Loopholes for terrorists

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11/05/2001 - Updated 04:49 AM ET Loopholes for terrorists

Won't talk. For all of the talk about how the world has changed since Sept. 11, certain small but telling actions show that message hasn't entirely sunk in.

Take for instance, the normal procedure for planes arriving in the United States from overseas. In theory, U.S. customs and immigration officials know hours in advance who's on the way because almost every airline sends passenger information ahead. The simple, voluntary system in place since 1988 allows a little extra time to screen out unsavory types before they get in the country.

But a handful of foreign airlines refuse to participate, even in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Worse, among the biggest offenders are the national airlines of countries that claim to be U.S. allies in the war on terrorism. Among them: Air China, Saudi Arabian and Royal Jordanian. Egypt and Kuwait signed on after Sept. 11. Pakistan gives U.S. officials only partial information.

It may be a small slight, but it's an important reminder that not all U.S. allies are fully on board. And it shows how tensions that might be papered over in peacetime can't be so easily overlooked now.

Can't talk. Of course, security precautions can be undercut without any help from a foreign government. U.S. agencies and laws sometimes do so effectively on their own.

Fifteen of the 19 terrorists blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks applied for visas at U.S. consulates in Saudi Arabia, claiming to be Saudi citizens. Since the U.S. State Department doesn't consider Saudis much of an illegal-immigration problem, the visas were granted with minimal checks.

As it turned out, though, half the 15 terrorists may have used false identities and forged passports to get visas.

Because U.S. law considers visa applications confidential, State Department employees are forbidden from communicating with foreign governments about their citizens' applications to visit the USA. Instead, the State Department must assume applicants are telling the truth.

A sensible solution would be to change the law. So far, though, it's business as usual.

Which just goes to show that not only must the war on terrorism be fought on many fronts, it also must include a wider array of details than many people imagine.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), November 05, 2001

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