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An inside look at Logan Airport's security strategy

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

For as much as I write about aviation security, I’ve never had a chance to see these technologies firsthand, other than what I can observe as an average flying passenger. Well, that all changed yesterday when I was invited to Boston Logan International Airport to check out some of the initiatives they’ve taken to ensure security is the best it can be. As you might recall, I wrote a story not long ago about Logan and some of the challenges they face in terms of integrating and adding technology (and I’ll be posting a detailed story about their consolidated camera surveillance system program on our Tuesday Newswire), but the message I walked away with from my tour was the importance of partnerships.

Now, I’m not new to this reporter gig, I know people tend to only tell me the good, glowing stuff about how everyone gets along and works together and blah blah, but it was very apparent during my time at Logan that good working relationships are the foundation of their security program. Don’t forget. People here take security personal:

“When we found out the 9/11 terrorists left from here, it hasn’t been the same place since,” Tom Domenico, director of IT operations at the Massachusetts Port Authority, told me for that story. Domenico, who was my host for this tour, started out by driving me around the perimeter of the airfield. First of all, I didn’t realize the airfield was surrounded by water, which is obviously confining in terms of expansion, but there are also concerns because of the close proximity to the Port of Boston (also a Massport property). There are white buoys that surround the airfield, which are off limits to boats. During our airfield tour, I also got to see, up close (but not too close), a plane take off and, frankly, that was cool.

Next I had the opportunity to attend the airport’s 8:30am security meeting. This meeting happens every single day, and has since Sept. 12, 2001. Basically, it’s an opportunity for stakeholders to share important information about what’s happening at the airport. This particular meeting was largely about the upcoming holiday travel days and reminding everyone numbers were going to be way up for Thanksgiving. There was also mention about the media attention received by the TSA’s enhanced pat-down procedures (and lots of groans). But, it wasn’t even what was said that was significant, it was about who was there. The roll call included everyone from Logan’s corporate security folks and operations people to the FBI, Customs and Border Protection, TSA, Massachusetts Police as well as a representative from every airline carrier. I counted at least 50 people in the room.

During my tour of the facility I also had a chance to speak with many of the people in the room, too. I got to see, firsthand, how the new advanced imaging technology machines work. While I opted out of seeing my own image (I’m shy, people, really), I got to take a peak into the room where the TSA officer views the images and what the images look like. I also learned from George Naccara, federal security director for the airport, that by April, he expects to have software that replaces actual images of people with generic stick figures that highlight areas of concern.

He also showed me the airport’s inline cargo screening equipment. First of all, I had never seen so many conveyer belts in one place, but the system in the back room was even cooler. Basically, any bag that sets off sensors from the initial screening equipment are displayed for a TSA officer who can then determine if the bag needs to be physically screened.

I also got to tour the airport’s emergency operations center. I spoke with Major Michael Concannon of the Massachusetts State Police who told me the airport recently ran an active shooter exercise in the EOC. While he couldn’t give me too many details about the exercise, he said there were certainly lessons learned in terms of communication and operations from such an exercise. In addition to the EOC room, which has several rows of desks equipped with telephones and laptop hook ups and at least six big-screen televisions mounted on the walls, there is a separate room just down the hall where decision makers go to discuss whatever information the EOC is producing. One of the problems, however, is that the decision makers didn’t know exactly what was happening in the EOC, so they installed a 180-degree camera, called a scallop camera, that I was told isn’t even in production yet. The camera is divided into several segments that can be zoomed into separately and people seemed pretty excited about it.

I’m still going through all my notes and will include more details about some of the security measures and technology in place in my story on Tuesday, so stay tuned. Oh, and if you’ve never seen Boston and the surrounding area from the 16th floor of the control tower at Logan, well, you’re missing out (sorry, I had to brag a little).

Does DHS have a right to search your computer? ACLU says no, sues

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

In previous articles on border security, I've focused largely on the physical protection of the border. Just yesterday on our newswire, I put out a brief about how DHS is now covering the entire Southwest border with unmanned drones. I've also written about how DHS has increased the amount of personnel and technology to protect the border.

But this story caught my eye, mostly because I thought it brought up an interesting question about the changing threats facing our nation. Basically, the American Civil Liberties Union is suing DHS over their policies allowing for the search and seizure of laptops, cellphones and other electronic devices without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, according to this article in the Wall Street Journal.

"Innocent Americans should not be made to feel like the personal information they store on their laptops and cellphones is vulnerable to searches by government officials any time they travel out of the country," said Catherine Crump, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.

The ACLU said more than 6,600 travelers—nearly half of them U.S. citizens—were subject to electronic device searches at border crossings between Oct. 1, 2008, and June 2, 2010.

However, isn't one of the greatest challenges for DHS intelligence gathering and dissemination? And haven't they been criticized over and over for their inability to put together very disparate pieces of information to prevent incidents (think underwear bomber)? And while I can certainly understand how the traveling public would not want to have their personal belongings scrutinized by border officials, we live in an electronic age. Everything you put on the Internet, from blogs and facebook posts to personal emails and financial transactions, aren't safe from scrutiny. I'm getting into some legal stuff here, things that I don't have the background to talk about, but I think this lawsuit brings up an interesting question about what DHS considers to be a significant risk to national security.

As someone who grew up regularly crossing the border (my parents live about 30 minutes from Canada), we were always aware that border officials could do whatever they wanted to our possessions. We heard nightmarish stories about people's cars getting torn apart, searched and left trashed. So it doesn't surprise me that those policies extend to electronic devices. Regardless, it'll be interesting to follow.