Don't let Malmstrom give off perception of security weakness

  • Published
  • By Fred Rauch
  • 341st Missile Wing Antiterrorism Officer
"We have learned that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weaknes." 
President George W. Bush, Sept. 7, 2003

Obviously, President Bush was referring to a perceived weakness at the international level and the national will to respond to terrorist attacks. However, the perception of unpreparedness or weakness at an Air Force base can also invite terrorist attacks at the local level. A terrorist cell or a lone individual intent on sending a message by attacking a U.S. military installation may look at several different bases. They will choose the target they perceive as the weakest; thus, giving them the greatest opportunity for success. A base showing an active security mindset is likely to send an adversary down the road in search of an easier target. While a security mindset covers many areas, in this article I'll focus on suspicious packages. This is a visible demonstration to our adversaries that we are ready.

If you saw someone drop a box, backpack, or something else and keep walking what would you do? If you found a package what should you do? In tests and exercises, the test package is almost always noticed showing a level of situational awareness. But, what often happens is diffusion of responsibility. We're noticing the suspicious packages, but we're not taking the cognitive steps needed to take action and the packages are ignored. Often, we don't take action because we are just not sure what to do. So, we do nothing and hope it's not an issue or someone else will take care of it. What is a suspicious packages?

A suspicious package can be anything. It can be a box or bag that is unattended or out of place. It can be a backpack sitting in the fitness center. In July 2005, terrorists attacked the London train system killing 52 commuters on three subway trains and a bus. The blasts also killed the four terrorists. In this case, the homicide bombers carried the bombs in backpacks and detonated the bombs killing themselves. However, they could have just as easily as placed the bomb-laden backpacks on the trains and buses and departed. If that were to happen here at Malmstrom, would you catch it? If you saw it, would you do something about it?

The most obvious solution is to quickly bring the suspicious package to the attention of someone in authority. In the fitness center, notify the staff; in the Base Exchange notify a store employee; the building manager; your commander; etc. A more direct approach is to call 911 and report it to law enforcement. You may want to attempt to find the owner first by looking at the package for a name or asking nearby people, but don't touch it. Any action you take is far better than no action. In the Airman's Manual, AFM 10-100 are the four-R's to handle a suspicious package: recognize, record, retreat and report. The two most important being recognize and report.

We all need to get back to basics on antiterrorism awareness. Take the basic approach of being aware of what is around you and if it looks suspicious, odd, or out of place, take action. The safest and most correct course of action is to act on your suspicions and take action because it just might be that one instance where action makes the difference between a successful terrorist attack and a foiled one. Let's not give a perception of weakness.


-Unattended boxes, backpacks, bags, paper-bags, gift bags, gym bags -- especially in high traffic and high population areas
-Letters with excessive postage, mailed from a foreign country, bulky envelope, badly written address, addressed to no name or wrong title
-Boxes and packages received in the mail (to include UPS, FEDEX, etc.) with oily stains on the wrapper, protruding wires, strange odors, bad address (same as letters)
-Do not touch anything
-Do not handle the package/letter
-Do not accept a suspicious package/letter
-Do not change the environment. Leave lights on if they were on, or leave them off if they were off. Do not use electrical devices (radios, cell phones, etc.)

·Step 2 - RECORD
-Before you leave, remember all the details (appearance, location, etc.) about the event to inform responding forces.
-More information is better than less!

·Step 3 - RETREAT
-Sound the alarm
-Evacuate the facility, co-workers, people in immediate area.
-Proceed to points designated on unit evacuation plan. Ensure the evacuation point is not in close proximity to the facility.
-Ensure the evacuation point is free from objects (cars, trash containers, etc.) in case a secondary device has been placed or hidden.

·Step 4 - REPORT
-Call 911 or 6-3911 if using a cell phone or other authority (commander, first sergeant).
-Do not use a phone near the object.
-Provide as much detailed info as possible - where, when, what, any details.
-All pertinent personnel (911 caller, discoverer of suspicious object) need to meet the responding forces on scene with information and answer any question they may have in order to effectively diffuse the situation.