Special international in-transit programs suspended

On 8/6/2003 12:12:14 AM s80dude wrote:

It might suck, but the government obviously fears the current program creates some sort of risk to homeland security. Having more planes hijacked and people killed would suck more.



The same goverment that is blocking and stalling the installation of the last line of defense, the armed pilot program, in defiance of federal law.
On 8/6/2003 10:28:53 AM Mach85ER wrote:

On 8/6/2003 12:12:14 AM s80dude wrote:

It might suck, but the government obviously fears the current program creates some sort of risk to homeland security. Having more planes hijacked and people killed would suck more.



The same goverment that is blocking and stalling the installation of the last line of defense, the armed pilot program, in defiance of federal law.


i agree with you. i never said the government was perfect. as of yet, we are still waiting for mandatory self denfense training for flight attendants, but again, it appears the government would rather just let us get chopped up. both cabin and cockpit programs need to be intiated pronto.
By Paul Sperry
© 2003 WorldNetDaily.com

WASHINGTON – Increasing numbers of Middle Easterners are ducking a new anti-terrorist screening system by coming to America on passports from "low-risk" nations such as France, which participate in the federal Visa Waiver Program, immigration officials warn.

The controversial program – still in effect after Sept. 11, despite growing calls here for its elimination – allows foreign travelers from 28 nations to enter the U.S. for business or tourism for up to 90 days without obtaining the documentation law enforcement needs to screen out foreign threats.

Adding to worries, passport fraud in some of these countries – namely France and Belgium – is on the rise, officials say.

"We are having huge problems with French and Belgian passports of late, and to a smaller degree the Spanish passports," said a U.S. immigration inspector supervisor at a major international airport.

Through the Visa Waiver Program, "people from the Middle East are trying to enter the U.S. using these passports," he said. "Some are very sophisticated and have been trained to answer inspectors' questions."

He notes that the Arab Muslim population in France is exploding, and many of them already speak French, making it hard for inspectors to root out imposters and potential security threats.

"Of course, there are very few inspectors who can speak fluent French, and since we have a very short time to determine if that person is legitimate or not, many of the undesirables are allowed to enter the U.S. with fraudulent passports," said the official, who requested anonymity.

The alleged 20th al-Qaida hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen, entered the U.S. by way of the Visa Waiver Program.

Middle Easterners also are using Spanish passports, the official said, "because it is hard to distinguish, sometimes, a Spanish person from a Middle Eastern person, if that person has been coached to look and act like a person from Spain."

He says that, among the "low-risk" nations participating in the program, Belgium has the least secure passports. "They keep losing blank passports," an inspector complained. It too is seeing a large increase in Arab immigrants.

The Homeland Security Department last week suspended another federal program that allows visa-less travel through U.S. airports after learning al-Qaida hijackers planned to exploit the loophole in a Sept. 11-like plot sometime before the fall.

The obscure program, known as Transit Without Visa, lets foreign travelers on long international journeys stop over at U.S. airports without going through U.S. screening. It has been a favorite of immigrant smugglers – and has apparently caught the eye of would-be al-Qaida hijackers looking to bypass U.S. airport security.

Under the temporary ban, even foreign passengers in transit who use the same flight to depart that they used to arrive must fill out I-94 immigration forms and have their names run through the federal TECS lookout system while their flight awaits refueling or takes on new passengers, inspectors tell WorldNetDaily.

"Anyone requiring a visa and not having one will be considered a TWOV (Transit Without Visa) and cannot use the transit lounge, and will be refused entry to the U.S. and returned to the country from which they've just arrived – unless their tickets were purchased prior to July 24," one inspector said. "We have been refusing TWOV (passengers) right and left this week."

However, visa-less passengers can still enter the U.S. from "low-risk" countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program, which affects roughly 15 million more foreign travelers to the U.S. a year than TWOV. And as immigration reformers point out, al-Qaida has a strong presence in many of the so-called "low-risk" countries now.

"With the al-Qaida network spread among 70 nations – across the Middle East, into Western Europe and throughout southeast Asia – what is a 'low-risk' nation in the post-Sept. 11 world?" said Michelle Malkin, author of "Invasion."

Using the waiver program, terrorists like shoe-bomber Richard Reid, who didn't need a visa to board a jet from London to the U.S., avoid pre-screening.

"No checks of any kind are made on any individuals boarding planes from those countries," the supervisor said.

Homeland Security argues that since the Sept. 11 hijackings, inspectors have been advised to check passports of Visa Waiver Program passengers against terrorist watch-lists.

Airlines are now required to send a list of all Visa Waiver passengers 24 hours in advance. When such flights arrive, inspectors check off each name in the computer to verify entry status. And while in flight, so-called passenger-analysis teams randomly run the names of passengers on the list through databases to check for criminal history and prior overstays, among other things.

But the supervisor says even the random checks aren't always done. And besides, such checks shouldn't be done at the last minute, but well in advance, through the visa application process.

"A visa shows us that person had been seen and interviewed by a consular officer and passed scrutiny," he said.

He also points out that visas are harder to forge than passports.

"The new visas have many security features that terrorists cannot duplicate, and all visas are now in our computer database and any inspector working the line can bring up the visa on the computer to compare it with the visas they are looking at," he said. "If a a photo substitution has taken place or any bio information has been changed, it would be immediately noticeable to the inspector. Requiring visas would severely hinder terrorists' ability to enter the U.S."

Passports, on the other hand, are easier to forge. Ahmad Ajaj, a co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, tried to enter the U.S. through the Visa Waiver Program after pasting his photo onto a Swedish passport. He was caught.

But, "these groups have come a long way in making a fraudulent passport look exactly like a valid passport," the official said. "There are times when it is totally impossible to detect under the naked eye. Only a thorough check with equipment spots it."

And terrorists are trained to identify new inspectors on the line, who will be more likely to miss counterfeit passports, he says.

Homeland Security argues it has taken counter-measures. For instance, it recently banned all Belgian passports that are not machine-readable. Now any Belgian passengers entering the U.S. with the old passports, which are easier to fake, will be refused entry and returned home.

Still, inspectors insist that the threat won't really pass until the government bans the Visa Waiver Program.

But unless al-Qaida hijackers exploit the loophole, it won't likely be closed anytime soon. The program generates big revenue for the airlines, which have a powerful lobby here.

As one inspector put it: "Airlines would scream if the VWP (Visa Waiver Program) were stopped. There are flights today where out of 300 passengers on a 747, maybe six to 10 will have a visa, and everyone else will be VWP."