Drug Trafficking and Terrorism: identical structures for criminal opportunities utilising aviation

In September 2013, the discovery of sixty suitcases full of cocaine on board a passenger aircraft at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport, upon its arrival from the Simón Bolívar Airport serving Caracas, Venezuela, activated alarm bells within the aviation security community…or at least it should have done! Whilst primarily a Customs control issue, the incident exemplifies the dangerous relationship between the use of air routes for transporting banned substances, such as illicit drugs, and the potential for utilising such routes for acts of sabotage. International drug trafficking through airports, which is often facilitated by corruption, is the structural basis on which terrorists might also consummate their deadly attacks. The question Luis Umbria therefore asks is, if the authorities could not detect 1380 kilograms of cocaine placed in sixty bags on a commercial passenger flight, how can they detect 500 grams of plastic explosive and prevent the destruction of an aircraft in flight?

Airports, especially in South America, are often used as embarkation points for drug shipments produced in the region. When they are discovered – before, during or after shipment – there is a disturbing and undeniable indifference demonstrated by the civil aviation authorities who frequently defend their corner on two grounds: first, that such criminal activity is primarily the responsibility of the police or other agencies, and second, that Annex 17 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation of 1944, better known as the Chicago Convention, does not require them to become involved in preventing drug trafficking aboard commercial air routes.

In this article, I will analyse the above excuses and examine the implications of drug trafficking using commercial air routes, from the perspective of risk management – a requirement that should be in any Security Management System (SeMS); SeMS is sponsored by both the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

International Regime for Protecting Civil Aviation
Why has Annex 17, never considered addressing the problem of criminal exploitation of structures within the aviation industry? Very likely because any hypothesis for explaining the omission would establish that we, that are involved in civil aviation, are deficient. After all, who other than the Committee of Experts on Aviation Security of ICAO should be explaining this loophole to the international community?

IATA does not mention direct provisions in this regard in its rules either, but the aircraft operators do take day to day responsibility for preventing the introduction of drug shipments, primarily due to the legal consequences and penalties which may be incurred for failing to detect criminal activity in security checks before illicit freight is shipped.

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