Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Vancouver Airport, disregard for safety, info on internet; ideal for a terrorist

Terrorists cleared for takeoff
'Almost a malicious disregard' for safety, says an expert

The Province February 14, 2007

With a few clicks of the keyboard, anyone with access to the Internet can download details of how to disable one of the country's biggest airports.

A technical report posted on the Vancouver International Airport Authority's website provides information and diagrams detailing the airport's fuel distribution and water and electrical systems.

It also provides what security experts are calling a terrorist's guide to the busy facility.

"I'm not aware of any airport anywhere in the world that [posts such data]," Mike Toddington, director of the International Association of Airport and Seaport Police, told The Province yesterday.

Toddington, former chief of police for the Port of Vancouver, said technical details like those on the airport website are generally considered classified. Releasing similar information about ports would have been considered a serious breach of security during his tenure.

"[The website posting] certainly wouldn't enhance security at the airport," he said. "You would have to assume that it provides an opportunity for those people who may not necessarily have the best intentions."

A retired RCMP officer who was asked to review the technical report said that, given the report's detail, attackers with a half-pound of C-4 military explosives -- readily available on the black market -- could take everything down with a single charge.

"It is absolutely incredible to me that the airport authority would publish this sort of stuff on a website," said the former officer, who asked not to be named.

"It's almost a malicious disregard for public safety."

The master plan can easily be found with a Google search. The same search on other Canadian airports produced no similar results.

RCMP declined to say whether police have security concerns over the availability of the report.

"I can confirm that we as an agency are aware of the report," said Richmond RCMP Cpl. Peter Thiessen. The detachment is responsible for the Vancouver airport.

Officials from Transport Canada, which oversees, funds and regulates security measures at airports, were asked about whether the diagrams' availability was a concern. They did not return repeated calls.

Ali Hounsell, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Airport Authority, said an RCMP member had sent an e-mail expressing concerns about the report, but airport officials decided to leave it on the website.

She said the authority has not been advised to remove the report for security reasons.

"Our view is this information is available in other places as well," Hounsell said.

"Have we made it available all in one place? Yes. But as far as we're concerned, it's also available elsewhere.

"You can Google just about anything in this day and age."

Hounsell said the airport authority is required to produce regular updates of its master plan for the federal government, and the technical report provides background information.

The authority must also consult widely on its plans, and the website is the most efficient way to distribute the details, she said.

"We always intended to make the report publicly available on the website -- that was top of mind," she said.

The airport authority's comments come days after federal Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day vowed to "aggressively" address security at Canada's airports. Day was responding to an aviation-safety audit by the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization that said screening and training at airports could be improved.

Day's office referred queries to Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon, who did not return calls.

An airport security expert contacted by The Province said the packaging and posting of the information makes the airport more vulnerable to attack.

"If you have an airport that does this, and an airport that doesn't, draw your own conclusions about which is more vulnerable," said the Vancouver-area resident, now an industry consultant.

He asked that his name not be used.

"If you're looking to determine a viable target [for an attack], that's what I would be looking for. They're making it easier."