Cablegate: Nicaragua Aviation Update - Airlines Tsa


DE RUEHMU #1448/01 3391502
R 041502Z DEC 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 001448


E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/04/2018

REF: A. (A) MANAGUA 01275
B. (B) MANAGUA 02618
C. (C) MANAGUA 01180

Classified By: Charge d'affaires, a.i. Richard M. Sanders,
reasons 1.4 (b, d)

1. (C) Summary: The security situation at Managua,s Augusto
C. Sandino International Airport is mixed. From October 20
to 24, 2008, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
conducted a successful inspection of airlines and cargo
carriers that fly directly from Sandino International Airport
to the U.S. TSA found air carrier security procedures to be
in compliance with TSA-mandated security programs. Airline
representatives, in addition, report some recent improvement
in security. Nonetheless, Post's experience has been that
cooperation by GON airport officials with Embassy Managua
personnel has deteriorated sharply. In September, the
Nicaraguan airport authorities canceled all existing Embassy
airport access passes and limited the issuance of new passes.
Not long before, local newspapers had reported that Managua
airport security officials facilitated the transit of members
of the FARC, entering Nicaragua from Venezuela at the
invitation of President Ortega, through the airport without
immigration or other documentation checks. End Summary.

--------------------------------------------- -------
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2. (U) From October 20 to 24, 2008, TSA conducted a
successful inspection of airlines and cargo carriers,
receiving good cooperation on the part of the Nicaraguan
civil aviation and airport authorities. TSA inspected all
air carriers flying directly from Managua,s Augusto C.
Sandino International Airport to the United States. After
observing all U.S.-bound flights from American, Delta,
Continental, Spirit and TACA airlines, TSA found them to be
in compliance with the Aircraft Operator Standard Security
Program and the Model Security Program.

3. (U) The inspection focused on air carrier control of
passenger processing, screening and movement; baggage
security; boarding processes and control of access to the
aircraft; airport ID display and challenge procedures; and
security controls on cargo, mail and catering supplies.
There was also a special focus on liquid, aerosol and gel
security procedures.

4. (U) Managua,s Augusto C. Sandino International Airport is
a Class II airport, based on flight volume and other factors,
and is subject to an airport security inspection by the TSA
every two years. TSA,s recent inspection was not an
inspection of airport security, but of air carrier security.
Sandino Airport was last inspected by TSA in late 2007, and
is due for another inspection in 2010. The date of the next
inspection may be moved up if requested by Post. Because TSA
relies on the cooperation of host country officials during an
overseas inspection, a surprise inspection is not possible.
Consequently, both airport security officials and airline
officials were aware of the inspection by the time it took


5. (U) On October 8, 2008, prior to the TSA inspection, the
Embassy hosted its quarterly meeting with representatives of
airlines with direct flights to the U.S. The airlines
reported a general improvement in previous problematic areas.
Luggage theft had declined significantly since the
identification and arrest of a gang of six airport military
security officers responsible for a rash of pilfering (Ref
B). Other concerns, such as the security provided by the
Nicaraguan Army and auditing pressure from the Nicaraguan Tax
Administration, had abated or been resolved. With respect to
the effect of the global economic crisis on their operations
in Nicaragua, airline officials are cautiously optimistic.
Summer 2008 was a strong season, but business is way down and
the future is uncertain. A decline in fuel prices has
helped, but carriers may still have to go to smaller planes
with less capacity if economic conditions continue to
deteriorate. Cargo traffic, particularly northbound, is
already declining.

--------------------------------------------- --
--------------------------------------------- --

6. (C) The cooperation afforded to TSA contrasts starkly with
the recent and sharp deterioration of cooperation by GON
airport officials with Embassy Managua personnel. Post's
ability to observe airport security and facilitate official
visits on a day-to-day basis has been severely limited by the
cancellation of all existing airport access passes and
limited issuance of new passes (Ref A). Diplomatic missions
are now allowed a maximum of three passes per mission, no
matter the size of the mission, which must be applied for on
a daily basis. In early 2008, President Ortega installed
former Nicaraguan National Police Commissioner Denis Perez,
an Ortega loyalist, as head of security at the airport,
undermining the authority of the Nicaraguan Armed Forces
Defense Information Directorate, which by Nicaraguan
regulation is responsible for airport security.

7. (C) More worrisome are newspaper reports and information
gathered by Post that Managua airport security officials have
facilitated the transit of individuals who may be unfriendly
to the U.S., such as members of the FARC who entered
Nicaragua from Venezuela in July at the invitation of
President Ortega, without immigration or other documentation.
Media reports and Post reporting indicate that the GON has
most likely issued genuine Nicaraguan identification
documents to individuals traveling under false pretenses,
including to at least one FARC-related individual (Ref C).
Although TSA,s mandate in Managua was to inspect airline
security, and not airport security, post met twice with the
TSA team to relay its concerns about undocumented travelers
moving through Sandino International Airport. TSA,s
conclusion, based on its inspection, was that air carrier
security procedures at Sandino Airport, which include
passenger manifest checks and instant communication with
DHS/CBP,s Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS), were
sufficient to prevent undocumented or unchecked individuals
entering the U.S. on an aircraft from Nicaragua.

8. (C) Comment: Without unfettered access to secure areas of
the airport as it had in the past, Post's Regional Security
Office is unable to observe the airport for security issues,
and to assist appropriately with official visits. The lack
of airport access also hinders the Embassy's ability to
manage routine operations relating to air shipments and
diplomatic pouches. Moreover, the GON has demonstrated its
disregard for security procedures and immigration checks when
it comes to ushering individuals from Venezuela or the FARC
into and out of the country. Evidence suggests that the
government may be issuing genuine Nicaraguan documents to
these persons. Such documents could provide a way for
malafide travelers to circumvent APIS controls, and to travel
to contiguous countries without serious impediment - all the
way to Guatemala's border with Mexico. We are glad that air
carriers have maintained appropriate security procedures to
make up for official failings. But at this time, we are not
confident in the GON,s commitment to airport security, and
do not expect the situation to improve anytime soon.

© Scoop Media

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