Special Access

The ramblings and ruminations of suspense-thriller novelist, Mark A. Hewitt

Month: March 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

Of Course Jihadis are Working at Airports; are you kidding me?

The headline on Breitbart Jerusalem: Top Jihadist Claims Islamic State Has Agents Working in Western Airports. Directly from Tel Aviv – The Islamic State has agents working in Western airports, metro stations and “very sensitive facilities in the world,” a leading Islamic State-allied militant claimed, in an exclusive interview.

If you read some of my earlier posts, you’ll find I’m been on the front end of this idea that wanna-be jihadis seek out and “find work at airports.” In Shoot Down, Duncan Hunter goes through the airport and is on the lookout for Muslims working at critical positions in the passenger screening process. He knew it was relatively easy to get a weapon aboard an airplane. But you needed a little help.

From Shoot Down:
“As he approached the expansive but narrow screening facility, Duncan Hunter pulled his rollerboard to the side and quietly observed the screening process. In a previous life, Hunter had been the general manager of a contracted airport security firm at the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. When traveling alone, Hunter usually took a few minutes to watch the screening personnel; the x-ray screeners, the magnetometer guards, and the supervisors. He was always conscious that it was very easy to smuggle a weapon aboard an airplane. If you had a little help.

Just over ten years ago, as some of the 9/11 hijackers were still airborne, Hunter had called his friend and mentor, Greg Lynche, and immediately identified the method by which the terrorists were able to get their weapons aboard the airplanes. The pre-board screener—the person at the x-ray machine—had purposely ignored the weapons in the terrorist’s carry-on bags as they went through the x-ray machine. On that day, screeners at eight airports had all looked up from their x-ray monitors to see who was in line during a designated period, a window of transit. Hunter had also identified the group behind the infiltration of the airport screening process. A dedicated group of Muslims had manned every x-ray machine at every one of the airports where hijacked aircraft had departed. At the Boston and New York airports where hijacked aircraft had departed, every one of the Muslim screeners were relieved from their screening assignment and disappeared, immediately after the hijackers were safely on the screened or “sterile” side of the concourse. During the post 9/11 investigation, the FBI fanned out across dozens of American airports and was stunned to see weapons of all sorts on video tape, passing through the x-ray machines without being stopped by the pre-board screener. Six airports were noteworthy. Middle Eastern looking screeners allowed Middle Eastern men to pass through with knives and box cutters in their baggage. Once the men had passed through the concourse checkpoint, every one of the screeners disappeared from the airports.

Satisfied the screening process was unremarkably average; Hunter retrieved his bags and jumped into the rat’s maze disguised as passenger control. Minutes later, on the other side of the x-ray machines and metal detectors, Duncan Hunter continued his way down the concourse toward his departure gate. Had he waited an additional ten minutes, Hunter would have observed some curious activities at the x-ray machine he just monitored.

Five minutes after Duncan Hunter had passed through the airport security checkpoint, a woman at one of the x-ray machines began to check her watch repeatedly and surreptitiously glanced up from her monitor to look for certain faces in the passenger control lanes, before they placed their bags on the x-ray conveyor belt. Once the x-ray operator identified the six men in the security queue, she began to focus intently on her x-ray monitor screen. She never looked up until well after all the men had passed through the walk-through magnetometer and retrieved their bags from the x-ray machine. Several more minutes passed as some twenty passengers worked their way through the metal detector and baggage screening when the female x-ray operator suddenly turned to her supervisor and asked to be relieved. The tall supervisor snapped his fingers and motioned for a young man to replace the woman at the x-ray machine. The woman adjusted her head scarf slightly and slid out of the chair. She turned toward the supervisor, thanked him and nodded in appreciation. She stole a glace down the concourse, turned toward the ticketing area and departed the checkpoint, never to return.”

In the U.S., there is a reason the government federalized the airport passenger screening process. It was a broken process on the 11th of September, with contract personnel, poorly screened and willing to work for minimum wage. They didn’t take the jobs for the money or the opportunity, they sought out and (sometimes) found work in airports. A half-dozen GAO studies highlighted the problems with contract screening. The unclassified volume of the 9-11 report is strangely silent on the role the screeners played, other than some vague “we asked them and they didn’t see anything strange or different.” Of course we have no access to the classified volume.

Now we hear the Islamic State has agents working in Western airports, metro stations and “very sensitive facilities in the world.” Jihadis have had an infatuation with airplanes and airports going back to the 1970s. The world’s airports have made it very difficult for the terrorist groups to get a weapon aboard an aircraft and to hijack airplanes. If thwarted by security, it wouldn’t take long for someone to recognize that the inside of airport terminals can be just as crowded as the inside of a jumbo jet.

Tel Aviv and Baghdad have the most aggressive airport security procedures in place to ensure passenger flights are as safe as possible. American and European airports will soon be replicating their (Tel Aviv and Baghdad) three rings of security to ensure airplanes, airports, workers and passengers can work and travel in the safest way possible.

More to follow.

