Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Friday, January 08, 2010

Is Barbados A Doorway To Terrorism? The PM Needs To Connect The Dots

The series of terror events in the USA in recent months is a vivid reminder that people who are determined to do wrong or evil are not easy to stop. Whether it is a disaffected army doctor who decides to shoot fellow military personnel. Whether it is a young man who has been 'converted' to a cause and then tries to blow up a plane to further that cause. There are people prepared to risk their lives to maim and kill others, often people they do not know. The only effective way to deal with the threats posed by such people is for every person to be vigilant to the risks and to help confront them. But government needs to be vigilant too and to have in place mechanisms that do not facilitate acts of terror or jeopardise national or international security.

Barbados may not be on any list that covers 'friends' or 'havens' of terrorism but it may be an unwitting accomplice. Several aspects of life in Barbados--and in some other countries in the region--make us and those who pass through the country vulnerable. One aspect is attitude. Another aspect is procedures (which to some extent reflect attitudes).

Looking at procedures, it is interesting to see what the debate on illegal immigration highlights. Barbados has recently come to the end of a seven months amnesty for undocumented Caricom non-nationals. At the end of that process the minister responsible, Senator Arni Walters, was not able to offer many facts about who had applied and who else remained. That is a gaping hole, which reflects a lack of seriousness about checking people who cross the nation's border. At the same time, we hear that several hundred applications were delayed due to the need for police certification. So, the police know about some persons, but the Minister knows nothing much about all the people who have gone through the process. How is that?

The hoopla about immigration may have a social dimension that touches a willingness to have foreigners within a country but it is also a security issue. If Barbados cannot track people who enter and leave the country what is to stop the USA or another country seeing it as another weak link in its border security--not least because there are direct flights from Barbados to the USA and the UK. Is it far fetched for the USA or UK to start to consider sanctioning those who pass through Barbados? That's a taint that would not help market the island's tourism.

Maybe the PM does not see these dots when he comments that Barbados will continue to meet international security standards at Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) (see Nation report, January 8, page 19): it is not about security checks at airport. Even when these are very sophisticated and extensive, they fail because of human or mechanical failures, and lapses. The failed bombing of a plane in Detroit over Christmas showed the lapses at many levels and in many places that let a plausible terrorist suspect board a plane laded with explosive materials. We saw what happened at Newark Airport this week when a TSA official left his post, and the ensuing security lapse shut down that airport for several hours. Several weeks ago, the TSA security guidelines were inadvertently posted on the Internet. The security services are shooting us and shooting themselves in the foot.

The PM's saying that Barbados is 'peaceful' is irrelevant and saying that the island was not a 'staging point' for acts of terrorism or violence against people misses the point. Terrorists do not care if your country is at peace but whether it has weaknesses they can exploit. Maybe the PM never has to go through regular security but regular travellers will have their own stories. I know that I carry items in my hand luggage which sometimes I am told are prohibited and sometimes they are not noticed. They are simple things, always in my bag in the same place, and I know they are not explosive, such as hand creams, but surely they should be treated the same on every visit to the security line. It was many months before a penknife I always used to travel with but forget was in my bag triggered any concern. Officials and machines are not perfect.

But hold on, PM! In the previous day's Advocate the front page reported Senator Walters saying "several loopholes will be tightened, including the inadequate monitoring of arrivals into the island". Issues had been raised last year in the Auditor General's report on the Immigration Department, and include lack of facilities at the ports to cover yachts. The Auditor General's report flagged these as security risks that needed to be addressed. The Minister noted activities off Barbados originating out of Central America or regional islands, involving persons and materials, and cited a worrying incident in 2006. So, even if GAIA meets international standards, the ports do not.

Let's look briefly at attitudes. In small countries, and in this region for sure, people work on the assumption that most people are known, and most are honest, and that if someone says he/she is something then he/she is. So, we are more trusting and casual about checking credentials. But trust is a weak point. Take a visit to a home by a 'utility' or 'service' worker. I would never let someone past the gate unless I see two forms of picture ID: but if I insist on that here the visitors are offended, arguing that I should believe and trust them. Should I? I do not know Adam from Steve. On one occasion someone came to change phone lines. I had no knowledge about it, nor did my landlord, and when I called LIME, they had no record of the work being scheduled. I sent the man away. After a few days he was back and the pieces fit as it was discovered that this was a job that was requested a couple of years ago. But, given that there has been a series of burglaries nearby, why would I not assume that this 'job' was a ruse to survey the property?

