Barbados PM says whoever is responsible will be held accountable

The United States Department of Homeland Security, the US Embassy in Bridgetown and the island’s National Security Council are conducting wide-ranging investigations into an alleged major security breach at the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA).

And a Defence Policy Specialist and National Security Agency analyst at the University of Miami has warned that travellers from Barbados could face tougher surveillance measures when they reach US shores.

The controversy follows the arrest of retired police officer Cameron Hinds, who was found with a revolver and five rounds of ammunition at the Miami International Airport after arriving from Barbados on American Airlines flight 1089.

The developments have put the country under scrutiny.

Barbados TODAY investigations have revealed that Hinds, an octogenarian, is a retired sergeant of the then titled Royal Barbados Police Force with more than three decades of service. Indications are that he is suffering from health issues related specifically to aging.

At a press conference on Friday morning, Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who chairs the National Security Council, declared that someone would be held accountable.

“I learnt about it [Thursday] morning and I have urgently requested a report which I expect to receive very, very soon. Somebody or bodies will be held accountable,” she told reporters.

“This notion that people can do things that are in breach of the law or in breach of acceptable standards and get away with impunity is not going to stand and the consequences for the country are grave and great. So, let us be very clear that those breaches will be dealt with,” the Prime Minister added.

Unnamed sources have also indicated that multinational security firm, G4S, which is contracted to oversee the airport security checkpoints, is also under the proverbial gun.

A spokesman for the US Embassy told Barbados TODAY that American officials were coordinating with aviation and law enforcement partners “to ensure the safety of all travellers between Barbados and the United States”.

In a separate statement, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of the US Department of Homeland Security revealed that “immediate action” was taken to obtain additional information from the Government of Barbados and launch an investigation on the island.

“TSA partners with countries to provide assistance, guidance and assessments to assure an airport’s security posture is in accordance with established international standards,” said the statement.

According to US reports, Hinds’ Ruger revolver was within reach for the entire four-hour trip – a clear breach of international security measures implemented after the 9/11 attacks just over 20 years ago.

“The gentleman was searched. He was patted down. He was scanned, but the firearm seemed to have been under a laptop and I think that’s where the blunder came because the officer who would have been reviewing his bag or checking the luggage should have taken the laptop out, or had him take the laptop out which is customary for the TSA,” Barbados’ Consul General to Miami, Neval Greenidge told the NBC 6 Investigators.

He said “airport scanners” would be retrained, among other steps to prevent such an event from reoccurring.

Hinds appeared in court on Friday on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon, which carries a maximum penalty in Florida of five years in prison and a fine of $5,000. He reportedly pleaded not guilty and will appear in court again in mid-December.

In a Barbados TODAY interview, University of Miami Professor of Political Science June Teufel Dreyer, who lectures courses in US defence policy and international relations, expressed shock at the turn of events.

“Don’t they have x-rays? The x-rays should have found the gun, even if it was underneath the laptop. X-rays go through everything,” she said.

While Dreyer does not foresee any long-term implications for Barbados, the lecturer does expect more careful surveillance of operations here and of passengers arriving from the island.

“Homeland security is going to be very careful and will ask the Barbados officials to be more vigilant on future passengers and, of course, themselves. When the person arrives in Miami from a flight from Barbados, they will take special care to examine them, I hope, until they are satisfied. This could happen and it’s very unfortunate… but it’s going to go away eventually,” she added. 

Former Minister of Tourism and International Transport Richard Sealy added that it was unlikely the saga would attract punitive measures from international authorities, such as downgrades to the airport’s ranking.

“They look for systemic breaches and the like. The system, I believe, works. This is an exceptional scenario and an investigation would have to be conducted before we can draw any firm conclusions,” said Sealy.

“The incident will attract attention. There is no question about it, but I think it can be and I sincerely hope that it can be appropriately managed and it does not have any long-lasting ramifications on our ability to attract and maintain airlift to Barbados,” the former minister added.

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