Today’s Headlines and my Article, You Think Privatizing the TSA is a Good Idea? You’re not paying Attention.

Yesterday I posted a headline from the Daily Mail, a British newspaper. “Did bomber brothers work as cleaners at Brussels Airport? Prosecutors probe claims jihadis took jobs that gave them intimate knowledge of the terminal they destroyed.”

There is a repetitive theme in the Hunter books in that our intrepid hero, Duncan Hunter, has intimate knowledge of the inner workings of a major airport, from his time as the general manager at the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. And when something truly odd occurs on his watch, he handled it in the only way he knew how–he didn’t bend the rules and didn’t give them a job.

From my Article, published by American Thinker, early March 2016.

You Think Privatizing the TSA is a Good Idea?

Anyone who has passed through an airport recently has experienced the vicissitudes of one of the new post-September 11th institutions, known as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The TSA’s official mission is to protect the nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce. We know it as government-provided airport security, and by-and-large, we are not too happy with the TSA. Destructive articles highlighting children being strip searched, little old ladies being harassed, and the molestation of beauty queens, under the pretext they require “additional screening,” as well as countless other horror stories that have peppered newspapers across the country have not served the image of TSA very well not the travelling public.

Of course, it wasn’t always like that. Air carriers, or “the airlines,” used to be responsible for the security of their passengers. After several high-profile hijackings in the late 1960s (D.B. Cooper, et al), terrorist threats (hijackers threatened to fly Southern Airways Flight 49 into a nuclear reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory) and terrorist attacks (e.g., a bomb on PanAm Flight 103 killed 270 passengers), the Federal Aviation Administration required in 1973 that all airlines would screen passengers and their carry-on baggage. Airport security and passenger screening were not core competencies of airlines. The airlines, in turn, contracted the government-mandated screening functions to private security companies. Private companies bid on those contracts.

In 1994, I was the general manager of one of those private security companies, at the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. My company provided passenger screening, skycaps, wheelchair assistants, and a few other contracted services for the eight airlines that operated from the airport. My “pre-board screeners” performed the same “screening” functions—magnetometer, X-ray machine, hand-held metal detectors—as the TSA does today.

There’s many reasons pre-September 11th airport screening was less invasive and comprehensive than what we experience with today’s TSA. My 200 employees were paid the minimum wage; supervisors received a little more. Employee turnover (during some months) approached 300%. The contract was a losing proposition financially, month over month. My company had to provide uniforms, conduct mandatory ten-year FAA background investigations, and schedule and pay for mandatory FAA drug tests. For every ten applicants, one would be able to pass the background investigation and drug test—then a week later, I’d lose them when they took a job at the McDonalds on the concourse. Minimum wage plus a nickel.

It was a revolving door—for every five employees that came in, five employees headed out. Employees missed some of the easiest operational test pieces—pistols look only like pistols, not hair curlers—that passed through the X-ray machine. Fail an FAA test and you were escorted to the door; I’d mail them their check.

One day, over twenty Muslim men in kufis and women in hijabs showed up at our airport office to fill out applications. My day and night shift managers thought they had died and gone to Heaven—potential new employees motivated to work for minimum wage—and there were over twenty of them. While we scheduled and paid for mandatory FAA drug tests (at $75 a pop), not a single one of the near two dozen Muslim men and women were able to pass the background check. Reason: No employment history; no real references other than the same person on twenty-plus applications who answered the telephone at an Islamic center. The FAA didn’t approve a single applicant. Several of the Muslim men who had applied for a pre-board screener position, returned to the airport and complained bitterly that they were not given employment. That was a first and the episode set my curiosity afire for months.

Then September 11, 2001 occurred. From the 9/11 Commission Report: Four men passed through the security checkpoint, owned by United Airlines and operated under contract by Argenbright Security. Like the checkpoints in Boston, it lacked closed-circuit television surveillance so there is no documentary evidence to indicate when the hijackers passed through the checkpoint, what alarms may have been triggered, or what security procedures were administered. The FAA interviewed the screeners later; none recalled anything unusual or suspicious.

The 9/11 Commission Report was virtually silent on how weapons were transferred from the “non-sterile side” of the airport, through the security checkpoint to the “sterile side” of the concourse. From the 9/11 Commission Report: Checkpoint screening was considered the most important and obvious layer of security. Walk-through metal detectors and X-ray machines operated by trained screeners were employed to stop prohibited items. Numerous government reports indicated that checkpoints performed poorly, often failing to detect even obvious FAA test items. Many deadly and dangerous items did not set off metal detectors, or were hard to distinguish in an X-ray machine from innocent everyday items. (Italics mine) 9/11 Commission investigators asked a screening expert to review the videotape of the hand-wanding, and he found the quality of the screener’s work to have been “marginal at best.” The screener should have “resolved” what set off the alarm; and in the case of both Moqed and Hazmi, it was clear that he did not.

