Po-faced diligence has its place
EDITORIAL: Have we all, by now, finished making derisive comments about US officials initially denying a British baby a visa on the grounds that his documentation raised a terrorist alert?
Possibly not. Take your time. We can wait.
Of course the imagery of officials scrutinising the credentials of the three-month-old baby Harvey is all sorts of ridiculous.
Two questions immediately arise from the realisation that the child's grandfather, filling in the form, gave a tick to the question: Do you seek to engage in, or have you ever engaged in, terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage or genocide?"
The first is what on earth the question was doing there in the first place? Among their many sins, terrorists have been known to be big fat fibbers. Shocking, but true.
The answer, surely, is that should authorities later be looking for a handy offence to use to take initial action against someone, "making a false declaration" is a readily accessible, and perhaps lower-threshold starting point to be swiftly brought into play with more seriously relevant charges to follow.
And if for some reason it all swiftly falls over, it is arguably a less serious failure than having explicitly accused someone of worse crimes from the very get-go.
The other question is how the baby's grandfather, or anyone, could be quite so careless as to tick yes to such a query.
We can all be guilty of not reading the fine print, and baby Harvey's was the fifth in a production line of forms the grandfather had been filling out for his family.
Even so, the degree of thoughtlessness required was considerable.
The operational upshot was not all that unreasonable. The grandfather, rather moreso than the baby, was summonsed to the US embassy for what the news media called "a grilling". For that we can read an explanation.
Fair enough.The officials are entitled to a degree of interest in the actual intentions of this or any adult who is taking the line "I said it on your form but I didn't mean it".
He did in the end get the visa for his grandson and the mistake left him NZ$5400 out of pocket. Presumably rebooking flights and travel expenses accounted for a lot of that.
Bottom line: the rest of us get to chuckle and slap our foreheads and comment upon the times we live in. But it's for the best if anti-terrorism safeguards, such as they are, aren't necessarily stood down the very instant things look more or less plausible.
If there's one area where we should have a degree of appreciation for even po-faced official diligence, terrorism would be it.