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Police on the Lookout for Terrorists With Missiles Near Airports
Maryland Transportation Authority Police officials have briefed officers on the missiles' range and effectiveness. Each officer has been given photographs of the missiles, which are known in law enforcement circles as "manpads," for man-portable air defense systems.
The photos, which include close-ups of the individual components, are displayed in the department's BWI squad room with a large map that shows "BWI Manpad Sites," nearly a dozen locations that police check at random intervals because they think they would make good launching sites.
The biggest part of the effort focuses on officers such as Benner, who on a recent afternoon spent 90 minutes checking the perimeter of the airport. He inspected the Amtrak train station for explosives and drove through parking garages to ensure that no terrorists were hiding there. He also checked school and business parking lots.
He has never confronted anyone suspected of being terrorist, but he has kicked out people picnicking in restricted areas and questioned aviation enthusiasts who gather at airports and take notes on the comings and goings of planes.
Gary W. McLhinney, chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, said the patrols are one of the oldest and best tools he has to combat a potential attack. "The patrols are an important and an effective use of our resources," McLhinney said. "This is such an important issue."
Airport police have expanded their anti-missile networks by reaching out to other law enforcement organizations that patrol potential launch sites. The U.S. Park Police, which monitors many of the parks and roads along the Potomac River, has stepped up patrols because of the threat posed to planes heading to and from National Airport.
Park Police Chief Dwight E. Pettiford said the department has trained maintenance crews and park service employees to recognize those who may be attempting to launch a missile and those who may be scouting for an attack. "We have to be constantly vigilant," Pettiford said.
Police officials said they work closely with the Transportation Security Administration and the FBI to learn about threats.
When the TSA was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, security officials reached out to community associations to enlist the help of neighborhood watch groups. Scott McHugh said he pushed for such community briefings when he was the federal security director at Dulles in 2002 and 2003. He and other former federal security directors say the community meetings have dwindled and occur at only a few airports. He said TSA officials have failed to implement policies that could effectively counter the threat.
TSA spokeswoman Yolanda Clark said in an e-mail that security officials meet with community and business groups and that they work closely with local police and federal law enforcement on the issue of shoulder-fired missiles.