AN Security

Part III: Keystone cops and Harvard Robbers

In air marshals, airport security, border patrol, law enforcement, secret service and the salahis, TSA on January 15, 2010 at 7:05 pm

The breakdown of domestic law enforcement agencies  

Law enforcement acting ‘stupidly’

Things don’t look as romantically rosy for law enforcement as it did back in 2001. There seems to be a decline in public opinion or even the portrayal of police in general in the media. So far the smaller federal law enforcement agencies have escaped great scrutiny. The U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, America’s top cop, is hardly a popular guy. In fact, he is probably the most damaging spokesman for law enforcement. His statements regarding his office’s expert ability to try Khalid Sheik Mohammad on U.S. soil rather than allowing him to be tried by a military tribunal has sent shockwaves throughout the country in disapproval. It’s not that Americans do not want the man tried but to bring him back to the scene of the crime will have greater consequences than bringing bad memories of the attacks. That and the fact that considering the quality of the defendant’s usual company the possibility that an increased flow of people into the city will increase those conditions found in terrorist activity.

There is a concept in both police and security work that is actually common to both ends of the professional spectrum. Threats are ever evolving and searching for ways to counteract security measures. If we have a situation that requires more security at one place then resources are moved to cover but that also causes a gap elsewhere unless a city has unlimited resources and personnel and that is not something ever seen. Most invariably there will be a gap in security, a sector of the city or town that cannot be protected but that is usually has a lower threat level (low crime area for example) and will lose that coverage. The change could be for one day or one hour of one month. The timeline actually poses another problem; if police cannot cover some areas because they have been diverted to a more important event then who is watching?

The KSM trial will draw resources in New York, probably command police volunteers from other jurisdictions, National Guard units and other federal law enforcement. The fear and concern of the citizens of NYC is legitimate. The Alexandria Virginia trial of Zaccarias Moussaoui caused such logistical issues but this is not about traffic jams or the inability to secure a parking space at the strip mall down the road. A sudden change in the security management must be something planned ahead of time and must function in such a way as to prevent situations from getting out of control. These are not predictions but a basic contingency plan. Scenarios such as hurricane Katrina spurred on such a massive deployment to establish or restore law and order. This has to happen quickly and personnel must be prepared to handle civil disobedience and violence to name only two. The recent quake in Haiti is a prime example of how quickly law and order can end and expose and entire city to threats imagined.

Law enforcement acting ‘stupidly’

We are undermining the authority of the states to administer the rule of law. Cops can’t do their jobs without fearing the president’s judgment or create bad publicity. A case in point is the story of Harvard professor and close friend of the president, Henry Louis Gates. The much-publicized incident of mistaken identity, clearly an honest error, stirred up race relations all over again. The president’s remarks that the police had acted stupidly in spite of the fact he did not possess all of the details of the case shows a willingness to tear down the reputation of a police department, its personnel and their mission. The police did their jobs according to the law and remained professional. Nothing more could have been asked of them but stern commentary from the president escalates the situation from reasonable and launches it into a theatrical production. The responding officers were both black and white and possibly one of another ethnic background, all professionals. Still, the police are portrayed and bumbling fools who cannot discern a burglar from a scholar. The constant criticism of law enforcement agencies may be detrimental to their functioning and the performance of police officers and the public’s perception of authority.

The Secret Service and party crashers

The Secret Service has been targeted with image-damaging publicity since the nighttime incursion of the Salahis as they managed to dodge some of the tightest security in the world and crashed the Obama’s first big social event. This is not normal as most people see that but as I said in a previous post I wasn’t convinced the USSS had dropped the ball on their own as I believed it was a White House staffer who broke protocol. This incident was then followed by a seemingly innocent event attended by a couple who were detoured from the White House tour and into a private breakfast for veterans. No big deal, no one got hurt. That is not the point and that is not a joke. Regardless of how many Americans feel about Mr. Obama, he holds the office of the president and all necessary measures must be taken to protect him. Just as we pay attention to dry runs conducted by terrorists on commercial flights, we should be wary of impromptu appearances by people who just want to gain notoriety into the president’s inner circle. To protect the president is to protect America’s stability. Even though in security there is no such thing as one hundred percent mitigation of threats at this level of security picking out those who belong versus those who do not should not be difficult. The Secret Services’ code is to maintain professionalism and protect information and even if they’re face with their own extinction; the service will continue with its mission. If people working at the White House cannot follow protocol and protect the president then who can be trusted?

Money woes

While DHS spends money on technology other areas needing security with less fancy equipment remain unattended. Many states are experiencing a shortage of security personnel and police due to funding problems and that includes courthouses and security for judges. It is inconceivable that courts have little or no force protection measures in place or personnel to enforce them because of budget cuts. With all the massive spending on domestic programs  why are many city and local law enforcement forces getting smaller? There are courthouses with security equipment but no personnel to do screenings and judges who must provide their own security by carrying concealed weapons. Where did everybody go? Specialized training and weapons cost money and also need public support as police undergo the transition from old fashioned law enforcement into a national police force designed to combat domestic terrorism which is pretty much another type of war. Clearly there should be other options available to help make up for smaller budgets.