How did the weapons get through the checkpoint? Did the persons who performed “hand-wanding” in two airports really failed to resolve what set off the first magnetometer alarm and the secondary “hand-wanding?” Or, did the screeners sitting behind the X-ray machine ignore what was in a string of baggage? Even today’s headlines report screeners perform poorly and fail to detect even obvious FAA test items. I trained on the X-ray machine—it is hard to distinguish potential weapons from innocent everyday items.

The episode of Muslim men and women seeking airport security positions, and then complaining that they were not given a job, always made me a little uneasy. It was more than odd; it was a little suspicious. While I thought there just had to be “more to it” I didn’t have time nor was I motivated to investigate further. I had a marvelous relationship with the airport police, and I didn’t say anything. What was there to discuss? Some obscure feeling? Was I an Islamophobe? I was left with the reality that they didn’t get the job and the episode was soon forgotten. But the feeling that I had witnessed something ethereal and not well defined, like seeing a Bigfoot hiding behind a tree, wouldn’t go away. In my novels, when discussing the events of September 11, I have hijab-wearing women behind the X-ray machines where they ignored the obvious weapons that showed up distinctively in the X-ray images.

The weakest link in the airport security chain was a contracted position that paid minimum wage, and the typical pre-board screener was entirely indifferent to doing a good job—to detect weapons or explosives out of a mess of other shapes and images. This was a year after the 1993 first World Trade Center bombing. Then September 11th occurred and in my mind, a former general manager for a contracted airport security company, a former trained aircraft accident investigator, and a college professor for an aviation university teaching aviation history and aviation terrorism, I was convinced I knew exactly what had happened at two airports and what had happened aboard four hijacked jets.

I would ask my students, “Why did the U.S. government feel compelled to immediately federalize the checkpoint screening process, ‘the most important and obvious layer of security?’” Just as Mohamed Atta and his murderous friends breached the cockpit doors and hijacked the aircraft of September 11, did someone also breach the most important and obvious layer of airport security, the pre-board screener? Were there sympathetic pre-board screeners in Boston and New York who ignored the X-ray images of weapons on September 11th?
The 9/11 Commission reported that in 1998, the FBI assessed the potential use of flight training by terrorists and in 2000, the Phoenix electronic communication of 2001, warned of radical Middle Easterners attending flight school. There was no discussion on how the September 11th terrorists were able to smuggle weapons aboard four aircraft with the exception of a vague excuse that the contract screeners were notoriously poor at their job and they missed countless training aids and decoys.

We all want to be safe when we fly. Those that advocate for replacing the TSA and return to the pre-9/11 standard of privately contracted airport security argue that the TSA seems to be an agency that is out of control and that they do not answer to anyone. That they have a job to do, that they don’t care how intrusive or offensive or ridiculous their procedures are.

In my world, any private airport security provider would be worse than the heavily regulated TSA. The problem with the TSA is one of political correctness. Profiling is a bad word. Everyone has to be punished equally. This isn’t an issue of the government compelling a security company to establish minimum standards and criteria for airport security; the airlines and the FAA had a long track record of doing just that, from 1973.

The aviation world is a much nastier place than it was in 1973. If we cannot break the moratorium on profiling terrorists in favor of safer air travel instead of strip searching, harassing, or molesting children, little old ladies, and beauty queens, then let me leave you with this image. Private airport security providers would return to the days of half-hearted FAA background investigations and minimum wage employees. And with that, I can assure you, you’ll trade a little convenience as your safety gets tossed out the window. There is a phrase in the military lexicon, “Inside the wire” where civilians and military are within the confines of a protective wall or fence at a camp or a forward operations base. In this day of international terrorism, where a terroristic or militant group seeks to find and exploit the weakest link in a security setting, the next time you go through an airport and think the TSA is horrible, instead, imagine the Muslim Brotherhood or the Black Panthers have weaseled their way “inside the wire” and are manning the airport security checkpoint.

So when we find that the jihadis that blew up the Brussels airport were reportedly working in the airport as “cleaners,” casing “the joint” for a ton of mayhem. They didn’t have to be able to “get dangerous items through to the sterile side” of the airport–to get weapons through the checkpoint undetected–they obviously found that nut was a little harder to crack. But they could find work on the concourse in one of the concessionaires–serving up halal food, for example–or ever work as a janitor or “a cleaner.” Once they are allowed inside the wire, they are in.

More to follow.

Today’s Headlines and the Duncan Hunter Books; Jihadis Working at the Airport?

From the Daily Mail, a British newspaper. Did bomber brothers work as cleaners at Brussels Airport? Prosecutors probe claims jihadis took jobs that gave them intimate knowledge of the terminal they destroyed

This idea that wanna-be jihadis easily “find work at airports” should be a chilling thought and when the time comes for them to “perform,” they start a chain reaction of events that lead to the murder of many innocents. I discussed and highlighted this curious observation (jihadis finding work at airports) in Special Access, Shoot Down, and No Need to Know.

From Special Access:
“I know how they did it.” Hunter’s voice was forceful but hushed. He called Greg Lynche two minutes after watching the second 767 fly into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

“Good morning to you too. What do you mean you know how they did it? No one knows anything yet, at least no is saying anything. This is unbelievable” as he continued to monitor the live television feed of, now, both of the Twin Towers burning.

