Airport Security Tightens After Attempted Bombing

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Host Scott Simon speaks with Douglas Laird, an airline security consultant about what kinds of increased security measures passengers can expect as a result of the attempted attack on a passenger plane in Detroit Friday. Laird is the former security director for Northwest Airlines, and claims to have warned the airline industry of the inefficiency of its screening methods for years.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

We're continuing to follow the news out of Detroit on yesterday's attempted terrorist attack aboard an airliner. A Nigerian man's in federal custody for allegedly trying to set off an incendiary device aboard an Northwest Airlines flight. He was thwarted by passengers and crewmembers who overpowered him.

In the aftermath, the Department of Homeland Security is warning passengers to expect additional screening at airports in this busy holiday travel weekend. NPR's Jennifer Ludden now joins us from Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.

Jennifer, thanks for being with us.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: Thanks, Scott.

SIMON: So everybody, passengers seem to be accepting this? What's going on there?

LUDDEN: They really are. You know, it's a slow travel day. You know, people are where they are for the holidays. The real test is going to be tomorrow and later in the week as they start to go home from their holiday travel. But today, really there are short lines by all appearances. They look to be moving right along. No officials here will tell us specifically if they have changed screening procedures. I did speak to some arriving passengers. One woman who'd landed from Ft. Lauderdale joked that it seemed like there was less screening than normal. So you know, today things really moving along.

SIMON: And you've had a chance to talk to any passengers as to what they're frame of mind is today traveling?

LUDDEN: They really do seem to be taking it in stride. Now, one family showed up probably a good half hour earlier, they said, than they normally would have, in case there was more intensive screening. You know, people said it does make them worried and slightly concerned, but not overly so. They're going ahead with their plans, they expressed a lot of confidence in U.S. screening measures. You know, rightly or wrongly, some people seem to be relieved that this flight had originated in Europe and not in the United States, although one woman said, You know what, even if it was a domestic flight, wouldn't change anything for me, you just gotta have faith.

I spoke to one man who, you know, joked around that now we have our shoes screened, maybe we'll have to have our pants screened, because this guy hid something under his pants.

So really people are taking it in stride and being very calm about it.

SIMON: Well, NPR's Jennifer Ludden on the scene at Reagan National Airport, thanks very much for being with us.

LUDDEN: Thank you.

SIMON: We're joined now by Douglas Laird. He was in charge of security for Northwest Airlines from 1989 to 1995. He is now president of Laird & Associates, that's an airline security consulting firm in Nevada. He joins us from Reno. Mr. Laird, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. DOUGLAS LAIRD (President, Laird & Associates): Good morning.

SIMON: And you believe very strongly that - no half measures. I don't mean to put words in your mouth, but you have spoken forcefully in behalf of full body scans.

Mr. LAIRD: I think that's one thing that we have to do. There is no doubt whatsoever it's necessary. And within the industry and the security segment, it's been talked about for probably 20 years. The problem being that unless you do a body scan, you don't know what the person is hiding on their person - an example being this latest incident, where they are talking about liquids and powders. If you put the liquid and powder, say, in a baggy and tape it to your leg, you could walk through the metal detector, it wouldn't be seen. Unless you did the sniffer test for vapor particles, you wouldn't find it. So there is no way for the security people to find these items.

SIMON: Some of the passengers on this jet that landed in Detroit apparently had originated from Lagos.

Mr. LAIRD: Yes.

SIMON: If they were changing planes in Amsterdam, they would have to go through the famous security there are at Schiphol.

Mr. LAIRD: They would actually go through multiple layers of security because they were coming in from a country that doesn't meet the European standards in the true sense. They would be screened before they were allowed in the airport and then because they are on an American flight carrier, Northwest, they would be screened again at the checkpoint, at the gate, and then quarantined before they got on the flight.

SIMON: Mr. Laird, what would you say to millions of Americans and others who are going to be, I think we can fairly predict huffing and puffing and getting impatient in long security lines this weekend, and particularly with the sensation that it's all for naught. Because in fact, as this incident demonstrates, that doesn't necessarily lead to greater security.

Mr. LAIRD: I think it is for naught, because again, they don't have the right technology. I think the real issue is we should do what has to be done and move forward and the TSA needs to do a better job of explaining people why we need body scans. And there is other technologies as well, but to me that's the key item.

SIMON: Douglas Laird, president of Laird & Associates, a security firm, joining us from Reno. Thanks so much.

Mr. LAIRD: Thank you, sir.

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