Despite many recommendations by aviation security experts, relatively little practical attention has been given to the insider threat – that posed by any airline or airport-based employee with access to security restricted areas. From baggage handlers to aircrew, maintenance personnel to security staff and cleaners to caterers, those we trust have the opportunity to infiltrate a weapon or other prohibited item into what is supposed to be a sterile zone. The insider threat is a fundamental weakness of our aviation security regime and our failure to address it could afford certain groups the opportunity to effect the next terrorist atrocity. Steve Collins considers how concealed weapons might be infiltrated airside and what steps need to be taken to identify their carriers.
With the exception of firearms, explosives and knives, aircrew and airport employees are at liberty to carry almost anything they want on board an aircraft. The very nature of certain people’s jobs makes screening difficult if not impossible. Take, for example, the aircraft cleaners with the large array of cleaning materials and equipment which they routinely carry, or the mechanic with weapons which could easily be disguised as tools, or the baggage loader or cargo handling agent who one expects to see loading items into the hold of an aircraft.
Although in some locations such personnel are subject to the same security screening procedures as passengers, it generally tends to be less rigorous, and of course the insider is knowledgeable about their work environment, understands the system and how to compromise it. And, in places where the issuance of an airport ID card equals an exemption from screening protocols altogether, the risks are even higher.
Concealed weapons pose a colossal problem to law enforcement officers and security personnel worldwide. Volumes have been written on the techniques employed to carry guns, knives and other weapons in a concealed manner. And, it doesn’t matter whether you are a police officer, a soldier or a bank robber, if you carry a weapon as a tool of your trade there are only two very simple rules to remember: a) Take it with you when you go to work, and b) Keep it in a safe and convenient place until you need it.
The police officer and the soldier will happily and overtly display their weapons most of the time. Criminals, for obvious reasons, need to conceal their weapons at all costs…especially if they are a trusted insider.
First and foremost, what is a concealed weapon? Concealed weapons are weapons which are kept hidden on one’s person or under one’s control. ‘To conceal’ means
‘to keep from being seen, found, observed, or discovered’;
‘to prevent disclosure or recognition of’;
‘to avoid exposure of’;
‘to refrain from revealing’;
‘to withhold knowledge of’;
‘to draw attention from’;
‘to treat so as to be unnoticed’.
A firearm or any other dangerous weapon is concealed if it is carried in such a manner so as to be undetectable by the ordinary observation of an onlooker.
Carrying a concealed weapon is illegal in most parts of the world, unless the person is a law enforcement officer, or the holder of an official licence or permit to carry a concealed weapon. For example, some states in the USA do allow citizens to carry a concealed firearm under the so-called ‘concealed carry law’. However, there is often no requirement that there be absolute invisibility of the weapon; merely that it is not on open view to a bystander.
A dangerous weapon would be considered concealed if it is not secured, and is worn under clothing; or carried in a package or bag that is held or carried by an individual; or transported in a vehicle under the individual’s control or direction and available for immediate use, e.g. kept under the seat or in a glove compartment. One must remember that at airside access control points, vehicles might be subject to inspection but the degree of inspection makes it extremely difficult to identify a weapon concealed therein.
A firearm or dangerous weapon is not considered concealed if it is:
Carried on a belt in a holster or sheath, which is visible, or carried in a case designed for carrying a firearm or weapon and which is visible;
Locked in a closed boot or luggage compartment of a vehicle;
Carried in the field while lawfully engaged in hunting, clay pigeon shooting or target shooting, even if not visible;
Carried by any person permitted by law to possess a firearm (unloaded) or weapon in a secure covering from the place of purchase to the person’s home or place of business, or to or from a place of repair.
In the case of firearms it is possible to spend a small fortune on sophisticated concealment holsters and carry systems. You can, of course, just stuff it down the back of your pants and spend nothing, although only an exceptionally confident insider would brazenly walk through an airport checkpoint with such a simplistic concealment.
Although the ‘concealed carry law’ is in force in the USA, most places in the world do not, under any circumstances, allow you to carry anything for personal protection, especially not a firearm. That said, we all know to our cost that the law of the land does not apply to the criminal.
First let’s consider the physical act of carrying a gun. It’s probably going to be quite heavy – almost a kilo on average (about the same as a bag of sugar). It’s hard with no flexibility and it has very defined edges. It has to be instantly accessible; ideally somewhere near the waistline or upper torso, and you really don’t want anyone to see it until you want them to.
There are some law enforcement and government agents who are experts in concealed carry. Operatives will take great care to match the method of carry with their mode of dress. Some will have specially tailored suites to disguise bulges caused by holsters. Weapons accessory manufacturers produce a vast range of holsters specifically for concealed carry, i.e. shoulder holsters, inside-the-belt holsters, ankle holsters, small-of-the-back pancake holsters, handbag holsters, folio holsters, briefcase holsters. The list goes on and on.
Many firearms manufacturers have a range of ultra slim, sub-compact pistols, especially for covert operatives. And of course disguised firearms are hidden in plain sight by the mere fact that they could look like anything apart from a gun that is.
On the other hand, your average thug, fortunately, is not very sophisticated and will have little to no access to specialised equipment. Thugs, however, might be a concern at a nightclub or tourist attraction, but not at an airport where the trained terrorist is our primary challenge. Here it is more than likely that their firearm will be a full-size, full-frame model.
Given aviation industry concern about a front-of-house attack, it is now incumbent upon all security personnel operating in terminals and effecting landside/road access surveillance to be familiar with behavioural detection techniques which might pre-empt a potential assault.
Spotting the Concealed Carry
It may be considered a dirty word in our politically correct world, but the sad fact is ‘profiling’ helps keep people alive, and if the price to pay to save a life is to possibly upset or even offend someone, well then so be it!
Picking out the person with a weapon (good guys or bad guys) is no bad thing. It all revolves around how people behave when carrying a weapon.
From a security point of view the mindset has to be that, “Everyone has a weapon and intends to use it”. Our brains have the ability to identify all kinds of minute details you don’t consciously see.
The brain puts the whole picture together, and sends out warning signals that say, “something is wrong”. You may call this a gut feeling… Don’t ignore it!
The following list of visual clues is based on information from and the experience of police officers around the world:
Signs of Concealment
Wearing inappropriate attire inconsistent with the weather or season. Heavy jacket, sweater, hats or gloves in the height of summer. Or, perhaps, a coat left open in bad weather making for easy access to a concealed weapon.
Wearing an outer garment with lots of pockets, for example a photographers’ vest or safari jacket.
Wearing very loose-fitting and voluminous clothing.
A coat or jacket may hang unnaturally, or the hemline or collar may be pulled down on one side by the weight of a gun in the pocket. Also the collar may be pulled tight against the back of the suspect’s neck.
Shirts that are not tucked in are a modern fashion, but it is a common technique used to conceal a weapon. Also a shirt that is only partly tucked in can be used to create an improvised holster for carry inside the waistband.
If a handgun is in a holster, or just tucked in the pants under a shirt, the shirt will often be customised by replacing the buttons with hook-and-eye type fastenings or Velcro. The buttons are removed and restitched on the outside to give the appearance of a normal shirt. This technique gives easy access to a weapon.