Good read

LAX as you have never seen it

lax-image-atlantic.jpgCover illustration at The Atlantic by Alex Petrowsky.


Geoff Manaugh, the writer behind BLDGBLOG whose penetrating posts about Los Angeles include the hidden ghost streets embedded in the cityscape, has a long read in The Atlantic all about the insides of Los Angeles International Airport. He details how LAX came to have its own international intelligence-gathering team, and talks about the project to build a private, out-of-the-way terminal for VIPs and celebrities that is being sold as a way to keep the rest of us safer. He goes inside an anti-terrorism security exercise, revisits the the so-called “Millennium Bomber” who was nabbed before reaching LAX in 1999, and makes the case that these days an airport such as LAX is such a crucial part of the city and national infrastructure that of course would employ its own anti-terrorism unit. He even discusses Surfridge, the ghost former suburb squished between the runways and the beach.

Above all his story is a great read. Sampling:

In the summer of 2014, Anthony McGinty and Michelle Sosa were hired by Los Angeles World Airports to lead a unique, new classified intelligence unit on the West Coast. After only two years, their global scope and analytic capabilities promise to rival the agencies of a small nation-state. Their roles suggest an intriguing new direction for infrastructure protection in an era when threats are as internationally networked as they are hard to predict.


McGinty, 54, is a retired D.C. homicide detective now living in Pasadena. McGinty’s tenure in the nation’s capital, where he attained the rank of detective first grade, coincided with that city’s worst era for crime, in the early 1990s, when it was known as the murder capital of the United States. A Marine veteran who was stationed variously in Okinawa, Kosovo, Honduras, and the Mediterranean, and, as a reservist, served in the second Gulf War, McGinty is quiet, keeps his hair shorn close to his scalp, and bears a slight resemblance to actor J.K. Simmons

LAX is a city within a city. At more than five square miles, it is only slightly smaller than Beverly Hills. More than 50,000 badged employees report to work there each day, many with direct access to the airfield—and thus to the vulnerable aircraft waiting upon it. More than 100,000 passenger vehicles use the airport’s roads and parking lots every day, and, in 2015 alone, LAX hosted 75 million passengers in combined departures and arrivals.

His partner Sosa, 37, graduated with a degree in international relations from Boston University in May 2001. Trilingual in French, Spanish, and English, Sosa did not immediately know what sort of career to pursue. As a student, she had often flown cross-country from Boston to Los Angeles to visit her father, who works for the airline industry. When the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred only four months after she graduated, Sosa realized that one of the planes, hijacked by ringleader Mohamed Atta, was on the same Boston-to-Los Angeles route Sosa herself had flown so many times before.

No longer confused about what to do with her degree, Sosa was moved by the attacks to apply for a federal intelligence job. Six months later, she disappeared into the labyrinth of U.S. intelligence, toiling as an analyst over the course of the next decade in both Florida and D.C., where she was often a youthful, even glamorous presence in a world of fluorescent lights and office cubicles. Her move out west to Los Angeles was not only professionally motivated: Sosa wanted to live near her family again, to ensure that her now 7-year-old daughter could grow up in the company of her grandparents.

As McGinty describes it, their current operation falls somewhere between a start-up and a think tank. Because she came from an intelligence background, Sosa had an eye for big-picture narratives; McGinty’s 25 years as a street detective and war veteran gave him tactical insights and a deep knowledge of police culture. Together, the two of them have brought classified in-house intelligence analysis to one of the world’s busiest airports, augmenting traditional beat-police operations with an investigatory agenda previously only associated not just with a federal agency but with the power and reach of a sovereign nation.

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LAX is also policed like a city. The airport has its own SWAT team—known as the Emergency Services Unit—and employs roughly 500 sworn police officers, double the number of cops in the well-off city of Pasadena and more than the total number of state police in all of Rhode Island.

There's an audio version of the story at the Atlantic link. Manaugh lives in New York but has a gig as a Discovery Fellow at the USC libraries. The fellowship has led to two exhibitions, “Los Angeles To Be Determined” and more recently “500 Years of Utopia,” an exploration of Thomas More’s political fantasy, "Utopia."


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