Budget cuts across the nation are baffling since so much money went to upgrade police and other first responder capability. Here’s a disturbing window into the future for police recruitment in the face of budget cuts and perhaps a. For those who always wanted to be a cop move to Chicago. There is an initiative to eliminate the police entrance exam altogether to give minorities are better chance of passing and being hired. Things are looking up for law and order after all; the arrival of fairness in the absence of aptitude will help maintain the peace. Everyone gets to be a cop now. Maybe the Salahis will join the police force too. No wonder law enforcement is starting to look like the Keystone Cops. This is a bad state of affairs.

Airport security

One note about TSA; there is a difference between smart security and security. While one assesses, plans and implements protective measures and stays fresh by reviewing every approach used, the other becomes stale and routine and basically ineffective because it fails to grow with and around the threats. This is not to pick on TSA and its employees but to point out the logistical issues encountered by the agency. Airport security can be, like most security environments, adjusted to meet or exceed potential threats or it can be designed to remain static (which would make little or no sense). The emplacement of security technology, from biometrics to x-ray machines to the low tech ID check personnel must be constantly trained to maintain their knowledge base. In fact, it takes much more skill to read body language, conduct field interviews of travelers (cops do this all the time) and using empirical observation if working a static post. Why the TSA allows people to go through checkpoints and remain there for any period of time is beyond comprehension.

Many of the security practices we see at airports do not seem to keep passenger safety in mind. The last thing anyone in this business should want is to let people who have been screened to remain in the same area where the screening was conducted. This goes on all the time; passengers linger in line, putting on shoes or belts and security officers do not guide them through to leave the area. When a real emergency hits and officers at these checkpoints go into lockdown the first ones to be in danger will be those stuck in between. TSA seems to miss a lot of small details that are crucial to preserving order and protecting the passengers because ultimately their purpose is to protect people and prevent threats from entering the country.

Instead what often see is limited vision and training and controlled execution of security measures. In English, where we run out of the human element – common sense – we make up the difference by introducing technology to balance things out. Whole body scanners get 50-50 approval/rejection in the country especially after the Christmas Day attempted bombing. Again, this is sliding the security scale much higher than before believing the security we had before was dysfunctional but we do not examine how it was managed. It is almost as though no one thinks of matching the technology with the impending or potential need; that or purchase technology because other cities have it and the money is there. High tech is desirable as long as it is a complement to well-trained individuals but does not build a good public image of police and when something does not work well it shifts blame to the gadget.

Crisis management

Filling the gaps in security is most important now more than ever. Personnel must be trained to cultivate a keen search and surveillance skills and be trained and certified in these areas. The introduction of events such as natural disasters – hurricane Katrina and the recent quake in Haiti – can pose great challenges to domestic security with the deployment of special police, medical and military personnel to those area and drawing attention and coverage from others. This is a calculated risk. Many Guard and Reserve personnel are first responders (cops, firefighters and medics) which will help deplete an already taxed force at home. Lastly, when we see in the news that DHS will increase travel security that only means restrictions instead of careful monitoring of well-established criminal or terrorist behaviors which is a very narrow scope of search. There are many declarations from the agency that more Air Marshals will be deployed on flights.

That is the first problem; we like to telegraph our weaknesses in the media that we do not have sufficient numbers of personnel to fly these missions. Sending Marshals on every flight imaginable will never be feasible or reasonable. People who fly are like combat troops; they need rest and they must be rotated out of duty before returning to the mission. The service has many problems to deal with from within but also flushing it with more agents in a hurry will not wholly cover airline safety. There is no discussion anymore on pilots carrying weapons onboard to help supplement the shortage of Marshals. That happened only because many Marshals were making mistakes on and off duty that made the agency look bad therefore pilots had to be enlisted to fill in as well. Which is it? If the Marshals are not good enough and we have to depend on the pilots then a commercial pilot’s mission changes.

The airline should have its own armed security personnel and not depend on federal agents to perform the job. Airline personnel are well-trained to handle emergencies; this is crucial in the survival of their business. Fatigue in this business is deadly. What TSA has done for years is subject these agents to long hours and many equally restrictive rules from within that get in the way of conducting their missions with few rotations. Flying is not an easy environment for security. How the agency is going to send more agents on flights quickly seems more wishful thinking. If fully-trained Marshals are not available the government has the option of outsourcing these position and filling them with personnel from other federal or even local agencies. Again, one would have to rob Peter to pay Paul to fill in gaps that just keep opening every day mostly due to mismanagement and not directly due to personnel negligence.

Part IV: The Failures of Intelligence


Does Obama regret saying the police acted stupidly? Nope.

Could this be the beginning of a national police force?

Secret Service drops the ball allow party crashers in without being cleared

Police May Scrap Entrance Exam: Report

Having lost her deputies, judge packs a gun

Courthouses across nation struggle to pay for justice — and security

The FBI’s annual report & justification for budget

NJ boy, 8, on terrorism watch

U.S. takes charge in Haiti with troops – aid

U.S. to further raise airline security, official says

TSA: Security fails to spot gun at Montana airport

  1. […] Part III: Keystone Cops and Harvard Robbers […]

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