Government must scrutinise Turkish links to airports, writes Tehseen Poonawalla | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack

Turkey’s inclusion in the ‘Grey List’ of countries by Global terror financing watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) last week should immediately put the spotlight on both India’s external and internal security.

It is widely viewed that China, Pakistan and Turkey have all worked in collusion to prop up the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. As a result, the situation along India’s north-western borders has once again become a matter of serious concern. This is an indicator that we cannot rest in complacency.

Internally also, the security threat cannot be easily wished away. Instead, it warrants a watchful eye of the regulators.

The most sensitive area of aviation security is ground handling. Turkish ground handling companies have been in the country for more than a decade now, carrying out ground handling operations at several major airports of the country.

These companies employ more than 10,000 people in India and are planning to expand their operations to many other airports as well. Many such proposals for expansion of their services are long pending with the home ministry for approval. If the proposals are in limbo due to security concerns, which should ideally be the scenario, it will portend well for the sector. I am of the view that the government should also cast a hawk-eye on Turkish companies’ current operations in a bid to negate any potential security concerns.

Turkey, of late, has started making anti-India noises. It has raised the issue of Kashmir many times even in the United Nations. India has officially reprimanded Turkey for interfering in India’s domestic affairs. Reports are rife that it is funding ISIS abroad and funding Islamist groups in India from Kashmir to Kerala to radicalise India and create an Anti-India posture within the Indian Muslims.

Under these circumstances, the issue of continuing the existing security clearance given to the Turkish companies needs a review. As security concerns are dynamic, a change towards a hostile Turkish foreign policy towards India needs to constantly review its security approvals in sensitive areas like ground handling.

Chinese companies have been denied business in India too on these grounds through modification of FEMA rules. As a matter of fact, it has been reported that roadways contract to Turkish companies has been denied in the recent past on these grounds. Why then Turkish companies have been allowed to work and expand in ground handling space in the Indian Airports- a critical security risk?

The security and economic prosperity of a country depend significantly upon the secure operation of its aviation system and use of the world’s airspace by the country, its international partners, and legitimate commercial interests. Terrorists, Criminals, and hostile nation-states have long viewed aviation as a target for attack and exploitation.

Successful attacks in an airport can inflict mass causalities and grave economic damage, and attract significant public attention because of the impact on the modern transportation system. As a result, threats on airports are becoming more probable, and their impacts are increasing. Airport security forces are now facing new unconventional opponents such as terrorists (international and national ), activists, pressure groups, single-issue zealots, insurgents, disgruntled employees, or criminals whether white-collar, cyber hackers, organised, or opportunists.

The government should be wary of any employees — contractual or permanent — getting radicalized or associating with any terrorist group or hostile spy agency. Those who fall in the category of “insiders” include management and support staff, contract security staff, vendors, flight crews, airline ticketing agents, aircraft mechanics, baggage handlers, contractual aircraft custodial crews, catering staff, law enforcement employees, custom agents, security screening personnel and air traffic controllers.

Precedents exist to back the concerns about insiders. Rajib Karim, a follower of radical cleric Anwar al-Alwaki, used his position as an information technology expert at British Airways to cause financial losses to the airline by disrupting its communication systems and attempting to blow up a plane in 2010. And in 2013, avionics technician Terry Loewen studied the Wichita airport layout, flight patterns, and passenger movements with plans to detonate a car bomb in a plot that was ultimately thwarted by investigators.

One of the two officials cited above said the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA), after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, had put in place multiple layers of security, including crew vetting, as part of a risk-based approach.

In view of the above, there is a definite need to reconsider foreign participation in sensitive areas of the Aviation sector, especially in ground handling. I am not against FDI but for an extra vigil in these sensitive sectors.

(The author is an entrepreneur, political analyst and television personality. The author’s opinions are personal and do not reflect those of FPJ, its affiliates, and employees.)

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Published on: Thursday, November 04, 2021, 07:00 AM IST

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