A Few Untapped Resources
by Gary Aldrich - Volume 1, Issue 47
This article ran exclusively in the Washington Times - Forum Section on Sunday, November 11, 2001.
Iíve flown several times since September 11, 2001 and I can truthfully admit that I was not that comfortable with getting on any airplane when I knew that the lowest bidder had won the airline contract to screen the passengers and secure the working areas of most of our nationís international airports.
As I sat in the waiting room I looked at each waiting passenger. I had promised my wife - also a former FBI Agent - that I would do as much as I could to assure my family that I would return safely. Of course they did not want me to go.
As I scanned the crowd looking for odd people, violent looking people, or those who might match a terrorist profile, I suddenly realized I was back on the job!
Two federal marshals walked down the corridor and stopped in my area to do the same thing I was doing. They scanned the group, including me. They were in uniform, and were armed. I was younger than both were, and I knew from their appearance that I was more physically fit. I mention this only because the thought occurred to me that except for the gun, I had everything they had to protect my flight against a terrorist attack.
When I entered the plane, I looked at each sitting passenger and attempted to establish eye contact. Some people will not look up no matter whatís going on, because they donít want anyone to see their eyes. Often they behave this way because theyíre shy. Sometimes they avoid the look because they are trying to hide something. It is against human nature to not look at the arriving passengers. Some are handsome and pretty, some unusual, but all humans are interesting to law enforcement officers - on the job, or retired.
Everything looked good, but I saw no sign of any air-marshal or other official who might be armed and in a position to defend the flight. Most law enforcement types can spot each other in a hurry, and I saw nobody who resembled a cop, or a federal agent. Soon, one of the pilots came out of the cockpit and walked to the back of the plane. He tried to look casual, but he was doing the very same thing that I had done. He looked at each passenger. After he returned to the front of the plane, the second officer took a stroll to the back, and then returned to the front.
Having done as much as I could to spot a dangerous person, I went to the back of the plane to get a magazine. Two stewardesses were in the galley, speaking softly. I leaned in and whispered that I was a 26-year veteran of the FBI. They requested my row and seat number, and it was obvious they were quite pleased to hear about my presence on the plane. Even though it had been years since Iíd carried a gun and a badge, I was confident I knew a lot more about security and self-defense than most of the passengers and the crew.
After we landed safely, the crew came up to me and thanked me profusely. I had really done nothing more than let them know I was on the plane. But if things had turned bad, I could have drawn upon my years of experience and training to assist the crew to the extent that anybody could when faced with odds that multiple terrorists would probably have some weapons, whereas the crew and I were thoroughly frisked and disarmed at the magnetometer.
As I drove home I began to wonder why the federal government doesnít tap into the enormous pool of former law enforcement and military personnel who are part of every community. There must be thousands of us in every major city, and I know that the smaller towns have numerous former military, because thatís where a great number of our fighting men are recruited.
And, so far our terrorists have lived in larger cities - New York, for example - where it is impossible for people like me to own and carry weapons. Think of it: Thousands of former law enforcement and military personnel, trained in security most willing to do whatever it takes to protect our women and children, and our facilities. Yet, federal and state governments have disarmed us.
Moreover, in the case of at least one federal agency - the FBI - they are turning down the good faith offers of former FBI agents to do volunteer work - any unpaid work - including answering the phones, or even taking out the trash - just so that a contribution of time can be made to fighting the terror that faces us all.
Why are these obvious good resources being ignored? Simple. As a society and government we are still thinking inside the box of pre-911, before we were so terribly attacked on our own soil. The ramifications of that attack have not fully sunk in. Everyone should be on the look out - but trained law enforcement officers, now retired or in another profession, can do more.
Lots of eyes and ears watching and listening is a good thing in wartime. Thousands of former law enforcement officers armed and engaged would be a terrific infusion to the already over-taxed law enforcement agencies, now straining under the weight of enormous terrorism investigations, trying to back-fill the vacancies in the ranks caused by military call-up.