Stratfor Intelligence reports that any future plans involving aircraft as weapons will be less likely to incorporate highly fueled commercial airliners, like those used on 9/11. On Feb. 18, 2010, Joseph Andrew Stack flew his single-engine airplane into a seven-story office building in northwest Austin, Texas.
We have received credible reports that Stack had removed some of the seats from his aircraft and loaded a drum of aviation fuel inside the passenger compartment of his plane. This extra fuel may account for the extensive fire damage at the scene. According to STRATFOR analysts present at the scene, it appears that Stack’s plane struck the concrete slab between floors. Had the aircraft not struck the slab head-on, it may have been able to penetrate the building more deeply, and this deeper penetration could have resulted in even more damage and a higher casualty count.
For many years now, STRATFOR has discussed the security vulnerability posed by general aviation and cargo aircraft. Stack’s attack against the IRS building using his private plane provides a vivid reminder of this vulnerability.
Most security upgrades in the aviation security realm have been focused on commercial air travel. While some general aviation terminals (referred to as FBOs, short for fixed base operators) have increased security in the post 9/11 world, like the Signature FBO at Boston’s Logan Airport, which has walk-through metal detectors for crews and passengers and uses X-ray machines to screen luggage, many FBOs have very little security. Some smaller airports like the one used by Stack have little or no staffing at all, and pilots and visitors can come and go as they please. There are no security checks and the pilot only has to make a radio call before taking off.
This difference in FBO security stems from the fact that FBOs are owned by a wide variety of operators. Some are owned by private for-profit companies, while others are run by a city or county authority and some are even operated by the state government. The bottom line is that it is very easy for someone who is a pilot to show up at an airport and rent an aircraft. All he or she has to do is fill out a few forms, present a license and logbook and go for a check ride. Mohamed Atta, the commander of the 9/11 operation, was a pilot, and one of the great mysteries after his death was the reason behind some of his general aviation activity. It is known that he rented small aircraft in cities like Miami and Atlanta, but it is not known what he did while aloft in them. It is possible that he was just honing his skills as a pilot, but there are concerns that he may also have been conducting aerial surveillance of potential targets.