RCMP underscores threat to passenger aircraft from ‘extremist insiders’

The sensational case of a Kansas airport worker who planned to blow up a plane could hold important lessons for Canadian security personnel trying to detect a brewing terrorist plot, an RCMP intelligence report warns.

OTTAWA — The sensational case of a Kansas airport worker who planned to blow up a plane could hold important lessons for Canadian security personnel trying to detect a brewing terrorist plot, an RCMP intelligence report warns.

Over last few years, al-Qaida terrorists and their affiliates have unsuccessfully plotted to smuggle homemade explosives into an aircraft’s cabin or cargo hold.

Terry Loewen’s failed plan to detonate a bomb-laden vehicle on the tarmac of a Wichita airport near a parked plane — potentially killing scores of passengers — “may be seen as a viable alternative to in-flight attacks,” the declassified report says.

Loewen, an avionics technician who was inspired by Islamic extremists, pleaded guilty last month and faces 20 years in prison.

RCMP analysts see Loewen as a classic case of the threat from “extremist insiders” — known cases of employees at key public installations, such as airports, who use their position and knowledge to advance or carry out a terrorist attack.

The report, marked Canadian Eyes Only, was prepared in January of last year by the RCMP’s critical infrastructure intelligence team. A heavily censored version was released under the Access to Information Act.

Loewen told an undercover agent with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation that he was “the access guy” who could escort co-conspirators onto the tarmac, the report notes. He provided the agent with photos of his airport access badge and runway entrance gates.

“Loewen allegedly shared an additional diagram of the terminal and marked an ’X’ to indicate the best place to park the vehicle to cause the most damage,” the report says. “Loewen also provided time schedules for departures at the airport and confirmed that the early morning hours would be the best time to execute the plan.”

Although Loewen was an employee, the RCMP report points out the possibility of a plotter using fake or real uniforms and vehicles to carry out an attack.

The report urges airport officials to:

— Inspect deliveries, subcontractors, maintenance personnel and incoming equipment;

— Provide employees with regular threat awareness briefings;

— Set up protocols for reporting suspicious incidents, including lost or stolen items; and

— Stay current with the “branding” of uniforms and equipment to help spot fakes.

A November 2014 Transport Canada audit, recently made public, found more than seven per cent of employees who left the department in 2013 had an active electronic access card for more than five business days after their employment ended.

“As long as the access card was valid, there is a potential that former employees may enter the premises, to review and / or remove information to which they are no longer entitled,” the audit report said.

It also found inconsistent reporting of aviation incidents related to “unauthorized access to a restricted area” or instances in which someone tried to inappropriately use an electronic access card.

In a separate, broader study, also released under the access law, the RCMP’s critical infrastructure intelligence analysts looked at nine international cases involving extremist insiders employed by the aviation industry.

At the time of their arrest, most were between the ages of 20 and 30, had two to three years on the job, and held working-level positions such as baggage handler, storekeeper or security guard that gave them access to the terminal’s airside.

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