“Greg, I don’t know anyone at the FBI but I think you might know someone.”

“Hunter, you’re scaring me again” spoken half-heartedly.

“Here’s the deal, those two airplanes had to be hijacked and New York is just one target—Washington has to be next. Then maybe Chicago and LA but there are going to be more of these. I know how they did it and the guys that helped facilitate the hijackings were Muslim pre-board screeners at the departure airports. There will be significant chaos and I doubt the FBI will be able to do it quickly but if they don’t they will lose contact with the accomplices and the evidence will all be erased.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa…..slow down, what are you trying to say?”

“Greg, the only way to get a weapon aboard an airplane so you can highjack it is if the pre-board screener—the guy sitting at the x-ray machine on the concourse—either doesn’t catch a weapon in someone’s hand carry baggage when it comes through the machine or if the pre-board screener is in on it from the get-go and is told to ignore anything coming through the x-ray machine, say from 8:30 to 9:00. Hell, they can even look up from their screen and see who is in line and is on their way to their x-ray machine. It is probably too late to do anything but this is what the investigators are going to find…..”

Lynche was writing wildly—when Hunter got into one of these outpourings of consciousness, he knew he needed to take notes and hang on. They would talk about it later.

“….a group of Muslims were manning the x-ray machines at every one of the airport concourses that the hijacked aircraft departed from. And if the FBI doesn’t tell all the airports to lock down all passengers and get airport security to secure every one of their surveillance tapes—and especially the four-channels which shows what is inside the x-ray machine and who is coming through the magnetometer—they will lose the data on those tapes. You’ll see after this has all settled down that a fairly large cadre of Muslims, Islamists, got those little minimum wage jobs and quietly worked their way into the job as an x-ray machine operator and supervisors; someone who could move people around and change schedules.”
“… and was told to ignore anything that went through the x-ray machine during a certain window of opportunity….”

“Yes Sir. If we ever find out, I’m afraid what those tapes will show is maybe one person got a gun through while the others—because this has to be a multi-person mission—have knives or even—what do they call those things with the razor blades with a handle?”

More to follow.
Special Access full cover

It’s Done. Book Four.

Tentative title: Blown Cover. Now it’s off to the Publication Review Board then my proofreaders and editors.

The continuing saga of Duncan Hunter and Nazy Cunningham continues!


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Questions: Where do you get your Ideas?

At a lunch gathering of old retired Marine Corps colonels, where one gentleman asserted he enjoyed my book but had a couple of questions. “what are you reading?” and “Where do you get your ideas?”

I haven’t had the pleasure of reading for fun in quite a while. It seems I’m always researching. If I’m reading, I’m researching. And I cannot shut off my brain when I’m writing. I’m trying to work out a problem–say, how do you break into the cockpit door of a commercial airliner when the doors are now “post-9/11 and impenetrable.” In book four, Duncan Hunter finds the cockpit crew unconscious and needs to get in to save the day. I eventually came up with a solution that would make MacGyver proud.

But if I was in a particular situation, what would I do? As I explained the prologue to my friendly Marine colonel, he smiled and called me a “devious bastard.” I considered being labeled a “devious bastard” the ultimate compliment. In the case of book one, Special Access, I took the situation surrounding our President, where he has systematically sequestered all of his records (scholastic, health, passport, travel, tax document, etc) and using some of that “devious bastard” stuff, I came up with, “There’s a CIA file that proves the President is not who he claims to be.” He spent three million dollars to hide his records “from the public” (really, his political enemies) but the CIA had their own set of records–a huge case file–on him. He couldn’t get to those records until he became President. But he didn’t get them, the CIA Director blackmails the President with a “partial file.” The heroes of my books–Nazy Cunningham finds the whole file, spirits it out of CIA HQ, and Duncan Hunter releases it.

Devious bastard, indeed!
Special Access full cover
More to follow.

TV Headline–Meagan Kelly to Interview Duncan Hunter

Readers of the Duncan Hunter Novels know there is an actual San Diego Congressman named Duncan Hunter. The protagonist of Special Access, Shoot Down, and No Need to Know is really “Drue Duncan Hunter” but goes by Duncan Hunter or by his Marine Corps call sign–Maverick. Congressman Hunter can sit down for a back rub and a toe tug with the prime time anchorette, but you’ll never find the counter-terrorism expert in front of a camera, on headline news. From time to time, he does sit down with a certain war correspondent for dinner or an interview–when he’s not being shot at.

From No Need to Know:
“I guess it was last week that I had someone try to kill me, from…a bike.” Hunter stared straight ahead and checked his mirrors. He was beginning to detest motorcycles. No threat but that was weird.

His comment stunned Eastwood, who fought for words and struggled to ask a coherent question. He finally blurted out, “What do you mean someone tried to kill you?”

