NASA Also Has a SWAT Team . . .

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Don’t even think about trying to smuggle your pot into space.

Along with the formidable force of standard security at Kennedy, a highly trained and specialized group of guardians protect the Center from would-be troublemakers. They are the members of the Kennedy Space Center Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team and they mean business.

“We’re here 24-7,” said SWAT commander David Fernandez. “There’s never a point when SWAT is not here, so we’re ready to respond to something if needed at a moment’s notice.”

NASA contracts the 29-member team from Space Gateway Support (SGS) to protect Kennedy’s employees, visitors and national assets like the Space Shuttle from any potential threat. The SWAT team carefully prepares for special events like launch day and the arrival of astronauts and VIPs, but it also stands ready every day for possible problems that may arise.

Additionally, the SWAT team provides support to Kennedy security when special expertise may be needed to diffuse a dangerous situation. Skills like rappelling, defensive tactics, or marksmanship may be used to help keep the peace.

This seems less ridiculous than, say, the Department of Education’s SWAT team. But I still don’t understand the camouflage.

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46 Responses to “NASA Also Has a SWAT Team . . .”

  1. #1 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    As to the cammo, if they were smart, the uniforms they wore for the publicity photo would bear no resemblence whatsoever to what ghey actually wear when on duty.

    Pity I don’t think anypne with that much sense has anything to do with this.

  2. #2 |  zero | 

    Space Gateway Support (SGS)

    I read that as “Space Getaway Support”, and envisioned them battling back mobs of commoners as congress is whisked away on a shuttle when the planet self-destructs.

  3. #3 |  ClubMedSux | 

    Can’t speak for Kennedy, but as an undergrad I worked two summers at the Goddard Space Flight Center, and based on my experience there I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody tried to smuggle pot into space. Of course, pretty much all of my interaction with other scientists there (other than the two or three in my research group) was through their ultimate frisbee team, so that may have biased my observations.

  4. #4 |  Mike T | 

    I’m torn on this one, if for no other reason than there are legitimate reasons why you’d want to have heavily-armed men guarding some of NASA’s assets like the fuel they use. That stuff would make an incredibly nasty explosive if someone made off with it any used it on a civilian target.

  5. #5 |  LTMG | 

    The cammo is to confuse invading aliens. Or maybe it is the alpha version of the technology in work to render real soldiers invisible. Or maybe the cammo presages what the vegetation at the Kennedy Space Center will look like within five years of the budget cuts.

  6. #6 |  David | 

    Not to mention that something like the space shuttle makes for a high-profile and potentially expensive target for such attacks.

  7. #7 |  omar | 

    […]I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody tried to smuggle pot into space.

    But that would break against Space Law. Why would anybody dare break Space Law?

  8. #8 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    “We’re here 24-7,” said SWAT commander David Fernandez. “There’s never a point when SWAT is not here, so we’re ready to respond to something if needed at a moment’s notice.

    Have never been deployed. Yet-another satisfied customer of Lisa Simpson’s Tiger Rocks.

    That’s the job I want.

  9. #9 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    battling back mobs of commoners as congress is whisked away on a shuttle

    You are very close to the truth. If actual space travel becomes reality, you’ll see Congress riding for free and few peasants (who paid for it) will be allowed. Kind of like all those trips to Cuba.

  10. #10 |  Paul Sand | 

    I’m working on a mental picture of what the SWAT team would do to “diffuse” a dangerous situation. Maybe blast it into a thin mist with phasers?

  11. #11 |  Pablo | 

    Sounds to me like they’ve never been deployed. If they had actually ever done anything you can bet the website would have trumpeted that.

    “Stands ready every day for possible problems that may arise” translation: “Get paid to play with cool guns and other toys.”

  12. #12 |  BamBam | 

    All Your Base Are Belong To Us

  13. #13 |  Marty | 

    it’s funny how swat teams are portrayed as highly trained specialists with a variety of skills to mitigate all kinds of emergencies, but their tools of choice always seem to be dressing up like soldiers and carrying heavy weaponry.
    I guess our foreign diplomats get the same training for dealing with issues in other countries.

