Right after the September 11th attacks, I was part of a team that conducted some terrorism training for all personnel at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts. The Terrorism Research Center’s (TRC) Aviation Security team would later conduct our Global Threats to Aviation at a number of airports across the United States. Participants in the training were taught to understand that the while airports have secured areas terrorist attacks could be launched or conducted in the pre-secured areas as well as teaching how terrorists have attack the aviation segment of transportation.
I always think back to the first flight I made out of BWI Airport after September 11th. On that day, BWI Airport had heavy security at all the security checkpoints manned by private security, law enforcement and even National Guard troops. But what bothered me as I lined up with hundreds of travelers backed up awaiting our turn to show our identification and have our carry-on bags checked was that in this area security was almost nonexistent. I say nonexistent hoping that there were some undercover officers screening travelers but as I looked around there were none. Every once and a while an unarmed private security officer would make the rounds telling everyone to move forward in the long line. Law enforcement officers and security personnel need to screen people arriving, parking, and being dropped off in taxis and other forms of transportation at the airports. But this effort requires additional personnel and airports are all about profits and keeping the flying customers happy.
One of the lessons TRC imparts in our training is that terrorists used different types of containers and deception to lull security into a false sense of security. Over 2500 years ago Sun Tzu wrote in the Art of War that “all war is deception.” The terrorists who attacked the Brussels airport and the Maelbeek Metro Station used deception. After being dropped off at the airport by a taxi cab the terrorist got three luggage push carts. Ibrahim El Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui loaded their heavy luggage (bombs) on the cart looking like any other traveler. Using deception was a key part of their plan. The only abnormal thing was that the two suicide bombers had a black glove on their left hands. We have seen suicide bombers disguise their bombs in numerous types of containers. Luggage, backpacks, cassette radios, shoe bomb, underwear bomb, camera bomb, printer bomb, sports drink bomb (Liquid Explosives) bicycle bombs, watermelon bomb, car bombs, truck bombs, and even a birdcage bomb are all examples of how terrorists have used deception. The global threat to aviation continues and ISIS now reminds us once again that deception is a key element in launching these attacks. Luggage is just one of many “containers” that suicide bombers can use to execute a suicide bombing.