Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Light as a Terrorist Weapon?

In the past few months there have been several reports of ground-based lasers used to illuminate aircraft cockpits. The assumption is these were attacks intended to at least temporarily blind and disorient flight deck crew members. This type of attack, if it is that, is not new. Several years ago law enforcement helicopters in Los Angeles were subjected to ground-based laser attacks. Fortunately, no aircraft crashed.

Another theory is that these may be laser rangefinders being used to determine the ground-to-target distance for shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. This theory has more credibility if the lasers are targeting aircraft immediately after takeoff when sudden loss of one engine or flight controls could cause a crash. Since precise range determination is not essential for shoulder-fired infrared-seeking missiles to be effective, the use of lasers to measure ground-to-air distance seems unnecessary.

Congress is concerned about lasers being used as a terrorist threat jeopardizing flight safety. On January 26, 2005, The Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, released a six-page report entitled Lasers Aimed at Aircraft Cockpits: Background and Possible Options to Address the Threat to Aviation Safety and Security. The report summarizes the flight safety hazards of lasers, discusses lasers as possible terrorist weapons, and considers possible options to mitigate flight crew exposure to lasers. It outlines the current regulation of laser devices, briefly summarizes relevant criminal statutes, and discusses possible mitigation efforts including laser eye protection for flight crews, enhancing and enforcing laser-free zones around airports, and public education.


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