Security jitters: United States

Push to boost security personnel at foreign airports

Members of the US Army patrol along a concourse in the departure area at LaGuardia Airport, New York.
Members of the US Army patrol along a concourse in the departure area at LaGuardia Airport, New York.PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS • The United States Department of Homeland Security is pushing to increase the number of US law enforcement personnel stationed at airports abroad to screen passengers before they board planes to the US, officials say.

The effort would be designed to extend the US' border security to foreign airports as part of new initiatives to reduce the risk of potential terrorists entering the country.

For now, the proposed expansions are mostly for airports in Europe, including the one in Brussels - the site of March terrorist attacks - and Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, used by underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in a failed attempt to detonate a bomb on a Detroit-bound plane in 2009. Others under consideration include Istanbul's Ataturk Airport, the target of a terror attack last month.

But legislation written by US Senators Maria Cantwell and Susan Collins would encourage the Department of Homeland Security to expand the pre-clearance programme to the 38 countries that have visa waiver agreements with the US, including Singapore. Under the visa waiver programme, foreign visitors are allowed to stay in the country for 90 days without a visa.

Counter-terrorism experts say the pre-clearance programme adds an extra level of protection against attacks in the US by creating a security buffer thousands of miles away.

Under a smaller programme currently run by US Customs and Border Protection, officers based at foreign airports collect fingerprints and photos and check travel documents before allowing passengers to board planes bound for the US. The foreign airport is responsible for much of the cost. Passengers departing from those airports are treated the same as domestic travellers, and do not have to go through Customs when they arrive in the US.

The agency has over 600 people stationed at 15 foreign airports, including facilities in Canada, Bermuda, Aruba, Abu Dhabi and Ireland.

Airports with those pre-clearance programmes accounted for about 16 million travellers in 2014, the most recent year of data, or 15 per cent of all foreign visitors to the US. The department said it would like to increase that to 33 per cent of foreign passengers annually by 2024.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2016, with the headline 'Push to boost security personnel at foreign airports'. Print Edition | Subscribe