“He’s coming back,” said Hunter, nodding toward the windshield. Eastwood’s head snapped to the front. Hunter wasn’t sure if it was the same motorcycle or another one. The rider was hunched behind the windscreen and closing fast. What had been dark fuzzy point at a distance quickly turned to brighter shades of green when a machine pistol emerged from behind the windscreen and began to spit rounds. Hunter immediately swerved into the motorcyclist’s lane, a spontaneous and undeclared game of “chicken.” The motorcycle swerved onto the road’s shoulder and sped past them. The biker wasn’t able to discern if the bullets found the windshield and didn’t know thick armor plating protected the radiator.

Eastwood saw the familiar flashes spit from the weapon and fell to the floor to get out of the line of fire. Hunter stayed steady at the wheel; he flinched as each bullet hit the glass directly in front of him. With each hit, his confidence grew that the surrounding armor was protecting them. His eyes darted from mirror to glass; assessing and planning as the motorcycle shot passed them and braked heavily. Hunter mashed the gas pedal and sped toward town, trying to put as much distance between him and the motorcycle.

The cyclist skidded to a power slide turning stop and, pulling the bike up on one wheel as it accelerated, raced back to the big black truck with extraordinary speed. The man on the motorbike released the long magazine and reloaded the MAC-10, and with 50 MPH of closure speed, the distance between the two vehicles shrank in seconds. The motorcyclist surprised Hunter as he steered the bike onto the road’s shoulder to approach the passenger side of the truck. As the two vehicles hurtled at 100 MPH, side by side, the cyclist struggled with the recoil as he again raked the Hummer with automatic fire. Nine millimeter bullets slammed against the truck’s armored metalwork and with each round, they reverberated loudly inside the truck. The high-powered spent energy of each bullet created an echo chamber inside the Hummer. The cyclist emptied his pistol but couldn’t comprehend why the drive and passenger weren’t dead. Then he realized he was in trouble.
Hunter had monitored the situation with the cyclist on the passenger side of the vehicle and had gently eased the big truck to the right, and onto the road’s shoulder. The maneuver forced the cyclist to steer out of the way and brake to avoid hitting the truck. Hunter eased the trajectory of the H2 even further onto shoulder of the roadbed. As the cyclist tried to steer away from the encroaching truck, he looked ahead and froze as a dark telephone pole filled his helmet visor.

Hunter and Eastwood heard the motorcycle hit the thick wooden pole dead center. At 100 MPH, the impact of the Ninja broke the pole in two; the cyclist’s died instantly as his face splattered against the dark creosote-covered timber. Hunter braced himself and crushed the brake pedal; the four tires stopped turning and the truck skidded to a smoky stop. Eastwood held on tightly to grip handles as he watched the scene unfold; Hunter’s intensity and focus did not waver. Almost before the speedometer needle fell to ‘zero,’ Hunter slapped the automatic gearshift handle into reverse and mashed the gas pedal. The power of all 700 horses under the hood was transferred to the drivetrain as all four tires spun in the opposite direction, digging into the rough rock-covered asphalt. He backed up to the scene of the impact. He flipped the gearshift lever into park, pulled a Kimber .45 pistol from under the dash, and jumped out of the truck. Eastwood turned to see what Hunter was doing, but the window glass around the H2 was like frosted glass—too pocked from bullets and spider cracks to see through. After a few seconds, Hunter jumped back into the Hummer and handed Eastwood a MAC-10 machine pistol. “I think that’s all of it except the spent brass.”

The old colonel pointed the weapon toward the floorboard and removed the magazine. He kept his fingers away from the unfamiliar weapon and struggled to ensure the MAC-10 was unloaded. As they reached the edge of the town of Fredericksburg, Hunter slowed the H2 to the posted speed limit. The men didn’t talk as they drove down the town’s main drag. The adrenaline spike of being shot at had flooded their systems and they worked to calm their breathing and heart rates.

The former fighter pilot lives a much more exciting life than the former grunt officer.
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More to follow.

Another Headline and the Duncan Hunter Books–Anti-Aircraft Missiles

From the Independent: Muhammar Gaddafi’s Anti-Aircraft Missiles Are Falling Into The Hands Of Jihadists…. Deep in the Sahara, in the sunbaked Libyan town of Sabha, a ragtag group of gunmen agreed to show Timothy Michetti their most prized weapons. Mr. Michetti, an experienced investigator for a London-based company that tracks the sources of small arms in conflict zones, travelled there on a hunch. Local fighters, he reckoned, may have some of the shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles that disappeared when rebels ousted the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. In the sweltering heat, the gunmen unveiled a small arsenal: four Russian-made SA-7 missiles and two later models of the SA-16 variety. The heat-seeking missiles are capable of shooting down a civilian airliner.

