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Last Line of Defence

As a frequent flyer with a security background I am always aware of my surroundings. Especially on international flights to destinations with a higher risk level.

1255494.largeThe last time I flew to Amsterdam, I believe that I was sitting close to an air marshal, who was posing as businessperson jetting to Europe. They look no different than the hundreds of other passengers with a newspaper or magazine on their lap, and smartphone in their hand. Except for their semi-automatic handgun tucked discreetly out of sight, their specialized martial arts training for fighting in close quarters, and a readiness to vault out of their seats to take on and take out a suicidal hijacker or bomber at 31,000 feet.

In Canada, air marshals are one of the best secret weapons in the war on terror. Highly trained officers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police serve as in-flight security officers on Canadian commercial flights around the globe. For all the many visible and growing, layers of airport security – metal detectors, X-ray machines, and uniformed screeners and now high-tech body scanners – they’re the one layer of security you’ll never see. Should there be a breakdown in intelligence, an oversight at the airline check-in counter, or something missed during screening that allowed a terrorist slip through, they are the last line of defence.

Formally known as the Canadian Air Carrier Protective Program, Canada’s in-flight security initiative was born in the weeks and months after 9/11. Today, it has evolved into a “world-class program,” says assistant commissioner Pat McDonell, who heads the RCMP’s protective policing unit, including the in-flight officers.

Of course, it is not feasible to add these particular agents to all commercial flights, but the fact that they may be on a flight is a deterrent in itself. Because there are not enough air marshals to cover every flight, their assignments are kept secret. No one knows which passenger is the air marshal, or even if an air marshal is present on the flight at all.

All air marshals are continually briefed on the most up-to-date intelligence from around the world. They do not receive classified intelligence reports specifically tailored to their every mission but instead rely upon general briefings from other agencies. It’s an approach to protect Canadians whether they are travelling internationally or domestically. The program is maintained by several countries is an important weapon in the fight against terrorism.

Posted in: Uncategorized

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Blind Eye

Last week was a busy travel week where I took four different flights. I was more concerned than I usually am. The terrible fate of Metrojet flight 9268 kept playing through my head. The plane left with tourists from Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt and crashed in the desert on its way to Russia. The investigations are still ongoing, but the incident seems likely to be caused by a bomb that was smuggled onto the plane inside a piece of luggage. French media reported on Friday that the sound of explosion could be heard on the airplane’s flight recorder, the evidence that a bomb was onboard. The investigation will now center on how this could have happened with security measures being in place at the Egyptian airport.

In all airports around the world, security was ramped up after 9/11 with the main change being the introduction of extensive cargo and luggage screening entering a plane. Since that time the requirements have become stricter and processes have been further improved. The devices being used to check our luggage have become more accurate and advanced. However there are some aspects that have made me realize that there are vulnerabilities that still exist such as international rules still being interpreted locally. The screening processes are different from country to country and sometimes from city to city. In some parts of the world, regulations are taken more seriously then in other countries. Another aspect is the dependency on the people performing the screening. As technology isn’t providing a 100% solution, we have to rely on the combination of an employee interacting with this technology. The cargo going through x-ray is being reviewed by a person watching a screen and the explosion detection is not consistent. The swipe they do on hands and laptop is used on a random basis, not covering all of the passengers. We have to rely on these security officers (paid a modest hourly rate), to follow the directions and regulations. Risk can be partially mitigated by making sure that the security officer is screened thoroughly prior to them hired. Background checks (criminal, credit and references) should be extensive. In addition, a psychological assessment and a social media search should be included.

In conclusion, investing in hiring processes will help reduce risk, along with assuring employees are treated and compensated well. Why not lessen the chance of someone turning a blind eye during an essential part of his or her job?

Posted in: Protective Services and Investigations

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