Flying to America may have just gotten more tedious, ostensibly to make it safer for everyone, following an Xmas Day attempt by al-Qaida to blow up a trans-Atlantic commercial jet in Detroit.
Maintaining that “effective aviation security must begin beyond our borders,” American authorities on Monday began enhanced screening procedures on any US-bound air passenger traveling through 14 notified countries regarded as “state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest.” They include Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Nigeria, among other countries.
India is not in the list of designated countries, but Indians – and Americans or any other nationals for that matter – who travel through these 14 notified countries will be required to go through enhanced screening, including full-body pat-downs and extra hand luggage searches.
“TSA (Transportation Security Authority) is mandating that every individual flying into the US from anywhere in the world traveling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening,” the US notification issued on Sunday said.
The directive also increases the use of enhanced screening technologies and mandates threat-based and random screening for passengers on US bound international flights.
While some countries such as Libya, Algeria, Iraq have long been on the list of “suspect” countries, the formal addition of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria – all US allies — to the “country of interest” list marks the first time that citizens of those countries will be subject to automatic additional screening for flights to the United States. Even citizens of countries such as Britain whose origin is among the designated countries will be subject to extra security checks.
Civil liberties groups in the US are expressing misgivings about the new rules, concerned that they wrongly imply that nationals of certain countries are suspect. Pakistanis in particular have been incensed that they
are already, informally, subjected to extra scrutiny although the country is considered an “ally” in the war on terror. But most major terrorist incidents across the world in the past two decades also have their footprints going back to Pakistan.
However, the Obama administration is unapologetic about the latest measures and denies there is any racial, ethnic, or religious profiling involved. Officials say the additional scrutiny is the result of new threat assessment intelligence. Even Americans traveling from the notified countries will be subject to extra screening.