The line between garden-variety criminals and international terrorists has become blurred worldwide, as the two groups become increasingly comfortable working together, although not necessarily toward the same ends.
Sam Harris, CEO of V1 Analytical Solutions, told participants in an NBAA security webinar last month that 12 of 28 groups classified by the U.S. government as terrorists are actively engaged in drug trafficking.
“Now they are both learning tricks of the trade,” he said. “Terrorists are learning from organized criminals how to do business better where they are, and the same goes for the organized criminals; they are learning from terrorists–tactics, techniques and procedures.”
Terrorists and common criminals have often found themselves co-located in the same places, Harris explained, but previously it was fairly easy to differentiate the two. A terrorist looked like a terrorist and an organized criminal looked like an organized criminal. They weren’t really affected by each other’s learning.
“But what we find ourselves dealing with today,” he continued, “is every terrorist is a criminal and every criminal is a terrorist. We are starting to see similarities in the way they work together. We can take what we’ve learned in dealing with counterterrorism and we can transfer some of those lessons over to you and your flight department.”
The mutually beneficial relationships that terrorists and criminals are forming are resulting in more capable criminals and more capable terrorists. “[In] both of these organizations, their game is improving and that is what we are going up against,” Harris warned.
Security in Unstable Locations
While most flight departments don’t have to worry about terrorist threats, they do have to worry about organized crime threats. Terrorists are starting to engage in organized crime types of behavior because it is a good revenue generator to fund their original terrorist objectives. Consequently, as organized criminals learn terrorist tactics and procedures, they are becoming more efficient and better equipped.
Harris, who served two special-operations combat tours in Iraq, is concerned about the threat to corporate aviation as companies travel abroad to develop business. “In nations where you find a population that is less affluent than the one we have here in the United States, you are going to run into a higher criminal activity,” he warned.
He displayed a world map labeled the “Arc of Instability,” which depicts countries whose governments are not on a solid foundation. Because they are on shaky ground, they are particularly attractive to terrorist organizations. And countries whose governments are not on a solid foundation typically have large criminal populations.
“Take a look at the Arc of Instability and tell me where you tend to be doing your flight operations,” Harris said. “You as corporate pilots and you as corporate flight professionals have to concern yourselves with the fact that you are going into harm’s way in a high-visibility aircraft.
“Typically, because you’re on some other sovereign nation’s soil, you’re not allowed to bring a very robust security apparatus with you,” he said. “And you are more or less inserting yourself as a target into the area.”
Harris offered some advice, including knowing the enemy and not underestimating him. The enemy understands risk versus reward, and deterrence may be the best course of action.
He also suggested that pilots and flight departments ask the following questions before launching a trip: what are the capabilities of the threat, what are the threat’s objectives, how would he achieve these objectives, and what tools does he have to achieve these objectives?
According to Harris, flight departments should take away the enemies’ means to mount an attack by eliminating holes in security, eliminating surprise and by taking away his preparedness. Make an attack more difficult by being aware of threats before departing, while on the road and in crew hotels.