Terrorist gets 15 years for JFK airport plot

JFK, JFK airport, terrorismA terrorist who plotted to blow up fuel tanks at JFK airport has been given 15 years in prison, the BBC reports. Abdel Nur, a citizen from Guyana, tried to meet an Al-Qaeda explosives expert in order to blow up JFK airport’s fuel depot, and the fuel lines that run below an adjoining neighborhood. He hoped to kill thousands in the attack.

Russell Defreitas, Kareem Ibrahim , and Abdul Kadir were also arrested. Kadir is a former member of parliament from Guyana and is now serving a life sentence. Defreitas has been found guilty and will be sentenced in February. Ibrahim’s trial is scheduled for April.

The plot was foiled when Kadir and Defreitas discussed their plans in front of an unnamed informant. This informant recorded their conversation and alerted authorities. This last detail is interesting. These radical Muslims would hardly have discussed such a plan in front of a non-Muslim. It stands to reason, then, that the informant is a Muslim. What these two nutcases didn’t understand is that most Muslims aren’t terrorists. This fact will almost certainly be lost amid the news of another “Muslim terrorist plot”.

There are no hard figures for the number of Muslims in the United States since the U.S. Census doesn’t record religion. One study by Dr. Tom W. Smith of the University of Chicago estimates the Muslim population in the U.S. at around 1.9-2.8 million. If most Muslims were terrorists, as many people believe, the U.S. would be suffering attacks every day. Luckily this is not the case. Vigilance defeats terrorists, fear and stereotyping helps them win.

[Photo courtesy Doug Letterman]

Gadling t-shirts go on adventure travel around the world

wildlife, adventure, adventure travel, Gadling, ostrich
One of the best things about blogging for Gadling is seeing where my coworkers are off to next. Like me, they’re sure to pack that essential item for every adventure traveler’s kit: the Gadling t-shirt.

We’ve collected photos of Gadlingers flying their colors in some of the most remote parts of the world, and some places that are not so remote but equally rugged, such as the waiting area at JFK airport. Above we see Mike Barish in Rotorua, New Zealand , with his new girlfriend an ostrich who looks very jealous of Mike’s stylish choice in adventure apparel. Check out the gallery for a photo of him getting up close and personal with a lizard on the Tiwi Islands, Australia.

Mike says, “Something about my Gadling shirt seems to attract wildlife (sadly, that has also included mosquitoes). These two critters behaved themselves while I posed with them, but neither seemed particularly thrilled to share the spotlight with me.

Also in the gallery you’ll see Annie Scott on the Zambezi River, Zambia, and at JFK; Jeremy Kressmann at Kuang Si waterfall near Luang Prabang, Laos; Sean McLachlan in Somaliland and the Jesse James Farm, Missouri; and Tom Johansmeyer heading to the airport.

We’re all busy planning our trips for 2011, so if you have any place you’d like us to write up, drop us a line. Our dance cards aren’t full yet and we’re a pretty flexible bunch. At least that’s what the ostrich says about Mike.

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Pilot body scans and counter-terror operations: distant consideration for special forces

special forces counter-terrorist operations and TSA body scanners

The uproar over TSA body scanners and pat-downs has hit every corner of the aviation world, from passengers to pilots. The vocal consensus, at least, is that nobody likes them, even though 64 percent of Americans support the practice and 70 percent don’t expect it to impact their travel. A friend of mine, flying today, tweeted that he made it through security at New York’s JFK airport in a mere nine minutes.

Nonetheless, flight crews have voiced vehement opposition to the scans, with one pilot becoming an overnight celebrity by refusing to submit himself to that or a pat-down. We all have to do it, though, so this has left me to ponder … what’s the big deal?

I’ve been particularly intrigued by the attitude of pilots toward body scanners. At first blush, it struck me as a privileged perspective: the top dogs on the plane felt as though they shouldn’t have to be subjected to the same scrutiny as the rest of us. Patrick Smith, resident pilot at Salon.com, wrote of the recent TSA change over crew scrutiny, in which “airline pilots will no longer be subject to the backscatter body scanners and invasive pat-downs at TSA airport checkpoints”:



For pilots like myself this is good news, though at least for the time being we remain subject to the rest of the checkpoint inspection, including the X-raying of luggage and the metal detector walk-through. Eventually, we are told, the implementation of so-called CrewPASS will allow us to skirt the checkpoint more or less entirely.

