U.S. Changes Passenger-Screening Rules
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The Obama administration today unveiled new security procedures at international airports. They're meant to stop terrorists from boarding U.S.-bound flights. At the same time, the administration is ending the policy implemented after the attempted bombing of a jetliner on Christmas Day.
Those procedures called on every traveler from a list of 14 mostly Muslim nations to undergo additional screening.
NPR's Brian Naylor has the story.
BRIAN NAYLOR: Under the new policy, all U.S.-bound passengers face the possibility of additional screening if based on intelligence assessments it's thought they could pose a threat. The intelligence will include a range of factors such as where a traveler has been, how long she stayed, her name or her age.
Officials hope that information will flag people not on the government's watch list. The information will be provided to foreign governments and airlines who actually perform screening functions at airports outside the U.S. Stewart Baker is a former assistant secretary of Homeland Security. He says the new policy makes sense.
Mr. STEWART BAKER (Former Assistant Secretary, Department of Homeland Security): If the government has reason to believe that a lot of training for suicide attackers has been done in Yemen, they will announce that special scrutiny should be given to people who have spent a lot of time in Yemen in the last several months.
NAYLOR: The new procedures replace a policy put into place in the aftermath of the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound jet on Christmas Day in which a Nigerian man attempted to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear. The administration implemented a policy of requiring every passenger from a 14-nation list to undergo additional screening including patdowns and/or full body imaging. Baker says the old policies cast too wide a net to be of much use.
Mr. BAKER: It said everybody from 14 countries is going to get special scrutiny and special screening and other people are going to be treated the way they always have been. So if you're al-Qaida you just say, well, find me somebody from the 15th country and I'll send him.
NAYLOR: Baker says the new procedure is more sustainable. The measures it replaced were put into effect in response to the failure of security to detect the threat posed by the Nigerian suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. He was not on the government's watch list even though his father had raised concerns about his son to U.S. officials.
Abdulmutallab had recently traveled to Yemen, where an affiliate of al-Qaida was planning an attack on the U.S., but those dots were not connected. Aviation security consultant Douglas Laird calls the new policy a step in the right direction but says there's more work to be done.
Mr. DOUGLAS LAIRD (President,�Laird�& Associates): We have the right technology at the screening checkpoints today, for the most part. But the problem is the screeners don't know who it is they're looking at at any point in time. And the technologies don't communicate with each other.
NAYLOR: The administration intends to phase the policy in over the next few months as the summer travel season arrives. It was drawn up after consultations between Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and her foreign counterparts. In a statement Napolitano said the terrorist threat to global aviation is a shared challenge and ensuring aviation security is a shared responsibility.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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