The Port Authority Chief Security Officer and colleagues from the Port along with top JFK agency management from the PAPD, CBP, and TSA briefed JFK stakeholders about the level of threat from terrorism following the tensions with Iran and events in Iraq.
In a General Managers meeting on January 8, JFK General Manager Charles Everett hosted the various agency security experts who all contributed their views on the threat of terrorism specifically at JFK Airport and Port facilities following the killing of Iranian terrorist General Soleimani last week. The speakers spoke about the current threat, likely retaliation, the ways the Port is evaluating threat, preparing for threat and ways that the community can take steps of prevention against terrorism, specifically cyber terrorism.
Port Chief Security Officer John Bilich opened the briefing by saying that “ The world today is different that the one we grew up in,” referring to terrorism. JFK stakeholders were referred to the January 4th bulletin from the Department of Homeland Security’s National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) which stated, “ We have no information indicating a specific, credible threat to the Homeland” , however Port took proactive measures to insure safety.
Talking about what the threat picture looks like in our area was Port Sr. Advisor Security Roger Parrino. “Two are two things to take away: There is no credible threat to the Homeland as per FBI and DHS. The 2nd piece is that Cyber terrorism is the issue you need to be concerned with.” Parrino gave his opinion that the repercussions most like direct action would take place in Iraq, as just seen last nights bombing. And he said, ” Of more interest to us is Iran cyber attacks here in the U.S. which is based on several activities in the U.S. over the years. DHS says cyber is the biggest issue for everyone.”
Port Director of Security Michael DeGidio followed up on Parrino’s remarks by saying. “ Most in the intelligence community think Iran’s retaliatory efforts will most like include a cyber component. Iran’s has a significant cyber operation, not quite on par with Russian or China or N. Korea but it is most formidable. The threat vector is likely is deliberate denial of service attacks, means, throwing a lot at servers networks that they will ultimately fail. The other main is direct malware that enters your system and wipes your data clean.”
To help prevent from this type of intrusion he suggests using strong complex password, using a multi-factor authentication for account access, or at a minimum shutting the system down after a number of unauthorized attempt log-in attempts. He cautioned to encourage employee awareness of legitimacy of emails, and suggestive links. He said all computer systems should be up to date with security patches and service provider guidance on how to protect networks.
Deputy Inspector Mark Magrone from the JFK PAPD reported that “ We have a robust counter-terrorism posture, that is our day-to-day, that’s our world. We have a large police department with personnel all deeply rooted in counter-terrorism posture and prevention.” He said that the PAPD went into a heightened state of awareness bolstering PAPD deployment, stressing extreme vigilance, and patrolling with heavy weapons in high visibility, increasing bag checks, adding more officers on Airtrain, and increasing vehicle checks. He said, “Hundreds of vehicles have been stopped at check points into the airport. We work extremely well with our agency and federal partners and stakeholders. Regular meeting are held to share information and insure safety of everyone at the airport.”
The TSA is responsible for transportation security at the airport and beyond. JFK FSD TSA John Bambury said that he is JFK centric. “In regards to the NTAS level of threat, Imminent is the highest alert. We have never had an Imminent alert. But if so, the Port and terminal operators have their codified responsibilities and actions to take. A lot of security is in the hands of private companies and the airport designed around everyone at the airport. “All these people are operations security actors at this airport. Everyone has a security role.”
TSA Compliance Officer Jim Fitzgerald said, “ Our staff is giving out this NTAS bulletin. Do we all have to do anything extra, and the answer is NO. It is not an alert. There is no increased level of threat, We are at existing level and all we are asking is for heightened vigilance. And asking operators to review the procedures.” Fitzgerald said that if there were a change “We would get it out to the community right away. “ He mentioned that there is free training to the community geared towards to rank and file workers. TSA has a program called First Observer, an employee security awareness program which is great for the airport workers which is available to the airport community.
JFK Port Director Frank Russo told the audience that it this venue was an opportunity for the CBP to be transparent about the CBP operations. “This has been along ongoing threat with Iran and Hezbollah. “We have been handling them for quite a while but circumstances ,such as those recently, brought us to a heightened sense of awareness. We make sure our analytical unit is on target. We look at individuals linked to previous terror incidents, and run them through or database. If any individual travelling through our borders has any indication of a connection with any previous incident they are chosen from the arrivals area for a secondary, meaning closer personal interview by CBP personnel.” He reported that in December CBP had dozens of secondary exams linked to a terrorist group and they continue to vet any individuals that might pose a threat through the CBP tactical terrorism response team. Any helpful information gained through these secondary interviews is shared with other federal agencies to insure continued safety. Russo said that additional proactive measure include active shooter drills through out the terminals. He said with determination, “ If there is an active shooter incident in the airport we are gong to be the number one resource for stopping that threat. Our officers are trained to stop the threat. not just secure the facility, but to stop the threat.
Methods used by individuals to pierce airport and other facilities security include: presenting false documents and information, testing and probing of security, deliberate challenges to security and responses, taking pictures of persons or facilities, materials , acquisitions and storage, that is unusual amounts of cell phones, pagers as trigger devices, weapons collection, eliciting information that is bey0nd level of mere curiosity about events, infrastructure and security practices, recruiting individuals with financial support, unusual prolonged interest of facilities through surveillance and acquisition of expertise. JFK Security Director Kim Dickie said one of the most important obvious ways to keep the airport secure is through the identification card every worker must wear when entering secure areas of the airport. Dickie said that recommended that everyone should be wearing their IDs visible to all and if someone is in a secure area without a visible badge, they should be challenged. She said it is important to remember, “ If you see something, say something”, and use the phone number on the back of the security badge.
Bilich shared a security fact with the audience. He said, “28% of the Port budget goes to security. “There is a tremendous, investment and rightfully so. We will always now have this heightened sense of vigilance and it is an expectation that all our partners and the general public is vigilant. But there are times of vigilance and times of heightened vigilance. I would say that this is one of those times now with the current tensions between Iran and U.S.” Bilich repeated that all measures taken by all are proactive tactics. “Nothing specifically is going on.”
He concluded by saying If there in one take-away, please go and interface with your IT people because the nature of cyber attack is disruption and there could be tremendous business disruption if you are vulnerable to this kind of situation”