- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2004

Thursday’s railway bombings in Madrid, which have understandably heightened everyone’s security concerns, once again drove home the importance of protecting our transportation infrastructure from terrorist attack. In this context, the plan recently proposed by officials at the Department of Homeland Security that works toward placing U.S. screeners at foreign airports to process passengers on U.S.-bound planes is an important step in the right direction. The plan, known as the Immigration Security Initiative (ISI), would allow U.S. inspectors, working with officials in host countries, to identify suspicious travelers and question them about their travel plans. Airports under consideration include Heathrow and Gatwick near London, Charles de Gaulle in Paris, Frankfurt Am Main in Frankfurt, Mexico City International, Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and Narita, outside of Tokyo. Forty percent of all U.S.-bound passenger traffic flies through these seven hubs.

Under current procedure, airline employees at foreign airports must check the identification of all U.S.-bound passengers before they board the aircraft. But such employees are not trained to identify falsified documents, and the ISI would place Customs officials with the proper training at gates to prevent potential terrorists from boarding the planes. Airlines would save by not paying fines of up to $10,000, which they accrue each time they bring a passenger who is blocked at immigration. And such a move would also help avert the type of flight cancellations that disrupted several U.S.-bound flights during the Christmas holidays in December.

The idea is not new. The ISI is actually quite similar to the Container Security Initiative, which puts U.S. inspectors in foreign seaports to help screen U.S.-bound cargo for weapons of mass destruction. During the 2003 fiscal year, another plan, Operation Global Shield, stationed U.S. officials oversees in several countries during a five-month time period to oversee interdiction operations. U.S. officials intercepted 2,791 fraudulent IDs and passports during that time period.

The ISI would enhance the war on terror. But unfortunately, the plan, which was first reported in the Wall Street Journal March 1, was announced in the United States before international authorities were informed. Predictably, some European feathers were ruffled at the plan’s disclosure.

But according to sources at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia and Canada currently have their own immigration officers at foreign countries to review passenger documents before they get on planes bound for their home countries. Operation Global Shield, which cost taxpayers a mere $2 million, saved air carriers an estimated $9 million in fees and the U.S. government $46.5 million in detention and deportation costs. U.S. officials should take their case to the Transportation Security Cooperation Group meeting, which begins tomorrow in Brussels.

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