Micronesia’s nuns and Sikhs are among those likely to encounter special interest when they travel because of new TSA regulations.
The worldwide threat of terror attacks has prompted the Transportation Security Administration to implement new passenger screening procedures that will subject passengers who express their religious beliefs by wearing clothing of their faith to increased searches prior to boarding aircraft.
The move is in response to the Aug. 24 hijacking by suicide bombers on two separate Russian Sibir Airlines flights. Women who had apparently strapped explosives to their bodies hid them underneath loose clothing related to religious belief and custom.
Reports have called the bombings of a TU-134 and TU-154 which killed 90 people “Russia’s 9/11.”
Col. Adolf P. Sgambelluri is security director for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration- Guam. He told the Journal that regardless of personal liberties and freedoms enhanced screening procedures at the Guam International Airport would be introduced to ensure measures are in place to target potential threats. This includes passengers of religious communities such as priests and nuns of the Catholic faith and practicing Sikhs who wear turbans as well as others of practicing faiths.
Sgambelluri said of the new measures that began Sept. 16 “We are enhancing what has been going on for some time. It’s a standard that has to be adhered to across the nation and the territories. In other words what is happening in Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico is also happening here.”
The new passenger-screening procedures will increase the use of explosives- trace detectors expand the use of manual pat-down searches and most important the local federal security director said is to give screeners more latitude to refer individuals to secondary screening.
“We must treat our traveling public as people with dignity because when they come through they are not criminals and we push that here in all of our training ” Sgambelluri said. “The catalyst behind this is that even women in Russia are willing to commit suicide dressed in clothes of faith so we have to counter a new threat.”
The enhancements are designed to strengthen checkpoint screening of passengers and carry-on baggage which are also in line with recent recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Report that all passengers selected for secondary screening be checked for explosives.
H. “C..J.” Sachdev chief executive officer of CS Retailing & Management Group Inc. a practicing Sikh who wears his turban every day told the Journal “It’s really sad that we are now profiled and will have to go through extra screening when travelling. It’s something I do not like but if it has to be done then of course I will comply.”
Sgambelluri said the increased security measures prompted him to contact the Archdiocese of Guam. “I called the Mother Superior to ask her to please have the nuns switch the metal zippers on the habits over to plastic zippers because they will set off the alarm every time. While they cooperate with the secondary screening and pat downs it’s still embarrassing for all parties.”
Referred to as “The October Plan ” the new protocol will require all passengers to remove outer coats and jackets for X-ray before proceeding through the metal detectors.
“Any time an alarm goes off on a passenger passing through the detector the screener has the discretionary power to have the individual go back through. If it goes again then we have to proceed to the private screening ” Sgambelluri said.
The detectors are so sensitive that veterans that have shrapnel still embedded in their bodies have set off the alarm.
Sgambelluri said that soon the airport screeners would have another device at their disposal that he has dubbed “Puff the Magic Dragon.’ “This new technology subjects passengers to puffs of air which are collected and analyzed to determine if explosive residues are present.”
Another little-known program that is ongoing by the airlines selects passengers based on profiles that have been established from empirical data. “This program is set by the airlines to check passengers that purchase tickets within 72 hours of departure. They may not know it but there is a PNR [Passenger Name Record] that follows them and the screeners will see a profile of the passenger which includes background information from a variety of sources like the FBI Interpol and others ” Sgambelluri said.
The individuals of interest to the TSA are passengers of Middle Eastern descent. When asked if Guam is an area of concern Sgambelluri said “Yes there is a lot of stuff that we come across here that is not known to the public. For instance we recently had an incident where we picked up over $100 000 in cash with a passenger. It’s still being investigated whether it was going to al Qaida operatives in Indonesia or somewhere else but Guam is not as sleepy as you may think.”
Sgambelluri said that TSA relies heavily on the FBI on Guam for its intelligence information. “We stay close to these guys and share information as needed. It’s a two-way street.”
The enhanced security measures including removal of religious clothing for inspection will continue for the foreseeable future. “Our travelers should remain vigilant and we will undertake the necessary steps to ensure to the best of our ability safe skies and airports ” Sgambelluri said. MBJ