  14. #14 |  picachu | 

    Don’t laugh! It’s because of the mooninites. This is what drugs can do in space:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gN5gCyKHcCA

  15. #15 |  a leap at the wheel | 

    Haven’t read the article, and won’t be, but as a former NASA employee for a short while, I’d like to point a few things out. NASA bases are basically military installations. It is actually harder (closer security sweep, closer review of credentials) to get onto a my NASA base than the air force base just down the road. There are real state secrets all over the place would need to be protected. Like any military base, MPs of all types are used, from meter maid to SWAT.

    The fact that this is a NASA base where actual takeoffs occur probably doesn’t play that big a role in the fact that there’s a SWAT team there.

  16. #16 |  Deoxy | 

    This actually makes sense (the cammo, not so much, of course) – it’s a major facility with highly valuable, high visibility, and highly COMBUSTIBLE stuff. They should have some serious security.

    I see no reason to call them SWAT (as that name has been thoroughly sullied) – just call them security (like they do at most government facilities) and be done with it.

  17. #17 |  whiskey | 

    I’ve actually had NASA SWAT pull guns on my dad’s car when I was a kid on a family vacation after we took a wrong turn trying to get to Kennedy Center and wound up driving through a secured checkpoint without realizing it.

  18. #18 |  albatross | 

    This raises an interesting problem. Perhaps NASA should have a SWAT team available, in case of some kind of extremely unlikely but awful event. But they have never been deployed. So how do they get enough experience to be capable to do their jobs on the day they’re needed.

    This applies to SWAT teams in other contexts, too. Columbia, MO had a couple high profile inappropriate uses of their SWAT team hit the internet. And yet, they’re a smallish city–less than 200K people even including students. Probably, they have a good reason to call out their SWAT team only a few times a year. (I’m thinking armed standoffs, or hostage/kidnapping situations.). But a SWAT team that only gets called out five times a year is probably not going to be very good at their job.

    For Columbia, the answer might be to have one SWAT team for the region–probably something organized under the state police. But the general problem will remain. It’s like having a bomb squad. One day, you’ll be very glad you have it, but most of the time, they’re effectively practicing by blowing up someone’s harmless, lost piece of luggage or laptop bag or weird-looking package.

  19. #19 |  Chris | 

    Considering that KSC is literally an island and a bunch of swampland, it is almost impossible to just fence it off to keep people out. I can completely understand why such a team exists.

  20. #20 |  SamK | 

    NASA’s a reasonably high profile target with stuff on-site that can go boom and may actually have secrets on-hand that affect state security (versus the usual bullshit)…and you have to have some kind of uniform. Using military camo is cheap and there might actually be times it was useful outside (inside it probably doesn’t matter what you’re wearing).

    Also:
    http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2012/01/supreme-court-holds-warrantless-gps-tracking-unconstitutional.ars

    SC rules on warrantless GPS tracking, didn’t see it on your links yet today.

  21. #21 |  Mike T | 

    it’s funny how swat teams are portrayed as highly trained specialists with a variety of skills to mitigate all kinds of emergencies, but their tools of choice always seem to be dressing up like soldiers and carrying heavy weaponry.

    They do have a variety of skills. They train regularly in a variety of methods to kill a target.

  22. #22 |  Warlord | 

    This is one of the few legitimate uses for these type of teams. As far as having one available to every town and small city where they are prone to making deadly mistakes in their zeal to perform. Beware the military mind
    and equipment in your local force. The citizenry is not nor will be the enemy
    at any time.

  23. #23 |  Ted S. | 

    @#4 Mike T:

    When people tried to steal NASA’s assets, they responded by putting LOX on all the doors. :-)

  24. #24 |  EBL | 

    Breaking news: Rand Paul detained by TSA in Nashville?

  25. #25 |  Dwight Brown | 

    Ted S.:

    “When people tried to steal NASA’s assets, they responded by putting LOX on all the doors.”

