ON Sunday 11th September 2016, the free world joined the United States of America to mark the 15th anniversary of the terrorists’ attacks on the symbols of American’s Economy, Democracy and Liberty in New York and Washington. It was definitely not a day for celebration, rather a day for sober reflection on the implication of the attacks to world peace.
The targets attacked included the Twin Towers Buildings of the International Trade Center in New York; the Pentagon Building housing the US Defense Headquarters and the missed attack possibly on the US Congress Building or the White House in Washington that eventually fell on a farmland in Pennsylvania.
These attacks brought the free world together to form a common front and to decide on how to tackle Al Qaeda the international terrorist group that laid claim to the attacks and Osama Bin Ladin, its leader. Today unfortunately, the same free world that was united in 2001 is practically divided on how to address international terrorism which grew under Osama Bin Ladin while he was alive but fragmented after his death into many radicalized Islamic groups. Some of these groups have grown to become “radicalized Islamic threats’’ to many nations.
Among them are; the Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula formerly based in Yemen that had tragically grown into the dreaded ISIS based in Syria and partly in Iraq; the Al-Shabab in the East and the Horn of Africa based in Somalia and Kenya; the Al-Qaeda in the Magreb Region partly based in Mali and Libya in North Africa, etc.
Radicalized Islamic terrorist groups started growing as the Palestinian freedom fighters groups from the Middle Eastern States in the 70s and were financed or sponsored by some of the States in the region. Between 1997 and 2001 some of the groups particularly the Al Qaeda under Osama Bin Ladin grew outside the Middle East region and had the financial capacity to sponsor the regime of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Today Islamic terrorists groups are growing into expedition forces that are criminally seeking for States of their own in many countries such as the Islamic States in Syria (ISIS) and the Islamic States in Iraq (ISII). Most of them acting in sub groups or lone individuals sponsored by the groups have been known to be involved in violent attacks in many areas of the world. These trends in their growth as radicalized Islamic threats are lessons that should spur international cooperation among nations in intelligence gathering to support the security of the free world.
Nigeria is just one country in the West Africa sub region that has, since 2007 been battling with its own share in terrorism coming from a homegrown radicalized Islamic group known as Boko Haram; a group that has claimed to be an affiliate of ISIS the international terrorist group with influence in the war going on in Syria, Iraq and Libya. Boko Haram has its base in Borno State, in the North East of Nigeria and until recently had spread its own influence to other States in the North East of Nigeria and to Nigerian neighbouring countries of Cameroon Niger and Chad.
There have been threats of attacks on the Nigerian States also from other developing homegrown terrorists groups such as MEND, MASOB, IPOB, NDA, etc. Their own violent activities however, appear to be radicalized along tribal, states or regional economic interests or sentiments. Like the international community, Nigerians appear to be politically divided too on how to address the criminality of these groups’ attacks on the state and isolate all these from genuine agitations. Tragically too, the elements or lone individuals of the Nigerian homegrown terrorist group particularly in the Boko Haram have been reported to have infiltrated as slipper cell in some government security forces and agencies. The divisions among Nigerians about the activities of these groups make intelligence difficult to be derived for the security forces to defend the nation.
The Nigerian experiences from the homegrown terrorism have been incessant kidnapping, abduction and killing of Nigerians and the attacks of bombings on state structures that are critical to the social and economic lives of the people. These attacks could grow too to attacking civil aviation if the opportunity presents itself to the planners of the attacks. The question that would readily come to mind in all these development and activities internationally and locally is who is keeping watch over these terrorists groups especially on their leaders, financiers, the attack planners, the recruiters or, what is the intelligence available on these groups, the movement of the members and activities before their plans to attack become active or operational?
The hijacking of four airplanes of American airlines in one day for the attacks on three prominent landmarks simultaneously in two major cities in the US by 19 foreign terrorists was made possible on September 11th 2001 because of the failures of the USA national intelligence community and the system put in place for the aviation security defense layers at the airports. There were evidence from the US Congressional Commission Report on the 9/11 attack which suggested that the available information about the hijackers, before the act, were not shared by the FBI and CIA to coordinate for actionable intelligence to sufficiently preempt the attacks. Secondly, there was no evidence to suggest that the information about the hijackers were available to the airport or border security authorities before the act to counter any of the attacks.
Thirdly, it was the failure of the US intelligence community not to have effectively tracked the movement of the foreign terrorists’ that were carrying US visa, travelling in and out of the country and making several trips within the US immediately before the act. All the 19 plane hijackers made it through the airport access point control points and the passenger checkpoint screening into the aircraft without detection. These failures created the gaps that were fully exploited to hijack 4 airplanes to attack targets in 2 cities simultaneously by Al Qaeda terrorists who were mainly from Saudi Arabia, an ally of the USA, recruited Europe and trained in the US on how to fly airplanes.
Another failure in the management of intelligence to supporting civil aviation was the near tragic event of the underpants suicide bomber, Abdulmutalab, had he succeeded with the intent to bomb the Delta Airline aircraft on Christmas day of December 2009. It could have been another result of ineffective coordination of intelligence between the US State Department and the Homeland Security. There was the evidence that the US State Department, through the US Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, had a prior knowledge that Abdulmutalab had an US Visa and had travelled to Yemen where he possibly had contact with a terrorist group, yet he was not put on the Watch List or No Fly List for international airlines flying into the US.
There was also evidence that an official of the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA) got the same report but the information was not shared internally nor with any other known security agency and with responsible aviation security authorities at the airport. There was also evidence that the international airlines Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System (CAPPS) which normally have links to the US Embassies Visas Systems worldwide cleared Abdulmutalab on the outward journey from Lagos to Amsterdam and from Amsterdam to Detroit on December 25, 2009.
Generally, officials of the state’s security agencies and the intelligence services do not realize that intelligence is a major function in the national security network just as most aviation security operatives also do not know that Aviation Security Systems are part of the National Security Network. Intelligence is the first layer of defence of any security forces structures or systems; so also it is in the civil aviation security defence layers. In the Aviation Security Defense Layers, intelligence is followed by the Airline Passenger Pre-Screening, which includes the CAPPS, Airport Access Control, Passenger and Carry-On Luggage Check Point Screening, Checked-in Baggage Screening, On Board Security, Cargo Screening, Airport Security Fence Surveillance etc. Should intelligence fail, the other layers in the aviation security defence must be effectively potent to detect through screening and profiling persons and objects that could be risks or threats to the operations of civil aviation.
Over the years the civil aviation security defence layers including intelligence were focusing on threats from passengers but today the new threats to civil aviation are coming from other external threats including the threats from the aviation community itself known as the insiders’ threats. The success or failure of any intelligence reflects in its application by the security forces or the security system to pre-empt any attack on the national security.
The failures of intelligence as reflected in the attacks of September 2001 on US, also reflected in many of the attacks on airports in Europe recently and the various attacks and bombings of some the social and economic infrastructures in Nigeria. Although there had been no direct or reported attacks of bombings on Nigerian airports, the possibility of such attacks are real if one considers the multilateral layers of security agencies at our airports working independently of each other without a coordinate or effective authority. The setup of the security system at the Nigerian airport today is a challenge to the national security and are still not different from the set up at the US Airport before the 9/11 attack.
In 1998, the Al Gore Commission on the US Ports Security found out that there were many security agencies at the US Airports and Seaports each with its own control and command structure and working independently of each other. This is a setup that could create gaps for persons who could be threats to the state to slip through national security radar. The Al Gore Commission had recommended the establishment of a single line autonomous security agency that would consists of elements from each of the security agencies at the border post including justice department, border security authorities, police authorities and transport department with administrative and operational authority over these agencies. That recommendation saw to the establishment of the Transport Security Agency (TSA) under the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 after the 9/11 attack in September 2001.
