The hated-loved airport security checkpoint

On 14/03/2014, in Battle stations, by steve

scanIn another age that we might call the age of innocence, only desperate people wanting to bequeath early their life insurance money to their family or wanting to pick up same coming from their wives or mother-in-law were thinking of blowing up airliners. Pilots and airlines were urging airports to forbid selling life insurance policies in the departure hall. In those days this was the top of what we would call to-day “security arrangements”. Insurance companies caught on quickly and made sure such crazy acts of destruction stopped being a lucrative business.

Bomb attacks on insurance basis against civil aviation all but stopped.

Of course the phenomenon of hijackings was another matter altogether. For a time, it was not unusual to hear about a hijacking event almost every month. By some accounts, the word “hijack” comes from prohibition era America where a member of one gang would stop the bootlegging truck of another gang, approaching the driver with a jovial “Hi, Jack” greeting before relieving him of his truck and the alcohol.
Whatever the origins, the word came to signify an act of directing an aircraft to fly to an airport it had no intention to visit originally.

Hijackers were sometimes people trying to escape from oppressive regimes from as diverse places as Hungary and Cuba while some were mentally unstable. Hijackings from the US to Cuba were at their peak in 1968-1969 with some 49 events registered by the authorities. There was even a famous joke about this guy on board a Delta flight to Miami bursting into the cockpit shortly after take-off and ordering the pilot to fly to Miami. But this is the flight to Miami counters the surprised skipper. I don’t care, says the man, I have been trying to get to Miami for over two weeks and each time ended up in Havana… Now we are going to Miami, he waved his gun.

Some hijackers were greeted as heroes in countries ruled by rogue regimes, others were sentenced to long prison terms… Clearly, the first step in solving this problem was achieving an international agreement that would discourage this type of piracy.

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Customers can see their TSA Precheck status before arriving at the checkpoint

On 05/05/2013, in Battle stations, by steve

The by now well known one size fits all approach to aviation security is slowly giving way to a risk-based model which is expected to provide the same, or even improved, level of security while making the screening process smoother. Part of this is the TSA’s Precheck prescreening procedure.

tsaUnited Airlines has now announced it is providing advance notice to customers who are selected for the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) prescreening program TSA Precheck. Eligible United customers will start to see the TSA Precheck indicator on mobile boarding passes, boarding passes printed at home or from the kiosks at some airports, allowing customers to effectively route themselves to available TSA Precheck lanes.

“Our customers tell us how much they appreciate that TSA Precheck expedites their security screening experience. By giving advance notice of TSA Precheck eligibility, in collaboration with TSA, we are making the screening process easier and more seamless,” said Alex Marren, United’s senior vice president of network operations and United Express.

The TSA Precheck logo will appear directly above an eligible passenger’s name on printed boarding passes. On mobile boarding passes, customers should look for the TSA Precheck logo at the top right corner above the barcode. The TSA Precheck indicator will appear on boarding passes throughout a customer’s itinerary whether or not the airport has TSA Precheck, so customers are encouraged to check that the airport is a participating location here.

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A true story… Things are not always what they appear.

On 06/02/2013, in Battle stations, by steve

Luke AFB is west of Phoenix and is rapidly being surrounded by civilization that complains about the noise from the base and its  planes, forgetting that it was there long before they were… A  certain lieutenant colonel at Luke AFB deserves a big pat on the  back. Apparently, an individual who lives somewhere near Luke AFB  wrote the local paper complaining about a group of F-16s that  disturbed his/her day at the mall. When that individual read the response from a Luke AFB officer, it must have stung quite a bit.

The complaint:

‘Question of the day for Luke Air Force Base:
Whom do we thank for the morning air show? Last Wednesday, at  precisely 9:11 A.M, a tight formation of four F-16 jets made a low pass over  Arrowhead Mall, continuing west over Bell Road at approximately 500  feet.  Imagine our good fortune! Do the Tom Cruise-wannabes feel we need  this wake-up call, or were they trying to impress the cashiers at Mervyn’s early bird special?
Any response would be appreciated.

The response:

Regarding ‘A wake-up call from Luke’s jets’ On June 15, at precisely  9:12  a.m. , a perfectly timed four- ship fly by of F-1 6s from the 63rd  Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base flew over the grave of Capt.  Jeremy Fresques. Capt Fresques was an Air Force officer who was previously  stationed at Luke Air Force Base and was killed in Iraq on May 30,  Memorial Day.

