NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — If Sen. Charles Schumer gets his way, countries who don’t check an Interpol database for missing or stolen passports can forget about having their citizens obtain visas in the United States.
When Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished earlier this month, it shined a spotlight on how little the database is being checked throughout the world. Two passengers aboard the plane were traveling with stolen passports. It’s unclear if they had any role in the plane’s disappearance — and, in fact, focus has since shifted to the flight’s pilots.
Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble last week chided authorities for not checking the database and “waiting for a tragedy to put prudent security measures in place at borders and boarding gates.”
Schumer, D-N.Y., said the United States, United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom are the only countries checking travelers against the database.
He is now proposing the TRIP Act, which stands for Transnational Regulation of Identity of Passports Act. The legislation would deny tourist and business visas to citizens of any country that does not monitor the database.
“Well, you can imagine, they’ll all want to do it” then, Schumer told reporters, including WCBS 880’s Monica MIller, in Manhattan on Sunday.
“The database includes 40 million entries,” he said. “It has all the missing or stolen passports, as well as the names of war criminals, suspected terrorists, others who are suspected of major crimes — drug dealing.”
Officials said Sunday that the final words from the missing jetliner’s cockpit gave no indication anything was wrong even though one of the plane’s communications systems had already been disabled.
As authorities examined a flight simulator that was confiscated from the home of one of the pilots and dug through the background of all 239 people on board and the ground crew that serviced the plane, they also were grappling with the enormity of the search ahead of them, warning they needed more data to narrow down the hunt for the aircraft.
The Boeing 777 took off from Kuala Lumpur at around 12:40 a.m. on March 8, headed to Beijing. On Saturday, Malaysia’s government confirmed that the plane was deliberately diverted and may have flown as far north as Central Asia, or south into the vast reaches of the Indian Ocean.
Authorities have said someone on board the plane first disabled one of its communications systems — the Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS — at 1:07 a.m. Around 14 minutes later, the transponder, which identifies the plane to commercial radar systems, was also shut down. The fact that they went dark separately is strong evidence that the plane’s disappearance was deliberate.
On Sunday, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said at a news conference that that the final, reassuring words from the cockpit — “All right, good night” — were spoken to air traffic controllers after the ACARS system was shut down. Whoever spoke did not mention any trouble on board, seemingly misleading ground control.
Air force Maj. Gen. Affendi Buang told reporters he did not know whether it was the pilot or co-pilot who spoke to air traffic controllers.
Given the expanse of land and water that might need to be searched, the wreckage of the plane might take months _ or longer _ to find, or might never be located. Establishing what happened with any degree of certainty will likely need key information, including cockpit voice recordings, from the plane’s flight data recorders.
The search area now includes 11 countries the plane might have flown over, Hishammuddin said, adding that the number of countries involved in the operation had increased from 14 to 25.
“The search was already a highly complex, multinational effort. It has now become even more difficult,” he said.
The search effort initially focused on the relatively shallow waters of the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca, where the plane was first thought to be. Hishammuddin said he had asked governments to hand over sensitive radar and satellite data to try and help get a better idea of the plane’s final movements.
“It is our hope with the new information, parties that can come forward and narrow the search to an area that is more feasible,” he said.
Malaysia is leading the multinational search for the plane, as well as the investigation into its disappearance.
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