    I was unaware thinly sliced cured salmon had law enforcement uses. The things you learn hanging out at The Agitator… :-)

  26. #26 |  ClubMedSux | 

    I was unaware thinly sliced cured salmon had law enforcement uses. The things you learn hanging out at The Agitator… :-)

    Generally speaking it does, but the military ran into problems when trying to introduce the technology to Navy seals, as they kept eating it. [Insert rimshot here.]

  27. #27 |  freedomfan | 

    The idea of a NASA SWAT team is nonsense. Echoing #15’s comment, NASA bases are already either already actually located on military bases or on militarized locations with lots of security, like gates with armed guards, etc. Even if they are technically civilian facilities, there are loads of actual MPs or the equivalent at every facility. There aren’t random members of the public walking around, potentially looking to hold the nanoparticle research team hostage or to knock over the NASA bank.

    No secure installation is perfect, so I’m not saying that there isn’t some imaginable situation when they might be deployed, but such situations would be incredibly rare. The idea that NASA needs a specialized SWAT team in addition to its normal security is like saying the White House needs its own SWAT team.

  28. #28 |  Dwight Brown | 

    ClubMedSux:

    I hope Ted S. is happy that his comment has spawned a run of bad puns.

  29. #29 |  Ted S. | 

    Thank you, Dwight. I’ll be here all week. Tip the veal and try the waitress.

  30. #30 |  picachu | 

    Next up: SWAT teams need their own SWAT teams.

  31. #31 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    I just remembered something; given that, as another poster has mentioned, the center is on an island in a coastal swamp, it may be necessary to have a heavily armed team to prevent the local mosquitos from carrying off important staff.

    (From a song about Wallops flight facility, in VA)

    “Oh, I looked over Wallops, and what did I see?
    Comin’ for to carry me hooooooome?
    A cloud of mosquitos, a comin’ after me,
    comin’ for to carry me home!”

  32. #32 |  CTD | 

    While I understand the need for security, I cannot conceive of a scenario where SWAT tactics would be useful or appropriate for what is basically guarding a static location. Their existence seems to be based on wild-eyed Hollywood scenarios where heavily armed gangs of terrorists/Soviet sleeper cells attempt to hijack or attack the Space Shuttle. Like something GI Joe would stop Cobra from doing.

  33. #33 |  JD | 

    Fatigues are the modern versions of codpieces: (faux) ego boost.

  34. #34 |  c andrew | 

    Ted S.

    Don’t you have to trip the waitress before you can try her? er, I meant, tip.

  35. #35 |  jselvy | 

    Considering that a fair amount of the actual flight control of the shuttle is from ground control, and that ground control can override the onboard controls. Should we not allow the terrorist to steal the shuttle? I mean they would certainly be effectively contained if they were stranded without oxygen in Low Earth Orbit.

  36. #36 |  markm | 

    “#18 | albatross | January 23rd, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    This raises an interesting problem. Perhaps NASA should have a SWAT team available, in case of some kind of extremely unlikely but awful event. But they have never been deployed. So how do they get enough experience to be capable to do their jobs on the day they’re needed.”

    Every military force faces the same problem. They must train for combat in peacetime, and even when there is an ongoing war to give real combat experience, first they must train recruits without killing (many of) them. The solution is well known – lots of hard training, as realistic as possible. This doesn’t start at the rifle range – it starts with weeks of following stupid orders in barracks and parade grounds, so that you’ll obey instantly when the officer tells you to do something *really* stupid, such as leaving your safe bunker to look for armed men that want to kill you. Next, they acquire specific skills, such as marksmanship. But all that just gets them ready for the real training – going through exercises simulating combat and the other situations they must face, as realistically as possible without being too unsafe, over and over again. Then after the exercise, they get together and review what happened, look for areas in which they can improve themselves, and look for ways to make the exercises more realistic. If a soldier is lucky, he’ll keep doing that for the rest of his time in the service; if not so lucky, he’ll get the chance to find out how well the training scenarios have prepared him for the real thing…

    A SWAT team could and should train the same way – as a full-time job, interrupted only by the rare instances when SWAT is really needed. The trouble is, most police chiefs don’t feel that they can afford to have a number of their best people on the payroll, but unavailable for day-to-day police work. (Also, proper training is expensive in facilities, ammunition, and wear and tear on equipment.) At best, you get part-time SWAT teams, that leave their regular jobs to train a few hours a week; they will be far more competent in a hostage rescue (for instance) than regular cops, although noticeably less competent than a team that does nothing but train correctly.

