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What LAX's in-house intelligence unit can mean for the future of airport security




LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 23:  Travelers are stopped at a security check point at Los Angeles International Airport on November 23, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. Orbitz named LAX as the nation's busiest airport for 2011 Thanksgiving travel.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 23: Travelers are stopped at a security check point at Los Angeles International Airport on November 23, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. Orbitz named LAX as the nation's busiest airport for 2011 Thanksgiving travel. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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Since 9/11, if you've taken a plane anywhere you know how ramped up security is at our airports.

At LAX the sheer volume of flights and people make security a challenge for everyone who has to deal with with it all. Now, the airport is trying something new: An anti-terrorism and security unit designed to bring classified intelligence analysis in-house.

No other airport in the country has tried something like this, and as a result it's made LAX the one to watch when it comes to the future of airport security.

For more on the move and what it could mean, A Martinez spoke with Geoff Manaugh. He wrote a story about the unit for The Atlantic.

Interview Highlights

An overview of the unit

"They hired two people, a gentleman, Anthony McGinty who's a retired D.C. homicide detective with top secret access and Michelle Sosa who was a D.C. based intelligence analyst who also had classified access. They moved out to Los Angeles and are effectively kind of eliminating the middleman. They no longer need to rely on the intelligence reports of other agencies. So, they no longer have to go to CIA or FBI or the DHS to figure out what may be happening around the world, what threats might be targeting airlines, maybe specific airports or what might be coming to L.A. in the future.  They've really tried to punch above their weight by bringing that in-house and showing that LAX is a piece of infrastructure. It really can stand toe to toe with...even the city of L.A. and have access to the same reports and actually produce their own intelligence documents as well."

 Who do they answer to?

"They have a lot of responsibility and thus a lot of freedom. But they do answer to Los Angeles World Airport's police, to Ethel Maguire and then of course to the existing political structure of the city of LA as well. But there is a lot of leeway there for them to flag certain types of threats that they might see coming in, to request certain kinds of intelligence that maybe would've otherwise been passed up and to essentially, kind of broaden the context for what it means to secure an airport so that they could do the analytic work that might've been overlooked in the past when you were simply thinking of an operational day-to-day basis, when it's about putting officers in certain terminals or watching certain parking lots. They can sort of step back and look at a much much larger context where LAX is at the center of this whole nervous system around the world where they're speaking to people in Tokyo, or in London, or looking at threats that may be emerging over the border in Mexico, even. So, it really just expands the context for what it means to protect this piece of critical infrastructure."

Does this all mean safer and quicker lines at the airport?

"To be optimistic, it is a possible side effect. It was interesting to speak to an airport security expert based in London for the article who pointed out...that this is something that obviously the airport design field is very very aware of, just sort of how, stagnant things have become. She pointed out that a lot of times you're dealing with very old airports, like LAX for example, where passenger screening, passport control, those kinds of things are just shoehorned into these existing spaces that were never designed for this kind of crowd control. So of course, we're experiencing the raw end of that stick, but they're very aware of what this might do, and yes I'd say that one of the benefits of this is that we will see airport security become more manageable and less friction intense."

Answers have been edited for clarity.

To hear the full segment, click the blue play button above.