Close air security gaps


POSTED: Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The terrorist attempt to blow up a plane bound for Detroit from Amsterdam has prompted a needed review of the nation's terror watch list and the screening of airline passengers. The security system should allow travelers to feel safe on international flights without being subjected to undue harassment.

Legitimate criticism was directed at the federal Transportation Security Administration after a passenger aboard the plane thwarted the attempt by a Nigerian man to set off a plastic explosive. Emerging yesterday from his home state vacation, President Barack Obama said at Marine Corps Air Station at Kaneohe Bay that Americans “;should be assured that we are doing everything in our power to keep you and your family safe and secure during this busy holiday season.”;

The larger concern is that the Nigerian was not red-flagged after his father, a prominent Nigerian banker and former government official, warned the American Embassy in Abuja in October that his son, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had developed radical views, had disappeared and might have traveled to Yemen. Abdulmutallab's American visa was not revoked and he was not put on the 4,000-name no-fly list or the list of 14,000 people subjected to thorough searches.

Although he was added to the 550,000 names of people with possible terrorist connections, his purchase of the Northwest Airline ticket to the U.S. with cash and the checking of no bags prompted no response. He carried the explosive in his underwear.

American officials should have known — if indeed they did not know — that the British government had rejected Abdulmutallab's student visa after determining that the academic course he cited was bogus and put him on a watch list to prevent him from re-entering Britain.

The explosive might have been detected by an advanced checkpoint screening device that creates an image of a passenger's body. Only 40 of those machines have been installed at U.S. airports. The Amsterdam airport has 15 of them, but an official there told The New York Times they are prohibited from being used on passengers bound for the United States.

At Honolulu International Airport, passengers arriving noticed increased security measures from the east without complaint.

“;If it's going to make us safer, then yes,”; New Zealand resident Bronson Daniels told the Star-Bulletin's Rob Shikina.

At the Tokyo airport, Wen-Lung and Linda Huang of Ann Arbor, Mich., had to check their infant daughter's car seat and portable stroller, which officials wrapped in plastic and heavy tape.

During a flight from South Korea, San Francisco businessman Henry Chen was surprised when a female flight attendant barged in on him in the restroom while he washed his face. A Korean Air flight attendant said new rules were provided to flight crews following the Detroit incident.

The increased security may have a brief effect on tourism. Heightened jitters — and delays — can be expected in this busy traveling period. It is imperative that passengers be vigilant but patient — and that security officials are alert and available technology is put to use. Unfortunately, neither was the case on Christmas Day above Detroit.