From Shoot Down:
The smell of paint and plastic became more intense as long olive green shipping cases came into view. Navy SEALs are difficult to impress but McGee was speechless. Illuminated by the handhelds, McGee recognized rows and stacks of shipping containers containing man-portable shoulder-launched anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles; as far as his flashlight beam could reach. There has to be hundreds if not thousands of missiles down here! The sellers and the CIA men continue to talk but stopped walking and stood as McGee walked along one side of stacks of Russian “Strela-2” missile containers. The numbers of missile shipping cases would have made a six-foot deep by six-foot high wall for a gymnasium. He said, “SA-7 Grails on this side; old British Blowpipes and Javelins, and a few new Starstreaks.” Further down into the dark he crossed over to the other wall of weapons. An even greater wall of shipping containers disappeared into the dark. “Over here are some French Mistrals and American Stingers.” When the State Department and the CIA deployed contractors, primarily former Navy SEALS, to go into Libya and track down shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, few were found on the battlefield. No one had been prepared for what was hiding underground. The CIA officers knew they hadn’t brought enough money. McGee thought, trying to count and derive a rough estimate of the numbers of Stingers, How is this even possible?

Known as man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADS, intelligence sources had long feared thousands of the shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles could have been looted from Libyan military installations across the country. With the fall of the Soviet Union, hundreds of SA-7 Grails found their way onto the black market. And like Libya, with the collapse of the regime dozens of CIA officers and their contractors rushed to the old Soviet bases to buy their MANPADS, nuclear weapons, and classified information. And like the former Soviet Union, after the fall of Colonel Gadhafi, U.S. officials were concerned the MANPADS could fall into the hands of terrorists, creating a threat to commercial aviation and airliners. With Gadhafi gone the U.S. would be in a race to find Gadhafi’s MANPADS, then buy them and destroy them before al-Qaeda and the Jihad’s Brothers in Arms could start a bidding war, or worse. Sellers could be al-Qaeda or Jihad’s Brothers in Arms sympathizers and could just turn them over by the hundreds. But generally, in a cash-and-carry post-apocalyptic economy, money talked and al-Qaeda and the Jihad’s Brothers in Arms couldn’t compete with the millions of dollars appropriated for the special access buyback program. The CIA’s intel believed there were no more than a couple of hundred MANPADS in Libya. Again, their intel was grossly wrong as over 1,000 containers were laid before McGee’s eyes.

The buyback operation was classified at the highest level of classification. Buyback was the one of few black programs Administration officials would never reveal or leak the details. Regular U.S. ground forces were insufficient for the job as they didn’t have the necessary clearances or training. Your basic Marine Corps infantryman would be unfamiliar with the Stinger anti-aircraft missile. U.S. Special Operations Forces with their top secret clearances and comprehensive training were experts with all makes and models of weapons—handguns, machine guns, RPGs—to include a comprehensive knowledge of all international makes and models of anti-aircraft missiles.

Shoot Down full cover

More to follow.

You Think Privatizing the TSA is a Good Idea?

My article at AmericanThinker.com

Anyone who has passed through an airport recently has experienced the vicissitudes of one of the new post-September 11th institutions, known as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The TSA’s official mission is to protect the nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce. We know it as government-provided airport security, and by-and-large, we are not too happy with the TSA. Destructive articles highlighting children being strip searched, little old ladies being harassed, and the molestation of beauty queens, under the pretext they require “additional screening,” as well as countless other horror stories that have peppered newspapers across the country have not served the image of TSA very well not the travelling public.

Of course, it wasn’t always like that. Air carriers, or “the airlines,” used to be responsible for the security of their passengers. After several high-profile hijackings in the late 1960s (D.B. Cooper, et al), terrorist threats (hijackers threatened to fly Southern Airways Flight 49 into a nuclear reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory) and terrorist attacks (e.g., a bomb on PanAm Flight 103 killed 270 passengers), the Federal Aviation Administration required in 1973 that all airlines would screen passengers and their carry-on baggage. Airport security and passenger screening were not core competencies of airlines. The airlines, in turn, contracted the government-mandated screening functions to private security companies. Private companies bid on those contracts.

In 1994, I was the general manager of one of those private security companies, at the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. My company provided passenger screening, skycaps, wheelchair assistants, and a few other contracted services for the eight airlines that operated from the airport. My “pre-board screeners” performed the same “screening” functions—magnetometer, X-ray machine, hand-held metal detectors—as the TSA does today.

There’s many reasons pre-September 11th airport screening was less invasive and comprehensive than what we experience with today’s TSA. My 200 employees were paid the minimum wage; supervisors received a little more. Employee turnover (during some months) approached 300%. The contract was a losing proposition financially, month over month. My company had to provide uniforms, conduct mandatory ten-year FAA background investigations, and schedule and pay for mandatory FAA drug tests. For every ten applicants, one would be able to pass the background investigation and drug test—then a week later, I’d lose them when they took a job at the McDonalds on the concourse. Minimum wage plus a nickel.

It was a revolving door—for every five employees that came in, five employees headed out. Employees missed some of the easiest operational test pieces—pistols look only like pistols, not hair curlers—that passed through the X-ray machine. Fail an FAA test and you were escorted to the door; I’d mail them their check.

