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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.

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Electronic Advice For Your Device

PhoneAs I prepare my packing list for an upcoming vacation (one that I’ve actually been counting the days down until it arrives), I realize that the first few items I wrote down were my phone, tablet and other electronic devices. That sparked a rollercoaster of questions in my head. What would I do without my phone and other devices? How would I keep up with current events? How would I maintain contact with family and friends (and maybe work)? What did people do before they had electronic devices? Then a more interesting question popped into my head; how safe are my devices both at home and abroad?

There are two categories of safety concerns involving electronic devices. The first category is the loss or theft of the device and the second category is cyber security. If your device goes missing or is hacked, all the valuable information on it could fall into the hands of the wrong person. Both of these categories can result in your identity being stolen and/or monetary losses, plus there is an added inconvenience of replacing your device and dealing with the issues that were caused by the loss.

I decided to do some research on ways to prevent issues from occurring in either category, and pass on the tips I have learned.

Category #1 – For the loss or theft of your device:

Do:

  • Treat electronic devices like cash
  • Put secure passcodes on any device that will allow it
  • Carry the device in something less conspicuous

Don’t:

  • Leave electronic devices unattended, even just for a moment – do not assume they will be safe in your hotel room or in a hotel safe
  • Leave them in a car
  • Use your device too much in public
  • Keep passwords on the devices

 

Category #2 – Cyber security:

Do:

  • Remove personal or important information from your electronic devices that you will not require when traveling
  • Turn off devices or put them in ‘sleep’ or ‘airplane’ mode when they are not being used
  • Put passcodes on any device that will allow it
  • Change any and all passwords you may have used abroad

Don’t:

  • Use public Internet connections for personal or sensitive communication
  • Leave electronic devices unattended, even just for a moment
  • Lend your devices to anyone you do not know very well
  • Send sensitive messages or information via email or text

Now I can finish writing the rest of my packing list and hopefully the next time you go on a trip (even if it’s just a day trip), you can feel comfortable bringing your electronic devices. Don’t forget to pack your swimsuit; you never know when you might need it.

Posted in: Protective Services and Investigations

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Ocean View

A good friend of mine just spent a week with his family at a sunny place in the Caribbean. Although he had a good time it did not start very well. He told me that he had been to this country many times, but wanted to visit another part of the island. He went on the Internet and reviewed several potential hotel options. He wanted a peaceful and quite place and finally decided on a property that advertised beautiful pictures of the beach and their hotel rooms. The hotel was midsize, close to the beach, not too expensive and all rooms had ‘ocean view’. After a long car ride, flight and bus shuttle they arrived at the hotel. The disappointment was huge; the hotel was not as close to the beach as portrayed in the pictures. The beach was quite dirty and the view did not exist unless you were brave enough to lean far out over the balcony. They checked in for the night, as they were all tired. The next day they decided to move to another hotel that was more to their liking and enjoyed the rest of their vacation.

Sometimes what is shown in brochures and on websites can be deceiving. For example, a security company recently released a marketing package focusing on the mining industry. It contained a glossy brochure, several articles with expert opinions, and sell sheets with an overview of their corporate values. It was well laid out and formulated and gave the impression of a professional company that will offer the best service possible, but in reality, the results can be very different. We must be careful to not be drawn in by the nice website and abundance of marketing material to later find out that there is no ‘ocean view’.

I suggested that my friend utilize review websites to check the validity of a hotel’s claims in the future and speak with others that have visited the region they are traveling to, etc. I always like to encourage clients to do the same thing when selecting a professional security provider. Check references and know what you’re getting before getting it.

 

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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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