Deja Vu All Over Again

Last May, you may recall, TB patient Mr. Andrew Speaker flew back to the US from Europe over his doctorsâ'' objections, and was able to enter the US even though he was on a travelersâ'' watch list. To reduce the possibility of something like this happening again, US Custom and Border Protection officials said that they were putting new procedures in place.

Well, last week it was disclosed that a Mexican national with multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis boarded 11 flights, at least one to the United States and crossed the US border a total of 76 times. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials were warned on April 16 that this person was infected, but it took the Department of Homeland Security until June 7 to warn the inspectors on the border and the Transportation Security Administration to add this traveler to the travelers' watch list.

So there were actually two incidents, one highly publicized and one not, happening simultaneously. During the Speaker incident, DHS said that it was inexcusable what happened.

However, it is very clear that given the bad publicity of the Speaker case, senior DHS officials deliberately tried to keep this other traveler off the watch list until things quieted down a bit. The DHS, surprise, surprise, is not commenting on this latest "oops".

As I wrote before, I was skeptical that the Speaker incident would trigger a wider review of the limitations of the Custom and Border automated travelers' watch system as well as its systemic role in being able to manage the risks of travelers having infectious diseases. I guess I was more correct than I knew, unfortunately.


Risk Factor

IEEE Spectrum's risk analysis blog, featuring daily news, updates and analysis on computing and IT projects, software and systems failures, successes and innovations, security threats, and more.

Robert Charette
Spotsylvania, Va.
Willie D. Jones
New York City