Security expert warns business aviation: 'Threats are out there'
With America on a major terror alert for the commemoration yesterday of the anniversary of the September 11 attacks (U.S. officials raised the warning for the first time to Code Orange, just one tier below the highest level of danger), the focus that would have been placed on security anyway this week took on a new and palpable urgency. The terrorists may be lying low, but it doesn’t mean we can allow ourselves to become complacent, Charlie LeBlanc, vice president of operations for Air Security International (ASI), warned the business aviation community in an NBAA press conference yesterday. Though some observers may downplay the dangers, he said, as a company with extensive security-related experience, ASI is aware that “the threats are out there. There are specific threats that are being processed every day. I think the steps for alerting business aircraft operators are getting better, but the possibilities of new terrorist threats can’t be ignored.”
With the anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy taking place during this meeting, he added, “If there is one company here at NBAA that has had a pulse on 9/11, it surely is Air Security International. For the past 13 years we have been providing critical intelligence and international on-ground support for companies and individuals doing business globally.
“Corporate aviation can no longer hide behind the veil of ‘We know who our passengers are.’ Corporate aviation has to provide systems and procedures to ensure that–if there is another aviation-related attack–the corporate side of aviation will not be in the spotlight.”
He cited a number of facts to support his arguments:
•Prior to 9/11, al Qaeda tried to purchase a mothballed 727.
•Al Qaeda members made numerous inquiries into chartering large business aircraft for cross-country flights.
•Al Qaeda members obtained airport diagrams and complete blueprints for some of the largest general aviation airports in the nation.
“Intelligence officials tell us they continue to pick up ‘chatter’ from al Qaeda operatives vowing to strike another huge blow. Interestingly, since the World Trade Center attack, there have been about 1,000 al Qaeda terrorists arrested around the world, with 250 arrested in Europe alone. Estimates of al Qaeda operatives remaining at large range from several thousand to 11,000.”
ASI, LeBlanc told NBAA Convention News, doesn’t produce equipment, but keeps aware of what’s available and tailors it to specific missions. “We provide solutions. We try to bridge all of the different alternatives to protect our clients. Our approach is proactive. If we don’t do what’s needed to prevent terrorist or other activity, we’ve failed our job.”
He pointed out at the conference the “very exciting changes that have taken place at ASI. Over the past several years, ASI has been undergoing a transformation from a company that primarily served the needs of corporate aviation into an internationally recognized provider of intelligence and security services.” Part of the growth efforts, he noted, has been the recent establishment of two new international security hubs in London and Bangkok. “Our acquisition of London-based Sheldon Little and Associates has expanded our capabilities in crisis response as well as kidnap and ransom negotiations.”
While ASI continues to work with the flight departments of many major companies, he stressed, “We also have grown to serve the intelligence and security needs of international organizations, the U.S. government and multinational corporations in various economic sectors. We have strategically evolved from an aviation security company to a world leader in intelligence services, transportation, executive protection and security training and risk mitigation.”
At NBAA ’02, the company also announced it had been retained by American International Group (AIG) to handle all kidnap and ransom intelligence for AIG’s Crisis Management Division. “AIG is the world’s leading U.S.-based international insurance and financial service organization. We’ll be providing detailed risk analysis for AIG’s kidnap and ransom insurance policy underwriting.”