The importance of civil aviation to the economic and political lives of the people of free world and its attraction to the international news media make its facilities and infrastructure to be among targets listed for attacks by the international terrorists. For many years the targets for terrorist attack were primarily aircraft hijackings, but today they include the bombings of airport passenger terminal buildings and could later include other critical infrastructure like airport power house, aircraft fuel depot, aircraft hangers and parking areas, aircraft navigational aids and control towers etc. The question for the national security authorities is who is keeping watch over all these infrastructures and pre-empting attacks or proactively providing actionable intelligence against any attack from the terrorists on these airport infrastructures and facilities? Insiders’ threats may come from the proximity of airports to local or urban community and from the system of recruitment and deployment of operators’ staff within the airport.
As terrorist are targeting airport passenger terminal buildings and other infrastructures, aviation authorities and airport operators should begin to review the National Civil Aviation Security Programmes (NCASP) and Airport Security Programmes (ASP) respectively to restrict the airport security environment to only known passengers, identifiable airport staff including auxiliary airport staff such as airport taxi and shuttle bus drivers, identifiable meters, seers and visitors etc. The authority should consider extending the airport security environment to include the airport car parks, airport service roads, and their entrances and exits into the Airport Security Programmes (ASP).
The spread of Boko Haram nationwide without a coordinated national intelligence surveillance agency would make the infiltration of its elements possible into most airports that are built within uncontrolled urban developed areas and complicated road network. The possibilities of the infiltration into the airport workforce are even more likely if there is no coordination in the recruitment and deployment of staff of the aviation community to the airport security controlled areas, as there had been instances and reported cases of some Boko Haram elements infiltrating into state security forces recruitment.
Moreover the perimeter fences of most airports where available, are generally porous and are not enhanced for the standard required for aviation security against any outside interference to civil aviation operation. In most cases, the airport infrastructures inter-phase with private infrastructure outside the airport perimeter fences without consideration for the implication on the security of the airports.
All the challenges of insiders’ threats in civil aviation especially to airport security require regular background checks on all terminal staff in the airport security controlled areas irrespective of the security checks conducted on them during recruitment which are hardly sufficient proofs of their identities. Responsible national aviation security authority must emphasize regular background checks and recurrent training in airport security, profiling and behavioral pattern of passengers for staff of all the operators responsible for the implementation of the Airport Security Programme.
For all intent and purposes, the national civil aviation authorities’ and operators must acknowledge that airports are physical border posts between countries in the air transportation systems. They must understand also that airports remain vulnerable to a number of risks and external threats especially from international terrorists. For these reasons, airports and their associated critical facilities are listed amongst installations of national interest that must be protected. In order not to compromise the national security, therefore, the management and operations of the airport security cannot be left with an agency like FAAN that was purposely established to build, operate and manage airports as a commercial enterprise. Therefore the responsibility of coordinating statutorily established government security agencies designated to FAAN by the NCASP should be reconsidered and reviewed urgently in view of the challenges of the modern threats to civil aviation.
Government should legislate and establish an autonomous aviation security agency or designate the responsibility to one of the existing security agencies with executive operational authority on civil aviation security. Either way, the new agency must subject its operations to implementing the NCASP that is approved by the National Aviation Security Committee while its routine operational functions should be under the oversight and guidance of the NCAA.
Civil aviation security authority must recognize the dominance of the National Aviation Security Committee, a global standard in compliance to Annex 17 3.1.5 over the National Civil Aviation Security Committee established by the NCASP as a dominance of the power of the national security on the civil aviation. The powers of the national security include the air power exercised by the Air Force which operates as joint-user with the civil at about 12 out of 18 Federal Airports. These security architecture should form a critical part of national security consideration that should make the Airport Security and the Emergency System not to be included among the assets planned for the concessions of the airports.
To derive an effective or actionable intelligence that would support civil aviation security therefore, the various intelligence derived from the security and intelligence agencies should regularly be processed and harmonized by a statutorily established national intelligence agency with executive powers. This function should no longer be a responsibility of the Office of the National Security Adviser which other than its advisory role in national Security Council has no constitutional power or executive authority on any of the security forces or intelligence agencies on matters of national security except directed by the President in Council. The national aviation security committee should like any other security agencies have direct access to national intelligence that are of immediate interest to civil aviation security within and outside the country. Such intelligence would include the activities and movements of terrorists particularly in their planning process before it becomes operational or active.