U.S. Tightens Domestic Airport Security U.S. officials have tightened security at American airports, creating delays for some travelers. The additional security is the result of an alleged aircraft bombing plot targeting U.S.-bound flights from Britain.
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U.S. Tightens Domestic Airport Security

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U.S. Tightens Domestic Airport Security

U.S. Tightens Domestic Airport Security

U.S. Tightens Domestic Airport Security

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U.S. officials have tightened security at American airports, creating delays for some travelers. The additional security is the result of an alleged aircraft bombing plot targeting U.S.-bound flights from Britain.

RENÉE MONTAGNE, host:

We turn now to NPR Homeland Security correspondent Pam Fessler. Good morning.

PAM FESSLER reporting:

Good morning.

MONTAGNE: You've been following this morning's events and the U.S. response to the arrest in London. What do the U.S. authorities seem to know about the foiled plot at this point?

FESSLER: Well, they're clearly in the middle of an investigation, working very closely with the British authorities. We know, obviously, that 21 individuals are in custody in relationship to the alleged plot, but they are clearly very concerned, and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff repeatedly said that this was something that was very imminent, not in the thinking stages where we've had some arrests recently where people have just only been alleged to have been thinking about plotting an attack.

He also would not say one way or another whether or not officials believe that all those involved had been caught. As you know, we have raised the threat level for flights from the United Kingdom to the United States to the level red, which does seem to indicate that they think that there might be a chance that some of those involved are still at large.

MONTAGNE: And what else besides raising that threat level to red is the U.S. doing in terms of response?

FESSLER: Well, authorities have raised the alert level for all U.S. flights. Those are within the United States and international flights coming in and leaving the United States to orange. They have also banned all liquids on carry-on luggage because, as you just spoke with John about, they were very concerned that this involves liquids that might have been mixed on the plane to create explosives.

So no liquids will be allowed on carry-on luggage: you have to check them in your baggage. There is an exception for baby formula and medicine, but individuals have to then be able to present those for inspection to the TSA authorities.

We're also going to see probably a lot more - there will be more federal air marshals on international flights from Great Britain. You'll see more canine teams around airports. There will be much, much greater scrutiny of all passengers coming in and leaving the United States.

MONTAGNE: So leave that bottled water and hand lotion at home, and what else should people who are traveling by air this morning know about traveling here in the U.S.?

FESSLER: Well, the people are just going to have to expect delays, and they have said that people - they hope that people will be patient. One thing right now, even though they've asked everybody to stop liquids, it's not clear to me that our existing technology could actually detect whether or not somebody is bringing liquid onto a flight against these rules, and I expect there's going to be a lot of hand-searching of carry-on luggage, a lot more than people are used to, and they should expect very long delays and lines.

MONTAGNE: But of course, carry-on luggage is okay in the U.S.? In Britain they're not allowing even the luggage itself.

FESSLER: Right. And actually, a lot of these alerts in the United States, authorities say they're taking as a precaution. One, they're concerned about any copycat attacks or plans or plots, and the other thing is just as a precaution, because they're not sure right now the extent of this plot and whether or not they have everybody in custody.

MONTAGNE: NPR Homeland Security correspondence Pam Fessler. This MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renée Montagne.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

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U.S. Raises Airline Threat Level to Highest Level

New restrictions prohibiting any liquids in carry-on luggage are posted Thursday at a check-in line at JFK Airport in New York. Henny Ray Abrams/AP hide caption

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Henny Ray Abrams/AP

New restrictions prohibiting any liquids in carry-on luggage are posted Thursday at a check-in line at JFK Airport in New York.

Henny Ray Abrams/AP

New Air Security Measures

There are approximately 106 flights per day between the United Kingdom and the United States. The Department of Homeland Security is taking a number of heightened protective measures to ensure the continued safety and security of international and domestic air travel.

No liquids or gels of any kind will be permitted in carry-on baggage. Items must be in checked baggage.

  • This includes all beverages, shampoo, suntan lotion, creams, toothpaste, hair gel, and other items of similar consistency.
  • Exception: Baby formula, breast milk, or juice if a baby or small child is traveling; prescription medicine with a name that matches the passenger’s ticket; and insulin and essential other non-prescription medicines
  • Beverages purchased in the sterile area must be consumed before boarding because they will not be permitted onboard the aircraft.
  • Passengers traveling from the U.K. to the U.S. will be subject to a more extensive screening process.

The Federal Air Marshals Service (FAMS) will provide expanded mission coverage for flights from the United Kingdom to the United States.

  • These measures will be constantly evaluated and updated when circumstances warrant.

Travelers can assist security agencies by:

  • Packing lightly, without clutter to facilitate easier screening.
  • Check with your air carrier well before your flight departs for information on when you should arrive at the airport.
  • Cooperating with TSA personnel at all checkpoints and gates because TSA Security Officers will be checking carry-on baggage at the gate.
  • Being attentive and vigilant to any suspicious activity.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States issued its highest terrorism alert for commercial flights from Britain and raised security on all domestic and international flights after a major terror plot was foiled in London. The Bush administration said the scheme was "suggestive of an al-Qaida plot."

"We were really getting quite close to the execution phase," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said at a news conference with FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Terrorists had targeted United, American and Continental Air Lines, two U.S. counterrorism officials said. The plot envisioned mid-flight explosions on multiple aircraft using bomb components brought on board in benign state and combined once the planes were aloft, officials said.

The plot was aimed at flights to New York, Washington and California, all major summer tourist destinations, officials said.

The administration raised the threat level for flights from Britain to "red," designating a severe risk of terrorist attacks.

All other flights, including all domestic flights in the United States, were put under an "orange," alert -- one step below the highest level.

Heightened security caused long lines and delays at airport security checkpoints. The government banned passengers from carrying all liquids and gels, including toothpaste, makeup, suntan lotion. Baby formula and medicines were exempted.

"We are taking some very serious and inconvenient measures," Chertoff said. He said it was advisable to have more protection and scale it back, then not to act at all.

Chertoff said there was no indication of plotting in the United States but said officials cannot assume that the terror operation in Britain had been completely thwarted. He said the plot appeared to be engineered by al-Qaida, the terrorist group that carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attack against the United States.

"It was sophisticated, it had a lot of members and it was international in scope," said Chertoff. "It was in some respects suggestive of an al-Qaida plot."

He added, however, that "because the investigation is still under way we cannot yet form a definitive conclusion."

Gonzales said the operation could "potentially kill hundreds of innocent people." Britain said 21 people had been arrested, including the alleged "main players" in the plot.

Mueller also pointed at al-Qaida. "This had the earmarks of an al-Qaida plot," he said.

The alleged plot was "as sophisticated as any we have seen in recent years as far as terrorism is concerned," Chertoff said.

He said there was no indication of any plotting in the United States but that the government was taking steps to protect against unseen threats or copycat attacks. "We cannot assume that this threat has been completely thwarted," the secretary said.

"There's sufficient uncertainty as to whether the British have scooped up everybody," Chertoff added. Gonzales said the operation could "potentially kill hundreds of innocent people." Chertoff said the plot was "as sophisticated as any we have seen in recent years as far as terrorism is concerned."

Hastily printed signs were posted at major airports warning passengers in red capital letters, "No liquid or gels permitted beyond security."

It is the first time the red alert level in the Homeland Security warning system has been invoked, although there have been brief periods in the past when the orange level was applied.

Homeland Security defines the red alert as designating a "severe risk of terrorist attacks."

There were no commercial passenger planes in the air from Britain to the United States when the red alert was issued, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said. She said three cargo planes aloft from London -- two Lufthansa and one UPS plane -- were allowed to continue because the threat was focused on passenger planes.

Officials said the government has been aware of the nature of the threat for several days, and President Bush, vacationing in Texas, was fully briefed. Prime Minister Tony Blair's office said in London that the prime minister, vacationing in the Caribbean, had briefed Bush overnight.

The U.S. Northern Command, the military headquarters established in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, was "monitoring and ... a little bit more vigilant today," said spokesman Michael Kucharek, declining to be more specific.

"I'm not going to say it's business as usual," he said. "We're looking at all sources of information - this is a real threat to the nation."

The plot was not believed to be connected to a group of Egyptian students who disappeared in the United States more than a week ago before reaching a college they were supposed to attend in Montana.

Three of the 11 have since been found and the FBI has said neither they nor the still-missing eight are believed to be a threat.

As part of the foiled Bojinka Plot to blow up 12 Western airliners simultaneously over the Pacific Ocean in the mid-1990s, terrorist mastermind Ramzi Youssef planned to put together an improvised bomb using liquid in a contact lens solution container.

The metal detector and X-ray machines at airport security checkpoints cannot detect such explosives. At many, but not all airport checkpoints, the TSA has deployed walkthrough "sniffer" or "puffer" machines that can detect explosives residue.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.