The Wall Street Journal

By Doug Cameron

A senior official said Wednesday that the U.S. is open to establishing more customs posts at airports in Europe, Asia and the Middle East to help combat ongoing terrorist threats.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, is pursuing a controversial plan to establish an immigration clearance facility with its own staff at Abu Dhabi's international airport. Passengers heading for the U.S. would be able to avoid long lines when they arrive by clearing customs and immigration in the United Arab Emirates, whose government is funding 85% of the cost.

"We're very open to doing [this] in locations in Europe and Asia," said Kevin McAleenan, acting deputy commissioner at the CBP, part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Mr. McAleenan was answering questions at a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade. Opponents of the Abu Dhabi facility contend it will distort industry competition and have questioned why the new facility is being located in the Gulf emirate.

Mr. McAleenan said the move would free up resources to staff U.S. airports and was part of a broader effort to tackle terrorism by tracking the movements of potential threats.

He said the CBP wants to establish similar facilities at other airports with higher volumes of "terrorist related" airline traffic such as nearby Dubai, which has expressed interest in securing its own U.S. customs post.

However, Mr. McAleenan said domestic budget constraints would require overseas airports or governments to contribute to the cost of any new facilities.

The Abu Dhabi plan has drawn sharp criticism from U.S. and European airlines, which argue it gives Etihad Airways—the emirate's flagship carrier—an unfair competitive advantage over rivals whose passengers are forced to stand in lines at U.S. airports.

State-owned Etihad has daily flights to New York, Washington and Chicago, while no U.S. carriers currently serve Abu Dhabi.

"The national-security benefit seems to be unclear at the moment," said subcommittee Chairman Rep. Ted Poe (R., Texas) of the Abu Dhabi plan in his opening remarks, noting that determined terrorists would be "smart" enough to go to an airport, such as Dubai, that lacked a U.S. facility.

Abu Dhabi would only be the 15th airport to secure advance customs clearance. Ireland's Shannon Airport became the first outside North America when a post was opened in 1999 and was later joined by Dublin. The CBP also operates facilities at nine Canadian airports as well as posts in Bermuda, Aruba and the Bahamas.