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'Enhanced' screening begins for passengers from 14 nations

Text by Julien PEYRON

Latest update : 2010-02-10

In the wake of the failed bombing of a Detroit-bound plane, US officials have toughened screening measures for all US-bound air passengers and warned that those travelling from or via 14 "terror linked" nations will undergo enhanced screening.

Toughened security measures are now in place for all US-bound airline passengers. In a statement released Sunday, the Transport Security Administration (the agency in charge of protecting the USA’s transportation systems and a component of the Department of Homeland Security) also warned that those traveling from or via 14 "terror linked" nations will undergo mandatory enhanced screening.

The nations included in this list are “state sponsors of terrorism” – Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria – and Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. The remaining four are Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Lebanon and Iraq, though these four have not been officially confirmed. These are all largely Muslim countries.

The decision, to be implemented as of Monday, comes fast on the heels of a failed al Qaeda bid to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day.

A good first step, but Israel is the model

The issue is a highly polarising one, particularly given how controversial profiling is already. However, some security experts see this as a welcome first step, such as Giles Merritt, Director of the Security and Defence Agenda (SDA), an independent security and defense think tank in Brussels. He told France, “One hopes it’s just a first step toward a much more serious attempt to adopt the sort of tactics the Israelis have been using for 60 years.”

Merritt says that the system the US is implementing is crude. He puts forth that the US should look closely at the Israeli system, which is “much more than just the country of origin or police record. It’s trained analysts and observers who sit at airports looking for people who have got psychological telltale signs. El Al’s [the Israeli national airline] record speaks for itself.”

Interpol should play a role

Even more importantly, said Merritt, “would be to use the data that national authorities collect in a much more intelligent and cohesive way. The attempted bombing in Detroit seems to be an excellent example of this, where information about [the Detroit bomber’s] refused entry into the UK should have been acted upon at Schiphol and by the American authorities.”

Merritt believes that although the approach should be global, it would be useless to do it at the NATO or EU level. “I don’t see it as a political thing,” he said. “Interpol is a better framework.”

Political correctness

The reason the West has been loath to take a more radical profiling approach, said Merritt, is “a form of political correctness. No one wants to say these are high risk countries… where Islamic extremists originate from, or are trained.”

Merritt argues that this erstwhile caution is “politically easier” but ineffective and unrealistic.

“It is just ducking reality to pretend that someone coming from Switzerland is as high a risk as someone coming from Saudi Arabia. When you’re trying to narrow your security spotlight you have to identify the countries that you think pose the greatest risk.”

Date created : 2010-01-04

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