I visit Ilaro Court and the security officer waves me in without batting an eyelid; my car is not checked. When the PM was there for 'Christmas by candle lights', who had ensured that no one had a weapon? Ironically, the adjacent Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, has metal detectors, and that is to cover any public event, and when I was dressed up as Santa, I had to go through the screening even though the organizers vouched for me. Presumably, no one in the world wishes the PM harm, but you cannot trust Santa?

Caribbean people do not like what they see as personal violations, so object to body and bag searches, feeling that it makes them seem like criminals. In general, we do not accept that this is for every one's good. Hence, the brouhaha with the security measures for Cricket World Cup in 2007. The region had to beef up a range of security measures to comply with the new realities: Caribbean people felt this spoilt our fun.

Barbados is not alone. We see that the USA cannot protect itself, and we are seeing that 'protecting the president' is more lip service than secret service. But part of the battle is to ratchet up our awareness. Problems in security that President Obama identified this week in terms of poor collaboration and information sharing exist here too.

I would not be surprised if US Embassies are being asked to report on the 'security profile' of countries in which they are located and their neighbours. Would it be a shock for Barbados to be black listed as a security weak link?


Carson C. Cadogan said...

I am glad that someone is finally looking at this issue from the correct perspective.

I have always maintained that the policy of the Barbados Labour Party government of letting in all and sundry from Guyana, illegal and legal, and castigating Customs and Immigration Officers for trying to properly screen them was dangerous.

We are living in a very unstable World, Terrorists, drug trafficers, people smugglers are forever on the lookout for easy targets either to attack or to set up bases of operations. With our "no questions ask" policy under the Barbados Labour Party Government it would have been only a matter of time before something chilling took place either in Bim or using Bim as a staging point.

Anonymous said...

Part one of my Post:

I agree with the article also. I am currently deployed in Afghanistan on my fourth tour (1st in Afghanistan other three In iraq) and I plan on vacationing in Barbados this March. It is all perception and mindset, and I can attest firsthand some of the challenges that faced and contributed to the breakdown of security and how the detroit bomber got on board the Northwest flight to Detroit Michigan. Information sharing is the first, second, believing that protecting vital hubs (I.E. LAX, Newark, Regan Int'l, Dulles Int'l airport) and letting things get lax at other domestic locations giving a false sense of security and finally believing that nothing bad or remotely bad would happen in a small island that has low crime rate. I can say nothing is scarrier then a terrorist incident or a terrorist act taking place at a low key discreet location. One can imagine the economic impact alone that would take place if a major incident happened in Barbados, because in the end they will succeed in their goal of instilling fear of even going to any remote resort or for that fact small city or destination in any country because terrorism can occur ANYWHERE..period. Yes it would seem much more convenient to attack a large landmark but nothing is more effective then psychologically wreaking havoc by attacking what is percepted to be a low key location. Commercial tourism and travel will come to a screeching halt, rebuke from the int'l community, and lets not forget getting any previous mistakes and incidents coming under intense scrutiny. Living back in the U.S. i can attest that our govt's knee jerk reaction to the attempted Detroit bombing is just another example of how poor enforcement of standards and classic immediate reaction lacking future foresight are common. I.E. staying seated for the last hour of the flight (Because they believe a bomber would wait an hour before landing to either hijack the plane or try to take it down.) Prohibitng most if not all electronic devices (because i plan to read a book for the next 14 hours on a trans atlantic or trans pacific flight) This sort of overzealous approach reflects the minds set post 9/11.

Anonymous said...

