The aviation infrastructure continues to be the top terrorist target, and new policies, processes and technology are required to keep the U.S. safer from potential terrorist attacks, said Erroll G. Southers, chief of intelligence and counterterrorism of the Los Angeles World Airport Police Division, as he addressed the past, present and future of terrorism, at a breakfast meeting Wednesday, October 17th.
Southers is responsible for the Homeland Security and Security Credentials Section of what is said to be the nation’s largest aviation law enforcement agency.
He was the keynote speaker at the 12th Annual Protectors Breakfast of the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce and Gateway to L.A. organization at the Crowne Plaza Hotel near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
A huge intelligence failure — “no information in or out” — played a key part in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, with government agencies failing to share crucial information with one another, said Southers.
Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden continually refers to attacking the U.S. through its economy, said Southers, adding that while “nukes” and chemical weapons seem attractive to terrorists, they will continue to use conventional bombs and methods of attack.
This is the second decade of Al Qaeda, and it recruits talent such as doctors and other professionals, as was evidenced in Glasgow, Scotland recently, Southers said.
Ayman al Zawahiri, bin Laden’s personal physician; second in command and leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad; Mohamed Atta, chief planner and 9/11 hijacker; and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed; self-confessed planner of 9/11, are but several in bin Laden’s organization.
Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism adviser to the Bush administration, was the only person to apologize to families of 9/11 victims on behalf of the administration, said Southers.
Southers recounted a brief history of bombings and a shooting at LAX.
The first bomb ever detonated at an airport anywhere in the world was at LAX in 1974, said Southers.
The bomb detonated approximately 20 feet from the Pan American World Airways check-in counter, and who planted the bomb and why was a mystery, according to newspaper reports at the time.
In 1980, a bomb exploded at LAX in the Air China luggage processing facility.
On December 14th, 1999, Ahmed Rassam, referred to as the “Millennium Bomber,” was detained at the border coming in from Canada with explosives in the trunk of his car, which he planned to detonate at LAX.
On July 4th, 2002, two people were shot and killed at the El Al ticket counter at LAX by an Egyptian limo driver, Hesham Mohamed Ali Hadayet.
Southers elaborated on other terrorist attacks against the U.S. on both a national and international scale:
ï February 26th, 1993 — the first bombing of the World Trade Center in New York by Ramzi Yousef;
ï October 3rd and 4th, 1993 — the “Black Hawk Down” attacks in Somalia;
ï April 4th, 1995 — the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols;
ï January 1995, the foiled “Bojinka” plot in Manila, the Philippines, intended to assassinate Pope John Paul II, and place bombs on 11 U.S. commercial airliners, involving Ramzi Yousef, his uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (self-confessed planner of 9/11) and a southeast Asia point man known as Hambali (real name is Riduan Isamuddin) and others;
ï June 25th, 1996 — bombing of the Khobar Towers in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, allegedly masterminded by bin Laden;
ï January 3rd, 2000 — an attempt to bomb the destroyer USS The Sullivans in the port of Aden, Yemen, which failed when the small boat filled with explosives blew up; and
ï October 2000 — a successful bombing attempt on the USS Cole in the same location.
An Al Qaeda “summit” meeting in January 2000 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at the condo of Yazid Sufaat, included one of the planners of the USS Cole bombing, Khalid Almidhar, who was also one of the hijackers on American Airlines Flight 77 on 9/11, as was Nawaf Alhazmi.
One of bin Laden’s inner circle, Tawifiq “Khallad” bin Attash, was his personal intermediary for the USS Cole attack.
Residence in the U.S. by a number of terrorists was discussed by Southers.
Approximately 14 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 had resided in the U.S prior to 9/11 in San Diego, New Jersey and Florida.
Many of them had attended flight training schools, where they learned to fly small aircraft.
From mid-summer to December 2000, Alhazmi and Almidhar were living in San Diego in the home of Abdussattar Shaikh, a local Muslim cleric and an alleged FBI “tested” undercover informant.