One day, over twenty Muslim men in kufis and women in hijabs showed up at our airport office to fill out applications. My day and night shift managers thought they had died and gone to Heaven—potential new employees motivated to work for minimum wage—and there were over twenty of them. While we scheduled and paid for mandatory FAA drug tests (at $75 a pop), not a single one of the near two dozen Muslim men and women were able to pass the background check. Reason: No employment history; no real references other than the same person on twenty-plus applications who answered the telephone at an Islamic center. The FAA didn’t approve a single applicant. Several of the Muslim men who had applied for a pre-board screener position, returned to the airport and complained bitterly that they were not given employment. That was a first and the episode set my curiosity afire for months.

Then September 11, 2001 occurred. From the 9/11 Commission Report: Four men passed through the security checkpoint, owned by United Airlines and operated under contract by Argenbright Security. Like the checkpoints in Boston, it lacked closed-circuit television surveillance so there is no documentary evidence to indicate when the hijackers passed through the checkpoint, what alarms may have been triggered, or what security procedures were administered. The FAA interviewed the screeners later; none recalled anything unusual or suspicious.

The 9/11 Commission Report was virtually silent on how weapons were transferred from the “non-sterile side” of the airport, through the security checkpoint to the “sterile side” of the concourse. From the 9/11 Commission Report: Checkpoint screening was considered the most important and obvious layer of security. Walk-through metal detectors and X-ray machines operated by trained screeners were employed to stop prohibited items. Numerous government reports indicated that checkpoints performed poorly, often failing to detect even obvious FAA test items. Many deadly and dangerous items did not set off metal detectors, or were hard to distinguish in an X-ray machine from innocent everyday items. (Italics mine) 9/11 Commission investigators asked a screening expert to review the videotape of the hand-wanding, and he found the quality of the screener’s work to have been “marginal at best.” The screener should have “resolved” what set off the alarm; and in the case of both Moqed and Hazmi, it was clear that he did not.

How did the weapons get through the checkpoint? Did the persons who performed “hand-wanding” in two airports really failed to resolve what set off the first magnetometer alarm and the secondary “hand-wanding?” Or, did the screeners sitting behind the X-ray machine ignore what was in a string of baggage? Even today’s headlines report screeners perform poorly and fail to detect even obvious FAA test items. I trained on the X-ray machine—it is hard to distinguish potential weapons from innocent everyday items.

The episode of Muslim men and women seeking airport security positions, and then complaining that they were not given a job, always made me a little uneasy. It was more than odd; it was a little suspicious. While I thought there just had to be “more to it” I didn’t have time nor was I motivated to investigate further. I had a marvelous relationship with the airport police, and I didn’t say anything. What was there to discuss? Some obscure feeling? Was I an Islamophobe? I was left with the reality that they didn’t get the job and the episode was soon forgotten. But the feeling that I had witnessed something ethereal and not well defined, like seeing a Bigfoot hiding behind a tree, wouldn’t go away. In my novels, when discussing the events of September 11, I have hijab-wearing women behind the X-ray machines where they ignored the obvious weapons that showed up distinctively in the X-ray images.

The weakest link in the airport security chain was a contracted position that paid minimum wage, and the typical pre-board screener was entirely indifferent to doing a good job—to detect weapons or explosives out of a mess of other shapes and images. This was a year after the 1993 first World Trade Center bombing. Then September 11th occurred and in my mind, a former general manager for a contracted airport security company, a former trained aircraft accident investigator, and a college professor for an aviation university teaching aviation history and aviation terrorism, I was convinced I knew exactly what had happened at two airports and what had happened aboard four hijacked jets.

I would ask my students, “Why did the U.S. government feel compelled to immediately federalize the checkpoint screening process, ‘the most important and obvious layer of security?’” Just as Mohamed Atta and his murderous friends breached the cockpit doors and hijacked the aircraft of September 11, did someone also breach the most important and obvious layer of airport security, the pre-board screener? Were there sympathetic pre-board screeners in Boston and New York who ignored the X-ray images of weapons on September 11th?
The 9/11 Commission reported that in 1998, the FBI assessed the potential use of flight training by terrorists and in 2000, the Phoenix electronic communication of 2001, warned of radical Middle Easterners attending flight school. There was no discussion on how the September 11th terrorists were able to smuggle weapons aboard four aircraft with the exception of a vague excuse that the contract screeners were notoriously poor at their job and they missed countless training aids and decoys.

We all want to be safe when we fly. Those that advocate for replacing the TSA and return to the pre-9/11 standard of privately contracted airport security argue that the TSA seems to be an agency that is out of control and that they do not answer to anyone. That they have a job to do, that they don’t care how intrusive or offensive or ridiculous their procedures are.

In my world, any private airport security provider would be worse than the heavily regulated TSA. With the exception of our glorious military and intelligence community, I don’t think there is another government organization that cannot be done by contractors, any competition would make them more effective, efficient, and economical. The problem with the TSA isn’t because it’s not effective, efficient, and economical it is simply ineffective, inefficient, and uneconomical because it’s been poisoned by political correctness. Profiling is a bad word. Everyone has to be punished equally. This isn’t an issue of the government compelling a security company to establish minimum standards and criteria for airport security; the airlines and the FAA had a long track record of doing just that, from 1973.

