The Sunday Times 11th January 2004 has a story entitled
"Old-tech terror checks delay flights" by
Tony Allen-Mills, Robert Winnett and David Leppard
N.B. anything written in the Sunday Times using "insider" information from "security sources" or "Government officials" should be treated with caution, given their past record of being manipulated and "spun".
"Even after the cabin doors closed on the much-delayed British Airways flight 223 from London to Washington last weekend, passengers were in for another long wait. Despite hours of checks on tickets, passports and luggage, the captain announced that he was awaiting ?clearance? from unnamed officials in Washington.
For more than 90 minutes, passengers sat patiently in their seats, unaware that the delay had nothing to do with a potential terrorist threat. The truth was that, at the FBI?s Washington headquarters, computers described as ?archaic? had proved incapable of processing the passenger list that BA had e-mailed to US anti-terrorist authorities the moment the check-in gates had closed.
The long delays that afflicted several BA flights to America over Christmas and the new year were caused at least in part by the FBI?s struggles with incompatible computer software, according to officials in Washington.
Under new US rules for airlines flying to America, lists of passengers have to be made available to law enforcement agencies. But digital files containing the BA 223 manifests were sent to the US Transportation Security Administration in a word-processing format that did not match the list-keeping system used by the FBI. The bureau could not process the files.
As passengers fidgeted and British officials fumed, American anti-terrorist agents had to make manual checks of passenger names against terrorist watchlists. What should have been an instantaneous computerised check turned into ?a really gruesome exercise?, said one official involved.
Some of the problems were later corrected but the technical glitches that added to British passengers? holiday misery continue to cast a shadow over the high-tech centrepiece of Washington?s multi-billion-dollar effort to keep Osama Bin Laden at bay."
Does this imply that BA223 on New Year's Eve was the first time which British Airways had sent the passenger list electronically to Washington ? Or was this really the very first time which the Transport Security Agency had talked electronically to the FBI ? So what about the cancellations and delays to BA223 flight for ten days in a row since New Year's eve, as chronicled on this web log ?
This hardly seems credible.
How difficult would it have been to ask for a plain text ASCII version of the list, rather than in a "word processing format" ?
"In the meantime, one way of avoiding the delays that bedevilled airports over Christmas may prove to be a new system known as advanced passenger profiling. Designed to identify potential terrorists before they check in at airports, the system was discussed in Washington last week by Sir David Omand, Tony Blair?s intelligence and security co-ordinator, and Tom Ridge, Bush?s secretary for homeland security.
Whitehall officials say plans are already under way for a sophisticated software system that would help the police and MI5 to study reservation lists days before a suspect flight might be due to depart.
As in America, British agencies would cross-refer names against a wide range of existing databases, possibly including the electoral roll, criminal records, Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue. Further cross-checking might yield religion, ethnicity or income.
Passengers identified as a higher risk would be subject to more intensive questioning after they checked in. Other passengers deemed of no risk might pass through faster"
Even the notorious Transport Security Agency is claiming that their forthcoming CAPPS 2 passenger profiling system will specifically not have access to financial or medical records. The Department of Homeland Security, operating under the misleadingly named PATRIOT Act, is legally bound not to single out ethnic groups using racial profiling. Is the Sunday Times claiming that this is going to happen in the UK ?
Using the electoral roll for checking airline passengers is illegal, and likeley to be ineffective, given the fact that there is no single electoral roll database.
What evidence does the Sunday Times have that the UK Government is in fact planning to build such an Orwellian surveillance system ?
Note how this article diverts attention away from the state of the United Kingdom's anti-terrorist computerised watch lists. Are these really any better than than the ones in the USA ?