The Department of Homeland Security announced today that all inbound US flights will be subjected to increased levels of security screening. A senior administration official said racial or religious characteristics could be used to identify passengers requiring a more thorough review, though the official insisted the system would not constitute racial profiling.
Race or religion could be part of “fragmentary information” being used to select passengers but will be used “only when we have reliable intelligence that suggests that someone with that characteristic is a potential terrorist,” the official said.
Among other things, passengers entering the US from international destinations “may notice enhanced security and random screening measures throughout the passenger check-in and boarding process, including the use of explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams, or pat downs, among other security measures,” according to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security.
The new security measures are the result of a review President Obama ordered after a Nigerian man allegedly tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit, Michigan, on December 25. The new rules will supersede emergency measures put in place after the failed Christmas Day attack.
“These new measures utilize real-time, threat-based intelligence along with multiple, random layers of security, both seen and unseen, to more effectively mitigate evolving terrorist threats,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.
“The terrorist threat to global aviation is a shared challenge and ensuring aviation security is a shared responsibility. I commend our many partners around the world who have taken steps to increase their own security measures through deployment of new technology, enhanced information sharing and stronger standards to keep air travel safe.”
The new security steps, which will begin Friday, will take a short period of time to implement fully, the senior administration official said. The new level of screening will augment the no-fly and selectee lists. Those lists require a full name, a date of birth, and other information.
This system will use “fragmentary information” that might include travel itinerary, age, partial passport information, and a partial name, the official added.
The US intelligence community will determine, based on threat information, which characteristics should be used to select passengers for secondary screening. The air carriers and foreign countries – when they are the ones administering screening – will have responsibility for pulling and screening passengers who meet the criteria.
The official said there is no concern about providing too much intelligence to too many people. Security partners will be given what they need to identify people for additional screening and no more.
The new security regime requires cooperation from the airlines and some foreign governments, but the official does not anticipate compliance problems.
“It is in their interest to ensure the safety of their flights,” the official said.
The United States will do inspections, and there will be penalties for not complying.
The recent case of David Headley showed how “fragmentary intelligence” can be used to help stop a potential terrorist, two administration officials said.
Last month, Headley pleaded guilty to helping plan the November 2008 Mumbai, India, terror attacks, and another attack that was never carried out on a Danish newspaper that published controversial cartoons about the prophet Mohammed.
Based on intelligence, including a partial name and travel information, Customs and Border Protection did additional screening to travelers entering the United States and was able to identify Headley.
Since the attempted Christmas Day attack, Napolitano has participated in aviation summits in Spain, Mexico, Japan, and other places to forge agreements and to strengthen ways information can be shared around the aviation community, a senior administration official said.
Napolitano has suggested the International Civil Aviation Organization, a UN agency, set standards that would apply to all international airports, strengthening weak links in the security chain.
European privacy laws have stymied previous US efforts to gain access to passenger information.
Last month Napolitano announced another effort to bolster airport security when she said the federal government was starting to deploy full-body scanning machines to 11 more airports across the United States. Full-body scanners improve security, TSA says. Before the new scanners, 40 of the body-imaging machines had been put into use at 19 airports nationwide, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The Transportation Security Administration expects to deploy 450 units by the end of the year.