U.S. Border Officials Now Screening Some Travelers At Foreign Airports

Why wait to get screened to cross the U.S. border at the actual border or even at an airport in America when you can just stretch that security arm across an ocean? The Department of Homeland Security is setting up shop at some foreign airports now, clearing passengers to cross the border before they even get on a plane.

For example, at Shannon International Airport in Ireland, American Customs and Border Protection have set up shop in a section of the airport to screen travelers for explosive and make sure they’re set to enter the U.S. Then when they land, reports the New York Times, they can just hop off the plane and walk right into the terminal.

Other foreign airports have American officials advising the local authorities or have program in place to expedite travel for low-risk passengers, including in Madrid, Panama City and Tokyo. There are 14 airports in all in the programs, which have been growing over the last few years and mean a lot of discussion and planning, as well as cooperation, with those countries. Sometimes American officers are even allowed to carry weapons, detain passengers and pull them off flights.

These programs seem to be part of the White House’s plan to tighten security as terrorists continue to attempt to blow up planes headed to the U.S. In a way, it’s expanding the U.S. border thousands of miles, stretching it out and keeping it far away from our physical shores to head off a potential catastrophe before it can get close.

“It’s a really big deal — it would be like us saying you can have foreign law enforcement operating in a U.S. facility with all the privileges given to law enforcement, but we are going to do it on your territory and on our rules,” the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, said on a flight back to the United States from the Middle East, where she negotiated with leaders in Israel and Jordan about joint airport security programs. “So you flip it around, and you realize it is a big deal for a country to agree to that. It is also an expensive proposition.”

No plots have been foiled thus far using these programs, and as the NYT points out, it’s likely that any terrorists would realize which airports have the expanded American presence operating there.

U.S. Security Expands Presence at Foreign Airports [New York Times]

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  1. s25843 says:

    This is nothing new. I got Pre screened in Nassau from US Customs way back in 2005

  2. Cat says:

    Homeland insecurity and / or US Customs has no legal right to do anything in another sovereign nation. The USA does not rule the world.

    I hate it when the USA throws its weight around like this.

    • The Cupcake Nazi says:

      They do if the country gives them that right…

      • Cat says:

        But is it because we ask nicely, or is it because we threaten them in some way? (See: Swiss bank accounts, offshore banking)

        • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

          We offer them KFC and SUVs.

    • bar_foo says:

      They have the right if the host country agrees, as Canada has done.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Couldn’t you argue that by entering a plane bound for the U.S. you are already agreeing to abide by U.S. law, including being inspected for foreign travel? And by association, if entering a plane headed for the U.S. is the same as entering U.S. soil, then you must adhere to inspections to enter said U.S. soil.

    • sirwired says:

      This isn’t the US “throwing it’s weight around.” This is usually done at the request of the “host” country and their airport. Why would they agree to this? Several reasons:

      - It means that the airlines don’t have to do any security pre-screening.
      - The risk to the airline for a doc check failure (i.e. uncaught invalid visa) goes to zero.
      - It relieves burden on overcrowded US Customs facilities, like at JFK.
      - Tired, cranky, passengers can get on their way to their final destination faster after arriving in the States, and make tighter connections.
      - The flight can now land at terminals, gates, or airports with no US Customs facilities at all. This is especially nice for charter operators.

    • Naked-Gord-Program says:

      If you think this is bad the Canadian government has allowed 2 US anti-drug police offices to operate in Canada (Toronto and Vancouver).

      The US government has also put pressure on the Canadians to not legalize/decriminalize pot *in* Canada.

  3. bar_foo says:

    They’ve been doing this in major Canadian airports for decades. It actually makes things very convenient, since you land in the US as if you were coming in on a domestic flight.

    • nugatory says:

      exactly. Thats what happened to me on a few business trips to Canada in 2001 (and many more recently). The best part is if someone is waiting to pick you up. They don’t have to guess how long immigration and customs will take as you’ve already cleared that before you got on the plan (once it took me 4 hrs but average has been around 2 hrs).

    • guspaz says:

      There’s a difference, though. It’s the CBSA (Canadian Border Services Agency) that does the security screening, not the TSA. The only US people you talk to in the airport is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. They pre-clear you for customs, public health, and agriculture. Basically, the TSA is accepting the CBSA screening to be equivalent to a TSA screening.

      In these new cases, it seems that in addition to getting screened by the US CBP like you do in Canada, they’re now also doing explosives checks, while in Canada, the CBSA handles that.

      • guspaz says:

        I’d like to clarify that this really does make things much easier for passengers. When you’re pre-cleared, you don’t need to be re-checked on connecting flights. Your baggage is directly transferred and you just walk to the new gate to board the new aircraft.

        When I was coming home from Tokyo to Montreal, I had to stop over in Toronto. If I had been pre-cleared in Tokyo, I would have just gotten on the next flight. Instead, in Toronto, I had to wait for baggage claim, get my baggage, go through customs, re-check my baggage, and THEN I could get on my connecting flight. It’s a big hassle.

  4. bnceo says:

    My bags got checked in Lima, Peru right before we got into the plane. Apparently, this is only for travel back to the US. Thought nothing of it. But it was a physical carry on bag check.

