Security up on US flights

Heightened security on flights from Cayman to the United States has been implemented by the Cayman Islands Airports Authority following the attempted Christmas Day bomb attack on a flight near Detroit.

security up

Passengers leave the Owen Roberts Airport on Grand Cayman after arriving here Monday morning. Travellers are being urged to get to the airport at least three hours before scheduled flights because of increased security. Photo: Jewel Levy

An advisory from the Cayman Islands Airport Authority said that the measures were required by the USA Transportation Security Administration and have now been applied ‘until further notice’.

‘Airlines at the Owen Roberts International Airport have implemented increased security checks which will require that passengers, on flights to the USA, be hand-searched at the boarding gates prior to boarding.

‘In order to accommodate these additional measures and to avoid delays, passengers are encouraged to arrive at the airport and commence their check-in processes earlier than usual. A minimum of three hours before flight departure time is recommended.’

Air passengers were also encouraged to proceed directly to security checkpoints immediately after checking in to allow extra time for the enhanced security.

The additional measures do not apply to passengers on flights bound for other destinations served by Owen Roberts International Airport, including Kingston and Montego Bay in Jamaica, the United Kingdom, Honduras or the Sister Islands. Cuba-bound flights are also exempt from the new CIAA directives.

New measures

The TSA announced on Sunday that some new security directives had been sent to all United States and international air carriers with inbound flights to the US. The measures were put in place on Monday and included ‘long-term, sustainable security measures developed in consultation with law enforcement officials and our domestic and international partners.’

The TSA website said that aviation security was an issue that must begin outside US borders.

‘As a result of extraordinary cooperation from our global aviation partners, TSA is mandating that every individual flying into the US from anywhere in the world travelling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening.’

Sponsors of terror

News service CNN reported that a ‘senior government official’, who was not authorised to speak on the record, had provided them with a list of 10 countries that fell under the ‘countries of interest.’ They are Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.

Four countries were also listed as ‘sponsors of terror’: Iran, Syria, Sudan and Cuba.

The list was compiled by the State Department in conjunction with intelligence agencies and the Department of Homeland Security. The State Department details terrorist patterns in countries worldwide in its annual report, Patterns of Global Terrorism.

Cayman’s neighbour Cuba was placed on the list in 1982 and a 1998 review by the US intelligence community concluded that it does not pose a threat to US national security. In the light of 9/11, Cuba signed 12 UN-sanctioned international anti-terrorism treaties. The country has trade links and science development agreements with Iran and North Korea.

Subpoena

A TSA document in the immediate aftermath of the attempted attack described temporary security measures to be implemented initially up to 30 December.

It was leaked separately by two bloggers, Steven Frischling and Christopher Elliott, on 27 December and subsequently special agents of the Office of Inspection served each with a civil subpoena that demanded the travel writers reveal their sources for the unclassified document.

Frischling, who received the document anonymously, told reporters that the material had already been circulated widely.

‘It was sent to Islamabad, to Riyadh and to Nigeria. So they’re looking for information about a security document sent to 10,000-plus people internationally. You can’t have a right to expect privacy after that.’

TSA secretary Suzanne Trevino countered that the document was not for public disclosure and that the Office of Inspections was investigating how the bloggers got hold of the information.

The subpoenas were subsequently withdrawn and the document has been widely posted both on blogs and some airline websites in whole or in part.

Details

The new TSA document indicates that more in-depth security screening is to be immediately implemented, according to their website.

‘The directive also increases the use of enhanced screening technologies and mandates threat-based and random screening for passengers on US bound international flights.’

Specific details of these extended security measures are not available to the media and countries worldwide are taking individual measures.

Body scanners

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has given the green light to full-body scanners to be installed gradually at UK airports including Heathrow, from where flights depart for Grand Cayman. The UK is also undergoing an urgent security review in the light of the attempted US attack by Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Amsterdam’s Schlipol Airport, from where Farouk travelled on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 to Detroit, has installed 17 similar scanners. The technology has the ability to generate a computer image of everything hidden underneath a person’s clothes – including the human body.

The European Union had not previously authorised their use due to concerns about privacy and human rights issues. A decision by the European Commission on the use of body scanners throughout the EU is expected in the near future.

‘It is our view that a combination of technology, intelligence and passenger profiling will help build a more robust defence against the unpredictable and changing nature of the terrorist threat to aviation,’ said a British Aviation Authority spokesperson.

Australia and Germany are also investigating possible use of the scanners.

Re-think

Giovanni Bisignani, director general and chief operating officer of the International Air Transport Association said that security of passengers and employees was priority but that a re-think of the security model was needed in the longer term.

Rather of looking for ‘bad things like nail clippers and rogue bottles of shampoo’, security systems need to focus on finding bad people, he said in an open letter to the Department of Homeland Security.

‘Adding new hardware to an old system will not deliver the results we need. It is time for governments to invest in a process built around a checkpoint of the future that combines the best of screening technology with the best of intelligence gathering.

‘Such a system would give screeners access to important passenger data to make effective risk assessments… the International Civil Aviation Organisation and governments must work together to make such a process a reality with global harmonization and data-sharing,’ added Mr. Bisignani.

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