For Immediate Release December 19, 2002
I would like to state for the record that US citizen have never been subjected to heightened immigration scrutiny or refused entry into the territory as a result of our August 7, 2002 security alert. US citizens and legal residents continue to enjoy full access to the United States Territory of American Samoa.
American Samoa is an unincorporated U.S. trust territory located in the middle of this South Pacific with foreign island countries as its neighbors. As a result of its cession as a US territory in the early 1900ís, American Samoa retained authority over its borders and immigration. American Samoa is the only U.S. possession in the southern hemisphere.
As in the US, September 11, 2001, confronted American Samoa with serious security concerns-perhaps graver concerns as American Samoa is an isolated island group with extremely limited financial resources.
On or about August 5, 2002, we learned of a credible security threat in the Independent State of Samoa, a foreign country approximately 60 nautical miles west of American Samoa. It was reported that a Middle Eastern man was seen conducting surveillance and photographing the Embassy in Apia, the capital of the Independent State of Samoa. Because this matter remains under active investigation, we are not at liberty to disclose further details.
On learning of that threat, we immediately issued an immigration Security Alert heightening scrutiny for entry into the territory of individuals of middle-eastern descent and features. Our paramount consideration was the safety of the residents of American Samoa.
The Security Alert was intentionally phrased in overbroad terms. Because of our limited security and immigration resources, we cast as wide a net as possible to ensure to the greatest extent possible the security of American Samoa. The fact is, our local immigration office only recently acquired a basic computer system through some funding from the Department of Interior and just this past Friday, December 15, 2002, we began using passport scanners at our airport. We hope to gain access to databases utilized at US entry ports, however it should be noted here that we are not considered a US port of entry. The bottom line is that our territory simply does not now have the resources to adequately screen and track foreign individuals desiring to enter American Samoa.
The Security Alert has raised understandable concerns in the US. Rest assured that American Samoa does not condone discriminatory practices-such are illegal here. Nor was the Security Alert in any way intended to restrict travel and into and out of American Samoa for any US citizen or legal resident of American Samoa. In fact, since the implementation of this alert no US citizen been subjected to heightened immigration scrutiny or refused entry into the territory. US citizens and legal residents continue to enjoy full access to American Samoa.
Our Security Alert has remained in place since its issuance as we were unable to confirm the threatís status. Though part of the effort to improve security in the US includes intelligence information sharing, certain federal agencies simply failed to provide us with threat information from within our region and updates as requested. In this particular case, American Samoa had to rely on information from unofficial sources from neighboring countries. The lack of intelligence sharing information from the federal level within our region is why my administration called upon the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in October to consider assuming a regional security mandate (letter attached). Perhaps there is an upshot of the controversy surrounding our Security Alert because we now know from reports provided to us today by the US Department of State that the threat level is diminished.
With the change in circumstances, we are now issuing a modification to our Security Alert based on the US State Department country watch list, a copy of which is attached hereto. Again, due to our unique circumstances, our government reserves the right to institute whatever security means are necessary to mitigate terrorism threats to our territory and its residents. While individual liberties are important to us, equally important is the security and safety of our people.
Governor of American Samoa
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED