Saturday, June 09, 2007

DHS Wants Tighter Visa Rules for EU Visitors

On the same day that the State Department is suspending passport rules for air travel from Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean, the Department of Homeland Security is calling for tighter entry requirements for travelers entering the US from the EU. Many European nations enjoy a reciprocal visa waiver status which means a traveler from the EU may enter the US using only their passport. Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff, however, wants these visitors to register online 48 hours in advance of their flights to the US in the mistaken belief that this will prevent terrorists from entering the country. (The Post Standard: U.S. official: tighter visa rules for EU.)
First of all, these travelers from the EU already have airline tickets. The flight manifests are already allegedly being checked against anti-terror lists to identify passengers that may be potential threats. When they arrive at Passport Control in the US, the travelers are already photographed, fingerprinted, and again checked against a list intended to identify criminals, those wanted for crimes, or suspected terrorists. So we already have multiple checks allegedly in place to prevent suspected terrorists from crossing our borders. Well, all except entry from Canada and Mexico since a passport isn't required at those border crossings, and in many cases there are long undefended and unmonitored swatches where you can cross at will. But that's a different story.

Now, the various law enforcement agencies are already complaining that they are not able to keep up with checking the airline manifests, even though most flights are booked weeks or months in advance, not 48 hours. In fact, if you do book 48 hours or less in advance, you get the pleasure of "special security screening" that tends to be a bit more intimate than your average traveler would prefer. So how is this new online questionnaire supposed to improve things?

It stands to reason that this will now require yet another layer of government workers to process all of these online questionnaires with only 48 hours in which to do so. The FBI can't do it with the airline manifests, and that simply involves a name and address cross reference check, but we are somehow expected to believe that we can effectively implement another bureaucratic layer fully staffed to process these online forms quickly and efficiently. Right. Forgive me if I tend to be skeptical whenever I think of government efficiency.

Aside from the bureaucracy angle, it's also quite impractical for the traveler. The assumption Chertoff is making is that all travelers to the US will have Internet access 48 hours prior to their flight to their overseas flight. I can personally attest that such an assumption is absurd. I've taken a number of overseas trips in the past few years where I've had no online access - or been anywhere near a place with online access - for over a week prior to my flight to the US, let alone 48 hours. One such trip was actually in Canada! Granted, that's not covered by Chertoff's absurd proposal, but think about it for a second. Canada! I spent a week on a tundra buggy out along Hudson Bay watching the polar bear migration. There was nothing resembling Internet access on that trip until I flew from Churchill to Winnipeg, arriving at the hotel only 5 hours - not 48 - before I had to leave for the airport for my flight to Boston.

Once again, the Department of Homeland Security is looking to impose regulations that, had they been in effect in 2001 would have done absolutely nothing to prevent the terror attacks on 9/11. We seem to keep forgetting that the terrorists were in this country legally and had been for some time. They had all the proper paperwork. They had the proper visas. None of the rules either imposed since 9/11 or proposed recently - such as this absurd online registration proposal - would have prevented them from entering the US legally or from carrying out their terror attacks. Let me know when the DHS comes up with something of substance. As it stands now, I'm getting sick of allocating our tax dollars to a department that has added no value whatsoever to either our national security or to our ability to prevent future terror attacks.

1 comment :

Silas Scarborough said...

The DHS provides ample evidence of what happens when you give typewriters to monkeys. It's interesting to me how much the arch-conservative view of The Grape and my pinko liberal view have converged in recent years and both are largely in agreement that the current administration really doesn't represent anyone. We are in total agreement that an effective defense of the United States is vital and yet we still don't see anyone doing it.

Perhaps you've seen the puffer in a recent airport experience. This thing is purported to be analyzing for explosives but what does it really do. First, it gives a boobie shot to the inspectors and I'm sure they like that. Second, it almost certainly is looking for dope rather than bombs and it probably doesn't even do that very well. Regardless of whether it works or it doesn't, it's a high-tech solution to a non-problem as any terrorist with brain power higher than the average grapefruit is going to see that stealing an airplane is too hard and will do something else. Is anything being done about something else? Hell no.