tsa-screenerThis is the first in a series of blog articles about ways to fix the problems of terrorist threat to aviation security, in the U.S. and abroad. Chameleon Associates has been providing counter terrorism training and consultation for many years with the ultimate goal of changing mindsets about security. We know that the adoption of our logical, proven and effective measures and methods will save lives. Our first topic is IDENTIFICATION:



The No Fly, Selectee and other lists that the DHS and various agencies compile are completely ineffective unless adequate measures are taken to establish a passenger’s identity during the airport screening process. In this, Congress has tied the hands of the TSA that is restricted to checking that a passenger’s ID is government issued, current, that the photo matches the ID holder, and that the ticket name matches that of the ID. Basically, these procedures are geared towards identifying whether or not the ID is genuine (valid and current) but not if it is forged or if the identity is stolen. To be able to identify a forged passport or ID, an officer needs much more than an ultraviolet checker and matching between ticket, name, picture and face. He needs to acquire the ability to know how to question, assess information, and look for indicators in the documentation, the passenger’s story, declared identity and overall behavior. These skills are especially needed when dealing with passports of lesser known countries.


A passenger can claim that his ID was lost or stolen. On June 21, 2008, the TSA implemented a rule that passengers who willfully refuse to provide identification at a security checkpoint would be denied access to the secure area of airports. Passengers who are cooperative with officers but have (or claim to have) misplaced or lost their ID may be subjected to enhanced screening protocols, physical checks of their person, carry-on or checked baggage. They may be interviewed by BDOs or law enforcement. But a cooperative passenger can provide information about their identity that is very difficult or impossible to confirm. Perhaps he claims to reside in a remote or rather inaccessible country – a South Pacific island or previous member of the Soviet bloc. Remember that physical screenings are ineffective against certain concealment methods, for example, hiding a bomb inside one’s body. Here’s an example:



HERE IS A SOLUTION: on a policy level, Congress must fully empower the TSA with the authority and ability (procedures, training and equipment) to proactively detect and determine potentially forged IDs and fake cover stories. The TSA should have the discretion to bar a passenger from flying if he is deemed a threat to the flight…and more importantly, they should not be afraid to use their authority. On an operations level, officers must be trained on suspicion indicators relating to false IDs and false identities. They need to acquire the skills and be given license to effectively question anyone suspected of carrying a forged ID or passport, or who may be using a cover story.


What’s more, a passenger who does not possess an ID and his identity cannot fully established should be treated as a “threatening passenger”; he may be involved in surveillance, or the planning or execution of an attack. Should he be allowed on board a flight, he must be treated in the following way:


  • Screen the threatening passenger and all his belongings for the minimal effective amount of explosives (only several grams), a split bomb or a disassembled weapon. This type of screening is much more detailed than the current Selectee screening.
  • Contact the appropriate travel agent or airline representative to assess how and where the ticket was purchased and by whom.
  • Note all the details and take a full description of the passenger – it may come in handy later.
  • Check if other passengers on the same flight have similar PNR characteristics – possible accomplices.
  • If no explosives or weapons are found in the screening, escort the “threatening passenger” from the checkpoint to his assigned seat on the plane. Assure he does not receive anything from anyone between the checkpoint and airplane.
  • Allow the passenger to fly only if there is an air marshal aboard, otherwise delay his flight to one that does have an air marshal present.
  • Assign the passenger a seat where the air marshal and flight crew have full control of him.
  • Communicate your findings about the threatening passenger to the crew, the pilots and the air marshals.



Terrorists can use altered or falsified passports. As long as the passport is current and genuine (government issued) and the passport photo has been altered professionally, it would be difficult for a TSA officer to check it (given lack of training and authority). Effective document checking takes training, and for that matter appropriate jurisdiction and sufficient authority. Here is an example of such a passport used by Hussein Mikdad, a Hezbollah terrorist who in 1996 used the identity and stolen passport of Andrew Jonathan Charles Newman, a British Citizen, to travel across Europe and into Israel to attempt to commit a terrorist attack. The passport forgery was done by the Iranian government. Mikdad received his forged passport at the Iranian embassy in Damascus.



