Cargo in the crosshairs of global terror

The recent 3rd Annual Aviation Summit in Dubai left no doubt about the security threats the air cargo sector, especially in the Middle East faces, although it did suggest some ways to deal with what is a constantly evolving problem. Michael Mackey reports from Dubai.


TSA’s Office of Global Strategies


Cargo in the crosshairs of global terror

Two things have focused many minds on what one security official called “an Achilles Heel.” One was last year’s Yemen bomb plot, when terrorists managed to get a powerful bomb in a used printer onto a cargo flight, which was foiled not by machines, but by people. The second is a growing awareness of the costs of crime. The Yemen bomb plot was clearly the more chilling of the two. A presentation by Mark Moles of Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command highlighted the sophistication of the bomb which enabled it to avoid detection, had not staff begun to question details such as the packaging and why so much money was being spent on air freighting used office equipment. As startling, was the claim by Thorsten Neumann chairman of the Transported Asset Protection Association (TAPA) and director Corporate Security CEMEA and Global Supply Chain security, that cargo crime in the European Union costs businesses €8.3 billion annually. He acknowledged in Asia the risk is different, but pointed out that armed hijackings have started in China and will probably continue to worsen. Another attendee, Cornelius Janse Van Vuuren, regional security manager for TNT express highlighted that there was a need to ramp up security “not just for terrorism but theft and drugs.” The dilemma of prevention The problem which framed much of the discussion, albeit tentatively, was that of prevention. Top of the list was ‘humint’ or human intelligence working alongside technology. A good example of how this blended strategy looks likely to work came from Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC). ADAC has an open mind on technology and is planning for intelligent video analysis (IVA) in its new midfield terminal, according to Ahmed Mohammed Al Haddabi , senior VP for Airport Operations. This will be alongside ULD scanners, an explosive trace detection unit and security dogs, with Gulf Air already having opted for 100 per cent cargo screening. But while technology is important Cargo in the crosshairs of global terror at ADAC, Al Haddabi was clear on the human element: “If you don’t have the people you have nothing.” This is turn creates the need be proactive and constantly vigilant although everyone acknowledged the costs and challenges involved in what Neumann pointed out required “a mindset change.” A key point suggested by Allan Thornton, head of security for Gulf Air was to tap the local population. Gulf, for instance, has two Afghanis in Kabul as part of their team – a good example of ‘humint’. This also brings up a key part of the challenge in the Gulf region, as security also involves conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, an armed and hostile Iran, turmoil in Pakistan and the failed and failing states of Somalia and Yemen. On top of this is the broader issue of corruptibility, even in the more stable countries. It’s a particularly difficult one to tackle in a region rife with poor migrant workers – often from those failed and failing states – and also potentially prone to political and religious radicalisation. “Get yourself an information network in your staff,” was Van Vuuren’s rather direct advice to the conference. Van Vuuren was prolific in his advice detailing such measures as sealed trucks with numbered seals, but stressing along with others the need to create a workforce who will notice and act on anything suspicious no matter how small. This has official endorsement from someone who should know: Mark Moles. “Raising awareness is the way to go” he affirmed. TSA outreach There was another signal of official support when the US’ Transportation Security Administration regional director, Kelly C. Hoggan, stressed the agency’s willingness to work with and across the industry. As part of what he defined as TSA’s “outreach,” Hoggan was open about its future plans. These include expanded participation in the Air Cargo Advance Screening (ACAS) pilot program, finalising timing on 100 per cent screening for international cargo flights, focus on additional National Cargo Security Program (NCSP) participation and work with the industry in reaching common goals. Underscoring this outreach, the TSA team were conciliatory over broad concerns within the industry on the 100 per cent screening rule, especially its timing and the costs involved. “Whether or not that (the timeframe) will stand or be modified (I don’t know)” said Victor Parker, branch manager, Global Cargo Programs, of the TSA’s Office of Global Strategies. “I know there are many concerns about purchasing equipment …..we are aware of that and work with regulated parties.” However as one private sector source highlighted, there is a lack of suitable equipment in the market at the current moment.