The aviation world is a much nastier place than it was in 1973. If we cannot break the moratorium on profiling terrorists in favor of safer air travel instead of strip searching, harassing, or molesting children, little old ladies, and beauty queens, then let me leave you with this image. Private airport security providers would return to the days of half-hearted FAA background investigations and minimum wage employees. And with that, I can assure you, you’ll trade a little convenience as your safety gets tossed out the window. There is a phrase in the military lexicon, “Inside the wire” where civilians and military are within the confines of a protective wall or fence at a camp or a forward operations base. In this day of international terrorism, where a terroristic or militant group seeks to find and exploit the weakest link in a security setting, the next time you go through an airport and think the TSA is horrible, instead, imagine the Muslim Brotherhood or the Black Panthers have weaseled their way “inside the wire” and are manning the airport security checkpoint.

I’ll drive or a take the train.

More to follow.

Another Headline and the Duncan Hunter Books

The headline today read, “Scientists somehow made the world’s darkest material even darker than before.” The story highlights “the world’s darkest material” has taken industries from science to art by storm. “When Surrey NanoSystems first released Vantablack, they suggested that the carbon nanotubes was capable of absorbing 99.96 percent of light that touches it. This new version absorbs even more light, and the resulting material is so dark that the nanotechnology company’s spectrometers can’t even measure exactly how dark it is.”

From No Need to Know:
Hunter continued, “For the record, I’m still pissed at Iran for shooting at us. If I ever have the chance to reciprocate, please know I will. And, if I ever have the chance to punish them for what they do to our guys— payback will be a bitch. It’s their IEDs that are killing and maiming our troops.”

“Dream on Duncan. Like that will ever happen.”

“Anyway, both Yo-Yos have the Automatic Takeoff and Landing System installed; the backup was just flight checked. One airplane has fresh radar absorption paint with some wild newfangled nanotechnology coating that absorbs something like 99.96% of light. Its thermal stability and ability to withstand vibration makes it a perfect solution for a quiet stealthy aircraft. This stuff erases any three-dimensional features of the objects it coats—you will not believe what the airplane looks like now. While I’ve been busy, I want you to know your C-130 aircrews were, as usual, terrific and professional—an absolute pleasure to work with.”

A CIA cargo airplane had hauled Hunter, the Wraith, and the support crew to Africa to track down pirate camps and locate dozens of hostages kidnapped from oil tankers and private sailing vessels. Lynche had reviewed the FLIR video that showed Hunter killing the pirates and sinking their boat. He didn’t sound sorry for the terrorists who lost their lives. “It took too long to find those people. Some of those folks had been missing for years. You might have been considered a hero, maybe even received another medal, if the NRO hadn’t picked you up on one of their cameras. Pretty sure they caught you jerking off.”

That Duncan Hunter, finding ways to make his quiet airplane even more stealthy than ever. What a guy.

More to follow.

Why Duncan Hunter has Issues with Electric Cars

A recent article details why electric cars are such a bad deal for one’s billfold as well as “the environment” that every liberal is dedicated to save. It is real science and a numbers game. A coal-fired power plant heats water into steam, turns a steam turbine, which turns a generator to produce power. That process, from soup to nuts, is a hard calculation averaging 37% efficiency or, said in other words, 63% of the energy in a unit of fossil fuel is lost due to friction and other thermodynamic laws. What are these “losses?” Between the power station and the neighborhood charging station, there is a stepdown station where the 440 voltage in the transmission lines is converted to 220 volts. The 220-volt electricity travels along power lines to a transformer, then the 220V is “stepped down” to 110 volts before going to an electric vehicle’s home charging station. Of course, each step along the way there is significant power loss. The total loss from the original 37% efficient steam turbine and generator is 63%, which is to say that roughly two-thirds of the power generated is lost from electrical resistance and attenuation along the miles and miles of transmission and power lines. It is well known in engineering circles but apparently not in liberal circles that the pollution and carbon emissions are simply moved from the tailpipe to the smokestack. All-electric vehicles are only, at best, 13.7% efficient. Efficiencies for Wind and Solar power are much worse…because the wind doesn’t blow all the time and the sun only works half a day. In thermodynamics, it’s called “conservation of energy.” Real science.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the efficiency range of a typical gasoline powered car is 14% under city driving conditions and close to 26% for highway conditions. So, Duncan Hunter’s four-wheel drive truck is better than the Tesla that catches on fire in the garage or shuts down after running out of juice. You cannot walk to the corner gas station for a gallon of gas (which cost less than a gallon of milk). If you didn’t know, a dead tesla is a tow driver’s best friend. Last Thursday I saw two on the side of the road getting loaded aboard a tow truck. Why they don’t put windmills and solar panels on those things is beyond Hunter’s level of comprehension.

More to follow.

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