Industry Focus

How Do You Allow Security to Slip?

It is no secret that terrorism is part of today’s landscape. Governments are responsible for providing a secure and safe environment almost anywhere the public might go. This consists of every major airport and railway station in the world, including Belgium.

After the most recent attacks in Brussels, now come the allegations that the Belgium government failed to address security lapses, or prepare for a potential attack. What is worse, if this is true, that the European Union told government employees there were security issues and that they needed to be remedied. Obviously the issues were not fixed. Thirty-one people died in the attacks at the Brussels airport and metro station; 270 others were injured.

Once again, extremism has awakened the security world, and those who must implement the solutions. Following the Belgian bombings, the city’s subway and airport was closed. Belgian officials closed their borders halting all cross-border traffic. Security was increased in the U.K. at Heathrow and Gatwick airports, and across the world major cities saw an increase of police presence at their stations of mass transit.

The incident at the airport took place before passengers crossed through security. The explosion occurred in the ticketing and booking area where people are free to come and go as they please. At this point, even luggage had not yet been screened.

All this mayhem and destruction points to the concept of where security should begin, while not affecting the traveling public. It also highlights the far reaching role video surveillance plays, unfortunately, in the aftermath of this attack. In many ways it has mirrored the 2005 London terror attacks.

Technology has improved since 2005 and I’m sure police are looking at video files that are made available to them. What we have seen in videos uploaded to YouTube and provided by Belgian authorities are people terrified for their lives, running outside of the building for safety. The airport security cameras were also able to catch footage of the three men suspected in the bombing.

Four video cameras are—or were—in place in the ticketing and booking area. Remember, this area is in the forefront of security; however, security officials watch the video carefully, and covertly. The real problem at this point at the airport is identifying unscreened luggage that may contain a bomb. It is all but impossible.

If you have traveled overseas, you have seen wellarmed police in most transportation hubs. They are joined by plainclothes officers who roam the public areas of the airport, as well as other mass transit areas. How do you know who is carrying a bomb, and who isn’t?

Part of the solution is listening to the chatter that intelligence forces hear. It would be necessary to implement new security procedures if a higher alert is called for. Belgium officials, unfortunately, missed that call although it was given to them.

The EU engaged Belgian officials, telling them to “enhance situational awareness at airports, and to further combat irregular migration as well as the phenomena of forging fighters.” The country was also told to intensify checks on people arriving in the country from “high-risk areas.”

It is easy to point fingers today, but Belgium has one of the largest Muslim communities in Europe, and the government said that as many as, or more than, 500 Belgians have been recruited to fight for ISIS. This should have been a red flag without disrupting the lives of law-abiding citizens.

Security officials in Turkey deported one of the bombers, Ibrahim El Bakraious, last year because of suspicions that he was a militant. They also said that Belgium did not take its concerns seriously. Perhaps Belgium’s security network is bogged down by a fractured bureaucracy. There are numerous police jurisdictions that overlap in Brussels, and it is a wellknown fact that the French and Flemish-speaking areas tend to not speak to each other. It seems that Belgium appears to have a capacity and competency problem when it comes to counterterrorism.

One thing security experts can be absolutely certain of is that more terrorist attacks are being planned. State officials have been searching for others who might have been involved in this attack or planning for others. They have found a cache of weapons, even heavy weapons in the first investigation, signifying the preparedness of another attack. Now is not the time to be complacent about security. Now is the time to call these acts of violence what they are: International Terrorism.

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Security Today.

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