Apr 22, 2012

Virgin: Robinson stopped because of “response from security services”

Virgin Atlantic, the airline that stopped Australian human rights lawyer Jen Robinson last Thursday and told her she was on an "inhibited list" that required approval from the Australia

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Virgin Atlantic, the airline that stopped Australian human rights lawyer Jen Robinson last Thursday and told her she was on an “inhibited list” that required approval from the Australian High Commission to return home, has told Crikey that “security services” were responsible for the incident and directed further questions to the British Home Office.

The stopping of Robinson, who was later allowed to board her Heathrow flight to Sydney via Hong Kong without any contact being made with Australia House, caused a furore that Attorney-General Nicola Roxon says prompted the government to request the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – initially suspected by Robinson of being behind the incident – to seek an explanation from the UK.

The term “inhibited” is used by the US Department of Homeland Security to refer to passengers who should not be given access to aircraft or “sterile” areas of international airports without additional on-the-spot government approval.

Virgin’s statement appears to sheet home responsibility to UK security services. The company’s Australian office told Crikey that its UK head office had advised:

what happened with Ms Robinson was absolutely a matter of security so therefore something we can’t really comment on. As the airline we don’t make decisions on security issues like this, we only act on a response from the security services which is what happened with Ms Robinson last week. This was not an airline issue, it was a security issues and something that security services or the Home Office could perhaps comment on?

Last Thursday evening ABC journalist Jeff Waters contacted the UK Border Agency and was told that the stopping of Robinson was nothing to do with UK authorities. Clearly Virgin’s statement contradicts that. We now have DFAT, the UK Border Agency and the airline all blaming another party for Robinson being stopped.

A response is being sought from the Home Office.

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11 thoughts on “Virgin: Robinson stopped because of “response from security services”

  1. gapot

    OK whats the problem with my comment

  2. johnb78

    Virgin Atlantic has a great many flights from London to the US. Therefore, it presumably has computer systems that will reveal when an ‘inhibited’ person tries to check in for a flight. If I had to bet on what’s going on here, then I’d go for:
    1) the Yanks have put Robinson on the inhibited list, despite being no kind of terrorist threat, due to their general Wikileaks petulance; and
    2) either Virgin has an internal policy of refusing to fly anyone on the inhibited list anywhere, or ground crew and managers in LHR on the day misunderstood what the ‘inhibited’ flag on their database meant and thought it applied to all flights everywhere.

  3. sardine

    Perhaps someone needs to ask the US embassy or have DFAT ask the US. The Brits wouldn’t have done it as they know where she, when she is going to travel, when she checks in, etc. Australia would know as that’s the destination, but the one country that really cares about Assange and Wikileaks is the US and they don’t get European flight details unless the flight is going to the US, so this is way of being able to keep tabs on her wherever in the world she goes. It also fits with the US campaign of fear and intimidation when it comes to Assange and Wikileaks.

    Notice how the people denying involvement don’t go so far as to say who flagged her in the database, which they will all be able to see.

  4. Jean

    Is there anyone at all who feels more secure after going through airport security? Offended, insulted, grumbling while putting the belt and shoes back on …. my favourite is when a woman in a headscarf is on duty to check that I am not an Islamic terrorist.
    Welcome to the world of air travel, lawyer lady.
    Don’t hint to them that a biro could be used to poke someone in the eye, or they’ll leave you with nothing to fill out your arrival card with.

  5. gapot

    A week before this problem at Heathrow Ms Robinson went to Holland to attend a conference about the invasion of WEST PAPUA by the Indonesians. She had no problem flying from the UK to Holland, so the allert must have been issued after that. The Australian government on advice from Washington wants to sweep the WEST PAPUA invasion out of the media and have stated that its none of our business to interfere with the way Indonesia treates the native people in WEST PAPUA

  6. Graeme Harrison

    The good bit is that it may bring the Assange issue to the fore for the Australian government and DFAT.

    Once DFAT is brought kicking and screaming to the issue of how they allow allies to bully Australian citizens (who’ve done nothing illegal) for ‘security’ (not law enforcement)… they will have to come out on the side of Robinson, and be critical of whichever ally made the wrong call (failing to follow the rule of law, etc).

    Then it will bring Julian’s position to the head. How come any Australian government could fully abandon a citizen who was simply acting as a journalist, publishing material of public concern that was brought to his attention. Yes, the US may have a right to punish whistleblower Manning (but not torture him), but it has no greater right to punish Assange than the New York Times or the other news outlets which published some of their confidential data, as that is what Assange did.

    And I don’t think Scandinavians realise just how much their normally good position on citizen rights has been damaged as a result of Sweden’s dogged pursuit of Assange, seeking extradition for something that is not even an offence anywhere else but Sweden.

  7. willybach

    In all events, Australia has already experienced a cowboy Attorney General who made the law up in the shower. His name was Phillip Ruddock. Who can forget him? If Nicola Roxon is going to attempt, even subtly, to ‘inhibit’ (that word again) or pervert the course of justice at the behest of Washington, she is going to be setting the bar to a new low. It will be flat-out limbo-dancing for Australia on just about anything the US Commander-in-Chief demands of us. No thanks, I think I’d like a full disclosure in Parliament of this whole despicable incident.

  8. botswana bob

    As Alice observed about Wonderland, It gets curiouser and curiouser. Its the usual response of bureaucracies–pass the parcel to someone else. Virgin says ask U K Border Security,they say we know nothing and the Australian government says, we know nuthin’ about it mate. Well unless a security guard acted on his own initiative, it looks like the security services of the Home of Freedom & Democracy. Reports are that Robinson had words with U S Attorney-General Holder, and voicing opinions not liked by a government official nowadays is likely enough to get one on an official S**T list.
    Now that Virgin has confirmed it happened, hopefully we won’t hear from the usual suspects that Robinson made it up. Hopefully the Greens will pursue the matter, as the likelihood of Dillard doing anything and Abbo pursuing the matter are as likely as George Pell being correct about climate change.

  9. Matthew of Canberra

    I see NOBODY’S blaming the CIA. That mean they did it, for sure!

    Has anyone thought to ask bob brown? He’s the man with all the good agency contacts. He could just bring it up at the next debriefing or something.

  10. Greg Jones

    You are more than likely correct, but nothing short of full disclosure and a comprehensive investigation by the Australian Govt is needed right here and now to discover exactly which department, foreign secret service or otherwise, is responsible for her detention.

    We need action from the Australian Govt now!

  11. Frank Campbell

    you can bet it was British Unintelligence acting on behalf of the CIA.

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