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US security checks could be based at British airports

From The Telegraph : “US security officials could be based at British airports to grill passengers before they fly to America, it has emerged.

The UK and US are discussing the possibility of allowing so-called “preclearance” checks on British soil for transatlantic flights.

It would mean US Homeland Security staff based at airports and allowed to conduct additional interrogations before a passenger is allowed on the plane.

Similar procedures have been in place in the Republic of Ireland for five years.

The initiative is being spearheaded by Jeh Johnson, the American Homeland Security Secretary.

He wants other countries to follow the example of Ireland, Canada and the Caribbean where passengers are “pre cleared” before boarding an aircraft.

Speaking to the Council of Foreign Relations earlier this week he said adding other countries to the list was a policy goal.

“I regard it as a homeland security imperative to build more. To use a football metaphor, I’d much rather defend our end-zone from the 50-yard line than from our one-yard line.

“I want to take every opportunity we have to expand homeland security beyond our borders.”

Officially, preclearance agreements are designed to ease congestion at US airports but critics argue it is a way of stopping unwanted people getting on a flight in the first place.

It effectively moves US immigration and passport control to the country of departure so passengers effectively arrive in America like domestic passengers.

A leaked German document claimed the American authorities have approached five European countries over the possibility in July but only the UK has suggested it would be willing.

The document, seen by the Guardian, was a German government response to a parliamentary question and said that “Britain sees the advantages in allowing this procedure”.

The German government is said to be very cautious over the proposals while Holland and France have not ruled the possibility out but would need legal or financial backing for it.

The document added: “Sweden’s first reaction was to express scepticism, calling for further analysis of the consequences on the Schengen agreement (the open borders agreement in Europe) and the European convention on human rights.”

It is understood the US has not made any formal request yet.

“Heathrow is an airport they have been looking at,” an industry source said.

However the aviation industry is concerned about the logistics of trying to clear thousands of passengers a day through US immigration as well as security at one of the world’s busiest airports.

With hour long queues at US immigration commonplace, passengers could find themselves having to arrive several hours before their flight to clear the US border and security screening.

A Home Office spokesman said: “Pre-clearance, which is already in operation in Ireland, is a means of speeding the entry of passengers through US airports.

“Pre-clearance checks are entirely separate from aviation security screening. The government has not received any request from a UK airport to introduce such measures.” “