By Jordy Yager - 03/28/13 11:02 PM EDT
House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) is pressing for answers about why the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has begun talks to allow air travelers from Saudi Arabia to use a pre-screening system to fly to the United States.
In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, McCaul and nine other Republicans on the committee asked for more details about what steps the department is taking to guard against potential terrorists using Global Entry to enter the United States.
“As members of the House Committee on Homeland Security, we seek assurances from the department that passengers from countries added to the program will receive the appropriate screening,” they wrote.
“This committee is supportive of the department’s efforts to expand trade and increase travel to the United States. However, we remain vigilant for vulnerabilities that our enemies can exploit to gain access to the homeland. Expanding Global Entry to high-risk countries may represent such a risk.”
A DHS official speaking on background said that any potential agreement between Saudi Arabia and the United States will depend on an agreed upon standard level of background checks and a thorough vetting of travelers by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), which will include criminal histories, customs and immigration violations, agriculture violations, investigatory records, and terrorist indices.
The official said that each applicant must also appear in person for an interview with a CBP officer that will include providing a full set of 10 fingerprints for additional background checks.
A spokesman for DHS said the department has signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia to “begin discussions” with the country about possible inclusion in the Global Entry program.
“The Department of Homeland Security and the Ministry of Interior of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia signed an arrangement to begin discussions towards expanding U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s trusted traveler program, Global Entry, to citizens of Saudi Arabia, and initiate discussions to establish a reciprocal program to facilitate processing of travelers upon arrival in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who are enrolled in Global Entry,” said Peter Boogaard, a spokesman for DHS.