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Fake Ambulances, eBay and Auction Sites and the Terror Threat

I originally wrote the following article last August prior to the NATO Conference in Newport.

It is unfortunately more relevant now than it was then in light of recent events in France and the stopping of a 'fake' ambulance and crew smuggling drugs.

We need to be more vigilant and ensure that all vehicles are legitimate. Be they NHS or Private and Independent Companies.

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Is eBay potentially a place for terrorists to acquire equipment and vehicles that would enable them to access/attack our Government and Public Buildings and other vital infrastructure?

By R.C. Umney. B.Ed. (Hons)

In the years since 9/11 and the 7/7 bombings we have seen an increase in ‘security’ measures at establishments around the United Kingdom. However, in the same period of time I have seen lax security procedures by private security, border agency and police forces at large gatherings of members of public and at locations such as civilian airports.

Military establishments are pretty well secured (at times) but civilian, national and local government, council and public buildings are most definitely still wide open. At most you’ll get a cursory going over with a metal detector wand but that’s all.

As an example, just after the July/August 2006 incidents with the liquid bombers on transatlantic flights I was tasked to a patient transfer run for a patient travelling back to the UK from abroad to Stanstead airport. We arrived at the airport, amid a security alert with barriers in place to control access to the terminal. We pulled up alongside the armed police unit manning the barrier to the terminal road expecting them to tell us we’d have to park further from the terminal.

Actually they moved the barrier and waved us through. The ambulance was a 10 year old ex NHS vehicle and we were in the uniform of a private company. They didn’t check our identification or paperwork and more crucially, they didn’t check the back of the vehicle. We were allowed to park outside the main terminal and were left alone for two hours. No one came to see why we were waiting there.

I see this as potentially a large security breach. We could have been armed, the vehicle could have had heavily armed personnel in the rear, or worse, it could have been one large explosive device.

In the eight years since this event I’d like to hope that things have improved but I feel that this is unlikely to be so.

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Using the auction site eBay, it is possible to pick up vehicles that are the same or similar to the ones currently used by the NHS in the United Kingdom, as well as uniforms and equipment to add to the disguise. Most sellers do not check the validity of the purchaser, all that matters is that the item sells for the amount they want.

With vehicles eBay insists that the lights and sirens are deactivated or removed and any distinguishing marks. However, in actual terms what normally happens is the seller removes the company names (easy to put back with a roll of vinyl and a cutter) and writes the statement ‘lights and sirens are deactivated to conform to eBay policy’ in the information box. More often or not, these are still live on the vehicle or are an easy short fix.

Take the following examples. These have been found in current eBay listings for ‘Ambulance’ vehicles. Although they do say they’ll only sell to approved providers it is easy to set up a company as a ‘cover’.

However, the biggest fear is that these listings are of vehicles that are of a similar type to those still found in the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust reserve fleet. As a result, both would be suitable for use as a ‘trojan horse’ for an assault/attack on any establishment within Wales. Also, the ambulance is of a common type used across the United Kingdom.

In addition, it is very easy to get supposed ‘restricted’ items such as green uniform shirts and trousers, plus the green/yellow hi visibility jackets used by ambulance personnel. Some of these items sold even still have the badges and embroidery of NHS trusts giving yet another layer of credibility to the potential terrorist cell.

The first listing is for a Ford focus Estate car marked up as a Rapid Response Vehicle. This vehicle was formerly a Welsh Ambulance NHS Trust vehicle sold through an auction. The trust still has some of these vehicles in its fleet as an operational reserve.

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The second listing I found was for a Mercedes Sprinter 515. This again was a Welsh Ambulance Service vehicle sold through auction. And these are still in current use across the whole of the country with the Welsh Ambulance Service and other trusts in the United Kingdom.

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The third listing I used as an example is not the same vehicle as the one above. The chassis is the same and as can be seen it is very similar. These vehicles were mostly used by trusts in England and are slightly lighter than the 515 in Wales. However, the WAS trust has such a variety of vehicles, and general public, etc. doesn’t really see the difference then it could be easily mistaken for a genuine vehicle again.

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Could a terrorist group using these purchased items and uniform items then use them to give cover on an attack to a government establishment or infrastructure? Personally, I think they could. How?

Imagine the scene. An ambulance comes up to a government building in the centre of a UK city and parks outside, all lights blazing. Two crew get out and grab large ‘medical’ packs. As is the way, the civilian security comes out to see what’s happening. From here on there could be various outcomes which I won't go into here.

This idea is not new. Refer to the the Film ‘The Kingdom’ (2007). An initial attack and suicide bomber causes devastation. This is followed by a carefully placed VBIED in an ambulance in the middle of the fire, police, medical and rescue vehicles. If Hollywood can see the potential for this, why can’t our security in the Western World?

Should we be concerned about the ease in which potential terrorists could access the equipment, uniforms and vehicles to enable them to possibly breach ‘secure’ perimeters? Still, yes.

What can we do about it?

  • Check all vehicles and crews on approach to a security perimeter THOROUGHLY.
  • Ensure crews carry ID of some description. Check with their own controls or offices for verification before passing through the perimeter EVEN IN AN EMERGENCY.
  • If possible PNC all vehicle plates and verify actual business at venue.
  • Stop eBay selling uniform items (especially badged) and/or advise sellers to complete checks properly for ambulance and rescue type vehicles.
  • Basically, stay alert and just because a vehicle seems to be legitimate doesn’t mean that it actually is.

The other concern would be the 'radicalisation' of existing staff for NHS or Independent Ambulance Companies.

What can we do about radicalisation? Not a lot really, monitor our staff and ensure our security is up to speed on all points. It shouldn’t matter if it is a genuine or bogus vehicle and crew, they need to be checked and searched.

 

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