SKY MARSHAL DEPLOYMENT: A TURKISH PERSPECTIVE
Developing a regulatory framework to address invisible risks has always been a difficult challenge for governments. Sky marshal operations, because of inherent operational risks, require firm parameters be established regarding the roles and responsibilities of those deployed. Otherwise, governments could find themselves in the middle of international diplomatic crises. For this reason, governments are required to provide both legal protective tools and authority to sky marshals when they are deployed, especially on international flights. Harun Turgut explains.
Since the first commercial air transport activities started in the early 1910s, safety and security concerns have been the most important aspects of aviation operations. However, it was four decades later before an international regulatory framework comprising those two aspects was actually created. It is generally acknowledged throughout the industry that we are reactionary in nature and that rules are only ever written after an incident occurs; it is nearly impossible to legislate to mitigate or remove a risk, particularly if the risk has not yet emerged or, at least, been acknowledged. For example, soon after first US hijacker, Antuilo Ramierez Ortiz, used a gun to divert a flight to Cuba in 1961, US President John F. Kennedy signed an amendment to the Federal Aviation Act as the first phase of a sky marshal programme to address hijacking which, until 1961, had not been considered a threat. This amendment allowed the US to create the first sky marshal programme. Although a big step towards mitigating the risk of hijacking had been taken, it was not enough to actually prevent hijacks, since it focused heavily on increasing the penalty for interfering with aircrew.
“…Iran deploys sky marshals who are members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). However, as of 15 April 2019, the US Department of State announced that the IRGC is a foreign terrorist organisation…”
As of the 1960s, hijacking became an international concern and a defined risk for civil aviation. Governments have always maintained that if there is an international problem, it should also be resolved at an international level. Therefore, in 1963, the Tokyo Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board was signed by 40 governments, which eventually came into force on 4 December 1969. The Tokyo Convention is crucial since it is a point of reference for governments as they make amendments to their domestic legislation. The US was one of the first governments to adopt the Convention, probably due to the hijacking of flights from European airports to the US on 6 September 1970. In addition to the Convention, US President Richard Nixon initiated the second phase1 of the regulatory framework for sky marshals on 11 September 1970, one year after Tokyo Convention came into force.
The underlying reason for the inability to have truly effective international legislation is that when governments try to draw borders for their sky marshal operations by legislation, in doing so they are likely to interfere, or conflict, with another government’s legislation regarding penal codes, definitions of crimes, extradition laws and processes, legal immunity, etc. Briefly, a person who commits a crime on board an aircraft may be regarded either as a criminal or a terrorist depending on a state’s legislation. Even the sky marshals themselves may be seen as terrorists. For instance, Iran deploys sky marshals who are members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). However, as of 15 April 2019, the US Department of State announced that the IRGC is a foreign terrorist organisation. Drawing a single regulatory framework to regulate sky marshals seems a nigh on impossible task in the near future, even if deployment might have a positive impact on mitigating the threat of hijacking.
“…a methodology for the legal immunity of sky marshals can be followed, either protecting sky marshals with a diplomatic passport or regulating the status of sky marshals in bilateral/multilateral agreements…”
Despite political obstacles, a third phase was initiated in April 2014 when the Montreal Protocol was mandated as an amendment to the Tokyo Convention. For the first time, sky marshals were included as a formal measure in an international legal document. However, the main purpose of the protocol was to aid governments in defining the jurisdiction of sky marshals; it did not oblige governments to establish sky marshal programmes – it only encouraged them to do so. For example, Turkey started to prepare legislation for sky marshal deployment immediately after the Protocol was approved by the Turkish National Assembly.
While preparing domestic legislation, there are three major items that need to be regulated: selection, recruitment and deployment. Selection and recruitment criteria depend on what is expected of a sky marshal while on duty. In some cases, sky marshals are equipped with knives, shock devices (e.g. Tasers) and restraint kits, while others are provided with firearms as the first means of responding to an unlawful act. This variable would directly affect a government’s strategy towards recruitment and training.
While creating a regulatory framework for operation, all aspects of the role should be clearly defined, such as responsibilities, reporting, handling of information, privacy, uniform and/or clothing, carriage of weapons, devices used, assignment plans and risk and threat assessment. However, perhaps most importantly, sky marshals should be deployed according to the outcomes of a risk assessment. It should be clearly defined in legislation that risk assessments be conducted and taken into account as a primary resource against which to assign a sky marshal to operation. Finally, a methodology for the legal immunity of sky marshals can be followed, either protecting sky marshals with a diplomatic passport or regulating the status of sky marshals in bilateral/multilateral agreements.
