Many aviation units have been tasked with the assignment of homeland security/counter-terrorism missions. Unfortunately, many units are not given direction as to how to conduct these assignments nor exactly what their mission is and what larger objectives the agency is seeking to achieve other than prevent an attack. There is more than one aviation unit commander that has been asked, "Are you patrolling locations with an eye on terrorist activity?" After a nervous chuckle and shuffling of the feet, he answers, "Of course!" The truth? Many aircrews simply pick and choose a location they want and conduct a "counter-terrorism patrol." Hardly a focused and directed approach, it is more akin to the "needle in the haystack" approach. How can we better focus these missions with real and clear objectives? Develop mission profiles based on specific and credible threats or world events.
The Aviation/Intelligence Partnership
If your agency/department has a formal "Intelligence" component, you already have a tremendous resource in developing a mission profile. The intelligence people should have a good idea on what locations and sites are high priority and should receive the attention of law enforcement assets. If you couple these known targeted sites with intelligence information received by your agency, you can develop a mission profile. For example, a particular patrol command in your agency has received two reports of persons taking pictures of the local airport's jet fuel farm. The units that responded did not find the persons taking the pictures but were informed by eyewitnesses that on two occasions they observed two men taking numerous photographs of the jet fuel farm. One of the eyewitnesses challenged the men and was told, "Don't you worry about it; we are from the state." Responding personnel filled out and filed a field intelligence report and forwarded it to the appropriate unit in your department. Of course, a check with the state shows that they had no employees in that area and have no pending or future projects involving the fuel farm. Furthermore, your intelligence unit has been informed in a confidential memo from federal authorities that terrorists have taken a keen interest in jet fuel farms, with no further specific information. This is an ideal example of units working together and formulating a specific and focused mission. Directed patrols can be assigned to patrol, aviation and specialized units to focus on the jet fuel farm.
Lacking active intelligence, your agency can keep abreast of world events and activities. The activities abroad can give a hint of intentions here and determine strategy. For example, the London subway bombings, the Madrid commuter train bombings and the recent failed London car bomb attacks all give a clue as to the terrorists' intentions and methods of operations. If an attack occurs on a chemical plant in Germany, it would certainly warrant closer scrutiny of chemical plants here. If a cruise ship was attacked in the Philippines, it would mean a closer look at cruise ships' arrivals and departures.
What if your agency has no formal intelligence component? Create your own! Designate an officer assigned to the aviation unit to comb local, state and federal as well as commercial websites for the latest intelligence information on terrorist groups. This assigned officer should develop a relationship with and interact with personnel from the local, state and federal levels. Find out what the trends are and what the "word on the street" is regarding terrorism. Several years ago, a document was recovered by our U.S. military forces that outlined exactly what locations and sites that Al-Qaeda covets and exactly how they train and will carry out these missions. This document was widely distributed to law enforcement. Have your personnel give it a look. It is fascinating reading.
The Aviation Mission