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Cat Stevens midair terror incident spurs tougher measures

We need to nail these dangerous peacenicks at the gate

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On Tuesday (21 Sept, an American Airlines flight from London to Washington was diverted to Bangor, Maine, following a terror scare. Alarmingly, it was only after the plane was aloft that authorities discovered singer Cat Stevens, aka Yusuf Islam - who wrote such violent anthems as "Wild World," "Peace Train" and "Morning Has Broken" - to be among the passengers.

Tensions were high, and it was only through the bravery of a federal SWAT team, marshaled on the tarmac to greet the plane, that catastrophe was averted. Thanks to the heroism of armed federal agents and snipers, everyone on board was evacuated safely.

Significantly, the lessons of this brush with mass destruction has not been lost on the federal bureaucracy. Regulations and procedures must - and will - be tightened, US Undersecretary for Homeland Security Asa Hutchinson announced Thursday morning.

"Right now, under the rules, we get [passenger] information at Homeland Security fifteen minutes after a plane takes off," Hutchinson confessed on the ABC morning talk show Good Morning America.

"There's a gap there, so obviously the rules have got to be changed," Hutchinson declared.

The US will not be lulled into complacency, or distracted by the feverish terrorist activity in Iraq. Regulations must be altered to permit federal authorities to review passenger lists at least an hour before a plane departs, Hutchinson explained; and he vowed that US security apparatchiks would begin working with their overseas counterparts to implement the necessary changes immediately.

Hutchinson also explained that the Stevens incident illustrates the urgent need for the US to implement its new "CAPPS Lite" passenger screening and data mining gimmick as soon as humanly possible. This will prevent thought criminals like Stevens from ever boarding a plane in the first place, and threatening public safety on a mass scale.

But the US is facing an uphill battle in its war against deadly terrorists, especially in terms of international cooperation. UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw - hardly anyone's idea of a privacy and civil liberties freak - complained to US Secretary of State Colin Powell that the detention and deportation action against Stevens "should not have been taken."

He made no comment on the snipers per se, from which we infer that progress, however slow, is being made on behalf of Democracy. ®

Thomas C Greene is the author of Computer Security for the Home and Small Office, a comprehensive guide to system hardening, malware protection, online anonymity, encryption, and data hygiene for Windows and Linux.

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