OSINT Summary: Alleged attack plot targeting LAX highlights risk to US tourism industry

29 April 2015
Visitors to the Statue of Liberty are evacuated from a ferry in Manhattan following a bomb threat on Liberty Island, New York, on 24 April. (PA)

On 24 April, several United States media outlets, citing unnamed security officials, claimed security measures had been increased in several locations in the south of the US state of California, including the city of Los Angeles and its airports, amid concerns over an Islamic State-inspired attack on these areas and uniformed personnel, following the interception of communications and other intelligence information. In particular, the unnamed officials claimed that there was a "known threat" against Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and that upgraded measures had been extended there earlier in the week. Reports of a specific threat to LAX was denied by Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) - the airport oversight and operations department for LA - in a press release that same day, however, it did confirm it had "increased the visibility of airport police".

The Department of Homeland Security released a statement on 24 April to confirm that it had made "a number of security adjustments" to its airport security procedures over the last few months - including enhanced screenings at overseas airports and random passenger and baggage searches on US inbound flights - and that this was "reflecting an evolving threat picture". Nonetheless, an unnamed law enforcement official told Reuters on 26 April that "there is no known specific threat to Los Angeles or any airport in our territory", and there had been no further official comment from intelligence officials at the time of writing.

Also on 24 April, hundreds of tourists were evacuated from the Statue of Liberty and Liberty Island in New York City, and Statue Cruises ferries - which transport tourists to the island - were postponed, after an anonymous caller issued a bomb threat against the Statue. Following a sweep of the area, though, security officials declared it safe later that same day.

Both these incidents highlight the potential risk to the US tourism industry, and consequently, the economy. Increased security practices and militant threats raise the likelihood of disruptions and delays to tourism services and transportation at the start of the peak summer tourist season, while also potentially causing a decrease in the number of foreign visitors.

Such threats are not limited to Los Angeles and New York, meaning that even if tourists avoid these cities there remains a potential risk. On 25 February, at a meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General in Washington DC, FBI Director James Comey, talking about Islamist militancy, confirmed that the authorities were maintaining "investigations of people in various stages of radicalising in all 50 states", adding, "This isn't a New York phenomenon or a Washington phenomenon. This is all 50 states and in ways that are very hard to see."

Related article: Lessons linger from LAX shooting

Copyright © IHS Global Limited, 2015

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