Emerging Terrorist Threats, Rapid Technological Change Will Compel States to Improve Practices, Says Chair of Counter-terrorism Committee
Inputs from Governments and industry had greatly benefited the development of the new Global Aviation Security Plan, although its successful implementation would depend on the dedication and actions of State and industry operators, the Security Council heard today as it took up the threat to civil aviation by terrorist acts.
The Plan, which the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council was expected to approve in November, had been widely supported by Member States, said Fang Liu, Secretary-General of the ICAO, who highlighted that the global framework’s core objective was to enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of civil aviation security measures.
However, only through sustained political will, especially at the highest levels of Government and industry, would the Plan succeed, warned Ms. Fang, adding that ICAO intended to analyse indicators and monitor progress in achieving the framework’s milestones.
Terrorists had made progress in exploiting vulnerabilities and circumventing the countermeasures that were in place, she cautioned, pointing to landside security gaps, the threat from improvised explosive devices in portable electronic devices, cyberthreats and the use of projectiles against aircraft as worrying security challenges. Terrorist groups continued to view civil aviation as an attractive target, with the aim of causing substantial loss of life, economic damage and disruption to connectivity between States, she continued.
Highlighting that many actionable details regarding recent aviation security were still unavailable to ICAO and Member States, Ms. Fang stressed: “We must find a way to identify and judiciously share essential elements of information.”
Many States lacked the capacity and resources required to implement effective measures to strengthen civil aviation security, stated Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta (Egypt), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1373 (2001) concerning counter-terrorism.
The global environment, which was marked by many new and emerging terrorist threats and rapid technological change, required support from all Member States to continue strengthening implementation of good aviation practices, said Mr. Aboulatta. Those practices must include enhancing screening and security checks, ensuring appropriate resources and effective quality controls, and promoting an effective security culture.
Gaps in basic aviation security measures created vulnerabilities that could easily be exploited and circumvented by terrorists, he said, emphasizing the need to make relevant national agencies aware of available tools, including the provision of appropriate training for all actors. States and industry actors must regard aviation-security audits as an opportunity to identify best practices, he said, adding that States must also strengthen their capacity to identify low- and high-risk passengers, while considering the need to facilitate travel.
There were several recent examples of terrorists’ persistent desire to bring death to the skies, which meant that States could not relent in their efforts to keep their citizens safe, said the representative of the United Kingdom, who stressed that lip service was simply no deterrent.
Those who believed their airports were safe from terrorist targeting were not just wrong, but irresponsible, he declared. Implementing ICAO’s agreed standards was a challenge for some, no matter how good their intentions. Technical cooperation and capacity development was needed, which was why the United Kingdom had tripled its budget for such activities.
Some 16 years after the 11 September attacks, terrorists remained determined to target civil aviation, said the representative of the United States. Despite the many improvements that had been made in security, serious threats remained, which was evident by the recent attacks against aircraft in Egypt and Somalia. Nevertheless, it was up to all Member States to take the necessary steps to ensure that one weak link did not become a catastrophe.
As a regional aviation hub and headquarters for aviation security in Africa, Senegal covered the airspace of more than 16 million square miles — twice the size of Europe, that country’s representative noted. He called for harmonizing rules and regulations at the regional level while also emphasizing that each State was responsible for strengthening the civil aviation security on its territory. To be effective, any action taken against terrorism required collaboration in sharing information, he said, underlining that securing airport facilities must be a priority given their vulnerability to terror attacks.
Also speaking today were representatives of Italy, Bolivia, Kazakhstan, Japan, China, Russian Federation, Egypt, Ukraine, Uruguay, Sweden, France and Ethiopia.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 12:08 p.m.
FANG LIU, Secretary-General of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), noted that Security Council resolution 2309 (2016) was the first of its kind, focusing on civil aviation security. Since then, extensive progress had been made in enhancing aviation security under ICAO’s guidance and leadership, including updates to the ICAO Risk Context Statement. Sector-wide emphasis on landside security, explosives detection and cybersecurity had also increased. Material for a risk management workshop had been developed, which would help States produce their own distinct risk assessments, and guidance material had been revised to reflect the latest best practices. Further, capacity development projects had taken place in locations designated through ICAO’s No Country Left Behind initiative. The recent adoption of the advance passenger information standard, which would go into effect on 23 October, would make it more difficult for foreign terrorist fighters to move between States.