    Then again, this was airport or Continental/United who did this. For a government agency to do this is terrible and says a lot about the balls of the countries that allow this.

  5. Blueskylaw says:

    I’m not sure I like the U.S. government setting up shop in foreign countries like this; it’s basically telling our “friends” that they don’t know how to do their jobs. I also wouldn’t care if they screened me at the foreign country airport if it (actually) means I can just hop out of the plane and straight into the terminal. It will be interesting to see how this works out.

    • TuxMan says:

      Dude, we occupy other nations….search for the locations of our military bases, camps, operations, and embassies.

      We are bringing salvation to the world! (whether they want it or not)

    • bar_foo says:

      You don’t get it. This isn’t about security as such, it’s about customs and immigration. The way it works in Canada, etc., is that after going through security you go through US customs and immigration before going to your gate, rather than at the destination airport in the US as you normally would on an international flight. Immigration screening was never the other country’s job.

    • Naked-Gord-Program says:

      If you think this is bad the Canadian government has allowed 2 US anti-drug police offices to operate in Canada (Toronto and Vancouver).

      The US government has also put pressure on the Canadians to not legalize/decriminalize pot *in* Canada.

    • sirwired says:

      This isn’t exactly a military base, invasion beachhead, or FBI field office. This is little different than a country setting up a consulate in a major metro area. Doing Customs in the foreign airport means you don’t have to do it on the other end in the US airport; you just walk off your flight just like it was a domestic leg.

  6. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I don’t disagree with this, so long as it’s a one-time check and you’re not getting hassled at both ends of the flight.

  7. bonzombiekitty says:

    This isn’t new. I’ve been pre-screened by US customs when flying back to the US out of Ireland back in 08. Frankly, I liked it – no line going through customs in Ireland and I was able to deplane and not have to wait in a huge line for Customs when I got back to the US.

  8. The Lone Gunman says:

    The only reason I can see for this tactic is that foreign nations are not as squeamish about profiling as we are on US soil.

    What would negate this is if the reasoning behind preventing profiling here extends to that same foreign soil. If so–what’s the advantage to this plan?

  9. Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

    It’s more efficient and convenient. I think it’s a very good thing.

  10. NorthJersey says:

    You have to undergo the checks at one end of an international flight or the other. Pre-clearance at the point of departure makes the most sense and is vastly preferable to most travelers since they know they have to be at the airport early for regular local security, so adding another couple of minutes for CBP/immigration checks is no big deal.

    At the arrivals end, just walking off the airplane with my carry-on and into the car waiting for me curbside is most welcome.

  11. sirwired says:

    Errr… they’ve been doing this for years in Canada, and I think the station in Shannon has been there a while too.

  12. dolemite says:

    “It is also an expensive proposition.” And there’s the key to the whole thing. More money for scanners, kickbacks and donations for X politician, etc. I’m sure these countries realize it’s just security theater, but grease the right palms…

    • MPD01605 says:

      It’s not security like TSA. It’s customs and immigration. Customs and immigration does a really good job. And it’s only for those coming to the US, after they’ve passed through the foreign country’s airport security and customs and immigration (to leave).

  13. aerodawg says:

    Let me tell you it sure makes life a lot easier going through customs BEFORE you get on the airplane instead of in a herd as you get off…

  14. Christopher Mercer says:

    They have been doing this in Halifax NS for years. Not new.

  15. giax says:

    That has been happening for quite a while. Shannon has a US immigration point in Ireland, and it has been operating there at least from 2005. I’m sure Shannon is not the only one.

  16. AEN says:

    The downside for the taxpayer is that it costs a lot more since you have facilities and agents overseas.

  17. JHDarkLeg says:

    The did this in Vancouver earlier this year. Sure, it’s Americans operating on Canadian soil, but I’d much rather them do it there where I can just run back to the safety of Canadian authorities if they decide to go too far. Sure I might be denied entry to the US, but at least they’d be denied entry to my asshole.

  18. Velkyr says:

    Yet, there’s no outrage that the U.S and Canada are making a deal allowing FBI and U.S Coast Guard to enter Canadian territory and make arrests as american agents.

  19. MPD01605 says:

    Like everyone else says, this isn’t news and it’s actually really convenient. In Toronto, it was really efficient when I had to connect from Europe to the US. As for people worried about US law enforcement operating on foreign soil, here’s the best explanation (from Wikipedia):

    “U.S. officials may question and search travelers with the passenger’s permission, but they do not have powers of arrest (either for customs or immigration violations, or for the execution of outstanding warrants), although they can deny boarding. Local criminal laws apply, and are enforced by local officials. Some countries have laws in place specifically to cover preclearance issues. Since CBP does not have legal powers on foreign soil, passengers can only be detained for local laws by local authorities.”

    So, for example, if you’re in a country that has decriminalised marijuana, and you have some in your bag and get caught by our customs agent before boarding the plane, they can’t arrest you for anything but can tell you you can’t go to the US. If that home country considered marijuana illegal, that customs agent would have to call the local police.

