, and most importantly, cockpit doors were reinforced and passengers were forever transformed from passive participants in a time of threat to able defenders. All of this was accomplished within a relatively short period of time after the U.S. was attacked on 9/11.
From that point forward the highest and best use of each incremental security dollar spent should have been on intelligence gathering, risk-management analysis and sharing, and on fundamental police work such that terrorists would never reach an airport, much less board an airplane. What does the immediate investigation into the near-calamity on Christmas reveal?
• The father of the accused terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, informed U.S. officials months ago that he was concerned about his son’s extreme religious views. Not a friend, not a teacher, but his very own father issued the warning!
• The accused Nigerian is in the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment database (550K names) maintained by the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center. While not on the selectee list (14K names) or no-fly list (4K names), should not some of our scarce security dollars have been used to ensure that he was placed on the selectee list, questioned and subjected to extra searching prior to being allowed to board the Detroit-bound flight from Amsterdam?
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano appeared today on ABC’s This Week show and unabashedly steered clear of government accountability arguing that the U.S. did not have enough information to keep the accused man from boarding the flight or to add him to the selectee or no-fly list. However, his very father warned us! Moreover, the UK’s Daily Mail reports that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was banned from Britain; his last visa request refused! That the suspect did not but should have received additional questioning and physical screening is where the U.S. government’s focus should be, versus on the in-flight security illusion of restricted passenger movement, if it is intended to be more that temporary.
Phi Beta Iota: The industry analysis ends with one big but wrong conclusion, to wit, that the USA needs a new director of transporation security. We disagree. You do not fire the mechanic tinkering with what the CEO ordered up. The USA has lost its collective mind, and the US Government is totally incapable of getting a grip on reality or making the necessary adjustments. During the 1992 force structure study in the US Marine Corps we made a plea for a 10% reduction of shooters in favor of thinkers, and today in Afghanistan the smarter company commanders are creating intelligence analysis cells out of hide, and doing better than the company commanders that persist in maximizing shooters without brain power. We have smart people at the top across the government, but OMB cannot manage, CIA cannot think, the DNI cannot influence much less control, and the President cannot break free from the partisan box that imprisons him. Multinational Engagement and a focus on information-sharing and sense-making is the ONLY option if the U.S. Government wishes to survive beyond 2020. If it fails to adapt to complexity that its Industrial-Era “rote” methods cannot handle, we anticipate an end to the existing federal form of government, and some alternative arrangements being made by the 50 member states and their populations. What we are doing is NOT WORKING, it is UNAFFORDABLE, and if we don’t get a grip on reality, reality is assuredly going to get its grip on us.