He continues:

Not everybody agrees that air crews deserve this special treatment. That’s not an unreasonable point of view, and I don’t disagree with it, necessarily. As security experts like Bruce Schneier point out, if you are going to screen at all, it is important to screen everybody, lest the system become overly complicated and prone to exploitable loopholes.

This made me wonder, what is the risk associated with not screening pilots as intensively? The only scenario that came to mind involved a terrorist incident. As I let my mind race, I constructed a hypothetical situation in which terrorists got on board a plane, took control and asked for demands of some sort – i.e., they wanted more than to cause death and destruction. In this situation, I suspected, counter-terrorist teams, such as 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D, also known as “Delta Force”), would be called into play.

My thinking continued: if a pilot hadn’t been scanned, he could have brought a weapon … which could have been taken from him by terrorists. Would the special forces teams want to know if a pilot had been scanned?

As I continued through my hypothetical exercise, I could hear my platoon sergeant’s voice from close to 15 years ago, drilling me from across time: “Actions on the objective,” he used to say, “always spend most of your time rehearsing actions on the objective.”

You have to admit this about military training, it really sticks with you!

So, my first thought was whether, while rehearsing actions on the objective, the special forces teams would want to know every last detail of what was on the plane. My training falls far, far short of that, and my efforts to reach someone from 1st SFOD-D didn’t pan out (unsurprisingly).

Fortunately, I knew a great person to call: Don Shipley, Senior Chief (Retired), U.S. Navy. Now, Shiply runs Extreme SEAL Experience, a destination program that simulates various aspects of Navy SEAL training. Before that, of course, he lived the life, having served with SEAL Team ONE and SEAL Team TWO.

I laid out my hypothetical for Shipley: during mission planning, would the operators want to know if the pilots had been scanned, at least to have a better sense of whether they’d carried any weapons on the plane?

The answer, quite simply, is that it wouldn’t be an immediate concern. I spoke with Shipley by phone today, and he said that whether the pilots had been scanned “would be a very distant ‘what if’.” He explained of the special forces teams, “They’d want to know who they [i.e., the crew] are,” as well as background on how long they’d been flying and any other information related to the incident. Also, Shipley said the teams would want to know if there was an air marshal on the flight. The role of body scans, however, would not be a major factor in planning or rehearsing an operation.

“There are some pretty good people in charge of those planes,” Shipley noted, “good bunch of guys and gals.”

Does it suck that someone else gets to go through security faster and more easily than you do? Yeah, it feels like an injustice. But, let’s be realistic: there really isn’t much at stake here aside from a sense of fairness. Let’s e smart about this, though. The airline industry – and the air travel experience – is fraught with inefficiency. If we can make the operation a little smoother by giving the crew an easier time of getting to work, let’s just bite the bullet on this issue.

[photo courtesy of Extreme SEAL Experience]

New York City area airport rules aren’t doing enough to stop delays

If you’re flying to or through the New York City area, bring a book Kindle. You’ll probably be at the airport for a while. A new U.S. Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General report says that airports in this part of the country aren’t measuring up, which disrupts air travel nationwide.

According to the Associated Press, the report says that “scheduling rules continue to put too many planes in line during bad weather.” It adds that the “limits imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports in 2008 are too generous and are based on good weather conditions, resulting in a glut of flights when the weather turns ugly.”

The bottom line? Twenty-eight percent of all flights coming into the Newark Liberty International Airport wind up delayed or just canceled, as of August 2010. For LaGuardia and JFK, the rate was around 26 percent. Those aren’t good odds for passengers.

[photo by PetroleumJelliffe via Flickr]

New York, Miami and Los Angeles dominant U.S. ports of entry

How do people get to the United States? Well, most of them seem to come in through the same places, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The top 15 ports of entry handled 83 percent of all arrivals in July 2010. This is a 2 percentage-point drop from July 2009, but it’s still a substantial concentration.

Three spots were responsible for 38 percent of all incoming visitors from outside the United States: New York JFK Airport, Miami and Los Angeles. This is off a percentage point from July 2009. Meanwhile, 13 of the top 15 ports of entry in the United States sustained traffic growth from July 2009 to July 2010, seven of them in double digits.

[photo by ToreLo via Flickr]