ASP (APF) Ikhsan Bin Selamat heads the Support Team for AETOS Security Management, overseeing deployments, operational and administrative matters for a pool of 200 – 300 officers. Having been an auxiliary police officer for almost four decades, he has witnessed first-hand the impact of many events that have charted the course of the security industry – including the tragic 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. We spoke to him to find out more.
What were you doing and what was your reaction when the attacks happened? Back in those days, I was an auxiliary police officer with Changi International Airport Services (CIAS). I was a “watch officer”, with a team of 160 officers under my supervision, and we were tasked to maintain aviation and terminal security. Our typical duties ranged from guarding aircraft and cargo to conducting passenger checks and controlling access to different parts of the airport.
On the day the attacks happened, I was doing overtime work, ensuring that our officers were stationed at the aerobridges to meet passengers disembarking from the planes. Word of the attacks spread like wildfire – “something bad happened in the US”. Almost immediately, I received a directive from our police counterparts, telling us only to “direct all men to be extra vigilant”. After a quick check, I realised all my fellow senior officers had received it too.
By then curiosity had gotten the better of me, and after I had relayed the message to my team, I walked over to the nearest airport television. A news station – I believe it was CNA – was showing footage of the attacks. I remember feeling a lot of shock and disbelief as I watched them happen. Frankly, who would expect such a thing to happen? Hijacking planes wasn’t new, but it never crossed our minds that anyone would use them as weapons, or to hit a building.
As we received a subsequent directive from the police that we were going on the highest alert level possible, my immediate concern was for the safety of the airport, and my officers. We did not know what to expect, so all we could do was ensure that each and every one of us did our jobs flawlessly.
How did the 9/11 attacks impact your work as an auxiliary police officer and the larger security industry? Over the next six months, we remained at a state of maximum alert. Security measures tightened significantly, and in some ways, permanently. Access control tightened significantly, especially around critical airport infrastructure. Officers who were assigned to guard areas such as the control tower and cargo checkpoints were deployed with H&K MP5s in addition to our usual sidearms. Aerosols, liquids, and objects containing gases were now prohibited in hand luggage.
It was also a challenge to adapt routine processes to meet the heightened security measures. Pre-boarding checks were particularly difficult as we had to ensure every single passenger and their hand luggage went through our enhanced checks, while adhering to the departure time for their flights. We had to work very closely together with the airline staff to ensure that the aircraft took off on time, without compromising security in any way.
I remember feeling that the expectations placed on us auxiliary police officers at that moment of time were suddenly so much higher, and as a senior officer, I definitely felt the weight of our responsibilities on my shoulders. I also worried a lot about the potential repercussions or consequences of any lapses in security - even minor ones.
What are some of your reflections, looking back on the incident 20 years later? It felt like a turning point in terms of perceptions of the security industry and auxiliary police. Before that, many people took security for granted, and even fewer took auxiliary police officers seriously. After the attacks, we met much less resistance while conducting checks, even though they were so much more stringent. People tended to be more cooperative and sympathetic to the need for heightened security.
Personally, I felt like my career in the security industry became a lot more meaningful. I felt the importance and urgency of the need to protect our borders and national infrastructure. If anything like that happened in Singapore, my family and friends would also be affected, and I felt a new obligation to protect them. At that point, I had already been an auxiliary police officer for twenty years, so I also decided to stay on and impart my experience and knowledge to new generations of officers. I went along when CIAS went through the merger to become AETOS, and I am proud to have been among the pioneer officers that helped shape it into the leading security provider that it is today.
Above all, the threat of terrorist attacks is still out there. What has happened before can happen again if we become complacent. We cannot take our security and safety for granted, lest we be caught off guard.