How a Major US Airport Has Become an Intel Jewel

LAX counterterrorism unit's capabilities could 'rival agencies of small nation-state': 'Atlantic'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 19, 2017 5:16 PM CST
Updated Jan 20, 2017 2:35 AM CST
LAX: Intelligence Central?   (Getty Images/kevinjeon00)

(Newser) – A suicide car bombing killing dozens hasn't ever hit LA's airport, and if Anthony McGinty and Michelle Sosa have anything to do with it, it never will. In the Atlantic, Geoff Manaugh tells the story of McGinty (a Marine vet who looks like JK Simmons) and Sosa (a trilingual Boston U grad), tapped to lead an anti-terrorism intelligence unit at LAX that's something "between a start-up and a think tank"—an amalgam of old-school "beat-police" groundwork with sophisticated intelligence at one of the world's most hectic airports. And LAX—what one security consultant calls "the number-one aviation target" in the US—is just one portion of the nation's infrastructure that's seen such reinvigoration (in part a response to the 9/11 attacks), changing the bridges, tunnels, airports, and other "often-overlooked megaprojects … into the heavily fortified, tactical crown jewels of the modern state."

The counterterrorism intel culled under the umbrella of Los Angeles World Airports (which includes not only LAX, but also a small Van Nuys airport) was designed to be gathered regionally, then shared nationally and even internationally—putting the unit at the forefront of global anti-terrorism efforts and "[promising] to rival the agencies of a small nation-state." Staff have to know when to use policing and when to use intelligence, as well as stay cognizant of how actions taken at LAX during a security situation could affect travelers worldwide. And they have to always be on the ready to take on everything from "big-ticket threats" (i.e., a bomb scare) to a guy dressed like Zorro and wielding a plastic sword, which happened last summer. "You never know what you’re going to get," McGinty says. Read some of the hypothetical situations McGinty and Sosa have to be ready for at the Atlantic. (Read more Longform stories.)

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