Golden Oldies: Lax @ LAX

Since the CounterTerrorismBlog is no longer publishing I am re-posting my old CTBlog posts. This one will be relevant to an upcoming post about terrorism in Los Angeles. The piece was originally posted on June 1, 2007 here.

Lax @ LAX

Waiting for a shuttlebus at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) a few days ago, I noticed an abandoned bag. It was an odd place to leave a bag for a few minutes. When I alerted the nearest airport employee – a baggage handler – his reaction was indifference. The bag’s owner turned up about 10-15 minutes later.

The bag had recent flight markings, definitely looked like it belonged to someone, and had been left in a less than ideal location for a bomb (outdoor waiting area with only a few people at a time.) So there were plenty of reasons not to regard the bag suspiciously. But I don’t think that the airport employees I alerted had applied an analytical framework and made this determination. It did not appear that they had any particular awareness of what to do or who to contact.

The employee’s indifference was surprising. LAX has been the target of at least two terror attacks. When Ahmed Ressam was caught at the US-Canadian border on December 1999 with a trunk full of explosives, he intended to plant them at LAX as one component of al-Qaeda’s planned Millenium attacks. On July 4, 2002 an Egyptian immigrant, suspected of having links to the Muslim Brotherhood, shot up the El Al counter at LAX, killing two and wounding four. Presumably the LAX administration would have instituted awareness training and procedures for all airport employees.

Israeli and also British acquaintances react nervously when they encounter abandoned bags in public places. This comes from those countries’ long years of experience with terrorism. Both governments recognized that an aware and prepared citizenry is a nation’s greatest homeland security asset. The investigation into the Fort Dix Six, spurred by an alert Circuit City clerk, is another illustration of that principle. It is worrisome that a major potential target has not seen fit to develop a comprehensive security awareness program and to take advantage of this valuable asset.

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