International Issues

Compliance Screening Surprise as Malaysian Jet Vanishes

While the requirements for restricted or denied party screening have long been drummed into U.S. businesses, educational institutions and other organizations as a mandatory pre-requisite before international activities can be proceeded with…

many of us in North America must have been more than a little surprised to learn of the major global security loophole that was thrown into the spotlight following the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 with all 239 people on board.

As the mystery unfolded, it was revealed that two of the passengers held passports that were reported stolen one and two years previously. Although there is no evidence to indicate they were responsible for the fate of the flight, it is curious to read that the illicit practice of using the identity of others to cross borders is still quite routine in many parts of the world. After all, it is more than a decade after 9/11 and one would be forgiven for thinking that that checklist item had long been ticked off as “done” by governments with the like-minded objective of preventing another terrorist attack.

Had the Malaysian authorities screened the passports of the pair against Interpol’s database of stolen travel documents, they could have been prevented from boarding the Boeing 777.

The U.S., the U.K. and the United Arab Emirates are the only governments to actively and consistently screen against the Interpol list to safeguard their borders from people who try to sneak in with fake passports.

To underline the point, U.S. border agents screened against this list of over 40 million entries more than 78 million times in 2009, as part of their ongoing effort to keep out or catch would-be or actual terrorists, as well as illegal economic migrants. Undoubtedly, that figure would likely be higher today.

But this problem is just the tip of the iceberg. It is estimated, for example, that in the popular tourist destination of Thailand alone thousands of travel documents go missing every year. As many observers noted, the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines flight was a tragedy waiting to happen.

For U.S. exporters and educational institutions, the incident is a government-to-government sideshow which hopefully will be given new impetus to be sorted out sooner than later.

Nonetheless, we still need to continue doing our bit with regards to interactions with foreign nationals wherever or however they occur. That means screening against Restricted Parties Lists, as well as strict adherence to export and deemed export rules of the various government departments (State, Commerce and Treasury, among others), including Commerce’s “Know Your Customer” Export Red Flag Checklist.

Anything less and we open ourselves to the risk of international terrorism entering the U.S. homeland, and the inadvertent aiding and abetting of people and organizations highlighted in export compliance watch lists maintained not only by the U.S. Government but also other governments and world bodies, such as the United Nations, the World Bank and, yes, Interpol.