PHOTO: A Department of Defense file photo of Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly (Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro, via Flickr/Chairman of the Joint Chiefs)
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, on an official visit to Canada, has told the Canadian media that there are “dozens and dozens” of ongoing plots to blow up airplanes in the United States, according to Toronto newspaper, The Star.
In an interview on Power Play a news program on Canada’s CTV Network, Kelly said, “The most significant threat is a terrorist attack I think on aviation. That seems to be their Stanley Cup playoff. They want to knock down airplanes and they are trying every day to do it.”
Kelly, who was in Ottawa to meet with Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Ralph Goodale as well as other Canadian officials, also said, “I can’t count the number of airplanes that have not been blown up in flight, whether they are United [Airlines] or Air Canada...but I can tell you there are dozens of plots ongoing all the time.
Air Canada was quick to respond that it was not the target of any such plots, and later an official from the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement that Kelly was not referring to a specific threat against any one airline.
“The Secretary was talking generally about the well-known threat to civil aviation from terrorist plots,” said the statement. “He was not referring to a specific threat against any one airline. He used the names of airlines simply to illustrate the point that all airlines are at risk.”
While in Canada, Kelly also met with Goodale, as well as the Minister of Transport Marc Garneau, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed D. Hussen and Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland on Canada-U.S. security-related issues such as aviation security, law enforcement collaboration, infrastructure, and immigration, refugee and visa policy.
High priority was given to a discussion on trusted traveler programs and the proposed expansion of preclearance operations between the two nations.
Currently, preclearance serves some 12 million passengers a year on flights from Canada’s eight largest airports. After a state visit by Prime Minster Justin Trudeau to Washington D.C. last year, Trudeau and President Obama announced the program would expand to include two additional airports and two rail stations in Canada.
READ MORE: Canada, U.S. to expand preclearance program
Before forward progress could be made, however, both the United States and Canada would need to pass bills, clarifying the responsibilities of border agents operating on foreign soil.
Although the bilateral bill has been signed into law in the United States, in Canada Bill C-23 is still awaiting a vote. If passed, the bill could eventually pave the way to preclearance at air, rail, maritime terminals and even land-based border crossings.
In Canada, the bill, which once seemed a lock, has received its share of criticism lately, as it calls for expanded powers for U.S. border agents based in Canada. (Canadian border agents operating in the United States would also have a reciprocal expansion of powers.) In particular, critics are concerned with ambiguous language that could allow U.S. border agents to arrest Canadian citizens on Canadian soil.
Both Kelly and Goodale are in favor of an expanded preclearance program.
“We recognize the importance of consistent, predictable and respectful interactions at the border for travelers in both directions, and we will continue to look for new ways to improve the flow of legitimate trade and travel,” said Kelly and Goodale in a joint statement released by Canada’s Office of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the Department of Homeland Security. “The secure and efficient movement of goods and people across the border helps create jobs and foster economic growth and is vital to the livelihoods of millions of Americans and Canadians. “
The two agencies have also “reaffirmed” their commitment to sharing information on threats to both countries. In addition to border issues, the two agencies also promised to work together on issues of cyber security, critical infrastructure, trade enforcement and countering radicalization to violence.