NIGERIA, OTHERS REMOVED FROM TERROR WATCH LIST
The United States will implement new airline security measures this month to replace mandatory screening of air travellers from 14 countries, a step that had angered some allies, including Nigeria, when it was imposed after a failed bombing by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Christmas Day.
Based on the new measures, the US has ditched the list of 14 countries as the measures supersede the list of countries concerned that was put in place as an emergency response on January 3, 2010.
Under the new measures, all travellers to the US will be affected and not just travellers from Nigeria and 13 other countries that were short listed by the US last January as either “sponsors of state terrorism” or “countries of interest”.
Travellers from the 14 will no longer automatically face extra security screening before they fly to the US, Reuters said yesterday.
Announcing the new measures yesterday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, said the Transportation Security Administration will begin the new enhanced security measures for all air carriers with international flights to the US.
The new terror-screening strategy is as a result of a review ordered by President Barack Obama.
Beginning this month, anyone travelling to the US will instead be screened based on specific information about potential terrorist threats, a senior Obama administration official explained.
With the new measures, Napolitano said "passengers travelling to the US from international destinations may notice enhanced security and random screening measures throughout the passenger check-in and boarding process, including the use of explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams, or pat downs, among other security measures."
She said the new measures which are aimed at strengthening the safety and security of all passengers, "utilize real-time, threat-based intelligence along with multiple, random layers of security, both seen and unseen, to effectively mitigate evolving terrorist threats."
Noting that "terrorist threat to global aviation is a shared challenge and ensuring aviation security is a shared responsibility", the US top official said, "these new, enhanced measures are part of a dynamic, threat-based aviation security system covering all passengers travelling by air to the US while focusing security measures in a more effective and efficient manner to ensure the safety and security of the travelling public".
A release from the department of Homeland Security noted that "Napolitano, in conjunction with the United Nations’ specialised agency for civil aviation, International Civil Aviation Organisation, has been leading a global initiative to strengthen the international aviation system against the evolving threats posed by terrorists, working in multilateral and bilateral contexts with governments as well as industry."
It further disclosed that, "Over the past three months, Secretary Napolitano has participated in regional aviation security summits around the world in Spain, Mexico and Tokyo, forging historic agreements with her international colleagues to strengthen the civil aviation system through enhanced information collection and sharing, cooperation on technological development and modernised aviation security standards".
Reacting to the new measures announced by the US, Nigerian Ambassador, Professor Adebowale Adefuye, said: "It is very heart-warming coming so soon after my visit to President Obama on behalf of Acting President Goodluck Jonathan.
“It shows how sensitive the US is to Nigeria's plight and interest. Taking alongside the forthcoming signing of the bi-national commission agreement, the decision will improve and strengthen the quality of relations between the US and Nigeria. We are very grateful to the Obama government."
Adefuye had on Monday at the White House, Washington DC, delivered a message from Acting President Jonathan urging President Obama to revisit Nigeria's classification as a country of interest.
Elaborating on the new screening measures, a US Department of Homeland Security official confirmed that a person would be stopped if he or she matches a description, which is tantamount to intelligence profiling, even if officials do not have a suspect's name.
For example, if the US has intelligence about a Nigerian man between the ages of 22 and 32 whom officials believe is a threat or a known terrorist, under the new policy all Nigerian men within that age range will receive extra screening before they are allowed to fly to the US.
If intelligence later shows that the suspect is not a terrorist, travellers will not be screened against that description.
The new procedures replace those that went into effect last January after the attempted bombing by Abdulmutallab of a jetliner en route to Detroit on Christmas Day.
Those rules required extra screening, such as full-body pat-downs, for everyone from, or travelling through, any of these 14 countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The intelligence-based targeting will be in addition to screening names on terror watch lists. The government's "no fly" list of suspected terrorists, who are banned from flights to, or within, US territory, has about 6,000 names.
The new policy should significantly decreases the number of innocent travellers from the 14 countries who have been inconvenienced by the extra screening, the official said.
In the past three months, senior US security officials have been meeting with foreign countries to discuss how to improve aviation security, and many countries have adopted enhanced screening methods, including the use of body-scanning machines.
The US does not have the authority to screen passengers in foreign airports. But if air carriers do not agree to follow the US guidelines for international aviation security, they could be fined and potentially banned from operating flights to the US.
The new measures are expected to significantly reduce the number of passengers pulled aside for additional screening and will not be based on nationality or passport, but on characteristics pulled together by intelligence agencies, a senior administration official said.
The official said the new system would be "tailored" and described the measures being scrapped as a "blunt-force instrument."
The new measures would require a traveller to undergo additional screening if they match information about terrorism suspects gathered by intelligence agencies, such as a physical description, partial name or travel pattern, the official said.
The names of terrorism suspects identified by the US government will continue to be included on security watch lists and no-fly lists as a part of airline security.
The new policy affects all travellers coming into the US from abroad, not just those from the 14 countries previously focused on.
The new security protocols will be built around present-day threat situations, officials said, where fragments of intelligence from various threat streams are considered.
So, for example, if terrorist groups are recruiting college-age men who have spent time in Asia and have been to the Middle East, that type of travel pattern would raise a flag to officials at international airports.
“It is much more surgical targeting those individuals we are concerned about and have intelligence for,” the administration official said, speaking to a small group of reporters at a White House briefing on Thursday afternoon.
But the official added: “This is not a system that can be called profiling in the traditional sense. It is intelligence-based.”
The US government also plans to release a review of rail security conducted over the past year in a report called "Surface Transportation Security Priority Assessment" that provides recommendations and guidelines on improving security on rail transportation.