New air­port screen­ing for flights to U.S. tar­gets ter­ror plots

Alarm sounded on ‘web of threats’

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials sounded a ma­jor alarm Wed­nes­day about the world’s air­lines, re­veal­ing a “web of threats” they said prove ter­ror­ists re­main de­ter­mined to at­tack air­craft fly­ing into the U.S. — and an­nounc­ing a new round of in­creased screen­ing for in­bound pas­sen­gers.

Sec­re­tary John F. Kelly de­cided against ex­pand­ing the lap­top ban, which ap­plies to 10 for­eign air­ports. He in­stead ar­gued that en­hanced screen­ing world­wide can im­prove safety with­out re­sort­ing to the painful step of mak­ing pas­sen­gers forgo their large electronics while sit­ting in the cabin.

He said there will be more bomb­sniff­ing dogs and tighter electronics screen­ing, as well as other mea­sures pas­sen­gers won’t nec­es­sar­ily see.

Air­lines that com­ply with the new se­cret di­rec­tives will be al­lowed to fly into the U.S. with no re­stric­tions, of­fi­cials said, but those that fail to com­ply with the di­rec­tives could have lap­tops and other large de­vices banned from flights or even lose their flight priv­i­leges into the U.S.

“In­ac­tion is not an op­tion,” Mr. Kelly said at the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity, where he de­clared the new steps as just a “start­ing point.”

Of­fi­cials brief­ing re­porters re­fused to say ex­actly what the en­hanced meth­ods would in­clude or whether they would de­lay pas­sen­gers. The depart­ment said that de­pends on how car­ri­ers and for­eign air­ports im­ple­ment the pro­ce­dures, which ap­pears aimed at try­ing to pre­vent ter­ror­ists from smug­gling bombs hid­den in­side lap­tops on board a plane.

Mr. Kelly said the goals are to spot po­ten­tial threats in the equip­ment pas­sen­gers bring onto planes, to iden­tify sus­pi­cious trav­el­ers and to sniff out “in­sider threats.”

Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials say part of the web of threats they have detected re­cently in­volves ter­ror­ists hop­ing to re­cruit air­port and air­line “in­sid­ers” who would be in po­si­tions to cause se­ri­ous dam­age.

For months, Mr. Kelly had been warn­ing he would ex­pand the ban that has been in place since March for flights

to the U.S. from 10 for­eign air­ports, all serv­ing pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim na­tions in the Mid­dle East.

Air­lines and Euro­pean lead­ers ve­he­mently fought an ex­pan­sion of the ban on lap­tops, which ap­plies to any elec­tronic larger than a smart­phone.

Wed­nes­day’s pol­icy ap­pears to be an at­tempt to com­pro­mise, though depart­ment of­fi­cials in­sisted they have not backed down but rather found a so­lu­tion that could work for all sides.

Brief­ing re­porters ahead of Mr. Kelly’s an­nounce­ment, se­nior Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said the depart­ment for years had been play­ing catch-up to threats, in­clud­ing the un­der­wear bomber, the dan­ger from liq­uids and the po­ten­tial of a lap­top ex­plo­sive.

Rather than ban­ning a spe­cific items, the of­fi­cials said, their ap­proach should step up the over­all se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment.

The 10 air­ports where the lap­top ban is in place can earn their way off the list if air­lines there agree to the stricter screen­ing, of­fi­cials said.

Air­lines pre­fer a more fo­cused ap­proach based on risk as­sess­ments at each air­port in­stead of a world­wide set of pro­ce­dures. But Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said they wanted to set an in­ter­na­tional stan­dard.

“We can­not play in­ter­na­tional whack-a-mole with each new threat,” Mr. Kelly said. “In­stead, we must put in place new mea­sures across the board to keep the trav­el­ing public safe and make it harder for ter­ror­ists to suc­ceed.”

There are 280 in­ter­na­tional air­ports in 105 coun­tries that have di­rect flights to the U.S. They av­er­age roughly 2,000 flights a day, to­tal­ing about 325,000 pas­sen­gers.

The travel in­dus­try seemed re­signed to the new pro­ce­dures and praised the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion for talk­ing through the is­sues with stake­hold­ers.

“We can­not push our travel sys­tem to the limit or risk the un­in­tended con­se­quences of too heavy a bur­den on air­ports, air­lines and trav­el­ers. We must en­sure se­cu­rity at all costs, but our govern­ment also has an im­per­a­tive to keep trade and com­merce flow­ing,” said Jonathan Grella, an ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent at the U.S. Travel As­so­ci­a­tion.

He also urged the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to is­sue a wel­com­ing mes­sage to in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers along with the new se­cu­rity pro­ce­dures.

The avi­a­tion sys­tem has been a tar­get since the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks on the Pen­tagon and the World Trade Cen­ter. In the years since, a num­ber of plots have been thwarted, in­clud­ing those of Richard Reid, who at­tempted to det­o­nate ex­plo­sives in his shoes, and Umar Farouk Ab­dul­mu­tal­lab, who had plas­tic ex­plo­sives in his un­der­wear but botched the ig­ni­tion at­tempt. Also averted was a 2006 plot in Bri­tain to try to use liq­uids to make an ex­plo­sive.

Mr. Kelly said ter­ror­ists still see an at­tack on com­mer­cial avi­a­tion as “the great­est take­down” and are search­ing for weak links to ex­ploit.

The threat of ex­plo­sives in large electronics came from in­tel­li­gence gath­ered by Is­rael, which re­port­edly hacked into an Is­lamic State bomb­mak­ing cell and dis­cov­ered the plot.

Flights within the U.S. won’t be af­fected be­cause Amer­i­can air­ports al­ready have en­hanced mea­sures, Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said.


“In­ac­tion is not an op­tion,” Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John F. Kelly said about the tight­ened se­cu­rity mea­sures for in­ter­na­tional flights into the U.S. He de­clared the new steps as just a “start­ing point.”

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