Last night around 11:45pm law enforcement officials arrested Faisal Shahzad, the suspect in the most recent New York, Times Square, terrorism attempt after he had boarded Emirates Flight 202 for Dubai, from New York’s JFK Airport. Law enforcement was quite close to missing Shahzad, in fact not only was Shahzad on board Emirates Flight 202, the aircraft was ordered by the Tower to “Go back to the gate immediately” after it was already positioned for departure from Runway 22 Right (22R).
While law enforcement worked feverishly to identify the person responsible for placing a car bomb in New York’s Times Square, certain changes in how passenger information is relayed to law enforcement might have captured Shahzad before he set foot on the aircraft.
Back in April of 2008 I wrote about proposed changes for passenger identification by the Department of Homeland Security that would place a burden on airlines by requiring them to finger print all airline passenger prior to their departure, then transmit this passenger information as soon as the passenger departs the United States …
… yes, as soon as the passenger ‘departs‘ the United States.
The vast majority of the Department of Homeland Security proposal was rife with problems and holes, but the current system in place now does not require airlines to transmit the final passenger manifests prior to departure. The Department of Homeland Security claims that reviewing all international departing passenger manifests prior to flight departure is time consuming and a significant logistics challenge.
I completely agree, looking for the constant presence of a needle in the haystack is time consuming and is a logistics challenge, however it is a challenge that must be undertaken.
No, I do not agree with finger printing departing passengers … I never have. Finger printing upon departure is to late … and may be useless if tracking people with no criminal history and passengers with no finger prints on file. But having access to the names and passport information of all passengers on board a flight before it departs is critical. Having live access to airline passenger manifests may prevent flights being turned around after departure or completely missing a suspect who has fled the country.
Law enforcement got lucky catching Faisal Shahzad on board Emirates Flight 202. Had law enforcement waited 30 seconds the aircraft would have been airborne, 90 seconds it would have been banking a hard left and on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean over The Rockaways, in less than 5 minutes the aircraft would in the airspace over international territorial waters … and then catching Shahzad would require action by either the airline to turn the aircraft around, or international diplomacy to either divert the aircraft or have Shahzad apprehended in Dubai … which is problematic as the United Arab Emirates has no extradition treaty with the United States.
Law enforcement should not get lucky that a passenger manifest is available before an international flight gets to the runway. Law enforcement should have access to this information before the cabin door shuts and before the aircraft pushes back from the gate. The safety and security of the traveling public and the apprehension of criminals … anywhere … should not hinge on ‘we got lucky with that airline!‘
Below is a YouTube clip with the audio of Emirates Flight 202 being ordered back to the gate.