“…in some cases, sky marshals are equipped with knives, shock devices (e.g. Tasers) and restraint kits, while others are provided with firearms as the first means of responding to an unlawful act…”
In conclusion, since the day sky marshals became an enduring feature of our industry’s security arsenal, the general public have benefitted from the professional workforce and dedicated service they have provided as invisible heroes on random flights. As is often said, security is a chain and sky marshals are one of the critical links in this chain. In order to avoid future challenges associated with this role, we need to improve our regulatory tools including, as imperatives, bestowing effective immunity from prosecution, developing a risk/threat assessment-based approach to operations, and more clearly defining roles/responsibilities.
Harun Turgut is Deputy Director General, PN Aviation Technologies Co., a former Turkish National AVSEC Auditor and certified aviation security instructor.
ADOPTING A SKY MARSHAL PROGRAMME: A PORTUGUESE PERSPECTIVE
The air transportation of people and goods facilitates international communication. Yet, as witnessed on 11 September 2001, civil aviation can be compromised by individuals exploiting the vulnerabilities of certain security measures. America was the victim of a brutal attack, which destroyed one of its biggest economic symbols – the World Trade Center – and damaged its main military symbol – the Pentagon. Once the perpetrators had boarded the passenger jets, there were no effective security measures to prevent them achieving their goals. Reinaldo Silva Canado explores the value of deploying sky marshals on board as a countermeasure.
As society has evolved, so too has terrorism, especially in terms of the motivations of attacks. At the beginning of the twentieth century we witnessed the emergence of ‘nationalist terrorism’, associated with the defence of a given territory, followed by ‘revolutionary terrorism’, which adopted a strategy of violent confrontation with the State. At the end of the twentieth century, religious terrorism arose, involving the elimination or conversion of ‘infidels’1.
Since World War II, international civil aviation has grown exponentially, far exceeding other modes of long-distance transport such as rail and maritime. There are now more than one million flights and hundreds of millions of passengers travelling every year2.
At a time when civil aviation was still emerging, on 21 February 1931, the first skyjacking took place in Arequipa, Peru, with the sole purpose of distributing anti-government pamphlets. With the onset of the Cold War, the first wave of air hijackings occurred as several people, military and civilians, attempted to flee the Communist countries of Eastern Europe, with the goal of obtaining political asylum in Western countries3. These acts, which undermined the security and reliability of the industry, necessitated the adoption and evolution of new procedures and methods to maintain the safety of international civil aviation4.
“…Portugal had previously experienced civil aviation attacks, with the first occurring on 10 November 1961, in a revolutionary action, when five individuals carried out Operation Vagô…”
The widespread condemnation of these acts resulted in the development of national and international regulations. The Tokyo Convention, most notably, gives the commander of an aircraft the power necessary to maintain order and discipline on board. The Hague Convention, on the other hand, went further by criminalising acts of unlawful seizure of aircraft during the flight by means of violence, threat or any form of intimidation. The Chicago Convention, together with technological advances, has helped the industry achieve an unparalleled degree of security when comparing aviation with other means of transport.
Notwithstanding the various conventions existing at international level, there is little harmonisation between states as to the punishment for offences committed affecting the safety of aircraft, passengers and crew. In Portugal, for example, the punishment for those who take or deliberately deviate an aircraft in flight from its intended route with passengers on board is a prison sentence of between five and fifteen years; far less than in many other countries.
In order to ensure a secure civil aviation industry, it is necessary to implement effective risk assessments, advanced screening checkpoints – in terms of both the manpower and the detection technologies deployed – and a response capability inflight to address any threats that have not been detected on the ground. Such response may include the reinforcement and locking of cockpit doors, the deployment of sky marshals, crew security training and, potentially, even the recruitment of passengers during an incident to help restore control of the aircraft to the commander and the crew.
As the host nation of the 2003 summit held at Lajes Airport (on the island of Terceira in the Azores) in 2003, which resulted in the decision to invade Iraq (as well as being a member of the European Union and NATO), Portugal became a potential target for terrorist attacks. In fact, Portugal had previously experienced civil aviation attacks, with the first occurring on 10 November 1961, in a revolutionary action, when five individuals carried out Operation Vagô, which involved the diversion of an aircraft from Casablanca, Morocco, in the direction of Lisbon, with the intention of dropping on the city of Lisbon 100,000 pamphlets appealing for a popular revolt against the regime in power at the time.
