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WHAT BIN LADEN'S DEATH MEANS TO US
By Joe Brancatelli
May 1, 2011 -- If you haven't already heard, President Obama has just announced that U.S. operatives in Pakistan have killed Osama bin Laden.
The major cable-news networks are in live coverage now so I will leave it to them to fill in details on this story. It is, quite literally, unfolding as I write this.
But I wanted to give you some initial thoughts on how these developments may affect us as business travelers.
For starters, don't be surprised if the TSA tightens security procedures at U.S. airports in the coming days. The reason is obvious: Bin Laden's supporters may try to retaliate and airports or aircraft would be tempting targets. Watch for fast changes in security procedures. Burdensome? Sure. Onerous? Probably. Necessary? I'd say better safe than sorry in such a unique environment.
Be especially alert in the landside (pre-security) areas of airports such as ticket counters, baggage-claim areas and retail spaces. Several attacks at airports in recent years have been directed not at the "sterile" (post-security) areas where travelers board aircraft, but at these less well-guarded areas before security checkpoints. The most recent example: Moscow's Domodedovo Airport in January, where suspected Chechen separatists targeted the baggage-claim area and the "meet and greet" areas just beyond customs and immigrations facilities.
I would also expect security at airports in other Western nations and Israel to be tightened, too. Al Qaeda's network of operatives was once, and may still be, broad and deep. An attack anywhere that could be considered a U.S. ally would be a "victory" in revenge for bin Laden's death.
Needless to say, since bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by a U.S. counter-terrorist strike team, reaction in Pakistan may not necessarily be positive. U.S.-Pakistani relations have been strained for several years and Pakistan has been a difficult travel environment for U.S. citizens lately. And you will recall that the Marriott hotel in Islamabad has been the target of terrorist attacks several times, most recently in 2008.
Elsewhere in the world, opinions about bin Laden are not what they are in the Western nations. In some parts of Africa and Asia, and in some radical quarters of the Islamic and Arab communities, bin Laden is viewed as a hero. Some will want to retaliate for what they see as U.S. imperialism in this matter. (By the way, pro-bin Laden factions also despise Saudi Arabia's political leadership. Saudi targets of opportunity are as much at risk as U.S. and Western European interests.)
But do not think that the possible reaction from bin Laden's supporters would be limited to airports and airliners. As we have seen since 9/11, bin Laden's supporters and al Qaeda groups will strike anywhere they can, but especially in public places such as markets, cafes, restaurants, hotels and other places where people congregate. Obviously, places favored by Westerners are the prime targets, but not the only ones.
I would especially be wary about attacks on hotels. Even the best hotels are not secure because it is almost impossible to vet all visitors or effectively police public areas such as lobbies, back-of-the-house operations or even the roads directly surrounding the properties. In fact, more hotels have been attacked in recent years than airports and airlines.
Bottom line: For now, proceed with extreme caution. Without being an alarmist or a pessimist--I do not advise or expect you to defer travel--watch your back. This is what the supposed security experts call a "dynamic" situation.
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.