Sections of foreign airports are being carved out for the Department of Homeland Security, and passengers there are screened for explosives and cleared to enter the U.S. by American Customs and Border Protection officers before boarding their U.S.-bound planes, according to an article from the New York Times.
When those passengers land in the U.S., they can walk straight off the plane into the terminal without going through border checks, the article says.
In foreign airports in Ireland, Madrid, Panama City and Tokyo, American officers are advising local authorities in order to expedite travel for passengers regarded as low-risk, according to the Times.
The programs reflect the Obama administration’s ambitious effort to tighten security in the face of repeated attempts by Al Qaeda and other terrorists to blow up planes headed to the United States from foreign airports, the article says.
The theory is fairly simple, the New York Times reports: By placing officers in foreign countries and effectively pushing the United States border thousands of miles beyond the country’s shores, Americans have more control over screening and security. And it is far better to sort out who is on a flight before it takes off than after a catastrophe occurs.
Airports in 14 countries are participating in the programs, which have been expanded over the last several years and have required substantial concessions from foreign leaders, the article says. In many cases they have agreed to allow American officers to be placed in the heart of their airports and to give them the authority to carry weapons, detain passengers and pull them off flights.
The Obama administration sped up expansion of the programs, which cost about $115 million a year, after a Qaeda operative tried to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Dec. 25, 2009. The security at foreign airports drew more public attention last month after new reports that intelligence agencies had thwarted another plot by Al Qaeda to detonate an underwear bomb on an American-bound airliner. After that news emerged, Ms. Napolitano said the new measures being put in place in foreign airports for flights to the United States would have stopped a terrorist from boarding a plane with such a bomb, the New York Times reports.
Homeland Security officials acknowledge that the United States cannot control security in every airport in the world. The focus, they said, was on expanding an American presence at airports with a significant number of United States-bound flights, the article says.
The officials said that of the roughly 30 million travelers who passed through foreign airports with American Customs and Border Protection officers over the past two years, about 500 were deemed national security risks and were turned away or pulled aside for further questioning, according to the New York Times. Over the same period, about 18,000 air travelers were denied admission to the United States for reasons like having a criminal record or lacking a proper visa.
The biggest problem for the United States is that it cannot compel foreign governments to strengthen security at their airports. But the United States limits flights from foreign airports that do not meet minimum security standards and screen passengers using procedures modeled after those of the Transportation Security Administration.