    • MPD01605 says:

      Also, the NYT article seems to confuse two things and muddle them together:
      Customs Preclearance, which also helps relieve congestion at airports like JFK and Dulles both inside customs there and on the tarmac as planes can then fly to airports like Laguardia and National, and
      Airport security, which is handled by local entities anyway and is completely separate from preclearance (in some cases such as Toronto, security comes AFTER US preclearance anyway). Rules for flights coming to the US are often much stricter than for those flying elsewhere so the US says that, for example, French security must have passengers remove jackets and shoes for flights to the US but they can do whatever they want for other flights.

  20. BMR777 says:

    I agree with this. Some might see this as America over-reaching its power, I see this as a way to prevent those who seek to cause harm or other trouble before they cross the border. If you are checked only after landing you’re already in the U.S. even though there’s a security checkpoint at customs. Though unlikely, there’s a greater chance that with the pre-boarding checks a threat could be stopped, especially one where there might be a hijacking or bombing where the perp would never make it to customs.

    I also support other countries doing this at the U.S. airports as well for travelers entering their countries as well. Nations should have a right to stop unwanted people from entering their country before they actually enter the country. Checking people once they land is ok, but they’re already there, so it loses some security that way.

  21. thomwithanh says:

    This is the norm when flying in from Canada… though there are signs everywhere that clearly state you’re still under Canadian jurisdiction until you actually get on the plane. Apart from immigration issues, US officers have no real power to enforce warrants and the like unless there’s also a Canadian officer present.

  22. KyBash says:

    Question: If you have to pay a customs duty on an item you’re carrying, and that item is stolen in transit, do you get a refund?

  23. AldisCabango says:

    I am so glad consumerist is up on latest info. Toronto had US Customs at the airport back in 1998 the first time I flew to canada

    • Cacao says:

      OMG, the Toronto set-up is the worst. Such a headache. One bright spot-Lou Ferrigno was in the transfer hall when I was there.

  24. DoraAreGames says:

    I was screened in Edmonton, Alberta, when I was flying to the US. Thing was, I was immigrating because I was getting married to a US citizen, so I was coming on a K-1 Visa. Holy crap that border agent was suspicious! Pulled me out of line for so long I was worried I would miss my flight, went through my suitcase, kept going through my documents, asking me weird questions… finally her supervisor came over, asked what was taking so long, looked at my papers, and went “What’s the problem? Everything is in order. You had no reason to detain her.” He apologised and let me through. I remember being glad I was plain ol’ whitebread Canadian and not from one of the other countries with the unfortunate label of being “high fraud” because I bet they get it worse.

    Of course, the year before when I had come down to visit my fiance, I had a bear of a time getting through customs (they don’t like it when they know you’re coming to visit someone you’re involved with because they think you’re a flight risk). But when I came back home to Canada a month later, the Canadian official looked at my passport, asked if I had anything to declare, and when I said nope just smiled and said “Well, welcome home then!” Took all of seven seconds. Oh, home. You so trusting.

  25. scoopjones says:

    True, this is nothing new. I’ve gone through US Customs in Vancouver, Canada and in Bermuda. Vancouver has a “quarantined” area of the airport for US-bound passengers who have cleared customs, then once in the US, you disembark at a domestic passenger gate.

  26. tooluser says:

    Sounds great as long it’s really only a one-time deal.

    I couldn’t care less where I get screened, just that the screeners are polite and respectful. A pipe dream, I know.

  27. southpaw1971 says:

    This happened to me in Dublin’s airport last week. Ireland is one of the “pre-clearance” countries. There are a handful of them. I thought it was great – at the end of a long plane ride, the last thing I want to do is wait in a line at Customs. They got it out of the way before I even got on the plane and upon landing after the 9 hour flight, we were in our car and home in 30 minutes.

  28. mcgyver210 says:

    It had to happen now The Department of Homeland Security will be changing it name to The Department of WORLD Security Hm seems like that is what Hitler had in some of his plans.

    It is going to be unsafe for Americans to even leave the Country due to The Department of Homeland Security trying to control other countries & their Citizens.

    America Land of the Free OOPs scratch that America land of the Illusion they are FREE.

  29. powermetal2000 says:

    Team America: World Police.

  30. bbf says:

    It’s actually a lot more convenient for people flying in from foreign countries to be pre-screened at the departure location since the arriving flight is treated as a domestic flight in the US, so it makes it much easier to make a connecting flight on time.

    Also, in my experience, the Customs agents stationed in Canada are much nicer to Canadians than the ones at major US airports. For example, Canadians aren’t finger printed and don’t get their picture taken when they get prescreened at a Canadian airport if they’re going to the US… but when I went through customs in LAX (because I wasn’t flying from Canada), was fingerprinted and photographed just like all the other visitors.

    Also due to some incidents with US Customs agents detaining Canadian Citizens at pre-screening areas on Canadian soil without allowing the Canadians to contact Canadian Authorities, it was clarified that the pre-screening area is NOT American Soil, they are given the courtesy to pre-screen on Canadian Soil, so the US agents do not have the right to detain anybody and refuse to let them exit the prescreening area without contacting the local Canadian authorities.