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Gun smuggling, airline security and an intelligence failure.

January 25, 2011 2 comments

The headline article in the London Times for 25 January 2011 (print edition), Gunrunner Security Fiasco, reports how a security consultant named Steven Greenoe had smuggled numerous weapons into the UK – subsequently sold to UK criminals and gangs. At least one gun is known to have been used in a drive-by shooting.

This story raises several issues – not least the problem of airport security and how to ensure passenger safety, both on the ground and in the air. The news appeared to break on the same day that a suicide bomber killed three dozen people at the Moscow arrivals lounge.

I’ve often felt that the current paranoia over airport security was “overkill” (pardon the word-use). When I first started flying it was an adventure, but since September 2001 it has become more and more unpleasant. The security checks – although necessary – are becoming increasingly intrusive, yet the terrorists and criminals continually find new ways to get round them. Each time they are caught, new barriers are put in front of the innocent travelling public, to the extent that the average traveller is now so nervous that it would be almost impossible to differentiate between the genuinely nervous innocent and the person exhibiting nervousness due to their plans to blow up a plane.

Just as an example of how easy it is to blow up a plane if you really wanted to, I did some quick research prior to writing this post. For a few hundred US$ it is possible to purchase a few grams of a chemical and package it in a way that would not arouse suspicion if taken on a plane. With the addition of further chemicals available to all passengers on the plane, this could be turned into a bomb that would cause substantial damage. I’m not going to identify the chemicals for obvious reasons and not having tested this, I can’t say whether this bomb would be sufficient to blow a hole in the plane’s fuselage. However videos of the two chemicals in combination are available on the Internet, and the reaction is always highly explosive, completely destroying the reaction container. (One described the reaction of just 2 grams of a similar less-reactive chemical as like letting off a hand-grenade in a bath tub, and the resulting video confirmed this as the bath was destroyed).

The point is that if you want to kill and cause mayhem, it is possible. The job of security is to spot those people who are acting suspiciously or where intelligence suggests that they may be up to no good. This is how El Al caught Nezar Hindawi when he persuaded his pregnant girlfriend to carry a bomb onto a plane for him. The girlfriend was innocent and knew nothing about the suitcase with semtex hidden inside. It was only due to excellent intelligence, prior to reaching check-in, that a massacre was stopped.

The problem today is that everybody is likely to act suspiciously due to nervousness – and so make the job of picking up the genuine criminal more difficult. I believe that this is the first problem with airline security. The second is the laxness of checks at some smaller airports. Both are examples of intelligence failures. The first adds “noise” to the security problem, and uses staff that just go through procedures rather than depend on intelligence skills. The second is potentially worse in that it fails to use intelligence at all, and just hopes that the fact that the airport is small / regional means that the risk will be much lower. Of course, any potential terrorist can spot this from a long way off.

The US has long felt relatively safe, so long as the terrorist is kept out. As a result, checks on domestic flights are minimal or ineffective. This means that it is relatively easy to pack guns in domestic luggage – that then gets transferred to an international flight. Part of the problem here is the US obsession with gun ownership as a right (with the right saying that guns don’t kill people – people kill people, and ignoring the fact that guns make it easier for people to kill people). As long as the gun is in stored luggage there is less of an incentive to stop the passenger – even if detected. In the case of Steven Greenoe, he was reportedly stopped on at least one occasion – but managed to justify himself and so was allowed to fly, rather than get arrested. (I find it strange that in America – driving at 95mph or smoking cannabis – both generally less dangerous than owning and using a loaded gun are more likely to result in a criminal record).

The Times newspaper article mentioned that the gun smuggler concerned, Steven Greenoe, described himself as a security consultant. I did a brief search and up popped Greenoe’s LinkedIn page. Greenoe describes himself as the CEO of Jolie Rouge (which to me sounds a bit like the name given to the Pirate Flag – the Jolly Roger: surely not a coincidence). One part of Jolie Rouge’s business appears to be competitive intelligence – although the company doesn’t actually seem to use this term. Nevertheless Jolie Rouge Consulting states:

JRC uses public and private sources to unearth information critical to accurately valuing business and financial transactions. JRC uses an established network of legal, political, business, and military thought leaders to rapidly compile up-to-date and difficult-to-acquire information. Our clients use JRC’s oral and written reports to validate and sharpen their investment strategies and long-term business planning.

