The Unending Circle – Aviation Security – Threat and Response

Authored by Mr. Oded Raz

Thwarting terrorism is a complex discipline. The attacker has the initiative, while the defender must operate an infinitely complex array in order to face his enemy and prevent him from achieving his goals. When terrorism is fought in the target country, the defender has intelligence capabilities that allow him to deal with terrorists at one level or another. On the other hand, when the attack is planned far outside the country and is planned against a target belonging to the attacked country located outside its territorial boundaries, the difficulties in preventing the attack intensify, as there is more hidden than known.

Aviation targets are attractive targets for attacks as the public response, the level of damage and the number of casualties intensifies the attacker’s success. Success in an attack on an aviation target is dramatic, as in the event that the attacker succeeds, the victims’ ability to survive is low to impossible, and the impact on the lives of free societies is significant, as the impact is to a core principle of western civilization, the freedom to travel from place to place safely and freely.

That’s also the reason why the September 11 2011 attacks had such a global impact, the aftershocks of which still influence the global aviation industry to this very day. The shock caused by the number of casualties and the recognition of the fact that the state had failed to prevent the attack, which had been planned of the course of several years, increased the recognition that the final circle for dealing with attackers is the security array at airports around the world.

Past events indicate that the vast majority of attacks on aviation targets took place with no advance intelligence. This is not a failure by one state or another, but rather a universal failure by states operating capable and qualified intelligence and prevention agencies. The chief reason for the failure derives from the inability to collect advance information from countries around the world regarding terrorist organizations that are making plans, often for years, to attack aviation targets at various locations. The main conclusion form the failure to prevent the attacks is the need to construct a capable security array that will serve as the last circle of defense against attackers.

The complexity involved in dealing with terrorism against aviation targets derives from the variety of possibilities faced by terrorist organizations planning to attack aircraft and/or passengers. The attack can be carried out by an attacker carrying a dev ice on their body, as in the attempted attacks by Richard Reid (December 2001) and his Nigerian comrade, who boarded a flight on New Year’s Eve bearing an explosive device with no metallic components (December 2009); the attack can be carried out using materiel hidden in the cargo hold, as in the printers incident (October 2010); the attack can take place using ground personnel infiltrating the airport and inserting an explosive suitcase into an aircraft, as in the Pan-Am plane that exploded in the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland (December 1988); and the attack can take the form of a Strella missile fired at the airplane during takeoff, as in the attempted attack on the Israeli plane in Mombasa Kenya (November 2002).

The question is whether threats can be handled in the form of 360 degrees of protection around aviation targets around the world. The answer to this question is complex, as the response must be creative and integrate advance tools and sophisticated work methods that on the one hand, will allow the enemy to be stopped on their way to the attack, and on the other, will be based on an alerting and deterring security array that projects the difficulties the attackers will face on their way to their missions.

The understanding that the thwarting circle, meaning the airport security workers, is the main circle for detecting the terrorist and/or terror device constitutes the opening shot in the battle with the enemy. The operational elements must understand that the engine for preventing attacks is based on the following actions:

  1. Analyzing operational weaknesses and providing the proper security response both in terms of deterrence and in professional work procedures.
  2. The understanding that facing the enemy should not be based solely on security technology, as the starting point must lead to recognition of the fact that the terrorist will collect intelligence at the airport and will be familiar with security procedures, with regulator instructions and with the technologies and all of their weaknesses. In the case at hand, note that the 9/11 terrorists carried out their attacks using knives that according to security procedures at the time were not defined as a threat to the aircraft and/or its passengers.
  3. Forming impressions (PPS) of passengers constitutes a key tool for detecting the unusual and exceptional. Billions of dollars of investment in security technology cannot replace direct contact between screener and passenger.
  4. Recognition of the fact that airborne cargo, air mail, catering and duty-free goods hold the potential of being a means of bringing explosive devices onboard in one guise or another.

The spectrum of threats the aircraft faces requires professional responses based on the combination of professional and skilled personnel and advanced security technologies. Waiving one of these two components, or alternately making one more important than the other, will influence the ability of the final security circle to stop attacks.

Statistics indicate that the vast majority of attacks were carried out with no advance intelligence, a fact that the security elements should always bear in mind. Intelligence skills can be maximized and preventive abilities can be upgraded if the following actions are taken:


  1. Recognition that airport security personnel have a great deal of information regarding exceptional passengers who were treated in a manner appropriate to the level of suspicion they aroused. This should lead to the conclusion that all unusual events must be documented and passed on to intelligence agencies for study and to decide whether or not action should be taken.
  2. International intelligence sharing must exist in order to create a multinational defensive circle against terror elements.
  3. Understanding that airport security personnel constitute an intelligence-gathering arm of the prevention array. As such, constant contact with them must be maintained, while establishing procedures that will intensify the cooperation between intelligence prevention elements and the security field elements.

It seems that no one is disputing the fact that attacks against aviation targets continue to be preferred by terror organizations in general and by jihadist elements in particular. The integration of number of intelligence and operational disciplines is the proper tool for dealing with the spectrum of threats faced by the free world.

Mr. Oded RazOded Raz, is a former senior ranking security official of the Israeli Security Agency (ISA). His most recent position with the ISA was as deputy head of the protection and security division. Mr. Raz advises clients on strategic tactics for security preparedness and assists companies in both identifying alternative uses for technologies to enhance homeland security defense and integrating them into the security marketplace.


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One Response to The Unending Circle – Aviation Security – Threat and Response

  1. Mohammad says:

    hi there, quality website, and a decent understand! one for my book marks.

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