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Major Recent Air Terror Attempts All Came on Flights that Took Off Out of a Foreign Airport Bound for the U.S. - Must Crack Down on Foreign Governments that Look the Other Way on Security; Move Comes as Region Pursues Additional International Flights

Schumer's Multi-Pronged Plan Focuses on Changes All Stakeholders Can Make Immediately and at Minimal Cost - Airlines Should Stop Flying to Airports that Don't Impose Tough Security, Foreign Governments Must Share All Past Visa Information

Christmas Bomber's Travel Visa Was Not Revoked Even After He was Placed in a Terror Database - Schumer Plan Would Require Immediate Visa Review

With the details of the security breakdown that led to the Christmas terror attempt still emerging, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today unveiled a new comprehensive five-point plan to close some of the gaping holes in foreign airport security that may have allowed the terrorist to slip through the cracks. Schumer’s plan calls on all the stakeholders involved in foreign airport security, including the U.S. government, foreign governments and airports, as well as airlines, to make immediate changes. Those changes include calling on airlines to threaten not to fly to foreign airports found to be lax with respect to security, demanding that foreign countries turn over all visa information, particularly information related to past travel to potentially hostile countries, and requiring the U.S. government to review and possibly revoke any outstanding travel visas if a visa-holder is placed on any of the terror watch lists.


“This incident shows that more than eight years after the 9/11 attacks, there are still gaping holes left in our aviation security system, particularly overseas. There has been a great deal of time and effort spent trying to close these holes but the Christmas Day terror attempt must be a wakeup call to show that more needs to be done. My plan puts forward some common sense solutions to close these gaps in a quick and cost effective way.”


President Obama called the Christmas terror attempt a “systemic failure” of aviation security. Schumer today agreed with that characterization, but said there are several fixes that can be achieved immediately to protect against a similar terrorist incident or attack. On Christmas Day, Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab was accused of trying to ignite explosives smuggled aboard the plane in his underwear.


Despite his name being included in a federal terrorist database, warnings from his father that he me have become radicalized, suspicious trips to Yemen, and having passed through security measures at Lagos and Amsterdam airports, AbdulMutallab was still able to board a plane bound for the U.S. with explosives strapped to his groin.


In the past, Schumer has raised serious concerns about the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and its efforts to ensure that foreign airports comply with security requirements for U.S. bound flights. According to U.S. law, any flight that takes off from a foreign country but is bound for the U.S. must follow U.S. security procedures for both passengers, bags, and other aspects of the flight. However, Schumer had pointed out that the TSA only employs a few dozen Transportation Security Administration Representatives (TSARs) to monitor, review and enforce security at all airports around the world that connect with U.S. airports.


Schumer today also raised questions about why AbdulMutallab’s travel visa to the United States was not revoked when he was added to the terrorist database called the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE). Despite being added to this database, the current process in place failed to require a mandatory and expedited determination by the national counterterrorism center and the department of state about whether or not his visa should be revoked. In addition, U.S. counterterrorism officials were not informed that Abdulmutallab had another active visa to travel to Yemen and had made at least one trip there.


Schumer today said these facts combined with other historical flaws in aviation security – lack of adequate screening technology, cumbersome, duplicative, and disorganized terrorist watch lists, and faulty intelligence sharing – created a security web that AbdulMutallab and potentially other terrorists have and can exploit.


Schumer also pointed out that most of the recent air terror incidents originated not from domestic U.S. flights, but from flights abroad bound for the U.S, including the shoe bomber on a flight from the United Kingdom to the U.S.


In response to this and potentially other threats, Schumer today outlined five steps the federal government can take immediately to significantly beef up foreign airport security. Schumer said these proposals do not solve all the problems, but they are common sense steps the government can implement quickly and at minimal cost.


  • Call on U.S. Airlines to Threaten to Stop Flying to Foreign Airports Known to Have Lax Security – Schumer said that while federal law requires foreign flights bound for the U.S. to follow U.S. security procedures, enforcement of this rule by the federal government has been lacking. Schumer said that U.S. airlines also have a responsibility to keep their passengers safe and the best way to do that is to ensure that the airlines they fly from follow security rules. Schumer today wrote to the heads of the major airlines asking them to immediately report any known security issues at foreign airports to U.S. security authorities and threaten those airports that they will cease service to and from those airports if security isn’t improved.


  • Penalties for Foreign Airports that Don’t Comply with U.S. Security Rules -- Schumer is also pushing for penalties to be implemented against countries that do not comply sufficiently with U.S. airport screening standards. Schumer says the penalties for non-compliance should be as follows: if the country is part of the visa waiver program, there should be very serious consideration as to whether the non-compliance is serious enough to merit revocation of the visa waiver program. If the country is not part of visa-waiver program, then enhanced screening will have to be done before anyone is given a visa to travel into US from that country.


  • Immediate Review of All Travel Visas for Anyone Added to Any Terrorist Database – Schumer today called on the State Department as well as the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) to immediately require that there be an expedited review and mandatory decision on whether revocation of a visa should occur for anyone and everyone who is added to any of the major terrorist databases. Schumer said that this review and decision must be made within 14 days of a name being added to the database. In addition, any person included in the terrorist database should be blocked from receiving a new travel visa pending a thorough review.


  • Worldwide Information Sharing of Adjudications of Visa Applications – Schumer today called on the State Department to require all countries in the world to share visa info with U.S. authorities. If any country does not want to share visa info with us, Schumer said no visas for their people coming to U.S. should be granted. The British had denied AbdulMuhammed a travel visa based on visa fraud but never informed U.S. authorities, because the denial was not based on a terrorism ground.


  • Foreign Travel Information Sharing – Schumer also said that any country with a travel agreement with the U.S. must share the foreign travel information of anyone seeking to travel to the U.S. This information is critical during any travel visa application process, particularly when authorities are reviewing a visa application of someone who may be included in a terrorist database. Schumer said that any country that declines this information should be denied visa-waiver status or should have its citizens prevented from receiving visas to travel into the US unless compelling circumstances can be shown. Had the US had access to this information, it would have known that Abdulmuttalub had recently traveled to Yemen, which could have raised red flags for NCTC officials to follow.


All of Schumer’s proposals could be implemented immediately, easily, and at minimal cost to airlines, airports, and governments.


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