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Department of Homeland Security agents
Pakistani travelers are the focus of a new temporary watchlist the federal government has created to identify high-risk passengers entering the United States, WND has learned.
The Department of Homeland Security has programmed a computer system that screens inbound passengers for signs of terror activity to flag certain individuals traveling from Pakistan. The system automatically creates a “one-day lookout” for the individuals in the official terror-watchlist database.
U.S. authorities are on high alert for Pakistani travelers who pose a possible terror risk after American spy satellites recently turned up photographic evidence of al-Qaida training camps inside Pakistan, U.S. officials say.
According to internal DHS documents obtained by WND, the department has directed customs officers to escort passengers identified by the “one-day lookouts” to secondary inspection, where they are subjected to a battery of questions to determine if they have visited terror camps in Pakistan.
American citizens of Pakistan descent also are under increased scrutiny. Over the past few years, U.S. authorities have arrested or investigated several Pakistani-American men who have trained at the camps during trips to Pakistan. One camp used photos of President Bush for target practice.
“The camps are a big concern,” said a DHS official, who requested anonymity. “We are questioning U.S. citizens, as well as Pakistani nationals, as they come back to the states if the computer says they might have terrorist ties.”
Vice President Dick Cheney earlier this week confronted Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf with “compelling” evidence of active al-Qaida camps inside Pakistan. The two met face-to-face in Islamabad.
Cheney’s secret visit revealed new cracks in an already fragile alliance between Washington and Islamabad in the war on terror. Musharraf has denied the existence of terror camps in his country, even as authorities have traced major British terror plots back to al-Qaida-tied madrassas and camps in Pakistan.
DHS refers to the ramped-up screening process for Pakistani and other high-risk travelers as “augmented primary.”
The “one-day lookout” is usually the result of analysis conducted on passenger information submitted by the airline prior to an international flight’s arrival in the U.S.
Muslim-rights groups and Democratic leaders in Congress have complained the government’s use of such information to “profile” potential terrorists constitutes an invasion of privacy. The government has said the nation’s ability to spot security threats would be critically impaired without access to such data.
DHS officials claim the system has resulted in several suspected terrorists being turned away or apprehended.
According to DHS documents, the airline-passenger information is fed into a so-called Automated Targeting System, or ATS-P, which flags inbound passengers who may pose a terrorism risk based on various criteria, including:
- suspicious travel itineraries;
- travel to Pakistan and other high-risk countries;
- use of suspect ticketing agencies;
- or possible matches to federal watchlists.Additional data gleaned from passenger travel records, including seating and meal preferences, are reviewed by DHS officials at the National Targeting Center in Northern Virginia. Passengers added to the temporary watchlist warrant a closer look by an airport customs officer trained in “counter terrorism response,” or CTR.
CTR officers have been trained to ask “passengers of interest” a list of required questions from a matrix. Highly suspicious passengers are subjected to additional interviews and searches and may be taken into custody.
The matrix of questions is sensitive and closely held within the department. WND has obtained a copy of the matrix sheets, which contain more than 30 questions cross-referenced with more than a dozen security categories involving passport issues and travel patterns, among other concerns.
Question No. 2 reads: “Did you travel to Pakistan? If so, what cities did you visit.” Questions 5 and 6 deal with “military training” and “school/training.” Others drill down on specifics regarding such training.
WND has agreed not to reveal details, given that al-Qaida coaches its operatives in how to answer such questions to avoid suspicion at U.S. and other Western airports.
For instance, the al-Qaida training manual advises that “during travel the brother should be taught the answers to the following questions … when your travel to Pakistan is discovered:”
“A. What were you doing in Pakistan?
B. In which camp were you trained?
C. Who trained you? On what weapons were you trained? …
“H. How many are in that camp?
I. What are their names?
J. Who are the group commanders there (in Pakistan)? Where do they live and what do they do?
K. What things did the commanders talk about?”
“A. What were you doing in Pakistan?
B. Are you a jihad fighter?
C. Do you belong to religious organizations?
D. Why did you come to our country in particular?
E. Whom will you be staying with now?
F. How long will you spend here?”
DHS has put its temporary lookout system and “augmented primary” interviewing process into operation at major international airports, including ones in Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Newark, N.J., Boston, New York, Miami and Los Angeles.
The system was set up by Erik Shoberg, a field operations official for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington.
DHS first responded in 2004 to intelligence that Pakistani-Americans were training at terror camps during trips to Pakistan by requiring customs officers to check young Pakistani male travelers for physical signs of military training. As WND first reported, they were asked to look for “rope burns,” “unusual bruises,” “scars” and other possible injuries suffered from obstacle courses, firearms or explosives.
“Many of the individuals trained in the Pakistani camps are destined to commit illegal activities in the United States,” warned the two-page DHS advisory that launched the special action.