As a result of its leadership role in aviation security, the new ICAO Global Aviation Security Plan had been developed, she said. Focused extensively on the threat of terrorism to civil aviation, that document benefitted from lengthy inputs on behalf of both Governments and industry. It was expected to be approved by the ICAO Council at its next session in November and had been widely supported by Member States, as demonstrated during the recent regional ministerial conference on aviation security in Africa and the Middle East. The Plan’s core objective was to enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of global provisions and the sustainable implementation of preventative measures. In that connection, it set forth five main priorities, including: enhancing risk awareness and response; establishing a better-defined security culture; improving technological resources and fostering innovation; improving oversight and quality assurance; and increasing cooperation and support.
She said that once finalized the Global Aviation Security Plan would be the primary tool by which the aviation security community fulfilled its role, as defined by resolution 2309 (2016). ICAO would analyse indicators and monitor progress in achieving those milestones, but the ultimate results would be largely dependent on the dedication and actions of States and industry operators. Only through sustained political will, especially at the highest levels of Government and industry, would the Plan succeed. Many other challenges lay ahead and would require regional road maps, capacity development and technology assistance programmes. States must also be willing to accept help in strengthening their counter-terrorism postures and in resolving vulnerabilities. The Plan established a mechanism to enable Member States to confidentially request assistance as a result of an audit or through their own self-generated risk assessment. ICAO would be proactive in comparing all such requests with other States’ competencies and recommend partnerships, where appropriate.
Another persistent challenge related to the sharing of information, she said, highlighting that many actionable details regarding recent aviation security events were still unavailable to ICAO and Member States. “We must find a way to identify and judiciously share essential elements of information,” she stressed. Terrorists had made progress in exploiting vulnerabilities and circumventing the countermeasures that were in place. Landside security gaps had been exploited to some extent for several decades, leading to the development of security measures aligned with risk assessments, and in coordination among relevant actors. That new emphasis was helping to bring together law enforcement agencies, security forces, airport authorities and even vendors. Likewise, the threat from improvised explosive devices in portable electronic devices was not new in air transport. In that context, effective and affordable countermeasures for increasingly sophisticated concealment methods had been discussed in numerous ICAO working groups, task forces and conferences, and new and more detailed screening requirements had been pursued.
Aviation’s rapid cyberconnectivity growth was one of the newest threats, she underscored, adding that the more people relied on computers and information technology, the more exposed the aviation industry was to cyberthreats. In that regard, that topic would remain high on ICAO’s list of concerns. The use of projectiles against aircraft had also proven to be an increasing concern, particularly in conflict zones. Each of those threats potentially generated a new layer of technological requirements, which would be costly in terms of purchasing new equipment, while also requiring building renovations, training and maintenance requests, slowdowns in security procedures and other effects on operations and facilitation.
Terrorists groups continued to view civil aviation as an attractive target, with the aim of causing substantial loss of life, economic damage and disruption to connectivity between States, she continued. The key element of the implementation of resolution 2309 (2016) and the Global Aviation Security Plan was States’ commitment to ensure implementation of effective and risk-based measures that reflected the ever-evolving threat picture, and ensuring that such measures were in accordance with ICAO standards and recommended practices. Security experts and aviation authorities understood the importance of the Plan, but determined support was needed, including legislative and operational authority, financial backing, appropriate resources and statements of commitments. Capable Member States must be willing to participate in ICAO initiatives to bolster security worldwide, whether through the loan or donation of technology, the provision of training in basic procedures or best practices, the provision of mentors or via direct financial support for ICAO’s capacity-building and assistance programmes.
The use of advance passenger information data, along with passenger name record (PNR) information would greatly assist in identifying air travellers who may pose a threat to aviation, although an appropriate balance must be found between the necessary level of security and the passenger experience. The importance of an accurate risk assessment, based on an equally accurate threat assessment, could not be over-emphasized, she continued, pointing out that all facets of national and local activities should be focused on understanding applicable risks.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1373 (2001) concerning counter-terrorism, briefed on the outcomes of its special meeting on terrorist threats to civil aviation, held on 7 July. He called on countries to work together to strengthen implementation of the obligations and commitments aimed at addressing threats facing aviation. He also welcomed ICAO’s new security plan and the current initiative of the Committee’s Executive Directorate and ICAO to enter into a formal cooperation agreement aimed at further harmonizing their partnership. ICAO played a central role in the development and monitoring of international aviation security standards.
