Overzealous or Lax, Airport Security Often Alienates Public

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Feb 11

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With the fate of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 still unclear, I don’t want to undermine airport security, whose role in safeguarding lives is as important as ever.

At this stage we can only speculate as to whether security was breached at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on 7 March.

Airport security has suffered plenty of bad press before flight MH370 disappeared over the South China Sea. Security officials at London’s Heathrow airport, for example, confiscated a Toy Story doll’s miniature gun, which was branded a terror threat.

Now let’s be clear: this six-shooter was not a child’s toy gun, but a child’s toy’s toy gun.

At the other extreme, airport security at Edmonton International Airport in Canada tried to return a passenger’s pipe bomb. Canadian teenager Skylar Murphy arrived at the airport for a flight to Mexico, forgetting that his bag contained a pipe bomb that he and a friend had built for fun 18 months earlier.

The six-inch steel pipe containing gunpowder with 4½ feet of fuse at either end was spotted when Murphy’s camera bag went through the X-ray machine. Security staff allegedly told Murphy he could keep the device – and video surveillance would seem to corroborate this, with images showing security personnel trying to return the device.

Unbelievably, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were informed some four days after the incident and the teenager was arrested on his return.

Obligatory questions

Which all raises another airport security issue, the obligatory questions: did you pack your own bags? Have you left them unattended?

I do not understand the point of these closed questions – please, anyone, enlighten me. I gather that Israeli security forces devised them originally as open questions designed to elicit information from passengers deceived or coerced into smuggling illegal substances following the 1986 Hindawi Affair, when Isreali security thwarted a bomb plot.

Nezar Hindawi was sentenced to 45 years’ imprisonment after persuading his pregnant Irish fiancé, Anne Murphy, to board an El Al flight at London’s Heathrow airport with, unbeknown to her, plastic explosives.

Security and counter-terrorism often relies on the goodwill and cooperation of the public. Recognising today’s increasingly unpredictable risk landscape organisations like the Security Institute, ASIS and others work hard to raise the security profession’s professional status.

Three problems that should concern every security professional – lack of training, poor supervision and inconsistency – are leading to overzealous interpretation and poor application of well-founded security procedures.

Ever-more pervasive and inconsistent security is alienating the very public whose support we increasingly rely on.

Although it’s only conjecture at this stage, if MH370’s fate is linked to terrorism then the airline industry will inevitably need to review security control measures and procedures.

The result will probably be heightened passport checks and screening processes, which will require more rigorous attention to detail.

Equally important will be securing the travelling public’s approval of the checks by conducting them consistently, efficiently and politely.

After all, tragic events like the Malaysian flight’s disappearance are soon forgotten by holidaymakers and business travellers.


This article was first published in IFSEC Global at http://www.ifsecglobal.com/overzealous-lax-airport-security-often-alienates-public/

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