Airline Passengers Abroad React To Tougher Security

This week, the Obama administration placed 14 so-called "countries of interest" on a list. People traveling through those countries en route to the U.S. will be subject to extra-intense screening. NPR correspondents check in with passengers at airports in two of the countries — Iraq and Nigeria — and in Italy, which is a key transit point for travelers headed to the U.S.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

President Obama has announced details from the White House review of what went wrong in the lead-up to the attempted Christmas Day bombing of an airplane. Mr. Obama said intelligence agencies will reshape how they prioritize terrorist threats.

President BARACK OBAMA: We must follow the leads that we get. And we must pursue them until plots are disrupted. And that means assigning clear lines of responsibility.

BLOCK: The president said a failure to connect the dots meant the Nigerian bombing suspect was not on the no-fly list, though he should've been. He said that list will be expanded and that there will be still more screening at airports. We'll have more on the president's remarks elsewhere in the program, but we're going to begin this hour by hearing about the impact of new security rules in foreign airports.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration placed 14 so-called countries of interest on a list. People from those countries, or who are traveling through those countries enroute to the U.S., will be subject to extra intense screening. We'll hear from airports in two countries on the list: Iraq and Nigeria. And from Italy, which is a key transit point for travelers headed to the U.S. First, to Nigeria.

(Soundbite of airport terminal)

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: This is Ofeibea Quist-Arcton and I've come to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Nigeria's capital Abuja to see whether these new tighter security and screening measures, A, have come into operation and B, what Nigerians traveling to the U.S. and other places think about the enhanced security. Right ahead of me is Departure C, and I'm just going to talk to the passengers to see what they think about the tighter new securities. Sir, your name please?

Mr. BASI BAN(ph): My name is Basi Ban. I leave in Columbus, Ohio, but I'm visiting Nigeria. I think sometimes you need to take a balance between security and freedom. And it seems that this point in time security kind of trumps out freedom and it's kind of inconvenient but it's warranted. I hope the American government tries to find a balance without making every Nigerian seem responsible for what that little guy did.

Ms. NELLA AMDEM ELA(ph): My name is Nella Amdem Ela and I'm a legal practitioner. I think it's very offensive. As a matter of fact, I'm embarrassed for America to isolate Nigeria for a singular offense when what they should be doing is to place the blame where it ought to be, because if the father of a child tells that there was need to report the unusual behavior of his son and obviously there was a lapse somewhere.

QUIST-ARCTON: So, what's your message to President Obama?

Ms. ELA: Actually he was number one on my list. I mean I used to be his fan but I'm beginning to question who he is really and what he stands for. I'm beginning to question it because he should have thought better and asked more questions. And place the blame where it ought to be. And find out where the loopholes were. (Unintelligible) can treat Nigeria as he wishes with his left hand? I'm embarrassed for him.

QUIST-ARCTON: So, will you traveling to the U.S. in the future ma'am.

Ms. ELA: I couldn't be bothered to go there because I won't be insulted, certainly not.

QUIST-ARCTON: Thank you. And that's the view from Nigeria. For NPR News, this is Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reporting from Abuja International Airport.

(Soundbite of airport terminal)

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: This is Sylvia Poggioli in Rome, where Fiumicino Airport is one of Europe's key hubs to the United States. But at this security checkpoint there are few visible signs of stepped-up screening as passengers walk through metal detectors. Susanah Coppola(ph) is one traveler not in favor of body scanners.

Ms. SUSAN COPPOLA: (Foreign language spoken)

POGGIOLI: I don't think we need to go so far to examine passengers, she says. We're bombarded with scare stories, she adds, that's what makes us scared of flying. Another traveler Giuseppe Mancini(ph) has fewer qualms.

Mr. GIUSEPPE MANCINI: (Foreign language spoken)

POGGIOLI: It's better to have security he says. Privacy can take second place but these Americans he adds are always asking an awful lot from us. Within two or three months, Rome, Milan and Venice airports will be equipped with full-body scanners for people traveling to the U.S., Britain and Israel, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni announced today.

Mr. ROBERTO MARONI (Interior Minister, Italy): (Through Translator) Security comes first for everything else for those who fly. And body scanners will be installed in compliance with health and privacy requirements.

POGGIOLI: But meeting in Brussels today, European aviation officials were divided. Belgium Secretary of State for Transport Etienne Schouppe said such enhanced measures are excessive, adding that he felt Americans are exaggerating and the security controls in most European airports are strict enough. Spain also expressed skepticism while the French government remains uncommitted. Germany has posed three conditions before scanners can be deployed: that they increase security, that they pose no health risks and that they don't harm an individual's rights. Some European security analysts question the effectiveness of body scanners, saying the attempted attack on the Christmas Day Amsterdam-Detroit flight was a failure of intelligence, not lack of technology.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

QUIL LAWRENCE: I'm Quil Lawrence in Baghdad. This isn't the sound of Baghdad International Airport. In fact this isn't even the parking lot outside Baghdad International Airport. It's the parking lot about a quarter of a mile away where most people traveling to the United States or anywhere outside Iraq have to get out of their cars, unload their bags, and get into an airport approved shuttle bus. Baghdad Airport might be the most elaborately secured commercial airport in the world, not least because it's surrounded by one of the biggest U.S. military bases in Iraq. As such, there really isn't much to do to increase security here. Every single person that makes it even to the airport lounge has been ID'd, metal detected, physically searched and had their set out in the road to be sniffed by a German shepherd.

Mr. ALI ABU TAHER(ph): (Foreign language Spoken)

LAWRENCE: Ali Abu Taher is on the way to Amsterdam with his son. He says it doesn't bother him to spend extra time getting to the airport. The road out to the airport used to be one of the most dangerous in Iraq. It's now considered relatively safe. And once inside, the extra measures can provide a rare sense of, well, security. Khadim Rahim(ph) works here loading suitcases.

Mr. KHADIM RAHIM: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Baghdad is pretty good these days, says Rahim, but when I get past this checkpoint I finally feel safe. In fact for Iraqi civilians coming to the airport might actually relieve stress. There are still no direct flights from Baghdad to the United States so Iraqis will most likely notice any changes in U.S. security on the next leg of their journey. But again, that sort of special treatment is nothing new. In fact, the flights leaving here for some major airports like Dubai or Istanbul already land at a special terminal with an extra special layer of security checks for planes coming from Iraq.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Baghdad.

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