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Aviation Security and Al-Qaeda in Yemen

Weaknesses in Homeland Security Exploited by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

Al-Qaeda is one of the most dangerous radical terrorist organizations designated as such by many countries, including the US. Al-Qaeda has many groups, one of which poses a particular danger to the US. This group is called al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and it is based in Yemen. AQAP has both local and global agendas, each of which involves massive killings of people who are considered by the organization as the enemies of Islam (Loidolt, 2011).

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AQAP made several attacks on the U.S. homeland between December 2009 and December 2010. Two most prominent of them were associated with carrying explosive devices on aircrafts. Although the attempts failed, they demonstrated weaknesses in the country’s homeland security that need to be analyzed and eliminated in the future.

There were several reasons that made the attacks possible. What concerns the Christmas Day 2009 attack, the first issue to analyze was related to weaknesses in the screening procedure for passengers traveling from different countries of the world to the US. There were failures in the security systems that allowed an assailant to pass all control points without being noticed. Moreover, as the Federal Bureau of Investigation officers found out, the choice of the city was influenced by the fact that the ticket to get there was the cheapest (Caulfield, 2011).

Other issues concerning the attack were related to the distribution of information about terrorist collaborators and the ways in which they managed to buy a plane ticket and head towards the US airspace.

One of the major weaknesses on the U.S. homeland security exploited by AQAP was the research they had performed on the shortcomings of coherence for the passengers traveling to the US on international flights. According to Page, Challita, and Harris (2011), the danger posed by AQAP is not the most significant one. However, this organization managed to conduct enough research while planning the attack in December 2009. AQAP activists were able to discern that the gaps in the U.S. homeland security would guarantee that the suicide bomber would not be identified and mitigated earlier than the plane would be in the US airspace.

The reasons why terrorists were so sure in their success was that they were able to find out that the security screening measures set by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were not enforced by the Transportation Security Administration to the full extent. As a result, AQAP made a plan to construct an explosive device made of materials that would not be detected by a standard metal detector. The country from which the terrorist was departing did not have sufficient scanning technologies that could have identified the explosive mechanism. Thus, it looks as if AQAP knew about the protocols implemented by the DHS.

The second major attack planned by AQAP occurred in November 2010 and involved shipping office printers full of explosives from Yemen to Chicago, Illinois. The reason why this operation was possible to carry out was that the flight path included several destinations, and there was no appropriate screening at all of them (Homeland Security, 2010). Because of the lack of proper screening, several countries’ security agencies failed to identify the explosives. Thus, not only did the U.S. Homeland Security department prove to have failed, but other countries’ systems demonstrated the lack of appropriate security of their people.

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Components of Homeland Security Responsible for Defending Against the Two Attacks

The component of Homeland Security that was supposed to defend against these two attacks is the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). This element of the DHS is accountable for protecting the nation’s systems of transportation with the aim of ensuring freedom of movement for commerce and people (“Operational and support components,” n.d.). A particular department of the TSA is accountable for securing flights is Aviation Security.

This body is working to increase the baseline for the security of flights across the world. The methods employed by the TSA include the implementation of improved security measures at each of the 105 countries’ last-point-of-departure airports (“Aviation security,” n.d.). The TSA has to cooperate with a number of international partners in order to implement the necessary safety measures.

The major work done by Aviation Security department on providing safety is concerned with the security measures that start long before passengers arrive at the airport (“Security screening,” n.d.). The TSA cooperates with the law enforcement and intelligence organizations to obtain additional information. Supplementary security measures are taken upon people’s arrival at the airport and all the way through until they reach their destination.

In order to provide the best protection from expanding threat, procedures and processes created and implemented by the TSA are modified from time to time. The TSA encourages passengers to participate in arranging the sufficient level of security by reporting any unattended packages or bags as well as persons who possess threatening items (“Security screening,” n.d.). Also, airport visitors are asked to report about individuals attempting to enter restricted areas or performing any other suspicious activities at the airport. One of the important aspects of the TSA’s functioning is passenger screening at the airport (“Security screening,” n.d.).

With the help of such screening, the TSA limits the number of prohibited items and various threats to transportation safety. U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly mentioned that it is necessary to predict the terrorists’ actions rather than deal with detrimental effects of their activity (“Remarks for the council,” 2017). Thus, since 2017, electronic devices bigger than a cell phone are prohibited to transport in passenger cabins of U.S.-bound flights from ten North Africa and Middle East airports. Other security measures include more comprehensive passenger inspection, more thorough screening methods, and improved checkpoint screening approaches.

Actions of U.S. Department of Homeland Security Necessary to Stop the Attacks in the Future

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security should work hard to ensure that terrorist organizations such as AQAP do not have an opportunity to arrange the attacks threatening the lives of American citizens. The TSA has developed a system of remodeling the training program that is aimed at improving the anti-terrorism efforts (Department of Homeland Security, 2010). It has been noticed that security systems at some airports require considerable enhancement of on-the-job training programs. Thus, the following suggestions may be made to help the TSA stop terrorist attacks in the future:

  • arrange appropriate training with modern equipment and sufficient training time;
  • analyze terrorists’ techniques and try to predict their next steps;
  • increase the level of security measures at the airports and encourage citizens to report any suspicious individuals or activities;
  • constantly work on the improvements in screening system in order to detect any life-threatening objects or substances;
  • cooperate with other departments of the U.S. DHS to arrange the most comprehensive system of security.


Aviation security. (n.d.). Web.

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Caulfield, P. (2011). Christmas 2009 “underwear bomber” targeted Detroit because it was the cheapest flight: Report. Daily News. Web.

Department of Homeland Security. (2010). Transportation Security Administration’s management of its screening workforce training program can be improved. Web.

Homeland Security. (2010). Explosives discovered in packages on cargo aircraft bound for the homeland. Web.

Loidolt, B. (2011). Managing the global and the local: The dual agendas of the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 34(2), 102-123.

Operational and support components. (n.d.). Web.

Page, M., Challita, L., & Harris, A. (2011). Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula: Framing narratives and prescriptions. Terrorism and Political Violence, 23(2), 150-172.

Remarks for the council for new American security conference. (2017). Web.

Security screening. (n.d.). Web.

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