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Concerns over airline security heightened after Brussels, Egypt

A crew member of the hijacked aircraft of EgyptAir is seen on the passenger steps after landing at Larnaca airport Tuesday, March 29, 2016. The EgyptAir plane was hijacked on Tuesday while flying from the Egyptian Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria to the capital, Cairo, and later landed in Cyprus where some of the women and children were allowed to get off the aircraft, according to Egyptian and Cypriot officials. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

While no one was injured, Tuesday morning's hijacking of an EgyptAir flight was the latest in a string of incidents that have reminded the world that they are at risk.

When a man, who officials have since described as emotionally unstable and who appeared to be wearing a suicide belt demanded that the pilot land the plane in Cyprus, observers of the events unfolding questioned if this incident would end in tragedy.

Given recent events, Jeffrey Price, Professor of Aerospace Science at Metropolitan State University of Denver, was un-surprised by the response to the hijacking.

"Anytime there's an attack everybody becomes highly sensitive to that issue for a period of time," Price said when asked if the recent attacks in Brussels contributed to the tense response that came Tuesday morning.

RELATED |Egypt plane drama ends: hijacker arrested, passengers freed

Price compared it to when someone's home is broken into. When someone's home is burglarized, they're likely to be concerned about the same crime happening again.

"The same thing happens in aviation security," Price said.

For some time, Price suggested we will be "very sensitive to airport security and then unfortunately we're going to forget."

The response Tuesday, that Price said was "more sensitive," because of the Brussels attacks, noted that there have been "several things that have brought aviation security," to the forefront.

Thankfully, the EgyptAir hijacking resolved peacefully and ended up being nothing more than a disgruntled ex-husband seeking a conversation with his former wife. The apparent suicide belt turned out to be fake.

Although the explosives on board flight MS18 were not real, experts noted that responding as though the threat was credible was the only possible response.

"Anyone who announces they have a weapon or a bomb onboard a common aircraft carrier," the assumption has to be that what they are saying is a fact, Anthony C. Roman, founder and CEO of Roman and Associates Inc., explained.

RELATED |Terror expert talks possibility of future attacks in Europe

"You have to err on the side of caution and then engage in the normal protocols for management of that situation," Roman said.

Price described the ease with which someone can make a threat, noting that "you can just lie and make up whatever you want."

"You don't even need a fake looking device," he added, noting that you can simply say you've stored something in your checked luggage.

"To a certain extent this incident could have happened anywhere in the world," Price said.

Yet the fact that it happened in Egypt made the hijacking even more circumspect, given that just last year, a passenger plane that departed from Egypt exploded en route to Russia.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the downing of that jet and shared a photo of a soft-drink bomb that they said was what brought Flight 9268 to a fateful end in the Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt faced extensive questioning after that incident, with many wondering how it was possible for the bomb to get past security and onto the St. Petersburg-bound plane.

Following the bombing, Roman noted American and international aviation authorities have been working with the Egyptian government to ensure the country is meeting international standards "so flights can continue servicing Egypt."

RELATED | Mystery, confusion surround Russian plane crash in Egypt

In order for U.S. carriers to service a particular country, Roman explained, the country must comply with the International Civil Aviation Organization's (ICAO) international Security standards and TSA standards.

Though, Roman noted "the level of implementation of these security standards varies from country to country and airport to airport, even within the United States."

In Egypt, Roman said "it doesn't appear that there is a continuity of security at an appropriate level."

"Egypt has been criticized several times for having [relaxed] security measures," Price said, adding that not all countries meet the standards necessarily at the same levels.

In these varying executions of the rules, weaknesses exist and it is those weaknesses that go on display when the there is a security breach.

Describing the "clearly demonstrated, exposed vulnerabilities at international airports," Roman agreed that the exposure can make some airports clear targets.

"The good news," Roman added, "is that everyone's aware of the vulnerabilities," but "when or where they are shored up is unknown."

As a result, potential attackers are "always second guessing," whether that particular flaw has been corrected or is available for exploitation.

"It becomes a big of a cat and mouse game," Roman observed noting that it comes down to how much we are improving versus how much the would-be attackers know.

"I think every international airport I've seen has varying vulnerabilities," Roman said, noting the exception of Israel.

Israel, Roman noted is an apple and orange comparison.

Although Israel calls its airport security private, Roman explained the people protecting it are "all former military commandos."

"Also Israel is a tiny country with only a handful of airports that need to be protected," Roman said in comparison to The United States which is a reasonably larger country with a greater array of airports.

RELATED |Concerns at local airports after terror attacks in Brussels

In the wake of the September 11th attacks, The New York Times' Nicola Clark noted "a new wave of tighter precautions," emerged for air travel. As The Economist noted, since those attacks "the cycle of enhanced security after terror attacks has grown all too familiar."

The attacks in Brussels, The Economist noted prompted the latest upping of airport security.

"Europe has, of course, led the way," The Economist wrote, detailing actions taken in places like Nigeria, Egypt and here in the United States.