Another bin Laden “manager,” Wadi El Hage, also lived in California.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed spent two years studying mechanical engineering at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro.
Adam Yahiye Gadahn, born in the U.S. as Adam Pearlman, was indicted in California for treason and material support to Al Qaeda.
Ali Mohamed, first a sergeant in the Egyptian army, came to the U.S., married a U.S. citizen, joined the U.S. Army, supported Al Qaeda by supplying security for bin Laden, traveled to Afghanistan, and provided information to the FBI and the CIA, according to written documenta- tion.
Southers said he disagrees with a study done by a New York university, claiming there is no jihadi presence in the U.S.
Southers said that the bombing of four trains in Madrid in March 2004 was the only time in history that such an act had changed a government structure — considered to have resulted in the ouster of JosÈ MarÌa Aznar, who had sent troops to Iraq, and the election of JosÈ Luis RodrÌguez Zapatero, who said he opposed the war and would remove the troops.
In July 2005 in London, three subway trains and one bus were bombed by “homegrown” terrorists.
“Shoe bomber” Richard Reid, born in London, attempted to blow up American Airlines Flight 63 bound from Paris to Miami in December 2001, with a shoe bomb, but was overpowered by alert passengers and flight attendants who observed him trying to light the fuse connected to explosives in his shoe.
In August 2006, 26 suspects in London were arrested for plotting to carry liquid explosives in sports drink bottles on board several airliners bound for the U.S.
Officials said the plotters had planned to use either the same chemical Reid allegedly used, TATP (triacetone triperoxide), and/or HMTD (hexamethylene triperoxide diamine).
In New Jersey, the “blind shaikh,” Omar Abdel Rahman, presided over a local mosque, just down the street from a check-cashing and mailbox business that did millions of dollars in wire transfers. He was also the leader of al Gamma’a Islamyah (Islamic Group), allegedly responsible for the Luxor Massacre in 1997, and also the spiritual head of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, headed by al Zawahiri.
The New York FBI office has been referred to as the bin Laden “office of origin,” after much information was developed there.
Counterterrorist expert John O’Neill had warned of attacks by Al Qaeda and, according to written sources on the subject, was ignored.
In late August 2001 he resigned from the FBI to become head of security at the World Trade Center, moving into his office on September 10th, 2001, and was killed in the attacks on 9/11.
Southers said he and O’Neill had been very close friends.
PRACTICING SAFETY — On the subject of practicing safety, Southers had a number of suggestions.
He doesn’t see the need for companies to have diagrams of their businesses and personnel rosters on-line.
Emergency evacuation drills are crucial actions, especially in high-rise buildings.
Being aware of the people you may interact with is also important.
Anyone can buy badges and uniforms on the Internet and obtain weapons and use them to gain access to areas that might otherwise be secure.
Felons are taught how to charge fire extinguishers, and many people don’t know who that person is who comes to your office to charge the company fire extinguishers, said Southers.
At a previous company, Southers said that all fire extinguishers were brought to the loading dock to be charged, eliminating the necessity of an unknown individual gaining access to the building.
“This is who I am and this is what I do,” said Southers of his extremely demanding job.
Everyone has a plan until they get hit in the face, and working together is critical to safety, said Southers.
RECOGNITION OF PROTECTORS — The event honored protectors from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Depart- ment Marina del Rey Station, the Los Angeles World Airports Airport Police Division, the Los Angeles Police Department Airport Detail, the California Highway Patrol, the Los Angeles City Fire Department, Los Angeles County Life Guards, Los Angeles County Fire Department, the Los Angeles Police Department Pacific Division and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Commanding officers from each group spoke briefly, and introduced the members of their command who were in attendance.
A special raffle of donated items provided by chamber members for the protectors was highly appreciated by the attendees, with grand prize tickets to premier seating at sporting events.