Passenger Screening: empowering the industry to plug government security gaps

According to German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, what we often learn from history is that we learn nothing from history1. In 1993, when Ramzi Yousef perpetrated the first World Trade Centre bombing, he did so by entering the United States on a stolen Iraqi passport. Half a world away and a decade later, Milorad Ulemek participated in the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić, having his stolen Croatian passport stamped at 26 border crossings. Around the same time, Alan Jay Horowitz fled the US while on parole after having spent 13 years in jail on multiple counts of child sexual abuse. Years later, having travelled extensively through Asia, he was arrested holding a stolen United Kingdom passport in India. We will never know how many children were sexually abused as a consequence of his ability to travel the world freely using that passport.

Time and again, we are reminded that dangerous criminals, terrorists, and fugitives rely on stolen and lost travel documents. Yet, because of the failure of governments to do what is in their power to do, we are far away from 100 percent certainty that dangerous individuals aren’t boarding a plane or crossing a border somewhere in the world using stolen passports.

When two Iranian nationals boarded flight MH370 using stolen Italian and Austrian passports, the world was reminded of just how big the gap still is. How can we explain that, to date, no solution has been found, despite decades of innovation, a global digital revolution, and despite aviation having been at the centre of the deadliest terrorist attack ever witnessed by humankind?

As a matter of fact, innovation and common sense did provide a solution. Following the 2001 World Trade Centre attacks, the 9/11 Commission Report sternly warned in 2004 that “for terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons”. Aware of that risk, INTERPOL had already created the world’s first-ever global repository of Stolen and Lost Travel Documents, as early as 2002.

 

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