Aviation Security Forum Update — August 11, 2008  

ALPA’s Aviation Security Forum (AvSec) delivered a smorgasbord of security subjects this week, bringing together a number of movers and shakers from federal agencies and ALPA members active as MEC and national security representatives.

FBI at the Airport
Dave Wiegand, the FBI Airport Liaison Agent for Washington National Airport, talked about some of his agency’s activities involving aviation security.

“You bring an airplane full of trouble down into DCA, I’m the guy who’s going to show up to deal with it.”

Crimes aboard an aircraft in flight include such diverse acts as embezzlement (!), theft, murder, manslaughter, attempted murder or manslaughter, robbery, aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, sexual abuse of a minor or ward, air piracy, and carrying a weapon or explosives aboard an airliner.

“As soon as the door is closed, it becomes federal,” Wiegand emphasized.

After a security incident occurs, Wiegand said, the priorities are to

  • resolve the incident (which may involve law enforcement, emergency medical services, firefighters, or other first responders),

  • positively establish the identities of victims, subjects, and witnesses, and

  • preserve the crime scene and evidence.

In the FBI’s Flying Armed Program, said Wiegand, “We teach our people how to fly armed—and how to defend themselves in confined spaces.” He added, “The only acceptable place for an FBI agent on duty to carry a firearm is on his person—not in a briefcase or backpack.

“Hijacking is our bailiwick—we respond in a tactical manner, whether the aircraft doors are open or closed,” Wiegand stressed. “We are just as determined as you folks to not have another 9/11.”

A pilot asked if the FBI trains its agents on Common Strategy; Wiegand replied, “Yes, we know what you know, what kind of response you expect from us.”

Terrorist planning and priorities
Allen Ellison, an intelligence analyst in the Transportation Security Unit of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, discussed the “terrorist planning cycle,” which has seven stages—initial target selection, initial surveillance, target selection, pre-attack planning, final surveillance, deployment of attack team, and the attack.

The general assessment of the intelligence community, Ellison summarized, is that violent extremists will continue to target critical infrastructure worldwide.

Ellison warned that

  • violent extremists are “obsessed” with aviation, and continue to revisit previous plots and targets, and

  • domestic terrorists often select the same targets, and

  • U.S. aviation assets continue to be targets of choice.

Ellison asked, “As terrorist access to aircraft becomes more difficult, are we going to see more aviation-related ground attacks? Just in the last couple years, we’ve seen quite a few more.”

Violent extremists, he reminded AvSec attendees, “primarily commit bombings; terrorists will continue to employ IEDs [improvised explosive devices].”

Self-Defense Training for Crew Members
F/O Paul Chesek, chairman of the DAL MEC Security Committee, warned, regarding the Crew Member Self Defense Training (CMSDT) Program, “we need to increase crew member participation.”

Chesek outlined the many benefits of CMSDT, which is a free, single-day course also available as a free refresher anytime for past participants. The training and the “stress inoculation” that come from the “mat time” teach crew members how to disrupt, delay, and defeat attacks, whether from a would-be hijacker or a disruptive passenger.

On the other hand, the CMSDT challenges include the fact that the training is not mandatory, and is available only to flight and cabin crews of passenger airlines, and not cargo pilots. Pilots note that the realism of the training could be improved by adding an element on prevention. At some locations around the United States, the training is provided at remote, off-airport locations. Airline management support of the program could be better, and participation has not been nearly as good as it should be.

Michael Rigney, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, FAMS Flight Programs Division, said that FAMS has been assessing current training sites and, if necessary, relocating them to facilities closer to airports. The FAMS also is opening new sites to increase convenience for crew members and is providing more classes at each site. CMSDT is now offered at 20 total locations, including one at each of the three major New York City airports.

“We’ve partnered with 7 U.S. airlines to deliver CMSDT onsite at airline training centers,” Rigney announced. “We’re also going to do away with the [self-study] DVD and go to an online learning and registration system.”

The revised training CMSDT curriculum, said Rigney, should be rolled out on Jan. 1, 2009.

Scott Graham (United) asked Rigney if the FAMS might “make the course dynamic to reflect the actual level of experience of the class members.” Rigney said that improvement is going to be made, with scenario-based training at the end of the course.

A group of FAMS instructors took 30 AvSec attendees through a two-hour hands-on demonstration of CMSDT. In T-shirts and shorts, the pilots practiced such tactical moves as blocking and disabling a knife-wielding attacker.

FAMS and ALPA Together to Secure Aircraft
Adding layers of aircraft security continues to be a priority for both ALPA and the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS). Ranking FAMS officials briefed AvSec 2008 attendees about the agency’s perspective and outlook for evolving security concerns. FAMS Director Robert Bray said, “I believe one of the best weapons we can invest in, to defend against those who would do us harm, is people.”

Bray talked about FAMS as a component of the TSA as well as its leadership and organization. He highlighted his agency’s ongoing relationship with ALPA, stating, “We are truly interdependent and therefore must strive to work together.”

The FAMS director also discussed the current status of the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, thanking participants for their “selfless patriotism.” He also highlighted several new training programs.

“Escalating fuel costs will not adversely affect the FAMS ability to address its mission,” said Bray, reminding the audience of the importance of being vigilant. “Never forget,” he concluded.

Robert Byers, FAMS deputy director, talked about his organization’s emerging approach to air transportation security, noting “One of the successes of FAMS has been to bring the workforce into the dialogue.” The deputy director discussed the value of frontline experience and the importance of working with international partners.

He talked about FAMS response to several incidents in recent history and iterated Bray’s warning about losing sight of “our mission” and becoming complacent with current security efforts. “We must maintain funding and support,” said Byers, who described terrorists as “patient, resourceful, and waiting for us to let our guard down.”

Policing Our Airports
AvSec 2008 today looked beyond federal agencies to gain the perspective of local law enforcement. Stephen Holl, police chief of the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA), spoke about the many challenges in safeguarding two U.S. air transportation icons—Washington’s Dulles and National Airports.

Holl discussed the importance of collaborating with airport operations, airlines, and federal agencies to provide the necessary protection, and the responsibilities and various tasks performed by his 250 officers. He emphasized the need to follow through when calling for law enforcement support to handle a disruptive passenger, by “swearing out” warrants and serving as witnesses, when necessary.

The police chief also explained how his organization conducts several “tabletop” preparedness exercises a year with other airport partners to explore various crisis scenarios and the coordination necessary for a successful response.

Tracking Down Terrorists Pays Off
Crime may not pay, but helping the U.S. State Department track down terrorists can be a very lucrative endeavor. John Vela, deputy coordinator for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, described the scope and operation of the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program.

“More than $77 million has been paid out to 50 different people,” said Vela, who noted that the program deters terrorist operations, decreases the number of safe havens, restricts criminal freedom of movement, and, ultimately, puts terrorists on the defensive.

Success stories include information that led to the capture of Ramzi Yousef, who was responsible for the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

Advertising has been the key to this program’s success. Information about Rewards for Justice is available at www.rewardsforjustice.net.