When I first looked at Greenoe’s profile he’d included the Business Strategy & Competitive Strategy forum within his LinkedIn profile.  When I next looked this had disappeared. I don’t know whether Greenoe dropped the group, or the group dropped him – scared about adverse publicity linking a gun runner to competitive strategy. Nevertheless, it highlights how important it is for the competitive intelligence community to police their own and ensure that anybody linked to the profession behaves ethically and morally. (This wouldn’t be the first time. There is a well-known and erudite CI consultant and author who many years ago, got caught up similarly, causing a scandal that is still remembered by long-time competitive intelligence professionals). Gun-running – especially where the guns are then sold on illegally is a lucrative business. (The guns cost $500 each but were reported to be selling at 10x that amount – meaning that the consignment he was arrested over would have netted him $360,000 profit for a little over $40,000 expenditure).

However the really odd thing about this news story is the date. Although the reports reached the press today (January 2011), Greenoe was first stopped on May 3, 2010, and arrested in July 2010. I wonder why it has taken six months for this story to hit the headlines. It’s another example of how care needs to be taken when doing competitive intelligence analyses – as what may look like a new news story could actually be quite old.

Thoughts on Asia

November 22, 2010 3 comments

A week ago I was travelling – first to Jakarta in Indonesia and then on to Mumbai in India. I left Jakarta just as President Obama was arriving, and flew to India where he’d spent a few days before moving on to Indonesia.

I’d never been to Indonesia before and hadn’t been in India for a few decades so my take on both countries may be subjective. However there were some things that were impossible to ignore.

In both hotels I stayed in, security was high. I had to pass my luggage through a scanner and pass through one each time I entered the hotel. The same applied to a shopping mall I visited in Jakarta. I’m familiar with this in Israel – and expect it. It’s the way to protect public places from terrorist attack. I was not surprised to see it in Mumbai, considering the atrocities carried out over the last few years in India. However I was surprised to see it in Jakarta – the largest Muslim nation in the world. I know that there was an attack in Bali in 2002 but Bali was a target as it was a way to hit so-called decadent Westerners (or so I thought). Jakarta, conversely, is a business centre and unlike Bali, mostly Moslem. Yet, security was tight – and it wasn’t just because Obama was visiting.

In London there is no overt security in hotels – you walk in without being stopped. The same applies in mainland Europe (or at least in the countries I’ve visited recently) and in the USA. However I suspect that over time, this will change as the terrorists inflict their damage on the ways of life and the freedom we expect. The plague that is terrorism does not distinguish between nations and religions – and it is ironic that so many terrorists claim to be followers of Islam, yet still target Moslems, as was so evident in Indonesia.

Jakarta - Rich versus Poor: A bank next to a street merchant.

Jakarta - Rich versus Poor: A bank next to a street merchant.

Another thing I noticed – especially in Indonesia was the gap between rich and poor. My hotel – a beautiful five-star hotel – was directly outside a road packed with shacks and small roadside shops. I took a walk down a lane – that would have been a downmarket slum in London. The lane joined the Intercontinental hotel that I was staying in, and the Shangri-La that Obama was booked into. Although I felt safe, I could see how resentment over the wealth that was so visible compared to what the majority survived on could spill over and destabilise the country. Whether this will happen, of course, will depend on the efforts the government makes to close the gap and allow the aspirations of the majority to be fulfilled. Without any effort I foresee trouble within a few years – either via violence, or political upheaval. Either will not be pleasant for those with the money, and potentially for those without.
In contrast, in India, even though I saw poverty, I also saw hope. People smiled and looked happy – even those with almost nothing. Children played cricket on the streets and there wasn’t the poverty of spirit you see in the West. Instead, there was an optimism that I’ve also seen in China but you need to search for in the US and Europe. 

A Mumbai Street Scene

A Mumbai Street Scene - Night-time cook-out on the pavement.

Children playing Cricket In the Street in Mumbai

Children playing Cricket In the Street in Mumbai - perhaps why India is now better than the UK at Cricket, as kids still play actively outdoors.

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