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Cablegate: Bangkok Airport Receives Good Marks Despite Remaining

VZCZCXRO1656
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHBK #2655/01 2890805
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 160805Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8639
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
INFO RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 7158
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 002655

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASEC EAIR KHLS TH
SUBJECT: Bangkok Airport Receives Good Marks Despite Remaining
Unresolved Security Issues

REF: BANGKOK 3492

BANGKOK 00002655 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Officials from the U.S. Transportation Security
Administration (TSA) conducted an assessment of Bangkok's
Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK) at the end of September.
TSA noted that Airports of Thailand (AoT) has made noticeable
progress with security measures in the past year, especially in
passenger screening, access control, and physical security
structures. Since late 2008, political protests and media reports
about shakedowns of tourists have been a source of public
embarrassment for the RTG, as Thailand struggles to restore its huge
tourism industry amid the global economic downturn. Although some
serious security issues remain at BKK, the results of the assessment
show that the work of TSA and AoT has been productive so far. END
SUMMARY.

----------------------------
Progress on Airport Security
----------------------------

2. (SBU) Aviation security concerns took center stage in late 2008
with the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) movement's takeover
of Bangkok's airports (reftel). Thousands of protestors against
the government of then-Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat seized the
passenger terminal building of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International
Airport (BKK) on November 25, 2008, shutting it down for 11 days.
The airport re-opened for service on December 5, 2008, albeit with
extensive cancellations and delays. In the aftermath of the
shutdown, U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
officials conducted extensive technical visits in December 2008 and
February 2009 to ascertain the airport's level of compliance with
international standards for aviation security. The visits
identified a number of aviation security weaknesses requiringQ
significant commitment to achieve compliance with international
standards.

3. (SBU) Working closely with the Embassy's TSA Representative, the
Airports of Thailand Public Company Limited (AoT) and Thai
Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) have since taken significant
steps to achieve security improvements. Examples of the assistance
TSA has provided to the AoT and DCA include: re-design of
checkpoints and the screening process, training in aviation security
quality control and inspections, and analysis and re-drafting of the
Thai National Civil Aviation Security Program (NCASP) against
international standards (NOTE: The International Civil Aviation
Organization (ICAO) requires every signatory country to develop an
NCASP in order to outline a strategy to reach ICAO standards on
security. END NOTE.) TSA also facilitated the travel of a
delegation of AoT officials and screening contractors to San
Francisco International Airport (SFO) in June to observe efficient
and effective aviation security practices and to consult with
TSA-SFO management.

4. (SBU) Marked improvements towards mitigating deficiencies
identified through consultations with TSA have been evident since
May 2009. They include enhancements in airport physical
infrastructure, implementation of new and more effective detection
technologies (e.g. to scan for explosives) for the screening of
passengers and their cabin baggage, and improvements to overall
airport access control.

------------------------------------
Despite the Progress Concerns Return
------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Security concerns at the airport returned to public
attention in recent months with local and international media
reporting on criminal activity at Suvarnabhumi. In one instance, a
British couple claimed they were the victims of an extortion scam
after being accused of shoplifting from a duty free shop at the
airport in July 2009. The media have also reported on tourist
complaints about illegal taxi drivers and tour operators. Tourists
allege that unregistered drivers and operators are harassing them
upon arrival, and attempting to charge inflated service fees.
(NOTE: Press reports allege that the reported scam and other crimes
involve an organized criminal network with ties to officials in the
AoT. This allegation has not been substantiated. END NOTE.)

6. (SBU) According to an AoT spokesman, in the wake of this
attention, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva criticized Minister of
Transport Sohpon Zarum for failing to keep Suvarnabhumi's operations
in line with international standards. Prime Minister Abhisit
ordered that henceforth, tourists accused of stealing be handled
more transparently and demanded improvements to security and
response to criminal activity at the airport.

7. (SBU) The AoT and the Royal Thai Police (RTP) responded with the
arrest of over 1,000 illegal taxi drivers and over 400 illegal tour
guides. The civil penalties issued for these infractions are

BANGKOK 00002655 002.2 OF 002


equivalent to approximately 30 USD per offense. In response to
passenger complaints of theft from checked baggage, AoT issued
baggage handlers work garments with no pockets in which stolen items
may be secreted. These workers are now also being screened prior to
entering and prior to leaving their assigned work areas. Finally,
in late September, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban approved
a proposal by the RTP to establish a police substation at BKK
staffed by approximately 280 police officers. The substation will
be under the control of the Tourist Police Division and will address
law enforcement issues inside the airport; provincial and national
police will continue to respond to law enforcement matters outside
the airport.

8. (SBU) Reports of low-level criminal activity at the airport
highlight areas of continued concern regarding aviation security.
The primary concern with unregistered taxi drivers and tour guides
lies in their ability to easily and against airport rules and
regulations obtain temporary airport passes, allowing them to greet
arriving passengers in the baggage claim area, normally a restricted
access area at BKK. The TSA Representative has repeatedly
encouraged the tightening of restrictions on the issuance of airport
access credentials. He has also provided recommendations for
enhancing the scope of background checks prior to issuance of access
credentials, and suggested methods for recurrent verification of
access privileges, including scrutiny of workers with possible
financial troubles. (NOTE: The TSA Representative notes that
workers willing to steal for monetary gain represent a security
weakness because they may be influenced to conduct other illegal
activity. END NOTE.)

-----------------------------
Results of the TSA Assessment
-----------------------------

9. (SBU) In compliance with its mandate under Title 49 U.S.C.
Subsection 44907, TSA conducted an assessment of BKK from September
28 through October 5, 2009. The assessment focused on five vectors
critical to security: passengers and cabin baggage, hold baggage,
cargo, catering, and access control. TSA evaluates threats in the
context of the location of the airport. Bangkok, as a key transit
point in mainland Southeast Asia, is regarded as a higher risk
location than most of its neighbors.

10. (SBU) TSA officials noted significant improvements in the
re-design and execution of certain security measures at BKK,
including: more effective screening of passengers, enhanced
prevention of mingling of screened and unscreened passengers,
increased lighting of sensitive areas of the airport perimeter and
operations area, and more consistent access control identification.
These accomplishments reflect the work of extensive consultations
with TSA since the airport closure in November 2008.

11. (SBU) Among the areas for improvement, TSA officials observed
that AoT officials could achieve greater security at a more
efficient cost by fine-tuning their approach. For example, in
response to both security concerns and illegal activity, airport
officials have installed closed-circuit TV (CCTV) cameras as the
solution. However, they have not hired additional personnel to
monitor the CCTV cameras, nor have they implemented an action plan
to respond in a timely manner to an incident detected by them.

12. (SBU) COMMENT: The positive assessment is a welcome sign for
the RTG after a difficult year at Suvarnabhumi. Nonetheless,
significant work remains for the AoT and the DCA. Most importantly,
the DCA must fulfill its role as the regulator, including gaining
approval for the NCASP. This document will serve as the basis for
ensuring that the DCA has the appropriate legal framework and is
adequately funded to fulfill its obligations. The RTG must also
conduct a risk assessment of BKK. Appropriate authorities to
accomplish this would include AoT, DCA, and national intelligence
officials. END COMMENT

JOHN

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