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Security expert says everyone plays role in anti terrorism: MacDill a 'phenomenally' more secure base since 9/11

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

When servicemembers think anti-terrorism and security on base, images of police units and security forces come to mind, but while law enforcement on and off base is very effective, more often than not it is the security precautions of the average servicemember or a civilian that make the difference in foiling a terrorist plot.

That truth, said Tech Sgt. Michael Hassett, of the 6th Security Forces anti-terrorism unit, is simply a matter of doing the math.

"It's about eyes and ears," he said. The more of them you have, the better your chances of spotting something unusual. Hassett said few realize just how important their vigilance is in these times of "high threat." It is the civilian employee on base or even the child of a servicemember who is as likely as anyone to spot danger, he said.

"The idea is to look for suspicious activity and no one is better able to do that than you," said Hassett. "Even a security expert may not know when something is out of the ordinary in your life and in your surroundings - that's something only you can know."

Keeping up the watch is difficult, Hassett admits. As we go about out day-to-day lives, it is easy to let your guard down or get sloppy. He advises making a game of it.

"The whole family can get involved and we encourage that," said Hassett.

The object of the game is to take note of anything suspicious and report it to the proper authorities. On base that means Security Forces Squadron at 828-3322 or to himself, in anti-terrorism at 828-2224 or OSI at 828-4921. It is better to report suspicious activity than to ignore it, as it sometimes is hard to tell what may be significant and what is not. Hassett said an example might be spotting a photographer along the route to the gate, taking pictures. If you see him near the gate one day it may mean nothing, but see him more than once and it could indicate a problem.

More often than not it would turn out to be a real estate agent taking property pictures, or just a tourist trying to get a picture of a plane taking off or landing, but as Hassett put it, it is better to check it out and find nothing than not check it out and have it turn out later to be important.

Hassett advises all those who drive on base to be aware of their vehicles. He suggests regular inspections under the car for suspicious objects and frequent checks of the trunk for items that don't belong. It only takes a few ounces of explosives to cause a large explosion, he said. He advises all cars to be locked at home and parked in a secure area. Servicemembers should not leave uniforms or military equipment of any kind in their vehicles and stolen or missing uniforms should be reported immediately. He also advises those bringing vehicles on base to keep them as free of cargo and clutter as possible to facilitate inspections.

Another precaution is to be sure and remove base stickers from vehicles that are being sold. It isn't likely that a vehicle would ever be able to get on base with the sticker alone, but it nevertheless is the kind of precaution everyone should take but easily could overlook.

As for the overall security at MacDill, Hassett is confident that it has become a very hardened target since 9/11 of 2001. He cannot detail all the measures taken, due to security reasons, but he says the security manpower level on the base and surrounding waters, combined with a good measure of technology, make MacDill a difficult target at best. "The idea is to deter and force them (terrorists) to look for softer targets," said Hassett. "MacDill is phenomenally more secure than pre 9/11."

Intelligence is a big part of the picture and another MacDill strong suit is close relationships with local and regional law enforcement, as well as military intelligence and investigative branches.

Looking at the big picture is important, as well. Hassett said a routine for him has been to log onto secure servers each day to access incident reports of suspicious activity at bases all over the world. It's a long shot that he will find anything that will pertain to MacDill but it all is in the name of precaution and every lead, no matter how unimportant it may seem at the time, is worth checking out, he said.

"What I'm looking for is spotting a trend - something that could be useful in making a connection to something we may see here," said Hassett. "If we see something it is better to check it out and have it turn out to be nothing than to ignore it."

 

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