Inside Miami International Airport's Security Forces During a Hijack Situation

PHOTO: "Nightline" was invited to film with the security forces at Miami International Airport, as officials pulled back the curtain on their security tactics in unprecedented ways.
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Let's say you're on a flight into Miami and the guy next to you comes completely unhinged.

While you watch flight attendants struggle for control, what you'll never see -- what few ever see -- is an airport the size of a small city spring from defense to offense in a blink of an eye.

Bodies move as word spreads from the pilot to the tower, to Operations Control, where intense eyes flick past the 1,500 camera feeds to find that fortified corner of the runway known as "the penalty box," where aircraft can park safety without blocking taxiways.

While the plane's engines whine, Miami-Dade police and, since this is an international flight, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents with guns approach. There was a time when these two agencies were grudge-holding rivals, but at the Miami International Airport, they move as one unit, hoping their target does not see them coming.

The particular situation described above is part of an incident training exercise at Miami International Airport, and the passengers, including the irate one, are actors. But even though it is just practice, hearts pound in these tense moments, embarrassing mistakes can be made and the fact that MIA officials invited "Nightline" to film suggests that they are pulling back the curtain on their security tactics in unprecedented ways.

The Travel Channel's series, "Airport 24/7: Miami," is the first reality show given access to the sort of high and low drama that plays out at MIA every day as 100,000 personalities collide. Cameras are rolling when tempers flare between colleagues, when drugs are found hidden in auto parts and when arguments erupt with a passenger over carry-on peanut butter. They are rolling when bomb-sniffing dogs find a suspiciously large stack of cash, when a gun is found on a carry-on bag and when a knife is discovered in one man's shoe.

It's all part of the routine for a place that has a small museum of would-be carry-on weapons.

Lauren Stover is not only the director of security at MIA, she is also the head of the airport's public relations. While many in her position might disagree, she sees this kind of publicity as a security tool.

"We believe that this is going to show the public what we do for their safety," she says. "We are not going to gave away family secrets. ... The only thing we want the bad guys to know is that we're serious about security -- so take it somewhere else."

What they reveal is a relentless game of cat and mouse.

As "Nightline" films, Tyson, one of MIA's security dogs, is sent out to sniff a cargo plane that arrives from Costa Rica full of fish and cilantro. Smugglers know that customs agents will catch hell if they let a palate of Orange Roughy go bad in the Miami sun, but the agents know this.

They know how smugglers mark boxes with innocent-looking numbers and how a dock worker who sneaks contraband past the gates can make $5,000. They seized close to 21,000 pounds of drugs last year. But on this day, there is no such luck and it is possible that Tyson might have made a mistake.

"Like everything else, K-9's are just like humans," says Border Patrol agent Angel Marquez. "Some days are good, some days are bad."

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