Unfolding TSA Layered Security

Reasons of threatening Aviation security?

It is no doubt that aviation has always been a target for terrorism as aviation is a very complex system (Thomas,2003 1). It has very valuable assets and is symbolic to represent the country’s economic and social status. It requires lots of attention from people and the interaction between each party to serve the purpose of its presence. Attacks in aviation are always unexpected. Most terrorist attacks occurred during en-route flights as they are above the surface and no other party is available to prevent or stop the attack. Many have been successful in damageing the targets and the system as a whole. The more complex the system is, the more difficult it is to maintain it. Technology and adding different layers continuously are not always the solution when mishaps aren’t even being managed properly. Adding new implementations will just create a more opportunities for terrorist to succeed from where human errors will most occur.

TSA layers of security

When illustrated in a diagram, the pattern of layered security resemble an “S” shape, this means that an individual does not need to breach all 20 layers to present an actual threat. The success of a terrorist attack could easily be conducted by anyone if he takes the targeted action at the right time, right place and right method anywhere in the world. The structure of layered security works similar to the Reason’s Swiss Cheese Model , as each layers act as a line of defence, the system is dependent to each layer to stop against the active error/ terrorism occur. As all systems are created by human as the interaction within the system are not only related by the people reacting within the system itself; but also involves technology, other humans and the environment of the situation. Hence, mistakes will occur no matter whether it was made by an intentionally interaction or not. Once these loop holes from each layers lined up with each other, a terrorist attack/ active error occur in aviation.

The following examples illustrate the potential point of failure at each layer:

Trust Traveller Program
A programme which travellers may wish to submit an extensive background checks to the government in reducing the amount of security being applied on these travellers. These travellers would be issued a biometric retinal card to declare that they are the valid holder of it. This program cost an incredible amount of fund while the vulnerabilities of airport and aircraft access may increase (Thomas,2003 1). However, this wouldn’t help to stop the terrorist from gaining access to secure areas. This is because a professional terrorist may not posses any existing criminal records. And may succeed in earning Trusted Traveller status.

Use of Biometrics
Biometrics is used of technology that measures and statistically analysing biological data (Thomas,2003 1). Due to the inadequate security standards and procedures across the nations, many have lead to poor enforcement of the application of this form of security. Biometrics seldom addresses the issue of airport and aircraft access to employees, it is because employees usually enter in a group which only required one individual’s finger print or biometric card and an individual with harmful intent may enter along with the group pretending to be one of them. It increases the burden and cost to airports, air carriers and passengers.

Inadequate training for Flight Crews
Every cabin crew is required a minimum of 17 hours in physical training on defensive techniques to protect themselves. Instead, many have discovered that the defensive training is about a 2 hrs duration of watching DVD (Thomas,2003 1).

Ineffective Global Security Standards
Under the provision of ICAO annex 17; all contracting countries should establish its own security system regarding to the standards defined in Annex 17 in order to maintain the prevention negative actions and terrorism from affecting the aviation. Many airports maintain the minimum level of security so as to meet the required standards because most of these do not place security as a priority and choose to focus other activities.

Hardened Cockpit doors
It is an expensive implementation where most governments and airlines aren’t convinced to spend the available fund on it. Regardless if the cockpit door is being hardened by reinforce steel and being bullet proof, a professional terrorist can easily observe the flight crew’s duty schedule and rush into the cockpit when it is opened taking control of the aircraft once the he is inside.

Joint Terrorism Task Force
Although Terrorism Task Force is formed by members from FBI and other Law Enforcement units, it also can be formed by any individual who is interested in aviation security in the community/region (Thomas,2003 1). Individual with harmful intent can easily get into the system with minimum effort, obtaining data on security strengths and weaknesses.

No Fly list and Passenger Pre screening
CAPPS I & CAPPS II were used in pre screening passengers and flag passengers according to their backgrounds, names, ethnicities, criminal records into different level of risk (Thomas,2003 1). No fly list has created numerous mistakes such as categorising non suspicious passenger in wrong level of risk. The occurrence of this is due to the system have set to flag names that are being spelt or sound similar to Middle Eastern and Southern Asian. It has created many inconveniences at the airport security process and increased the negative satisfaction from passengers. However, individual with harmful intent may not necessarily fit the profile of a terrorist

Behaviour Detection Officers
BDOs are being placed in the check point to observe passenger’s physical and physiological behaviours. This cannot be 100% reliable due to there are people who associate with aerophobia, they might sweat more than the others, avoiding eyes contact or even muscles tension during the boarding period and physically feeling odd. A Professional terrorist is well trained in avoid being caught in this layer.

Checked baggage
Employees or anyone within the security system can smuggle anything into any passenger’s checked luggage, by passing the screening layer. also, baggage screening technology is not advanced enough to detect ALL forms of improvised explosive devices and some might slip by undetected.

Random Employee Screening
It is only a RANDOM screening, not all employees are screened before they work. In most case, they need to have a 5 years background check before they are being employed into the position where they are working (Thomas,2003 1). However, it is only a 5 years background check and evidence which may point toward harmful intent may be beyond that.

Federal Air marshal Service
This program has been criticised as the most ‘useless’ layer among the other security layers. The aim of it is to have a trained air marshal personnel on board to detect and prevent terrorism occur during the flight. Since the demand of air marshals are increasingly high, hence the training standards have been decreased in order to accommodate the “quota” to the government. It is expensive. Especially many are under trained which can easily expose their identity to passengers. In addition, many are unable to detect a terrorist hiding among the passengers.

Passenger on site screening
Many terrorist attacks including 9/11, North West Flight 243 have been successful due to the failure of the passenger screen system in detecting and identifying potential threat. For instant, Explosives detection systems
TSA have purchased thousands of EDS in meeting the governments’ security standard. EDS detects density objects and produces three dimensional images to the screen, however, it is incapable to detect chemical substances. It often triggers the false alarm which really depends on whether the operator’s judgement (Thomas,2003 1). These operators usually got trained to observe prohibited items in areas where they defined fixated of a baggage. When false alarm occurs, it will cause the entire checkpoint progress being delayed. However, if operator miss check a suspicious baggage which the real weapons or chemicals being carried. It may lead to a serious terrorism.

Risk analysis

Risk and human errors can happen in anyplace, anytime and they are irregular. It is an uncertainty that affects our welfare and loss (Thomas,2003 1). In order to improve the current security system in aviation, risk analysis is essential to identify the risk level within the specific environment and ensure appropriate strategies being implemented and managed risk. A thorough understanding must be developed and publicised to the community; educate people with the importance of having aviation security in the nations. It is an ongoing process that requires continuous developments and improvements in order to properly managed the uncertainties of risk in aviation.

1. Thomas, A.R. (2003). Aviation Insecurity-The New Challenges of Air Travel. Retrieved on 20th July, 2010

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