    But nowadays too many departments seem to have found a worse way – keep the SWAT team together and misuse it for regular warrant service. One cost of that (but unfortunately not born by the department) is unnecessarily violent police raids. The other cost is that the SWAT team gets sloppy and arrogant, as it deals again and again with criminals that are either nonviolent or unprepared to put up an effective resistance. Then they get killed when they run into the kind of situation SWAT was created for…

  37. #37 |  Jay | 

    Lox isn’t LOX. Geez.

  38. #38 |  hilzoy fangirl | 

    Perhaps camo kevlar is cheaper? It’s probably produced and purchased in greater quantities. There could also be arrangements with other agencies to buy in bulk.

    There I go again, giving government the benefit of the doubt. Bad liberal. Bad!

  39. #39 |  mad libertarian guy | 

    Why camo?

    Have none of you ever been to Cape Canaveral? The vast majority of the land space there is is not concrete and buildings and launch pads, but mangrove flats and coastal marsh where camo would be a far better option tactically than *insert color here*.

  40. #40 |  V | 

    Despite all the sound arguments as to why there should be some well-armed, trained, rapid response unit for Kennedy, this quote doesn’t make them sound that smart:

    “Members of the SWAT team admit that one of the best parts of their job is getting the ‘big-boy toys.'”

    They could at least sound a bit more professional.

  41. #41 |  Pi Guy | 

    Or maybe the cammo presages what the vegetation at the Kennedy Space Center will look like within five years of the budget cuts.

    *post-read wipe-up req’d*

    I think that we’ve come to the place give terorists too much credit – which is the entire f#*&ing point of terrisim in the first place!

    Getting onto a plane at Logan is waaaaaaaaaay easier than even just getting onto KSC, whatever action you intend to undertake once inside.

  42. #42 |  Radley Balko | 

    The vast majority of the land space there is is not concrete and buildings and launch pads, but mangrove flats and coastal marsh where camo would be a far better option tactically than *insert color here*.

    Why would they want to blend into the natural surroundings there if their job is to defend what’s in the space center? I would think you’d want a conspicuous presence.

  43. #43 |  2nd of 3 | 

    “Why would they want to blend into the natural surroundings there if their job is to defend what’s in the space center? I would think you’d want a conspicuous presence.”

    Like the other poster said, cammo is just cheaper, I’ve shopped around and solid color or specialty utility uniforms are almost always more expensive, presumably because so much is made to supply the military demand. I don’t think it really has anything to do with mangroves.

  44. #44 |  Radley Balko | 

    I don’t find the cost argument convincing.

    This team has 30 members. That’s large, but even with that many, the cost of uniforms is negligible when you consider the cost of the weapons, training, travel to conferences and competitions, etc.

    We’re talking about, at most, a difference of $20-$30 per uniform.

  45. #45 |  ParatrooperJJ | 

    It’s both a major terrorist target as well as a target for foreign powers.

  46. #46 |  2nd of 3 | 

    “I don’t find the cost argument convincing.

    This team has 30 members. That’s large, but even with that many, the cost of uniforms is negligible when you consider the cost of the weapons, training, travel to conferences and competitions, etc.”

    Each of those comes from a seperately tracked funds. Fraud and abuse aside (and I’m sure you’ve reported on plenty of those) you can’t just use money from one pot to pay for an item that is funded from another. That’s why when I was in the military we’d get a big shiny new vehicle we didn’t really need, but the barracks were falling apart. The commander couldn’t just hold off on the vehicle and use that money to pay for barracks repair, that’s misallocation of funds and people get prosecuted for it all the time. In my accounting courses we were taught this is pretty much how every large organization does it, government or private sector.

    Mind you, I’m not saying they don’t get their rocks off by running around in camoflaugue, I just doubt that was the reason behind the purchasing decision. The soldier play is just a ancillary benefit.

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