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The Brussels Attacks: Standard Security Procedures Are No Longer Enough

The tragic events in Brussels highlight, once again, the shift of terror attacks against softer targets. Protecting an entire public transportation system in a manner that does not impact free movement is extremely difficult. And the attacks launched in the check-in areas of Brussels airport (rather than against an airliner in flight) appear to copy the MO of the Domodedovo airport attack in Moscow in 2011 where explosive devices were detonated in the arrivals hall. It has long been clear that the physical security measures undertaken at most airports – which focus almost entirely on stopping passengers from carrying on an IED or weapon – will do little to thwart an attack against people waiting in a crowded airport lobby, where the body count could be just as high. The Brussels attacks were timed to maximize casualties, indicating a well-prepared operation. It is likely the post-blast investigation of the Brussels incidents will uncover evidence that the preparations for this attack were detectable. Proper training of security personnel, as well as educating the public on what constitutes “suspicious activity” is a key element of every security plan. Unfortunately, a security approach that attempts to stop attacks on the day of the event, rather than prevent the attacks by detecting pre-attack indicators, will continue to suffer these kinds of results.

UPDATE: We are seeing speculation that the two suspects wearing one glove each may have been doing this to hide detonators. While this is possible, we find it unlikely. In our opinion, this may have been a visual bona fides used by the terrorists to identify each other at the scene. It is possible the individual in the hat was part of the surveillance team, who had been compartmented from the two attackers prior to the day of the attack. The attackers wore a glove to identify themselves to the surveillance team member, who then directed them to the exact point of attack. The surveillance team member then departed the location. This would fit standard terrorist MO and shows a high level of planning, including pre-operational surveillance.

UPDATE 2: New information indicates the three suspects photographed at Zaventem airport arrived together in a single taxi. As such, the gloves may have served as a recognition signal for other cell members or participants already at the airport. We maintain a high degree of confidence that significant pre-attack preparations were conducted prior to this operation, possibly involving a much larger cadre of operatives.

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