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Foreign passengers at airports get a pass when computers go down
WASHINGTON – The computer database immigration inspectors use to check for suspected terrorists and criminals at international airports often crashes, yet inspectors continue to process passengers arriving from abroad, a veteran U.S. inspector at Los Angeles International Airport told WorldNetDaily.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service shares a database containing the lookout bulletins from several law-enforcement agencies with the U.S. Customs Service. The system – known as TECS, which stands for Treasury Enforcement Communications System – is considered antiquated and unreliable by airport inspectors.
"The computers freeze up and stop processing on a regular basis," said Terry Hamilton, an INS inspector and special operations officer at LAX, the nation's third-busiest airport.
"We have anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute to decide if a foreign national should enter the U.S.," he added in an exclusive WorldNetDaily interview. "When the computers freeze up, many inspectors will continue to process passengers without putting them into the TECS system while the computer is rebooting."
Those same inspectors will go back between flights and enter passenger names into the lookout system, he says.
"But if a TECS hit comes up, it's too late – the passenger is already processed and gone," said Hamilton, a 14-year INS veteran.
What's more, he says, the database is incomplete, missing names of many violent felons, which forces inspectors to access the FBI's National Crime Information Center database, which they share with Customs.
"The TECS lookout system is not tied into INTERPOL or NCIC," Hamilton said, "so we will often get out of the regular TECS system and get into the NCIC system to verify if a criminal history exists on an individual" who looks suspicious or fits a certain profile.
"And 50 (percent) to 60 percent of the time, I will come up with an NCIC hit on the individual showing one or more felonies – where the person has served time in prison for crimes such as rape, murder, robbery," he added. "And yet these persons are continuing to walk the streets (of America) and take international flights with their names not being listed on the regular TECS lookout system."
Hamilton's concerns about the technical failures of TECS echo those of other INS inspectors at Miami International Airport and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
In an interview with WorldNetDaily, INS spokesman Russ Bergeron confirmed "technical difficulties" with TECS.
"Periodically, the system does go down," he said, "and it's frustrating."
But Bergeron says the Treasury Department recently studied the data on system downtimes and found that most of the outages were tied to scheduled maintenance of the system.
"There seldom are unscheduled outages," he said. "They found that the system is generally reliable."
He also points out that there are backup redundancies in place, and inspectors are advised to "reroute and go through the Justice (Department's) mainframe" if TECS goes down.
Hamilton says he and other inspectors use a backup system called PALS when TECS goes down for a long time. PALS is an INS system used to query foreign nationals applying for entry into the U.S.
"The problem with this system is that it's updated every six months – if that; and any person placed on a recent lookout, such as a terrorist hit by the FBI or State Department, will probably not be on that system," Hamilton said. "And they'll be admitted to the U.S."
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