"Even Jacksonville International Airport in Florida, the 55th-largest airport in the United States and hardly a top terrorist target, now has police officers carrying long guns," The Economist reported.

The sentiment used to describe the threat-risk at the Jacksonville airport pales in comparison to the 54 ahead of it on the list. Much like Jacksonville, while still a potential threat, is not a high target for terrorist, the U.S. is considered less of a threat than its European counterparts.

"Europol and international security observers are saying that Europe has more of a threat at the moment," explained Mai'a Cross, associate professor of political science and international affairs at Northeastern University. It is understood that far more citizens in Europe go to be trained as fighters in Syria and Iraq than do those of the United States.

Roman described several reasons that Europe is more vulnerable to terror attacks than the United States.

First, Roman said is the "poignant point," made by CIA Director John O. Brennan. Describing Brennan's thoughts, Roman explained that European officials "are still looking at terror from an enforcement point of view."

"This places a huge handicap on European authorities," Roman said.

"The EU has traditionally approached terror as a policing matter opposed to a military matter," Cross explained.

Describing the difference between those approaches, Cross said "for me it's more about a kind of internal security versus external."

The United States, Cross noted, responded to the 9/11 attacks with external security with operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. "At that time there was a big divide over whether that was the right approach."

Discussing the debate over policing terror during an interview on Tuesday , former CIA director Michael Hayden acknowledged the divides that exist between the U.S. approach to terror and that taken by Europe.

Asked by a moderator if the capture Salah Abdeslam and the judicial proceedings that occurred in his case prior to the Brussels attacks "was something of an indictment to the law enforcement approach to terrorist interrogation?"

"The answer is yes, comma," Hayden said before elaborating.

"This was a fully grown plot," Hayden said "this did not get cooked up Sunday night in somebody's basement."

"He knew, they knew he knew, they feared and therefore they acted," Hayden said.

RELATED |Belgian errors hold valuable lessons in fight against ISIS

"There's so many ways of coming at the question you just asked me," Hayden told the moderator before delving into an account of his time as CIA director.

When invited to speak before the ambassadors from the EU, Hayden decided to discuss renditions, detentions and interrogations.

"About page two or three I just say to the collective Europeans 'look, let's be very candid, let me tell you what I believe, what my agency believes what my government believes and frankly what I believe my country believes, we are a nation at war, we are at war with Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, this war is global in scope and I can only fulfill the responsibilities I have to my citizens to take this fight to that enemy wherever they will be," Hayden recalled.

"War, Al-Qaeda, global, take the fight," Hayden quoted himself saying.

"There was not another country in the room that agreed with any of those four sentences."

"They not only rejected them for themselves, but clearly felt that we were not on solid legal ground in terms of applying them to us," Hayden said.

"You do have this dichotomy between ourselves and the Europeans," Hayden said.

Experts offered further contrasted the way The United States and Europe have been dealing with international terrorism.

Roman noted that "the security services between countries [are] somewhat fractured," noting that the members of the European Union are not communicating as well as they should.

Describing Belgium's small size, Roman explained how they are somewhat underfunded and face challenges because they are "culturally fractured."

RELATED |Expert: Brussels attack shows Belgian approach to extremism 'has back-fired'

Addressing Brussels as a victim, Hayden described it as a "small, under-resourced, from time-to-time dysfunctional security service."

"Now you've got real issue here."

Roman highlighted the "natural cultural divide," that exists within the small country saying they are "not performing to standard."

Cross noted that part of the problem is the ease with which Europeans who go to train in Syria and Iraq are able to return to their home country.

"It's not as difficult as perhaps it should be," Cross said. What tends to happen, Cross said is that because they have an EU passport "they can travel freely within Europe as EU citizens," despite having been radicalized.

"[The] EU has relatively open borders," Cross said noting that we've seen this with the migration flow.

"That's part of its vulnerability, a lot of the conversation of how to deal with the threat is to find ways to secure the external borders," and exchange information regarding who has been where.

Cross countered the notion that Schengen is over in Europe. "Schengen is not as much in crisis as many portray," Cross said noting that "the borders are not being reinstated in light of these states of emergency."

Instead, Cross offered there is more security at the borders.

Reading reports that Schengen has come to an end, Cross noted "that really isn't the case its been largely exaggerated."

RELATED |Border defense choices on display in migrant crisis

Cross speculated that the strengthening of major border agencies would be one in a series of changes to come in Europe.

Noting that "on one hand it's impossible to create some kind of perfect system," Cross said that "on the other hand there are ways in which some of this can be mitigated."

One area where we will "likely see major changes in EU policy," Cross said was in the "intelligence area."

Listing the strengthening of border agencies and Europol as well as the broadening of parameters of the EU's intelligence, Cross stressed that "all of these areas need to be dramatically strengthened.

"I think EU leaders have realized this," Cross said adding that we are likely to see much more integration and an inclusion of previous attacks in the track record of what's going on."

"Brussels drove home the point that this is becoming a pattern."


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