Cablegate: Security Concerns at Johannesburg International
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 PRETORIA 004464
DS/IP/ITA FOR DAN ROTHSTEIN
STATE FOR AF/S/TCRAIG AND KGAITHER
AMEMBASSY ROME FOR TSAR/JHALINSKI
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAIR ELAB ECON ASEC SF
SUBJECT: SECURITY CONCERNS AT JOHANNESBURG INTERNATIONAL
(U) Sensitive But Unclassified. Not for Internet
1. (SBU) Summary. A spate of recent criminal activity at
the Johannesburg International Airport (JIA) reveals a need
for improved security. Several robberies, shootings and
unauthorized access to restricted areas have resulted in a
police investigation. While security precautions at the
airport have been elevated, an ACSA official warned of more
negative reports on airport security in the short-term. End
2. (SBU) As background, a senior security executive
explained that the JIA's restricted areas where
international and domestic aprons are situated and where
airplanes are parked can be accessed from several locations:
- One, the Charlie Gate is located near the terminals. This
gate controls airport access for airport and airline staff
reporting to work.
- Two, the North Gate is used as an entrance and exit point
for normal commercial cargo.
- Three, the "Super" South Gate is a multi-lane entrance and
exit point used to convey valuable cargo. At this gate a
variety of additional security resources are used including
x-ray machines, upright metal detectors, handheld metal
detectors, and police. This gate also handles traffic that
previously traveled via the freight and construction gates
- Four, the ATNS gate used by Air Traffic and Navigation
- Five, an unused freight gate with airside access. This
was previously padlocked shut, but has now been welded shut.
- Six, an unused construction gate with airside access.
This gate was previously padlocked shut, but has now been
- Seven, private airline hangars. A controlled access point
separates these hangars from the airport's airside. An
unpatrolled fence separates this area from public roads.
- Eight, SAA Technical, a subsidiary of South African
Airways, maintains, repairs, and tests airplanes. It has a
controlled access point separating them from the runways.
- Nine, terminals can be used to access airport runways and
RECENT CRIMINAL ACTIVITY AT JIA
3. (SBU) A Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) official told
Econoff that on September 5, armed robbers by-passed
security at the domestic terminal and stole cash from an
airport restaurant. The event went unpublicized for a week
until a local journalist learned of the robbery. The heist
is disconcerting because it reveals that armed thieves were
able to enter the terminal, pass a police post, go up to the
second level, rob the restaurant, return and drive the one-
kilometer road off the airport premises without being
challenged by security.
4. (SBU) The week of September 18, criminals broke into the
airport ticket offices of British Airways (BA) and stole a
safe from the offices of its handling company, Swissport.
5. (SBU) A senior airline executive told Econoff that on
September 15, police confronted a suspicious individual
attempting to enter "Charlie" gate using bogus credentials.
As they questioned the suspect, five of his associates
opened fire from a nearby vehicle, wounding a police
6. (SBU) On September 16, thieves accessed the runway and
opened fire on police officers escorting valuable cargo to a
KLM flight bound for Amsterdam. Police returned fire, but
the robbers escaped. Airport contacts told Post's
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officer that there was
reason to believe the robbers received help from the inside.
Security officials from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)
and the airlines confirmed this with Econoff. They said
that a chain securing the unused, airside construction gate
was left unlocked and was used by the bandits during their
get-away. The officials were unsure whether the robbers
entered the restricted area through the construction gate,
although one official speculates that they may have gained
airside access much earlier from a different location. It
is unknown whether this incident is connected to the
September 15 shooting.
7. (SBU) The same day, a journalist from The Star newspaper
reported that he was able to pass through a non-functional
electric fence protecting the airside perimeter. A security
official at the airport told Econoff that this fence only
leads to the private hangar area adjacent to airside. He
said that the reporter would have had to pass through a
control point before actually accessing the tarmac.
8. (U) The journalist also reported that he observed a
number of other security breaches around the airport. For
instance, he saw unattended vehicles parked at the terminal;
he observed people bypassing X-ray machines and metal
detectors and accessing the airport's "sterile area" by
passing through a door marked "Goods Only - No Person to
Pass Here" despite the presence of a security guard; he
walked unchallenged through the basement of the terminal
where he could have potentially accessed the airport's power
supply; he watched a person dressed in an airline uniform
and carrying a package slip through the automatic exit door
of the domestic arrivals "sterile" area as passengers exited
despite the presence of security; he noted that the
automatic exit door from the International Arrivals customs
was apparently malfunctioning and remained in an open
position; he drove unchallenged into the "Perishable Goods
Cargo" area, simply waving at the security guard posted
there; and he reported that he parked outside the airside
perimeter fence at several prohibited locations without ever
seeing a security patrol.
WHAT'S BEING DONE ABOUT IT?
9. (SBU) South African Police Services (SAPS) is leading
the investigation into these incidents. An ACSA security
executive told Econoff that SAPS is close to arresting
several suspects believed to have been helping from the
inside. Director Zuma, the SAPS Commander at JIA, also told
Post's Regional Security Office that SAPS is planning to
brief diplomatic officials in a meeting being organized by
the Department of Foreign Affairs. A date for the meeting
has not yet been set.
10. (SBU) Ironically, the incidents come just weeks after
the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA), South Africa's
airport management firm, announced that it had installed
1,200 surveillance cameras and spent nearly R53 million
(about $8 million) on upgrading and replacing fences,
barriers and access control gates throughout the airport.
An ACSA official told Econoff that another R60 million will
be spent by April 2005 to improve intrusion detection of
JIA's 36 km fence, baggage-management systems, biometric and
control room systems as well as the installation of a
vehicle number plate recognitions system. He said that
during his November 2004 trip to Transportation Security
Administration facilities in the United States he will be
looking to purchase proven, off-the-shelf systems in use at
U.S. airports for immediate implementation at JIA.
11. (SBU) The ACSA official also said that the following
precautions have been put in place since the KLM incident:
- Increased security staff to 150 guards 24/7.
- The National Intervention Unit (NIU), responsible for all
medium to high-risk policing, and the Crime Combating Unit
are escorting valuable cargo to and from aircraft in armored
- NIU and Combating Unit patrolling outer perimeter while
visible policing guards inside the airport buildings.
- Rapid Response teams have been deployed throughout the
- Armored vehicles are on the airport premises.
- Increased infrared surveillance.
- The old freight and construction gates have been welded
- Marked and unmarked vehicles are patrolling all entry and
exit points to the airport.
12. (SBU) In addition, the official said that 600 new
police fresh from the academy will be assigned to JIA
beginning in January 2005. They are currently being trained
on aviation security. Over the next eighteen months a total
of 1,700 new police officers will replace the three sub-
contracted security firms currently patrolling the car park,
the perimeter fence, and at the terminals.
13. (SBU) The official also told Econoff that he believes
an "insider" is cooperating with journalists to point out
weaknesses in airport security. He warned of more negative
reports on airport security in the short-term, but said they
represent a minimal threat.