LATIN AMERICA NEWS – In an effort to prevent people from using stolen passports to board commercial flights, Interpol has offered the “I-Checkit” system to airlines in Latin America to ensure that no passengers use a lost or stolen passport.
Hundreds of millions of passengers embark on international flights without passports being checked against Interpol’s (International Organization of Criminal Police) database on stolen and lost passports, according to the “open letter” by the organization’s Secretary General Ronald Noble. The letter was released May 20 on Interpol’s website.
The organization, based in Lyon, France, operates in Latin America and throughout the world, hunting for international fugitives and fighting transnational crime.
Criminals could use stolen passports to travel, “confident they won’t get caught,” Noble wrote. “Airlines and governments need to share the responsibility to prevent stolen passports from being used to board planes.”
The Interpol I-Checkit system is part of Interpol’s public awareness campaign, which is known as “Turn Back Crime.” The goal of the program is to involve all sectors of society in preventing and combatting crime.
Using technology to improve airline safety
The I-Checkit system is a way for security officials and airlines to use technology to improve airline safety. Interpol developed the system in 2002, after al-Qaeda operatives hijacked U.S. airplanes to carry out the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
I-Checkit allows airlines to consult Interpol’s global database to check whether a passport has been reported lost or stolen. The system provides access to Interpol’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) database. This system does not give airlines access to any private information. Interpol created the database to keep track of stolen passports.
The I-Checkit system can check the validity of a passport in less than a second, Interpol said on March 28.
Of the 1.2 billion airline passengers who traveled internationally in 2013, at least 400 million crossed borders without their documents being checked against Interpol’s database, Noble said at UN headquarters on April 25.
The identities of four of every 10 international passengers are still not screened against the Interpol database, which produced more than 60,000 hits in 2012, the Interpol representative added.
A black market for false identification
Security forces and airlines in Latin America must be vigilant against the use of stolen and false passports, said Néstor Rosanía, a Colombian security analyst. He is the director of the Center for Studies in Security, Defense, and International Affairs of Colombia (CESDAI).
There is an underground business devoted to the theft and falsification of passports, visas and other forms of documentation in Latin America. Drug traffickers are the main clients of individuals and groups which steal passports and produce false documents.
Passports have become necessary tools for drug trafficking and terrorist organizations. Drug cartels and terrorist groups have operatives who travel with stolen or falsified passports, according to Rosanía.
Terrorists and other criminals use false passports, Noble said. As examples, he cited al-Qaeda operative Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for planning the attack against the World Trade Center in New York in 1993, and Milorad Ulemek, convicted for the murder in 2003 of Zoran Djindjic, Prime Minister of Serbia. Both men committed these crimes after traveling from one country to another using stolen passports.
In Latin America, groups of Colombians and Uruguayans supply legitimate passports to drug cartels and terrorist organizations such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), El Pais reported in October 2012.
In the Dominican Republic, a stolen foreign passport can be sold for between $10,000 and $15,000 (USD), Tele Diario reported on Jan. 14.
Malaysian Airlines mystery
On March 8, a Malaysia Airlines plane disappeared after departing from Kuala Lumpur on a flight to Beijing. Of the 239 people on board, two passengers were using stolen European passports.
The plane has not been found. There is no evidence connecting the disappearance of the plane to the two men who were using stolen passports.
Nonetheless, the presence of two people who were using stolen passports underscored the importance of checking for them, according to Interpol.
“We want danger to be identified by security forces as far away as possible from check-in counters, boarding gates, and runways,” Noble said in his speech at the Aviation Security and Border Control Summit in November 2013 in Doha, Qatar.
International air travel is increasing
The number of international air travelers is expected to increase from 1 billion in 2010 to nearly 2 billion by 2025. If airlines use the I-Checkit system, it will revolutionize international passenger control “by moving the first line of defense further away from airports,” Noble said in Doha.
Annually, airlines in the United States use I-Checkit more than 230 million times. Airlines in the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates use the program more than 140 million times and more than 100 million times annually. Singapore uses it more than 29 million times a year.
A national security issue: analyst
Ensuring that international passengers are not using stolen passports is an important safety issue, security analyst Rosanía said.
“This is a national security issue. Airlines are not only obligated to customers, but also to the national security of countries,” he said. “The airlines claim to only be responsible for commercial operations and that governments are responsible for security issues.”
Airlines “cannot be held unaccountable for the issue” and need to step up security in Latin America and throughout the world.
If Latin American airlines use I-Checkit program, there will be a decrease in the number of people traveling across borders with stolen documents, the security analyst said. The Interpol program is another tool that would help security forces in Central America, the Caribbean, and South America stay a step ahead of organized crime and terrorists.
Interpol is ready, willing and able to work with the airlines to help them prevent dangerous terrorists and criminals from boarding planes using lost and stolen passports registered in the Interpol database, Noble’s open letter expressed.
Source: Dialogo America