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Meeting Bashir and the ride to Suez

On 01/01/2013, in Battle stations, by jason

The story I am about to tell is nothing out of the ordinary. Actually I guess it is something that most Maritime Security Officers experience on a frequent basis. However, it is so ordinary that we don’t even give it a second thought anymore. But I am sure it will get a laugh out of you and just in respect of Bashir, it is worth telling.

Without exaggerating, our job isn’t all that dangerous. Yes we go to the high seas and wait for armed gangs of pirates, armed with 7.62 AK-47’s and RPG’s (Rocket Propelled Grenade) and a doped up will to kill and conquer. But still, we have the solid and stable high ground. We have a prepared crew, precision weapons, razor wire and fire hoses (which only do any good in the minds of the people at IMO thinking up ways how to kill pirates by having the die of laughter and maybe ammonia after a cold shower). So all in all, it is pretty safe which is the reason that no vessel with armed security on board has ever been taken.
No, it is not the job in itself that is so dangerous. I have noticed that we have risked our lives more often in the drive to and from International airports in our countries of embarkation and disembarkation. For example Egypt or Sri Lanka. Being a resident of Belgium, I am used to people driving like their hair is on fire and execute maneuvers that look strange even to the half-blind. But in Sri Lanka for example I have woken up in the car seconds before the driver was about to hit a cow which was having its lunch break on the middle of the road. The cow wasn’t really the problem; it was the traffic on the other side of the road. The driver decided that he could take the oncoming lane to go past the cow. That this lane was occupied by a 20 ton “goods carrier” with limited or no brakes was left in the middle. Forget RPG’s and getting hit straight through the ballistic vest by a 7.62 stray round (stray because these pirates can’t aim for shit. But stray or not, bullets don’t discriminate).

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Security over the top…

On 14/04/2012, in Battle stations, by krisztian

Our contributor krisztian is on assignment on a ship somewhere on the North Atlantic but he had time to find for us a real gem about how security can be misunderstood of we are not careful. This story was also published by its author on Facebook but we wanted to share it also with the readers of Roger-Wilco. Next time you go through security without too much hassle, think of this story and bless your luck…

“As the Chalk Leader for my flight home from Afghanistan, I witnessed the following:

When we were on our way back from Afghanistan, we flew out of Baghram Air Field. We went through customs at BAF, full body scanners (no groping), had all o…f our bags searched, the whole nine yards. Our first stop was Shannon, Ireland to refuel. After that, we had to stop at Indianapolis, Indiana to drop off about 100 folks from the Indiana National Guard. That’s where the stupid started.
First, everyone was forced to get off the plane-even though the plane wasn’t refueling again. All 330 people got off that plane, rather than let the 100 people from the ING get off. We were filed from the plane to a holding area. No vending machines, no means of escape. Only a male/female latrine.

It’s probably important to mention that we were ALL carrying weapons. Everyone was carrying an M4 Carbine (rifle) and some, like me, were also carrying an M9 pistol. Oh, and our gunners had M-240B machine guns. Of course, the weapons weren’t loaded. And we had been cleared of all ammo well before we even got to customs at Baghram, then AGAIN at customs.

The TSA personnel at the airport seriously considered making us unload all of the baggage from the SECURE cargo hold to have it re-inspected. Keep in mind, this cargo had been unpacked, inspected piece by piece by U.S. Customs officials, resealed and had bomb-sniffing dogs give it a one-hour run through. After two hours of sitting in this holding area, the TSA decided not to re-inspect our Cargo-just to inspect us again: Soldiers on the way home from war, who had already been inspected, re-inspected and kept in a SECURE holding area for 2 hours. Ok, whatever. So we lined up to go through security AGAIN.

This is probably another good time to remind you all that all of us were carrying actual assault rifles, and some of us were also carrying pistols.

So we’re in line, going through one at a time. One of our Soldiers had his Gerber multi-tool. TSA confiscated it. Kind of ridiculous, but it gets better. A few minutes later, a guy empties his pockets and has a pair of nail clippers. Nail clippers. TSA informs the Soldier that they’re going to confiscate his nail clippers.

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How not to protect

On 16/12/2011, in Battle stations, by krisztian

An oldie, but still very current. This video shows the arrival of Condoleezza Rice at Brussels Airport. Diplomatic Security agent argues with a Belgian State Security agent and the protocol service, almost getting into a fight, WHILE Ms. Rice is already OUT OF THE PLANE and on her way down the stairs…

Lessons learned:

– Make good and proper arrangements PRIOR to the arrival of your principal with the local security teams;

– Be diplomatic, even if that means biting your tongue from time to time;

– Your ego is not the one needing protection;

– Cameras are ALWAYS watching your protection detail.

Enjoy the video (courtesy VRT).

