Borderpol calls for intelligence-led airline and border security

As Governments worldwide scramble to respond
to the actions of so-called ‘underpants bomber’ Umar Farouk
Abdulmutallab, Borderpol is calling for the formation of an
international border organisation. Brian Sims reports and canvasses
professional opinion.

By Brian Sims

[] So far, we’ve heard little in terms of response from the US
and UK authorities beyond speeding up the installation and use of full
body scanners at airports, and prescribing who should be scanned, but
are such scanners the answer?

A basic fact is that that there
were grounds for preventing from boarding an aircraft in the first
place, as by the time he did he was registered on at least two watch
lists – one in the US and one in Nigeria (and probably one in the UK as

Abdulmutallab also had a visa request to visit the UK in
May 2009 rejected by the UK Border Agency and, by the time he reached
Amsterdam, he was flagged in the US consular database as being
presumptively ineligible for a visa due to having been nominated for
inclusion on the terrorist watch list.

How was this incident allowed to happen?

happened in part because, believe it or not, over eight years after
9/11 we have not even begun discussions on an internationally shared
watch list which could be available to Embassy staff, immigration
officials, border police and airport security operatives involved in
implementing travel, aviation and border security. Nor do we have a
well-established standard for deciding the level of risk that’s
appropriate to accept for air travellers.

Stove-piping of
information remains endemic among agencies, but in truth it’s far worse
between countries. Without doubt, this is the weakest link in
international cross-border security.

Sometimes, information
sharing is a problem with legacy information systems. The reason? Very
often it focuses on concerns about privacy and data protection. More
often than not, however, the real problem is a lack of willingness on
the part of politicians and Government officials to find solutions to
implement a successful system.

Borderpol – the world’s only
international border policing and border management organisation –
holds the view that, collectively, border and transportation officials
(in co-operation with intelligence and law enforcement authorities) can
do a far better job of prevention than has been the case to date.

organisation continues to advocate the establishment of an
international global extranet designed for sharing information on
suspect individuals among border agencies of allied countries involved
in border security.

What would the global extranet contain?

by Borderpol as a trusted third party, this would contain basic
information on suspect individuals such as name, date and place of
birth and the reason they’re on the list (eg visa rejection, Home
Office, UK). All details including photos would be available to
officers of those countries that have signed up to the scheme. The
system would allow them to flag up suspect individuals either for
further questioning or action, such as in this case, visa rejection or

It’s true that the integration of intelligence was
faulty in this latest case. However, there were potential opportunities
for border and transportation officials to use their discretion in
preventing travel or, at a minimum, to undertake additional screening
that might well have resulted in detection of the explosives.

here that body scanners can play an important role in security,
especially against unknown clandestine terrorists like Richard Reid,
the shoe bomber who was not on anyone’s ‘radar screen’.

said, there’s a feeling that this technology remains imperfect. The
millimetre wave and back-scatter body scanners that have, until now,
been advocated as Best Practice may not have identified the explosives
carried by the ‘underpants bomber’.

Certainly, scanners of this
type would not have picked up explosives carried internally (the method
used by Al Qaeda suicide bomber Abdullah Hassan Tali al-Asiri back in
August last year in his attempt to kill Prince Nayef of Saudi Arabia).

Are better technologies ready for employment?

The through-body X-ray scanner currently in the news will indeed pick up anything carried internally or externally.

scanners are already in operation in some airports, mainly for the
targeting of drug traffickers, but some may deem this method practical
primarily for use on targeted individuals identified by other methods.
Better technologies for explosives detection for mass people screening
are currently not ready for effective deployment.

In addition to
focusing on improvements in screening technology, Borderpol’s view is
that we should be devoting more serious attention to overcoming
obstacles such that better information may be made available for border

There was an opportunity to pick up Abdulmutallab
as a potential threat, initially at the US Embassy and, subsequently,
at airports in Lagos and Amsterdam.

Travel and transportation
security officials should have been able to access intelligence
information and combine this with other information, such as the fact
that his ticket was paid for by cash, he had no checked-in luggage and
his request for a specific seat position (bombers tend to request seats
in the area of the fuel tanks, as evidenced by Richard Reid) in order
to call for additional screening, if not no-fly status.

the Abdulmutallab incident on Christmas Day clearly calls for better
integration of intelligence at the outset, it remains true that travel
and transportation authorities must add additional layers of
prevention. An integrated security system with effective information
sharing, well-motivated and trained staff using good profiling and
screening techniques, and operating with the appropriate technology,
will surely make a difference.

policing is not like other forms of policing. It requires a specialist
organisation like Borderpol that can provide the foundation for sharing
information and facilitating the complex multilateral effort required
to dramatically increase the effectiveness of airline and cross-border
security with minimum intrusion and inconvenience for legitimate

In agreement with Borderpol’s views

Fisher, the vice-president of global security solutions at Unisys,
seems to be in agreement with the Borderpol view. “Full-body scanners
can be useful as a way to detect potential terrorists, but only as part
of a more holistic, integrated and converged approach to airport
security,” commented Fisher.

