Closing a Glaring Security Gap

INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble told in civil aviation industry leaders early this month that it is up to airlines to properly screen passengers' ID documents if national government fail to do so.

In a speech in early June at the 2011 International Air Traffic Association annual general meeting in Singapore, INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said airlines have a responsibility to properly screen passengers' identity documents if governments fail to do the job. He urged them to make use of INTERPOL's Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database, which contains almost 28 million records of stolen and lost passports from 158 countries. It is accessible by officers at airports and borders.

"We should exploit our available global tools; we should give the airline industry access to essential data and focus on the only element that will always be present whenever air travel is targeted: the passenger's identity document. Criminals and terrorists with a past, who have typically traveled extensively and left a trail behind them, will continue to use stolen and lost passports to conceal their true identity until we plug this glaring security gap," Noble said.

He said two imperatives should guide joint action on air travel security: getting better at facing today's threats and getting ready for the threats of tomorrow. "Whenever attacks have been successful, it was because we collectively failed to collect, analyze and share the information we already had," he said at the IATA meeting. "And whenever attacks have been prevented, it was because we succeeded in exploiting the information available to us concerning a specific passenger, group or threat. The most glaring global security gaps linked to airline security remain the gaps that have existed for almost 20 years. Terrorists and other dangerous criminals continue to enter and pass through countries using falsified stolen passports. The failure of the vast majority of the world's countries to screen these against a global database of stolen and lost passports can be corrected by the airline industry, and the industry could collaborate with INTERPOL to do so."

"It will be cold comfort to airline passengers and citizens worldwide to learn that ten years after the attacks of 9/11 and almost 20 years after the first World Trade Center attacks of 1993, we let one out of two international airline passengers cross borders without checking whether they are carrying stolen or lost travel documents," he said.

Noble is serving his third, five-year term as secretary general. He previously headed the U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Customs Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms while at the Treasury Department. When he revealed in September 2010 that impostors had created two Facebook profiles attempting to assume his identity as INTERPOL's chief, the story generated international headlines.

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