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Istanbul Terror Attacks Prompt Heightened US Airport Security Measures

Istanbul Terror Attacks Prompt Heightened US Airport Security Measures Homeland Security TodayFollowing on the heels of a series of devastating, high-profile terrorist attacks across the globe, from Paris to Brussels to Orlando, the horrific attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport on Tuesday evening, which killed at least 42 people and left hundreds of others seriously injured, serves as a grim reminder that the threat of terrorism remains at America’s doorstep—and it’s not going anywhere.

In the wake of the Istanbul attacks, many US airports are gearing up for Fourth of July travel this weekend by implementing stricter security measures. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, for example, announced on Tuesday that high visibility patrols equipped with tactical weapons and equipment have been deployed at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports.

Speaking at a Senate Judiciary Hearing on Thursday, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said, “The American public should expect to see, this July 4th weekend, an enhanced security presence at airports, train stations and other transit centers across the country by TSA and state and local law enforcement as well as security personnel generally.”

Heightened security may lead to significant travel delays. As Homeland Security Today previously reported, for months now, TSA has been grappling with long lines at airport security checkpoints due to inadequate TSA staffing levels, leading to egregious wait times, missed flight connections, and increasingly dissatisfied airports, airlines and their customers.

The difficulty of balancing convenience with security concerns is likely to get even tougher. The Istanbul attacks, which were carried out by three suicide bombers presumably linked to ISIS, has put the adequacy of airport security in the spotlight once again.

Ataturk International Airport has a much tighter security system in place than at many other airports. The airport used three layers of security: a vehicle check about 500m from the airport terminal building, a metal detector and light guard presence at the entrance to the terminal building arrivals area, and full security at passport control before the departures hall. This included a full guard presence, metal detectors and X-ray scanners.

But, arguably, every security approach has its flaws. In this case, the attackers arrived by taxi and were able to bypass vehicle checks because checkpoint personnel were instructed to only stop and check suspicious vehicles. The driver of the taxi in question has described the attackers as “calm and not at all stressed.”

By the time the attackers reached the security area at the entrance of the terminal—the airport’s second layer of security— it was too late. One bomber detonated at the car park and the others, after failing to make it through security, took their weapons out of their suitcases and opened fire. One bomber was shot by security personnel before blowing himself up. The third bomber also detonated himself.

Although the bombers appear to have been trying to make it deeper into the airport, perhaps even to board a plane, they were still able to inflict significant damage by barely stepping foot in the airport.

ISIS has yet to formally take responsibility for the attack, but Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan told Yahoo News that the attack bears all the hallmarks of ISIS. Disturbingly, Brennanbelieves the same type of attack could occur here on American soil.

“I am worried from the standpoint of an intelligence professional who looks at the capabilities of Daesh … and their determination to kill as many as people as possible and to carry out attacks abroad,” Brennan said, using the Arabic term for ISIS. “I’d be surprised if Daesh is not trying to carry out that kind of attack in the United States.”

With the looming possibility that a similar attack could occur in the United States, many travelers are wondering: Is it safe to fly?

Shortly following the deadly terrorist attack on Brussels Zaventem airport on the morning of March 22, 2016, Homeland Security Today’s Middle East Correspondent Joe Charlaff reported that the attack demonstrated the vulnerability of public areas of airports, which tend to be crowded and bustling with people.

Charlaff noted that since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, travelers worldwide have grown accustomed to heightened security measures aimed at preventing terrorists from carrying out an attack aboard an aircraft. However, the same measures have not been applied to protect the airport itself.

This attack in Istanbul, as well as the one in Brussels earlier this year, highlight the increasing difficulty of protecting the landside section of the airport. Furthermore, they attest to the need to prevent these attacks long before suicide bombers show up at the airport itself.

Possible airport security improvements could include beefing up perimeter security, implementing drive-thru vehicle scanners, only using regulated and monitored taxi companies, and using plain clothes officers to conduct behavior profiling.

Intelligence is also crucial. Local media reported that Turkish intelligence allegedly warned of the possibility that ISIS would conduct an attack on Istanbul’s airport as many as 20 days beforehand. Overall, mitigating gaps in airport security requires a strategic vision for addressing the roots of terrorism, rather than simply addressing each attack on an individual basis.

Combatting terrorism at its roots needs to involve countering extremist propaganda, addressing the psychological and sociological factors affecting the would-be attackers, and identifying at-risk communities and helping them to spot signs of radicalization.

And unless the world begins to understand the ideological underpinnings of the current war on terror, no airport security measure will succeed in crippling the scourge of terrorism at its roots.

“We have to define the enemy to defeat it. That is a basic military strategy,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) stated in the aftermath of the Orlando attacks. “The 9/11 Commission, bipartisan, in its wisdom so many years ago said, ‘The enemy is not just terrorism some generic evil. This vagueness blurs the strategy.’ The catastrophic threat at this moment in history is more specific. It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism, especially the Al Qaeda network, its affiliates, and its ideology.”

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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