Report: Travelers detained too much
New York Times
Jul. 25, 2006 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON - The Department of Homeland Security must take steps to curtail the repeated interrogation of people at international airports or border posts simply because their names resemble those of terror suspects, says a report released Monday by the department's inspector general.
The problem, the report says, is not that customs officials stop and question a person whose name matches or is a close match to one of the approximately 200,000 names of known terrorists or terror suspects.
What is troubling, it says, is that after individuals have been interrogated once, they are far too frequently interrogated again and again, each time they try to enter the United States.
The inspector general, Richard L. Skinner, cited the case of a Pakistani-American named Omar Khan, a business consultant and frequent international traveler who has been repeatedly stopped and then cleared only after delays of several hours.
Inflexible rules mean that supervisors do not have "authority to make timely and informed decisions regarding the admissibility of individuals who they could quickly confirm are not the suspected terrorist," the report said.
The result is not only a major nuisance for the person whose name resembles that of someone on the list, the report says; it is also a burden on customs officials.
Customs officials now spend so much time doing unnecessary interrogations and other work needed to clear the wrongly detained person that they are spending less time looking for smuggled drugs or fraudulent immigration documents, the report says.
The inspector general recommends that the department ask the individuals who have unnecessarily been subjected to these repeated checks to provide their fingerprints or photograph - something routinely required of most arriving foreigners - so they could be quickly cleared the next time the name-match problem surfaces.