Saturday, August 19, 2006

Improvise, Adapt and Overcome - Aug 19

I think people tend to forget that in warfare, half the battle is in measures and counter-measures. In layman's terms, for everything that you do to gain the advantage over the enemy, the enemy will in due time learn and defeat that advantage. In Newtonian terms, every action has it's equal and opposite reaction. In WWII it was the German navy's Enigma. Today it's screening passengers to get on a plane. When you read this article, be prepared to be shocked at the level of (devilish) ingenuity our enemies and allies use. Some of this stuff comes right out of a James Bond movie, like the inter-play between Bond and Q (played by John Cleese) at the beginning of each Bond film. This is a cool article, please take the time to read it.

Mr. Johnny Cash

The Case for Screening Air Passengers -- Rather than Belongings

Aug 18, 2006


Irish airline Ryanair issued an ultimatum to the British government Aug. 18 to restore normal airport security measures within a week or risk being sued by the company for compensation. Ryanair said it faces more than $3.7 million in losses from disrupted flight schedules in the aftermath of the plot to destroy aircraft in flight using liquid explosives. In announcing the foiled plot Aug. 10, the British government immediately banned passengers from bringing carry-on luggage and liquids of all kinds aboard planes originating in the United Kingdom.

Liquid explosives do pose a serious threat to airliners in flight, although a review of previous plots against planes indicates these types of explosives are not the only thing security services need to be concerned about. Moreover, militants can be expected to adapt to evolving airline security measures.

The British case is reminiscent of Operation Bojinka, a plot to use a modular explosive device made of a doll stuffed with nitrocellulose and augmented by a bottle of liquid explosive. North Korean agents used liquid explosive PLX, disguised as a fifth of liquor, to destroy KAL Flight 858 in 1987. A number of other powerful, commercially manufactured liquid explosives also could be used to attack an airliner, such as nitroglycerine and Astrolite. Improvised versions of these explosives also can be manufactured.

Creative bombmakers have hidden explosives in a number of imaginative ways, perhaps most notably the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), which did some outside-the-box thinking when it melted the explosives TNT and Composition B and cast them into a variety of shapes, including a tea set. PFLP-GC also hid Semtex and other plastic explosives in a variety of items, including running shoes and electronics.

In fact, electronics also have been a popular choice for bombmakers looking to smuggle an improvised explosive device (IED) aboard planes. Perhaps the most famous case is the Libyan-constructed device concealed inside a Toshiba radio cassette player that was used to bring down Pan Am Flight 103. Similar devices hidden in another model of Toshiba cassette player were found in a raid on a PFLP-GC safe house in Germany a few months before the Pan Am 103 bombing.

In the 1987 KAL case, the firing train and a small charge of C-4 hidden inside the radio were used to initiate the PLX. In a London case in 1986, Nezar Hindawi, a Jordanian who later acknowledged working for Syrian intelligence, gave his unwitting and pregnant Irish girlfriend an IED concealed in bag to take on an El Al flight from London to Tel Aviv. The timer and detonator for the device were concealed in a pocket calculator. El Al security detected the device before it could be taken aboard the plane, and Hindawi was quickly arrested. In 1996, Israelis used an IED concealed in a cell phone to assassinate Yahya Ayyash, aka "The Engineer," an infamous Hamas bombmaker.

These are only past IED incidents involving airplanes, though it is important to point out that, as security measures change, terrorist tactics also will adapt, much as narcotics "mules" have adapted to efforts to prevent them from bringing narcotics aboard planes by using everything from body cavities to dead babies.

In addition to Richard Reid's infamous shoe bomb, there are many other ways in which explosives could be "worn" onto a plane. In the bombing of Philippine Airlines Flight 434, Abdel Basit and his associates used nitrocellulose camouflaged inside a doll, though nitrocellulose also could be easily hidden in any number of clothing items that have fiber filling, such as mittens and winter coats. Additionally, the design of the ubiquitous suicide vests and belts could allow explosives to be walked through a magnetometer if all the metal components were removed. In August 2004, Israeli authorities found explosive underwear on a young Palestinian attempting to enter Israel at the Erez border crossing. Because of the Reid plot, all passengers must remove their shoes. Had the Palestinian been attempting to board a plane, there is no telling how the incident would now affect passengers at airline security checkpoints.

It is virtually impossible to use technical screening measures to absolutely prevent explosive material from being brought on board an aircraft. Prison authorities using magnetometers and strip searches have failed to completely prevent all contraband from slipping through. The need for a greater reliance on other methods -- such as name checks, interviews and behavioral profiling -- to keep airplanes safe seems apparent.

Copyright 2006 Strategic Forecasting Inc. All rights reserved.

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