Part two of my post:

Thankfully (knock on wood) Barbados appears to be a very peacefull and safe island nation, i believe the gov't has the opprotunity to set an excellent example for the int'l community as well as ensuring the safety of its citizens and visitor's. First, enforce immigration laws either registration via biometrics for third coountry nationals, enforcing deperation laws and not merely offering lip service and offering transperency on statistics in regards to incidents and illegal entry and immigration. Beefing up security at the airport on the island. People need to realize that we live in a world where terrorism can happen any where...Anytime and that if you have a false sense of security because of the low rate of crime incidents you are wrong. Because all it takes is one person or a group of people to make that sense of security come crashing down around you. Taking steps to avoid that in Barbados can go a long way and can reassure both the citizens living on the island and tourists that although it is a small island nation with low crime rates that the government is taking things seriously and is actively taking steps to keep it that way, the best defense is a good offense as the saying go's. Yes the cultural norm and differences as well as the aspect lifestyle compared to that of say a regular American City are much different (I.E. slower pace of life, laxer security more tightly knit communities where people generally know each other in Barbado's versus the faster lifestyle general anonimity and not so close community realtions.) Is just waiting to be exploited by any said person's or group of people for any amount of neferious activities. With the Island relying so much on Tourism it would be quite catastrophic if something were to happen as I mentioned earlier, and though it is good that the gov't is taking steps towards improoving security in the end i feel it is just more lip service on their end as Mr. Cadogan stated in the previous reply. I have fared much worse in Iraq with daily patrols, firefights, bomb attacks and many other incidents that I can only say no human being should ever go through. Now working as a Civilian for the Government (5 years of Active Duty in the United States Army) I know first hand what happens when you become complacent, and in order to continue reaping the rewards of their successfull tourist industry the gov't of Barbados needs to crank it up a notch and understand that staying proactive will ensure future successes and denying safe haven for would be nefarious individuals. Yes there will be theft, crime and sadly possible loss of life, but If we can prevent a similar incident that happened on that flight to Detroit from Denmark or anything other nefarious on the Island through enforcement of so called immigration law's then I will gladly stand at the airport at barbado's and anwser any and all question's and have them go through all of my items twice because any loss of life or even a suspected of failed plot will bring this island to its knee's and will create headaches for the gov't and its citizens for many years to come. I look forward to visiting this beautiful country in the near future. So happy holidays from abroad and stay safe.

Dennis Jones said...

@Anonymous part one and two. Please see the comments policy and try to assign yourself a name. It's just easier for tracking who is purporting to comment.

You touch some excellent points. Mindset may be hard to change without experience of major catastrophe, as people tend to extrapolate from the past to think of possible futures. It is also worth asking if local people understand how easy to exploit the islands are, not just those with direct access to Europe and the US.

Max Kabachenko said...

My apologies for posting as anonymous, connectivity and internet issues on my end here in Bagram Afghanistan cannot seem to log into my AIM. But I completely agree with you as well, if the people are empowered with the knowledge before hand of what can happen then it is definately a step in the right direction. The thing that irks me the most is the continued knee jerk reaction by my gov't back in the states, where it appears sometimes common sense is thrown out and knee jerk draconian measures and reactions are thrown in. Granted the intelligence sharing between the different government agencies has improved post 9/11 it's still frustrating to see these kind of mistakes happen, I.E. the embassy not taking the time to question the father of the young man who attempted to set off explosives on his person and not bothering to coordinate with the point of exit and entry nor flagging his passport with the port officials. I just hope that the gov't of Barbados realizes that it is not a matter IF something will happen but WHEN something will happen. Especially considering that it attracts so many western tourist's it would be in any countries interest to perhaps establish some small international (I.E. interpol) presence in Barbado's port of entry and to educate their security and port officials on how easy it can be for anyone to come in and pass through undetected and to offer help in the form of funding/training/oversight or joint cooperation. I think with such a healthy economy (based on tourism mostly) and decent influx of capita it should be easy enough to fund such an undertaking, it may perhaps one day pay off in dividends that can save people's live's and prevent another tragedy from happening.

Dennis Jones said...

@Max, thanks for taking ownership of the preceding comments.

I think it is useful to distinguish between what governments do at policy level and what government agencies and personnel do in implementing policies. Many failings have reflected poor execution of policies in place, which opens a hole. Interagency communication is also about having common systems or single data bases available in real time and that is very rare.

This weekend's papers in Barbados reflected a wide awareness of the many risks of terrorism to Barbados as well as weakness caused by lax immigration policies.