“…68% of respondents said that they felt more secure with the presence of sky marshals on board. 59% of respondents said they considered sky marshals to be an effective measure to deter hijackings…”
SKy marshals operate, as a rule, in groups of two, and are armed and disguised amongst passengers on board an aircraft, with the primary objective of preventing terrorists or criminals perpetrating attacks that could jeopardise flight safety. They refrain from intervening in situations that can be solved by the crew5. That said, they can act to appease a serious unruly passenger situation. The practice has been adopted in several countries around the world, and aims to attenuate the fears of some passengers in traveling, while making aircraft travel safer6.
In a study conducted in the USA by Harris Interactive Public Relations Research for ProPublica, Inc., in September 2008, a sample of 2,253 people were questioned. 68% of respondents said that they felt more secure with the presence of sky marshals on board. 59% of respondents said they considered sky marshals to be an effective measure to deter hijackings.
In 2007, the Portuguese Presidency of the European Union, under the motto “A Stronger Union for a Better World” defined one of its specific priorities as the strengthening of freedom and security within the EU and the continued integration of the Prüm Convention (the convention on the increase of cross-border co-operation, particularly in combatting terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal migration) signed in Austria in 2005. Indeed, in 2007 Portugal ratified the Prüm Convention as it addressed matters not dealt with in the European Union in respect of police co-operation, including the involvement of armed agents on board aircraft.
An exploratory study carried out by Canado in 20107, which resulted in the book Terrorism in Civil Aviation, evaluated the need to use on-board security agents on Portuguese airlines, as well as the viability of its creation of the Public Security Police. 200 passengers flying on Portuguese airlines to one of five European capitals were questioned at Lisbon Airport during the check-in process. In addition, 100 crewmembers from TAP Air Portugal, Portugalia and SATA – being the Portuguese carriers – were also questioned. The questionnaire went well beyond the issue of sky marshal deployment and found that terrorist organisations’ recruitment of women and Western men, including airport staff, had become a major concern. As far as crew responses were concerned, there was no resistance to using sky marshals, with 64% of respondents agreeing with their use and 48% (yes) and 39% (maybe) believing that implementing a sky marshal programme would increase confidence in carriers operating out of Portuguese airports.
As far as passengers were concerned, 36% of respondents considered it to be a measure that should be taken to prevent possible terrorist acts and 49.5% did not mind bearing the additional costs that the application of this measure would entail.
Portugal is not immune to terrorist attacks, and the absence of attacks should not be interpreted as the state not being a preferred target. However, the adoption of a sky marshal programme as an additional security measure should not be considered as a substitution for effective security measures on the ground.
As a result, the Public Security Police is now ready and prepared to create an elite unit capable of responding to airborne terrorist acts and organised crimes should the Portuguese government instruct them to do so. Currently, Portugal still does not have a sky marshal unit, nor is one planned, but the Portuguese government has taken the important step of ratifying the Prüm Convention, supporting the deployment of sky marshals, and the study made in 2010 gauged the positive mood of passengers and crew should such a unit be established, as well as the ability of the Police to create one. Should Portugal embark on such a programme, we must always bear in mind that this measure is not only intended to protect the flag of any given aircraft, but also to protect all destination countries of Portuguese airlines’ routes.
Reinaldo Silva Canado is Chief-Inspector of the Public Security Police. He has a degree in Internal Security, a degree in Law and a Master’s Degree in Police Science.
- TORRES, A. (2007), ‘Terrorismo: o apocalipse da razão?’ In Moreira, A. et al, Terrorismo, Coimbra, almedina, S.A
- PEYROTEO, J. (1996), ‘A segurança na aviação civil’, in Revista de Investigação Criminal e Justiça, nº 5, (p.23-28)
- MCWHINNEY, E. (1987) The illegal diversion of aircraft and international law, Dordrecht, Netherlands: Marinus Nijhoff Publishers
- MARGARIDO, E. (1996) ‘Notas sobre a segurança aeroportuária’, in Revista de Investigação Criminal e Justiça, (pp. 32-35)
- VERHOVEK, S. H. (2008), ‘A Nation Challenged: The Marshals; Security Technology, With an Eye on a Slice of The Sky Marshal Pie’, Consultado em 01 de Outubro de 2009, in The New York Times
- BEYER, M. (2003), Sky Marshals, United States of America: Rosen Book Works, Inc.
- CANADO, R.S., (2010), O Terrorismo na Aviação Civil, Lisboa, Chiado Editora