He said that the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) played a central role in supporting and implementing the policy decisions of the Committee and the Council. Many States, however, lacked the capacity and resources required to implement effective measures to strengthen civil aviation security. A global environment marked by a number of new and emerging terrorist threats and rapid technological change required support from all Member States to continue strengthening implementation of good aviation practices. Those practices must include enhancing screening and security checks, ensuring appropriate resources and effective quality controls, and promoting an effective security culture. It could not be overstressed that gaps in basic aviation-security measures created vulnerabilities that could easily be exploited and circumvented by terrorists.
He called for the strengthening of mechanisms for sharing of threat information at the international and national levels, including by frontline aviation security staff, which often lacked critical information. Member States also lacked access to relevant databases, including those of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and Al-Qaida sanctions committee lists. Lack of protection in landslide airport areas was a major concern, he continued, adding that such areas were accessible to the public and often managed by a broad range of agencies. Particular challenges in that regard were the actions of lone gunmen, mass-casualty explosive devices and attacks involving improvised explosive devices carried by passengers. Information and communications technology for malicious purposes and potential vulnerability of aircraft also required urgent attention.
Outlining various proposals for further action by the Council and Committee, he emphasized the need to make relevant national agencies aware of available tools, including the provision of appropriate training for all actors. The Council and the Committee must also incorporate relevant Council resolutions into the civil aviation security framework and urge States to enhance protection of airport landslide areas. States and industry actors must regard aviation-security audits as an opportunity to identify best practices. States must also strengthen their capacity to identify low- and high-risk passengers, while considering the need to facilitate travel. He also emphasized the need to address aviation security-related issues, including by promoting the implementation of resolution 2309 (2016).
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said that the passage of resolution 2309 (2016) had demonstrated countries’ joint resolve to protect citizens from a shared and escalating threat and started a global discussion on how to improve aviation security standards. Yet, one year later, it was clear that the threat facing civil aviation had not diminished, but rather had evolved. There were several examples of terrorists’ unrelenting desire to bring death to the skies, which meant that States could not relent in their efforts to keep their citizens safe. Lip service was simply no deterrent, he stated. Those that believed their airports were safe from terrorists’ targeting were not just wrong, but irresponsible. His country recognized that implementing ICAO’s agreed standards was a challenge for some, no matter how good their intentions. Technical cooperation and capacity development was needed, which was why his country had tripled its budget for such activities. Threats to aviation security should be routinely included in United Nations reporting related to terrorism. He welcomed the close cooperation between CTED and ICAO and encouraged continued collaboration and the sharing of information, research and analysis. His delegation encouraged the new Office of Counter-Terrorism to work closely with ICAO to make aviation security a priority.
MICHELE J. SISON (United States) said that some 16 years after the 11 September attacks, terrorists remained determined to target civil aviation. Despite the many improvements that had been made in security, serious threats remained, which was evident by the recent attacks against aircraft in Egypt and Somalia. The reliance on airplanes for the movement of goods and people continued to grow, she said, which made it even more imperative that the aviation system was secure. Resolution 2306 (2016) was built on previous work to improve global standards to address terrorist threats and highlighted the importance of mobilizing resources and deepening cooperation. Her country called on the ICAO Council to adopt the Global Aviation Security Plan as soon as possible and believed that the various United Nations counter-terrorism offices should help to ensure Member States could follow through on ICAO’s plans. It was up to all Member States to take the necessary steps to ensure that just one weak link did not become a catastrophe. The United States had already taken concrete steps with regard to passenger screening, although more needed to be done to counter the foreign terrorist fighter threat. In that connection, the United States would continue to take a hard look at its system of air travel to ensure it was secure.
ANDREA BIAGINI (Italy) stressed that civil aviation remained vulnerable to the threat of terrorist attacks, which was why the international community needed to strengthen cooperation, information sharing and implement security standards. He recalled that Group of Seven (G-7) leaders had confirmed their commitment to strengthening cooperation among border agencies and the use of advance passenger information for screening. However, many countries needed capacity-building projects to strengthen their capabilities, he said, highlighting that there were many technological restraints, which would require the management of different systems for a certain period. Ensuring the safety of international flights and passengers were the essential goals of the resolution — implementation was now key.
PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia) condemned all acts of terrorism in all forms regardless of their motivation. Terrorism was one of the most severe threats to peace and coexistence. More specifically, terrorist acts aimed at civil aviation not only threated the confidence and safety of people but also deeply and negatively affected the economic trade among States. He reaffirmed the need to reassess counter-terrorist aviation standards, which must be adapted to current realities. For its part, Bolivia in coordination with ICAO had been implementing various security measures of aviation. Bolivia’s Criminal Code included terrorism and provided that anyone seizing an aircraft through violence was committing a crime of terror. Coordination took place between various institutions, as well as public and private companies, he added, calling on the Security Council to join efforts to fight terrorism within the framework of international law.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said his country’s authorities had intensified their interaction with relevant regional and international organizations and taken vigorous and prompt measures to eliminate threats to international flights. The Civil Aviation Committee of Kazakhstan was considering the installation and maintenance of an information system for collecting and processing of data on air passengers. The nature of attacks on civil aviation infrastructure was constantly changing, he continued, calling for the consolidation of legislation and for action from neighbouring and regional countries with constant flow of air traffic. He also called for the development of an active exchange of information on new methods and practices. Special vigilance was needed in preventing direct attacks, smuggling explosives onto aircraft, using drones to carry lethal materials or vehicles laden with explosives, the hijacking of planes, and attacks of mortar of short- and long-range anti-tank missiles. All that required thorough screening, creating stand-off security zones, and clear operational roles between armed forces, special security and police.
YASUHISA KAWAMURA (Japan), noting that civil aviation had been an attractive target for terrorists, said all available tools must be used to prevent such attacks. While ICAO guidelines and passenger information systems helped authorities detect terrorists, only 57 of 193 Member States used such systems. Calling on all Member States to act in that regard, he said Japan had provided $2.2 million to the Asia-Pacific region for that purpose. Equally important were updating ISIL and Al-Qaida sanctions lists and populating INTERPOL databases. The latter should be extended to airports and border checkpoints, he said, pointing out that more than 100 of 190 Member States did not use that powerful database and urging all countries to extend access to it at airports and other frontline checkpoints.
WU HAITAO (China) said civil aviation was important among other things to trade and economic cooperation between nations. The global community must scale up international civil aviation protection measures and all countries must be consistent in their zero-tolerance terrorism policy. Strengthening developing countries’ capacity must be prioritized to ensure civil aviation security, particularly at airport security screenings. Developing countries required assistance to enhance their aviation security, he added, emphasizing the need to implement relevant Council resolutions and scale up international cooperation to protect civil aviation from attacks. All parties must strengthen sharing civil aviation intelligence and step-up their coordination on aviation security initiatives. China would continue to promote aviation security and stood ready to work with ICAO to scale up efforts in civil aviation protection.
FODÉ SECK (Senegal) said the crucial role played by ICAO in developing international security standards for civil aviation must be strengthened by the joint efforts of Member States and the aviation industry. Constant vigilance based on considering the specific nature of the geopolitical environment of each country was fundamental. To be effective, any action taken against terrorism required collaboration in information-sharing. Airport facilities such as terminals, cargo baggage handling areas, parking and the runway were vulnerable targets for terror attacks. Securing them must be a priority. On a national level, Senegal was implementing its civil aviation security road map. More broadly, as a regional hub for aviation and the headquarters for aviation security in Africa, Senegal covered the airspace of over 16 million square miles — twice the size of Europe. He called for rules and regulations to be harmonized at the regional level while also emphasizing that each State had the responsibility to strengthen the civil aviation security on its territory. Noting that arms smuggling was threatening the stability of the greater Sahel region, he called for massive technical and information assistance and reiterated his support to ICAO and CTED.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) recalled that his country had actively participated in discussions on the issue of civil aviation security during a meeting of the Counter-Terrorism Committee in July. That session provided “food for thought” with regard to the remaining gaps in States’ implementation of requirements to prevent terrorist attacks and strengthen intra-State cooperation. The phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters, the risks associated with airport staff, the increasing sophistication of improvised explosive devices and the dangers posed by cyberattacks were among the most pressing challenges. The Global Aviation Security Plan, as well as the road map on its implementation, would be a useful tool regarding securing civil aviation. The purpose of discussing the issue of aviation security within the Council was to ensure that, without duplicating efforts, necessary assistance was given to States. The goal was to create a sustainable system aimed at protecting the civil aviation system from acts of interference, through greater coordinated action between States and relevant bodies.
