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Could Benghazi have gone differently?

John Convy

With an alleged ringleader now in U.S. custody, investigative scrutiny here on Capitol Hill is zooming in tighter on the September 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The outcome of this probe may even have an effect on who is ultimately selected as the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee.

What precautions could the government have taken that would have resulted in a different outcome? Security professionals will no doubt have 1,000 answers to that, but one of the interesting protective technologies I have been reviewing lately is Real Time Remote Asset Tracking.

Real time tracking technology is used most commonly for preventing incursions at airports, seaports, rail stations, and other critical infrastructure -- protecting worker safety, and monitoring the status of personnel, including civilian security people and first responders, as well as those at military bases and weapons facilities. Tracking solutions can use a combination of technologies, including SatCom, GSM, GPRS, RF, and Wi-Fi to cover various use cases including economical indoor/outdoor tracking and security for military, commercial, and transportation users.

One of the inventors of real time tracking is Steve Pisciotta, president of Remote Tracking Systems in Phoenix, AZ. I recently asked him about the potential role that real time tracking could play in protecting facilities such as the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.

“Our industry is capable of delivering multiple technologies to reduce the likelihood of another Benghazi tragedy, Pisciotta said. “We would start by having at-risk personnel carry or wear a smartphone-sized RF tracking device linked over Bluetooth or active RFID to a larger SatCom uplink in a building or vehicle. That would relay the position, status, and “health” of that individual to a remote security command post. In theory, in situations like Benghazi, diplomatic personnel could be monitored everywhere they went, in real time, with security assets staged within a certain range to respond quickly if and when needed.”

When combined with video monitoring and analytics, remote commanders might even be able to distinguish a friendly asset, with a tracking device, from an attacker, not wearing a tracking device. This would give the commander granular intelligence to support the targeting of advanced weapons systems that might be able to neutralize the threat.

As an example on the civilian side, remote tracking can be deployed at commercial airports, to add an extra layer of perimeter protection. A case in point is the May, 2014 incident where a 15-year old man penetrated the fence line at San Jose International Airport in California, and then climbed, unnoticed into the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines flight to Maui. Remarkably, the teenager survived the 5.5 hour flight to Hawaii, and no damage was done to the aircraft.

“That’s another example of where RTS could have helped,” Pisciotta told me. “It could have been deployed as one of the pieces in the San Jose Airport security system that would have detected an unauthorized person coming into a restricted area. In typical security systems at airports, they have ground-based radar that detects everything that moves in the airport operations area. That’s a great idea, but the problem is that they’re detecting literally everything that moves, including small and large airplanes, authorized ground vehicles, animals, and human workers doing all kinds of necessary jobs. Radar is great at picking up movement, but it doesn’t know what is moving or whether that object or person is supposed to be where it is.”

A remote tracking system integrated with ground radar can identify and authorize known vehicles and individuals that are moving. Security personnel know who is authorized and who is not. RTS reduces the number of nuisance alerts and false alarms, to ensure a higher probability of detecting an intruder, because security people will then pay closer attention and assess what they see, either by aiming a camera or dispatching a patrol person to that location.

“If that guy in San Jose wasn’t just a harmless stowaway, and he tried to climb into the wheel well with something like an altitude-sensitive bomb, the whole situation could have been very different,” Pisciotta noted. “Although there’s no physical barrier in the restricted area, you can create a virtual or digital barrier with RTS. No one should go in there, unless they have a tracking device attached. If I’m a baggage handler or aircraft mechanic, I can pass into the area where I’m authorized, because of my tracking device. But if I’m an unknown entity who just jumped the fence, I won’t have a tracking device, and that will initiate an alert. The guy wearing the tracking device does not set off the alarms, but a person or object without a tracking device does.”

After thinking about the capabilities of this technology, doesn’t it seem that all critical infrastructure with secured areas should be using real time remote asset tracking?

John Convy and Convy Associates provide strategic alliance, A&E consultant, technology ecosystem, and lead generation programs to monetize relationships and accelerate demand for leading security industry manufacturers. John is the founder and managing director of the Open Standards Security Alliance and the IP Video Surveillance Academy, and is a speaker at many global industry events. Email: [email protected].


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