Monday, March 18, 2019

Airport Security Will Stop Your Villain


This article is written from notes taken in a lecture given by Michael MacIntosh. 

If you're trying to hijack a plane in your novel. Your villain is going to have a very hard time of it.



I am writing this on the heels of a government shutdown that endangered the flying public for over a month. Stress is a big deal when it comes to attentiveness and so when our TSA officials weren't getting a paycheck, and didn't know how they would pay rent or buy groceries to feed their babies, you know they were under high stress.

The TSA, and they have their challenges, do a really good job of keeping us safe.

So first, one of the ways terrorists try to take down a plane is by bombing it. 

There have been 80 bombs in history. 2700 deaths and 100 injuries.

Bombs need:

  • Power - electric or non-electric
  • Initiator - energy to set off the charge like blasting caps or                          detonators
  • Explosives - main charge
  • Switch - trigger system


The bomb can be set off:

  • By command - ex cell phone
  • Action of a victim
  • Time
  • Environment -- like altitude


Terrorists seek ways to thwart of security systems
One way they could do this is to incrementally build it on the airplane by separate hidden and not hidden components.

Each time a terrorist makes an attempt, the TSA learns and tries to combat this. for example:
Shoe Bomber - the device was non-metallic after this they screened shoes and were looking for non-metallic items.

Now the TSA is looking for IEDs that haven't been designed yet. This takes critical thinking skills and awareness. 

How could explosives get on a plane?

  • flight crew
  • catering
  • cleaning crew
  • mail
  • maintenance
Each person on the above list could add one component. This is why the TSA uses a layered approach. Your villain might make it through a layer, but it is doubtful that he could make it through twenty layers that are all stacked up to stop him.


  1. Intelligence - government intelligence community including CIA and FBI are watching for threats.
  2. Customs and Boarder Protection - they handle travel documents
  3. Joint Terrorism task Force - locally based analysts, linguists, hostage rescue, includes 30 law and intelligence agencies.
  4. No fly list
  5. Crew vetting - threat assessment on all airport employees including foreign carriers
  6. VIPR team - Visible Intermodel Prevention and Response- work with regional security departments and police force to increase the existing resources in order to maximize the capabilities of detection against any unlawful plans, including terrorism.
  7. K-9s TSW has over 500 teams with local law enforcement agencies working in 70 airports and hundreds of mass transit systems to detect possible explosive substances on the perimeter and the interior.
  8. Behavioral Detection Officers - the BDO program monitors based on a scientifically validated behaviors to identify individuals who potentially pose a threat to the transportation network.
  9. Travel Document Checker - compare the boarding pass to your ID to ensure a match and to confirm the traveler has a valid ID.
  10. Trans Security Officer - TSO prevents prohibited items
  11. Check baggage
    1. X-ray
    2. explosive trace screening
  12. Transportation Security Inspector acts as a safeguard that watches the screeners to make sure they're paying attention.
  13. Random employee screening
  14. Bomb Appraisal Officers - If a machine indicates a concern, they determine if it's a bomb or there's a reasonable explanation. 
  15. Air Marshals
  16. Federal Flight Deck Crew - armed pilots, flight engineer, or navigator.
  17. Flight crew training
  18. Airport Police
  19. Hardened cockpit doors
  20. Passengers -- that's how they stopped the shoe bomber guy!

If you were trying to write a plot about a terrorist bomber, that's the list of 20 hurtles you'll have to write around.

Good luck with that!
Fiona