On their own, Fisher feels body
scanners are just a point solution. “They’re not coherent, not
co-ordinated and not a complete defence against terrorists,” he urged.
“We need an integrated response that can accommodate a whole range of
different scenarios. Hence, providing a finger in the levee to stop one
leak is no good unless the integrity of the whole levee is examined.”

stated, there are different types of body scanners. “The most effective
in this context,” suggested Fisher, “would be a moving image millimetre
wave (MMW) body scanner, but there are clear privacy barriers in the
use of this technology. MMW scanners work well with skin, ceramics and
metal and can image compressed plastics, such as Semtex explosives, but
not ordinary plastic. They probably wouldn’t have picked up the
explosive material sewn into Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s underpants,
although they may have detected the syringe, particularly if an MMW
moving image scanner was used.”

For Fisher, this is “a very
useful technology” but also !”one that should be harmonised into a
wider security approach in order to address a broader range of threats”.

went on to state: “I also think we need to take a careful look at
improving our intelligence-driven watch lists and no-fly list
processes. We must keep doing our level best to penetrate the
communities here and abroad that inspire and nurture terrorism, and
otherwise enable the active defences that operate before the terrorists
reach the location of their next target.”

Much of this, of
course, boils down to intelligence and information warfare of one sort
or another that must be balanced against legitimate privacy concerns.

conclusion, Fisher told SMT Online: “I strongly believe if this
individual had attempted to board a plane in the UK or the US, he would
have been aggressively searched because of all the flags: including a
one-way ticket purchased with cash, and no luggage for an international

Legitimate health concerns to be observed

Cheshire, the executive director of Third Margin and a registered
security consultant, also contacted me with his views on the matter.

decision of Her Majesty’s Government to introduce so-called ‘whole
body’ security screening at UK airports has caused understandable
concern,” he explained. “Aside from issues of privacy, there are
legitimate health concerns regarding the deployment of scanning devices
that use Ionising radiation (X-rays), not least with regard to ‘at
risk’ groups such as pregnant women, for example.”

Visitors to
NHS X-ray Departments will usually see notices asking women who believe
that they may be pregnant to advise the radiographer before submitting
to an X-ray. Of further reassurance is the fact that all radiographers
working across the NHS are trained to a very high standard and
appropriately registered. Indeed, all new entrants are now required to
undertake a comprehensive three-year training course at degree level.

a further safeguard,” added Cheshire, “all NHS X-ray Departments are
overseen by a consultant radiologist – a senior medical practitioner
with specialist expertise and post-basic qualifications. Yet, despite
all of these safeguards, history is replete with instances of patients
who have died as a result of radiation overdosage due to malfunctioning
equipment and/or practitioner error.”

Cheshire added: “The very
prospect of members of the travelling public being X–rayed by a
security operative possessing a mere NVQ Level 2 qualification is, I
would suggest, a grave cause for concern.”

Operator guidelines must be formulated

far as Cheshire’s concerned, in order to ensure the appropriate use of
whole body security screening comprehensive operator guidelines and
training must be formulated by a panel of health experts and endorsed
by the chief medical officers of each participating country.

is not a matter of policy or legislative bureaucracy,” concluded
Cheshire. “Rather, it’s a matter of traveller safety. No security
measure, regardless of the prevailing threat, must ever occasion harm
to the travelling public.”

Amid the rush to adopt full-body
scanning in airports worldwide and thus reduce the threat from
explosive devices carried on the body, it’s interesting to note that a
UK company, TeraView, is well-placed to offer an alternative and
perhaps better suited scanner that uses TeraHertz signals.

scanning is said to offer some real advantages over traditional X-rays
and MMW technology because it’s peculiarly sensitive to certain
substances. It distorts the contrast of the images it generates to
quickly and simply highlight explosives (including PETN) on the body
among clothing and other obstacles. This feature eliminates the
invasion of passenger privacy, already cited as a major issue by civil
liberties groups and Government bodies around the world, because the
‚low interest‘ aspects of images are not exposed in fine detail.

it means that the scanning process can be fully automated, removing the
need for operator assistance/training/cost and errors. Automation cuts
the cost of deployment and operation while accelerating passenger

The TeraVison technical team, led by Sir Michael
Pepper and Dr Don Arnone, is based in Cambridge. A document is
available summarising the benefits of the TeraHertz approach Click on
the dedicated link provided on the right hand panel of this page for
more information.