Mr. ABOULATTA (Egypt) said that the Counter-Terrorism Committee meeting held on 7 July on terrorist threats to civil aviation was one of the most important meetings held by that body in 2017. That meeting led to important outcomes that should be fully respected and implemented. He noted the importance of resolution 2309 (2016), which stressed the vital role of ICAO in all areas related to civil aviation. He underscored the need for States to comply with the implementation of the resolution, including all its provisions. Egypt had taken internal measures to protect its people and territory against any attacks involving civil aviation, including the implementation of effective measures to assess risks within the country’s airports. Authorities had conducted regular reviews of those measures to ensure they adequately addressed evolving threats, in-line with ICAO standards and recommended policies.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said urgent tasks to address safety in the skies included enhancing overall security with advanced passenger screening systems and establishing pre-clearance locations. For its part, Ukraine had taken steps such as introducing ICAO-compliant biometric travel documents. Turning to the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, he said an investigation was still under way and attempts to establish an international tribunal by the Security Council had been blocked by the Russian Federation. Ukraine and partners on the joint investigation team would continue to work to ensure justice for the victims and accountability for those responsible for supplying the missile system that shot down the passenger aircraft.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) said terrorist acts against air transportation could have devastating consequences on States and their populations. States were increasingly interdependent and, therefore, cooperation was inescapable in ensuring aviation safety. Political will was critical, he continued, while also emphasizing that often political will was simply not enough as many countries did not have the technical capacity and infrastructure to implement international security measures. Recognizing the importance of the work of ICAO and the technical assistance that some Member States provide to others, he called for the further strengthening of international cooperation. “The international chain of cooperation was as strong as its weakest link,” he added. Training and safety, quality control, and exchanging information were critical. He said that safety audits were useful instruments to identify best practices and new technologies were important elements to fight potential air traffic challenges.
IRINA SCHOULGIN-NYONI (Sweden), highlighting the shared task of ensuring safe and secure aviation, emphasized that “we are only as safe as our weakest link”. Commending the efforts of ICAO, the Counter-Terrorism Committee and the Executive Directorate, she said essential areas of focus must include operational cooperation, information exchange and capacity-building. Outlining the European Union’s legislative framework to promote safety, she said all countries must redouble efforts to bolster security and address emerging vulnerabilities such as cybersecurity threats. More broadly, work must continue to prevent radicalization to violent extremism and terrorism in the first place.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) outlined various ways his country had strengthened its aviation security including through boosting capacity to detect new explosives and adopting a risk assessment programme on flights coming from different countries. At the international level, France was strengthening norms and recommended practices, and the best use of audits. His country supported the work of ICAO, including by providing two experts to Canada and Senegal. For its part, the Council had an important role to play to ensure the implementation of relevant resolutions to tackle threats to international civil aviation. “We can and should do more and better,” he said, emphasizing the importance of close cooperation between ICAO and the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1373 (2001) concerning counter-terrorism. He added that the July 2017 meeting between the two bodies had provided a good opportunity to promote the implementation of international aviation standards.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said that, with civil air travel still vulnerable to terrorist attack, aviation security should remain a high priority for Member States and the international community, with greater cooperation to close loopholes. It was clear, however, that all Member States did not have the same level of capacity to implement those provisions of resolution 2309 (2016) that required more sophisticated technical know-how. Ethiopia hoped that Sates would continue to develop partnerships aimed at capacity-building and technical assistance, and for ICAO and other bodies to strengthen cooperation as well. Having one of the biggest airline groups in its region, Ethiopia attached great importance to aviation security and it was committed to cooperate with other States and stakeholders in the context of regional and international frameworks.
Taking the floor for a second time, Ms. FANG said she concurred with Member States’ remarks on the importance of civil aviation security and the need for international cooperation. Resolution 2309 (2016) must be effectively implemented and further investment made in aviation security, including through technical support and training for developing countries. ICAO would continue to play a leading role in aviation security and hoped to further enhance its cooperation with various United Nations bodies.