Cablegate: Ghanaian Concern Over Drug Smuggling by Vip

DE RUEHAR #1179 3140904
R 100904Z NOV 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L ACCRA 001179


EO 12958 DECL: 11/05/2024

Classified By: Ambassador Donald Teitelbaum for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) .

1. (C) SUMMARY: On November 4, the head of the UK’s “Operation Westbridge,” the British government’s anti-narcotics operation at Accra International Airport, told Poloff that President John Atta Mills wants itemizers for the Presidential suite at the airport to screen his entourage for drugs when leaving the country, and that the Narcotics Control Board’s (NACOB) placement of officers in the VVIP lounge at the airport has led to a decline in the number of departing passengers using the lounge. O’Hagan also said he believes that two of the USG-funded itemizers at the airport were rendered useless by sabotage and suggested that airlines might be willing to pay for itemizer maintenance. END SUMMARY

2. (C) Poloff met November 4 with Roland O’Hagan, Project Manager for Operation Westbridge and an official with the UK Border Agency. O’Hagan said that President Mills had expressed interest in acquiring itemizers for the Presidential suite at the airport in order to screen his entourage for drugs before boarding any departing flight. According to O’Hagan, Mills wants these officials to be checked in the privacy of his suite to avoid any surprises if they are caught carrying drugs. The itemizers, similar to those provided several years ago by the U.S. Embassy through INL funding, would be sensitive, portable screening devices that can detect the drug content in minuscule drops of human sweat after recent external contact or for up to three weeks after ingestion.

3. (C) O’Hagan also said that NACOB believes that the VVIP lounge at the airport has been a source of drugs leaving the country. Passengers leaving the lounge are driven directly to the plane and are not searched before departure. NACOB placed two officers in the lounge to screen departing passengers, and the number of passengers using the VVIP lounge has decreased. (COMMENT: The Executive Secretary of NACOB previously told Poloffs that bank managers, pastors, and their wives were given official passports and access to the lounge by the Kufuor administration and questioned why these middle class travelers were awarded privileges traditionally reserved for cabinet ministers. END COMMENT)

4. (C) O’Hagan noted that among four itemizers provided to the GOG to detect drug smugglers among airline passengers, all are now non-functioning. According to O’Hagan, two itemizers that the USG gave to NACOB are still operational. O’Hagan said that the airport itemizers were kept in a dusty, un-air conditioned room that caused them to break frequently. He noted that the airport director promised in October 2008 to install an air conditioner in the store room, but that she left her job two weeks after making the promise, and an air conditioner has not been installed.

5. (C) Maintenance of the itemizers is an on-going concern. The equipment has broken frequently since it arrived, but O’Hagan said that the last two operational machines were incapacitated by sabotage. He believes the machines were sabotaged because they were in a storage room, and the filters were removed. The knowledge required to remove the filters exceeded the basic knowledge of the operators.

6. (C) O’Hagan said that he believes the airlines might be willing to pay for the itemizers to be repaired, and specifically mentioned KLM and Delta. He noted that the cost of maintenance on the itemizers is less than the cost of diverting flights on which passengers suffer drug overdoses. Within the last few months, said O’Hagan, KLM has diverted to Spain two flights from Accra to Amsterdam because passengers started vomiting drugs. In both cases, the passenger died. TEITELBAUM

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