by Monica Mendoza
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Recently, the 21st Security Forces Squadron got a call about a suspicious package. They checked it out. It was nothing.
But, Walberto Lugo, a member of the base’s antiterrorism unit, met with the caller to say “thank you.”
The way he figures it, this type of vigilance by the people who work and live on base is the only way to keep harm away. He asks each person to take control of their safety and of the welfare of the installation’s populous.
“It’s so easy to make a phone call or tell someone that something is suspicious,” Mr. Lugo said. “The professionals will step in right away and determine whether it is or not.”
Two key things that Peterson Air Force Base personnel can do to keep the base and its operations safe is to immediately report suspicious activity and to keep a tight lip about the wing’s capabilities of space and communications systems, Mr. Lugo said.
“We assume that because we’re on a military installation, we’re safe from the evil doers that want to hurt us, but that’s not the reality,” Mr. Lugo said. “We forget that by being inside an installation we still have to remain vigilant because our population centers may be lucrative targets.”
The Air Force Office of Special Investigation launched its “Eagle Eyes” antiterrorism campaign nine years ago. The idea is to encourage the base populous to look around, notice their surroundings and report anything that seems suspicious.
As part of wing operational security, Col. Stephen N. Whiting, 21st Space Wing commander, issued a critical information list of topics about which outsiders might try to gain information – information, he said, that Peterson personnel should protect. The critical list includes: deployment status of personnel; privacy act information; space maintenance schedules and system condition; force protection and security measures; future state of space and communications systems; and travel itineraries.
“When someone starts asking questions about security or transitioning forces, that is definitely not the right type of information to be sharing,” Mr. Lugo said.
“You are never rude by looking someone straight in the eye and very respectfully saying, ‘I don’t discuss operations of the base outside of the installation’.”
Eagle Eyes combined with operational security practices will help to keep the base secure, Mr. Lugo said. Recent high profile incidents in the U.S. prove that one phone call to authorities can prevent an attack on U.S. citizens, he said.
In September, authorities got a call about a man in the Denver area buying high quantities of hydrogen peroxide at beauty supply stores. Investigation led them to Najibullah Zazi, who they said was plotting a large-scale attack on the U.S.
More recently, authorities got a call from a New York City vendor about a parked suspicious vehicle with its hazard lights on in Times Square. Investigation led to the arrest of Faisal Shahzad, who authorities said planned to detonate a bomb.
“Alert citizens and business officials could avert a potential terrorist or criminal incident by observing and reporting a suspicious vehicle,” said a May, 2010 memo from the Washington Regional Threat Analysis Center.
The memo encouraged people to report suspicious activity, even if it seems insignificant. In 2007, an ambulance crew in London reported smoke coming from a parked vehicle. Investigators found the vehicle full of explosive material, the memo said.
Here are signs residents should look for and report: vehicles that appear to have an unusually heavy load in the trunk smoke, fumes, or strong odors coming from the vehicle propane tanks, gas cans, wires, timing devices, or other unusual cargo in the passenger compartment un-authorized vehicles parked in restricted areas.
A parked vehicle, a suspicious package or strange questions might amount to just curious citizens, Mr. Lugo said. But, it’s worth a phone call to let authorities ask the questions. During his briefings to Peterson Airmen and personnel, Mr. Lugo explains the signs of terrorism and the reason why someone might pick up the phone to call authorities.
Surveillance: someone recording or monitoring activities. This may include the use of cameras, note taking, drawing diagrams, annotating on maps or using binoculars or other vision-enhancing devices.
Elicitation: people or organizations attempting to gain information about military operations, capabilities, or people.
Tests of security: any attempt to measure reaction times to security breaches or to penetrate physical security barriers or procedures in order to assess strengths and weaknesses. For example, a person grabs the base fence and shakes it and sees how long it takes for police to respond.
Acquiring supplies: purchasing or stealing explosives, weapons, ammunition, detonators or timers. This also includes acquiring military uniforms, decals, flight manuals, passes or badges (or the equipment to manufacture such items) or any other controlled items.
Suspicious persons out of place, impersonators: people who don’t seem to belong in the workplace, neighborhood, business establishment, or anywhere else. This category is hard to define, but the point is that people know what looks right and what doesn’t look right in their neighborhoods, office spaces and commutes.
Dry run: putting people into position and moving them around according to their plan without actually committing the terrorist act. An element of this activity could also include mapping out routes and determining the timing of traffic lights and flow. The September 11 hijackers are now known to have flown on those exact flights several times before the attack to practice getting their people into position, work out arrival times, parking, ticketing and going through security and boarding.
Deploying assets: people and supplies getting into position to commit the act. Look for people loading up vehicles with weaponry/explosives and/or parking that vehicle somewhere. In the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, an explosives-laden truck pulled up to the fence line and the driver jumped out and ran away. A spotter on the roof of the dormitory, who recognized this as suspicious activity, sprinted downstairs and began pounding on doors, rousting people out of bed and getting them out of the building. Because of that, he saved many lives.
“We understand we cannot operate without an educated population,” Mr. Lugo said. “We are living in a fiscal world where we cannot get enough money to buy security devices to protect ourselves but we recognize if we have an educated public we can forgo that and have even more safety.”
There are about 18,000 sets of eyeballs on Peterson Air Force Base every day, Mr. Lugo said. He aims to talk to as many of those people, through squadron and wing briefings, about those eight signs of terrorism and about critical information — what they should look for and what they should report.
“We have 18,000 people, that if we trained them a little bit on awareness on what to look for, we could really pool our resources and make good things happen,” he said.
· Eagle Eyes: If you see suspicious activity or suspicious packages in or around Peterson Air Force Base call the 21st Security Forces Squadron at 556-4000.