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4 Jan, 2010

“Crotch-bomber” Attack Means Windfall for Security Apparatus

The foiled bid by a Nigerian to blow up a U.S. airliner has given security authorities the excuse they needed to get governments and the aviation industry to spend billions more on security, including body-scanners. The incident has also triggered renewed fears of racial profiling by visa officers and immigration authorities.

According to the International Air Transport Association, airlines and their passengers already invest US$5.9 billion annually in security measures. That amount is now set to soar significantly.

Signalling what’s to come, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in an article on his website on 1 January 2010, “We must never be complacent and remain always vigilant when examining the methods of al Qaeda and its associates, keeping our security measures under constant review.

“We now know that the would-be bomber used a small quantity of explosive that went undetected by standard airport security equipment. We need, therefore, to continually explore the most sophisticated devices capable of identifying explosives, guns, knives and other such items anywhere on the body.

“So – in cooperation with President Obama and the Americans – we will examine a range of new techniques to enhance airport security systems beyond the traditional measures, such as pat-down searches and sniffer dogs.

“These could include advancing our use of explosive trace technology, full body scanners and advanced x-ray technology. Working alongside the U.S. and other partners, we will move things forward quickly,” the Prime Minister said.

He said that an investigation into how “how this individual flew from Nigeria to Amsterdam and then to Detroit and what more might have been done internationally to stop him” will mean more “sharing of information about individuals of concern”, also with the American government.

He added, “In light of the Detroit incident we all urgently need to work together on how we might further tighten these arrangements – in particular, at what point suspects are added to (watch-lists) and when they are deemed too risky to be allowed to fly, or leave or enter the country – and also into wider airport security.”

He said he already ordered immediate reviews into existing measures – including for transit passengers – and asked for ways we can urgently tighten procedures. Preliminary findings are due “in the next few days and we will act on them as quickly as possible.”

International Air Transport Association (IATA) Director General Giovanni Bisignani wrote to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in which he “reiterated that the security of passengers and employees is a top priority for the aviation industry.”

However, he added, “The air transport system cannot support 100% pat-down searches over the long term.” IATA is recommending “a smaller percentage of intensive pat downs accompanied by technologies or proportionate screening procedures as a means to achieve near-term security requirements with reduced delays.”

Mr Bisignani added, “”Effective security needs a system that is built on global harmonization, effective information exchange, industry/government cooperation, risk assessment and efficient technology.

“Instead of looking for bad things-nail clippers and rogue bottles of shampoo-security systems need to focus on finding bad people. 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 check point 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 data is being collected. The technology exists. Industry is supportive. Now ICAO and governments must work together to make such a process a reality with global harmonization and data-sharing,” said Mr Bisignani.

In the U.S., where men from the Middle East have been foremost under the scanner, the debate about racial profiling has re-emerged.

Representative Peter King, a Republican from New York, said on Fox News, “The fact is while the overwhelming majority of Muslims are outstanding people, on the other hand 100 per cent of the Islamic terrorists are Muslims, and that is our main enemy today.”

Responded Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), “Half of Nigeria isn’t Muslim, so what do you do then? Do you ask if they’re Muslim? If you’ve got a Nigerian passport, do you say, ‘If you’re Christian, come on through; if you’re Muslim, come with me?’”

CAIR cites U.S. law as defining profiling thus: “The practice of a law enforcement agent or agency relying, to any degree, on race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion in selecting which individual to subject to routine or spontaneous investigatory activities or in deciding upon the scope and substance of law enforcement activity following the initial investigatory procedure.”

Says CAIR, “Profiling based on race, religion or ethnicity is not effective law enforcement. Timothy McVeigh and John Walker Lindh (both white males) and Richard Reid (an Afro-Caribbean male) would not be identified.”

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