Saturday, September 27, 2014

Chicago O’Hare International Airport and the Weakest Link

A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and life is after all a chain. - William James

The weakest link in a chain is the strongest because it can break it. - Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

The #1206 “fiction” series continues ….

He sat alone in the back seat of the limousine, staring out into the darkness as the miles passed by.  The call he had taken earlier in the day had indicated that the meeting being requested would be brief and that a car would be provided to take him to the meeting location.  While he ordinarily didn’t accept such meeting requests, he found himself hours later enroute to meet an unnamed client with an unknown agenda at an unknown location.

The sound of tires crunching on gravel snapped him out of his reverie and he realized that they had turned off the highway and were approaching another vehicle that was stopped in the road.  The limousine stopped, the driver stepped out and opened the back door.  “Please proceed to the other vehicle”, the driver said curtly and the passenger slid across the seat and out through the open door.  The driver of the other vehicle stood stoically beside the open rear door of the other vehicle and the now bewildered guest hesitantly ducked his head and sat down.

The door closed with a quiet click and moments later, the vehicle was proceeding down the road.  A silhouette sitting in front of him leaned forward, offered his hand and in a deep voice said “Thank you for meeting me on short notice”.

The guest shook his hand, mumbled a “you’re welcome” and then both men sat in silence as the vehicle turned back onto the highway.

After a few minutes, the silhouette broke the silence.  “A man acting alone in an act of sabotage sets a fire at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and single-handedly cancels 1,550 flights at O’Hare and another 470 at Midway Airport, not to mention the chaos he created that rippled throughout the country.  One guy in one city created so much chaos.  What do you make of that?”, he asked quietly.

The guest shrugged his shoulders before replying.  “The preliminary news reports indicate that he attempted to commit suicide afterward, so it would appear that he has a few issues”, he replied.

“Possibly”, replied the silhouette.  “What if I told you that he wasn’t acting alone and that instead of an act of insanity, it may have been a rehearsal for a larger event?”.

The guest frowned in the darkness and suddenly sensing that this conversation was about to take a more serious tone, leaned forward, pursed his lips for a moment and then asked “What do you mean?”

“Do you remember a package that you received some time ago, showing how an aircraft cockpit could still be compromised despite assurances to the public that it could not be and how aircraft could still be compromised with explosive devices despite billions of dollars being spent to secure them?”

“How do you know about that package?”, the guest demanded.  He paused for a moment before the truth dawned on him.  “That was from you?”, he asked.

The silhouette nodded before answering.  “Yes it was”, he replied.  “I was merely trying to demonstrate how many levels of security and billions of dollars in technology and process can be undermined by the weakest link- in this case, the weakest links being compassion and greed respectively.  Many agencies are more focused on creating a sense of comfort and safety so that people will continue to fly and are less focused on preventing acts that can’t be prevented.  It’s a gigantic public relations exercise in some ways.”

The guest sat in silence and after a moment, the silhouette continued.

“What if I told you that there was a possibility that this act of alleged insanity may have been a dry run for something much larger?”, he asked.

“How much larger?”, replied the guest.

“What would you think if I suggested every major airport in the country simultaneously?”, asked the silhouette.

“Oh that’s preposterous”, exploded the guest. “Our security vetting processes are far too strong to allow such things to happen.”

“Are you sure?”, replied the silhouette.

The guest paused, uncertain of how to reply.

“Ah yes”, noted the silhouette, “Now I have your attention. You are remembering incidents in the past where people with known mental behaviorial issues or criminal backgrounds managed to circumvent federal government outsourced vetting processes and were appointed to posts of importance or sensitivity.”

“You are saying that that’s what happened here?”, asked the guest.

“Not necessarily”, replied the silhouette, “But imagine if hundreds of people were in place across the country to perform the same type of action simultaneously.  Imagine what that would do to the nation.”

“My God”, thought the guest as he pondered over the chaos that would ensue, putting thousands of lives at risk immediately not to mention the long-term impact on the nation.

“Would this be the work of ISIS or some other terror group?”, he asked the silhouette.

“No”, replied the silhouette, “It is far too large for them to pull off.  There is however, one group who has the ability, the resources and the reason to design and execute such a plan.”

“And what would the reason be for doing such a thing?”, asked the guest.

“To understand the why, you need to understand the who”, replied the silhouette.

“And how would I discover the who?”, asked the guest.

The silhouette smiled in the darkness and leaned forward.  “Perhaps”, he said quietly, “you need to take a walk in the north woods.”

“The north woods?”, asked the guest.  “What does that mean?  Where is that?”

The silhouette was silent as he opened his window and looked upwards.  The guest looked out his window and realized that they were parked at the base of an airport control tower.

“It’s a nice night for flying”, the silhouette said quietly, ignoring the guest’s question.

“Who are you? Why are you telling me these things?”, asked the guest.

The silhouette continued to stare out into the night as he answered.  “I am someone who cares about preventing problems.  You are the one who will deliver a warning to the right people in order to prevent a problem.”

The two men became silent as a wide body aircraft thundered overhead, vanishing into the night sky.

To be continued.

© 2014 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved


This is a fictional musing, inspired by the fire that was purposely lit at Chicago O’Hare International on September 26, 2014.

The reference to “the north woods” is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Operation Northwoods, a plan by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the early 1960s for US military personnel to launch acts of terror against US citizens and then to use the result as the justification to launch an attack against Cuba.

References to poor security vetting processes have been widely documented in the media over the years.  A quick Google search will reveal articles of interest in this area.

The scenario described here is hypothetical.

The threat and vulnerabilities are real and more easily taken advantage of than many people would admit.

Both make for an interesting “fictional” musing, providing fodder and entertainment for conspiracy folks who allow paranoia to misdirect their lives.

Series Origin:

This series, a departure from my usual musings,  is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy and large-scale technology architect.

While this musing is just “fiction” and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)

This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.

No comments:

Post a Comment