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European Parliament – The terrorists’ best friend?

On 13/02/2010, in Battle stations, by cleo

They have done it again! After condemning full body scanners as being in conflict with human rights, the European Parliament now voted down the so called SWIFT accord, something that would have given US authorities more visibility of the funds being transferred between the world’s banks and hence would have enabled better tracking of the activities of terrorist groups. The European Ministers of Justice had approved the SWIFT accord but this was now killed by the EP. The reason? The privacy of European citizens was not properly protected under the agreement, some euro-parliamentarians claimed.

In case you have forgotten, the European Parliament is the circus that commutes between Strasbourg in France and Brussels in Belgium because European States could not decide where it should actually be headquartered and the members of which are chosen in elections with record low (and decreasing) turnout of European citizens. In 2009 the average turn-out across the Union was just 43 %…

Watching on TV as the good EP members cheered at this latest folly, one was reminded of a bunch of immature school children who had just pulled off a particularly nasty prank.

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Safety briefing – the missing element

On 28/01/2010, in Battle stations, by steve

This blog is about air traffic management. But, by the nature of our business, we tend to travel more than the average citizen and the pilots among us spend half their life strapped to the aircraft that carry us around. So it is appropriate to say something for once as a passenger rather than the ATM expert I often claim to be.

I am one of those passengers who actually follows the safety briefing, checks the location of the emergency exits and who has actually studied the operation of the damn things. I would hate having to read the opening instructions with smoke filling the cabin… I never take off my shoes until we are at cruising level. And yes, I do check that my life vest is under my seat and yes, I did find an empty container once and complained before we were airborne.

Recently however I started missing something from the safety briefing. If you look at the statistics, the likelihood of needing my life vest is distinctly lower than the need to know what I should do in case the chap or gal sitting next to me turns out to have explosives in his or her pants and decides to use it too.

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Is being blown up part of my human rights?

On 12/01/2010, in Battle stations, by cleo

It is bad enough that aviation is the target of people hell bent on blowing things up. It is even worse that there are others in pretty high places who will help them… even if unwittingly.

Violating human rights?

There is no point in denying that the aviation security system, including the extensive and supposedly fool-proof US elements, have failed miserably when it allowed a Nigerian guy with explosives in his underpants to board several planes on Christmas day. I can only surmise what his dad is thinking about all this when his noble act of warning the US embassy about his son’s activities went totally unheeded… Will he, or other dad’s in a similar predicament, raise the flag in the future or just shrug their shoulders? But there is worse…

Body imaging technology is a proven tool to discover this kind of plan. True, no scanner will (for now) see explosives tucked in body cavities but that will surely come one day. Or not…

The good ladies and gentlemen of the European Parliament maintain that full body scanning violates EU citizens’ human rights. In some EU states, the problem arises only if “sensitive” body parts are also displayed. Great! So what have the same nice, caring EU persons done to make aviation safer?

They decided that it was not their business!

While in the United States aviation security is seen as an important government task, in Europe security and its related expenditures are thrust squarely onto the shoulders of the flying community. Airline passengers pay through the nose for the privilege of not being blown up while politicians sit back contentedly… Would they be so relaxed if the threat was the same against the underground or the railways? Hardly!

Airline security does not bring votes… passenger rights and emission trading schemes do. So, focusing on the latter, Europe has never bothered to build a comprehensive, effective and cost-efficient security infrastructure for aviation.

Shooting their mouth off about protecting human rights and so eventually blocking the introduction of full body scanning is nothing short of being misguided on the grandest scale possible.

I would dearly like to know whether the MEPs really consider it preferable to be blown to kingdom come in the knowledge that no screener has seen their willy to arresting the one guy who is behind all the mischief. Makes you almost wonder: what is in the parliamentarians’ underpants?

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Visiting Djibouti… 4

On 07/01/2010, in Battle stations, by krisztian

Sweating it out…

Everone had to have their temperature taken...

The heat didn’t seem to bother the locals, and especially not the people working with the national health service. As a welcome gesture from the land trapped between Eritrea and Somalia we received a thermometer in the ear and a H1N1 leaflet in the hand. Every passenger entering the Djibouti International Terminal went through this thorough inspection to make sure we were healthy. I still wonder how the thermometer registered normal body temperatures whilst I was sweating like a turkey at New Year.

Anyway, we were cleared of any illnesses and entered the small terminal, allowing us to start filling in the immigration forms. As fully trained professionals, we sought after a calm place to bow our heads and answer the questions while trying to write sensible sentences on melting paper. Ok, enough about the heat already, but trust me, it was really hot.

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