Use diplomat alerts on terror lists, US urged

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The Independent US

American security agencies have been told to give urgent attention to US diplomats reporting suspicions about passengers travelling from Britain to the US , the Independent has learnt.







American security agencies have been told to give urgent attention to US diplomats reporting suspicions about passengers travelling from Britain to the US , the Independent has learnt.

The move follows a US Government review of the transatlantic security failures which allowed Farouk Abdulmutallah, the alleged Chistmas Day bomber, to board a US-bound plane on Christmas Day last year.

David Heyman, senior advisor at the Department of Homeland Security with a key role in counter-terrorism policy, told journalists in Washington that the US Government had completed its six-month review of the way terror watch lists and no-fly lists were compiled.

One of the recommendations, said Mr Heyman, was to ensure that intelligence gathered by American staff working abroad is taken into account when drawing up terror watch lists.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is alleged to have tried to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as it neared the airport in Detroit on December 25..

He boarded the plane in Amsterdam with a visa to visit the US, even though US officials had information about his ties to Islamic extremism. Abdulmutallab’s father had warned US officials in Nigeria that his son had become radicalised in Yemen and could be a threat. He has denied the charges and faces trial later this year.

Said Mr Heyman: “The Abdumutallah case was an example of an individual who was largely unknown to us but should have been known to us if we had better information sharing and analysis.”

He said that as a result of the review, ordered by President Obama, a "robust system" had been put in place:

“If a state department official abroad has a cable that they send that says they are concerned about this individual because of an association with terrorist groups, that information will be included in a watch list decision. That was the problem that we had with Abdulatallab.”

Mr Heyman also called for a debate about the sharing of more kinds of intelligence between countries, including visa applications which are not routinely disclosed to other state agencies.

He added: “We should not rely just on watch lists. Al Q'aida and its affiliates are trying to recruit individuals who are not known to law enforcement agents. There was some derogatory information about Abdumatallab's visa denial in the UK and maybe that would have helped if we had shared that information.”

A key part of the security screening of flights entering the US is taken from passenger name records, or PNR, which are surrendered to American agencies under an agreement with the EU.

Close to 2,000 people have been stopped from getting on planes bound for the US, a third of these interventions came from PNR lists.

Mary Ellen Callahan, chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security, said that her office had frequently looked at the PNR scheme to make sure that the transfer of personal travel details had been handled properly.

Mr Heyman said the intelligence sharing review had also looked at ways of ensuring names on watch lists were properly supported by the intelligence and there were proper redress processes.

Both made it clear that any British or EU national who objected to their name on the watch list was free to challenge the record by writing to the US government or taking a case to court.

"PNR information does not in itself indicate that the person may be a terrorist but have elements that we may want to investigate further," said Mr Heyman.

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