03 March 2004

US marshals are coming to an airport near you?

3 March 2004
The Times of India

US marshals are coming to an airport near you?

By Siddharth Varadarajan
Times News Network

New Delhi: Can't wait till you arrive at JFK in New York to be fingerprinted and photographed front and side? Longing for the chastening embrace of US security procedures even before you touch down?

Relax, help is at hand. If the Bush administration has its way, Statesbound Indian travellers could soon be subjected to passport and baggage checks by US Homeland Security officials especially stationed at Indian airports.

Under a new scheme unveiled by US Customs chief Robert Bonner and reported in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, US agents will seek to review flight manifests and identify suspect passengers who are likely to be turned away once they reach the United States.

The airports initially marked for the privilege are Heathrow and Gatwick in London, Narita Tokyo), CDG (Paris), Frankfurt, Mexico and Schiphol (Amsterdam).

The scheme is similar to the programme run by the US Coast Guard at some foreign ports, where US officials go through cargo containers before they are loaded on Americabound ships. The new airport security programme will kick off in Warsaw, Poland, but Washington hopes to extend it elsewhere in Europe and Asia.

Although United Airlines has not yet resumed its flights into and out of Delhi, Air-India flies passengers to the US direct and so Indian airports too would eventually be expected to sign on to this ‘voluntary' scheme.

A senior official from the ministry of external affairs (MEA) said the level and type of security procedures adopted at Indian airports would be determined by "the threat perception of airlines and on what we find unacceptable".

The MEA official said the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) prescribes the minimum parameters for airport security but then airlines make their own assessment based on the level of threat. El Al, the Israeli carrier, for example, has much stricter security procedures for its flights from India compared to other airlines.

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