Terrorist Hussein Mikdad spoke with a very heavy Arabic accent and had relatively poor English skills. Not a logical fit for someone named Andrew Jonathan Charles Newman. This suspicion indicator (accent does not match the name) indicates someone using a false identity or ID.


On his way to Israel, Mikdad passed through airport security in Zurich while concealing explosive materials and detonators inside a radiotape placed in his hand bag. The explosives and detonator were not found by Swiss security officers although an ETD was used to check his hand lugguge. This is because it was high level concealment done in laboratory conditions (to avoid explosive traces).


Stolen Passports and IDs are relatively easy to obtain. Here is a clip from a documentary produced by Dateline MSNBC about the availability of stolen passports on the South American black market.



HERE IS A SOLUTION: The security officer who detects a suspicion indicator such as an accent that does not match the ethnic or social profile reflected by the name on a passenger’s ID must follow this procedure:

  • Examine the passenger passport/ID carefully for signs of forgery – picture altered, official stamp is missing or doesn’t match.
  • Use all available technological solutions to discern if the ID/passport was forged.
  • Begin by asking the suspicious passenger about the stamps in the passport. A legitimate traveler would have experience and information about the countries that according to his stamps, he has visited. In the case of Mikdad, he never actually visited the U.S., Guatemala or Honduras, countries that were visited by the real Andrew Newman.



A terrorist can steal an identity in order to create a completely genuine ID or valid passport. This would allow the terrorist to avoid being singled out for being on a government list. In 1999, Ahmad Rassam, also known as the Millennium Bomber was caught on the U.S. Canadian border by an alert customs agent, Diana Dean. Ressam was carrying a genuine and valid Canadian passport under the name Benni Antoine Noris. Ressam was issued this passport via a stolen birth certificate.


ressam passport


HERE IS A SOLUTION: The security officer begins by asking about the source of the passenger’s name, where he was born, where he lives or has lived, and the purpose for his travel. The objective of these questions is to determine whether the suspect is using a cover story or a stolen identity. If the answers to the questions don’t add up with a logical and clear explanation, then the passenger must be deemed threatening and should be screened as though he may be conducting surveillance or an execution of an attack (see details above on how to screen such a threatening passenger.)


Diana Dean used profiling and questioning and determined that Ressam needed to be checked further based on suspicion indicators relating to his behavior and story. In the trunk of his car and underneath the tire wheel, agents found explosive materials bomb making tools and devices. The entire case study of the capture of Ahmad Ressam by U.S Customs is presented in the Chameleon Online Predictive Profiling Course.


The following is a reenactment of the questioning of Ressam by Diana Dean.




A terrorist from a suspicious country can obtain a passport of a different country in order to avoid being listed – several governments in the world provide investors the opportunity to obtain citizenship in their country in return for purchasing real estate there. Case in point: St. Kitts. For a relatively small investment of a couple of hundred thousand dollars in St. Kitts property, investors can obtain citizenship and a passport.


HERE IS A SOLUTION: Countries with this policy, and associated vulnerability, must be known to security officers. A simple questioning procedure to determine citizenship by birth, immigration status, marriage or citizenship via investment should be established. Those passengers who obtained citizenship by way of investment should be questioned about other nationalities or identities they may hold. The names and the original identities should then be checked against government lists and databases.


Let’s stop calling for yet more security evaluations and reports. It’s not that complicated. Let’s start now to implement proactive, sensible threat mitigation solutions that actually relate directly to how terrorists operate. Please feel free to circulate this to friends and colleagues in the aviation security field.


  1. Jeffrey Blatt on January 5, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Good recommendations. If you have not already done so, please share them with TSA. You may also wish to share them with the LAX TSA Security Director and say that I recommended you do so.
    Kind regards

  2. tai adenekan on January 9, 2010 at 9:31 am

    this is very good
    i wish to find out how the policies enumerated in the article can be applied to my country NIGERIA which has just joined the us list of countries under extra watch of citizen across the world

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