US revises its airport checks after protests
The Obama administration said yesterday it would no longer impose extra airport screening on all travellers from "terror-prone" Muslim nations after protests from allies that are on the list.
The US will instead use a tailored system that profiles individual travellers based on intelligence and factors including their physical description and travel patterns.
Officials said the system would result in fewer passengers being pulled aside when travelling to America.
The US imposed extra checks on travellers from 14 "terror-prone" countries -- 13 largely Muslim nations and Cuba -- after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, allegedly tried to detonate an "underwear bomb" on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day.
Passport holders and passengers from those countries were required to undergo full-body pat-downs and baggage searches as part of extra screening.
Under the new system, which starts this month, travellers will be singled out for extra pre-flight screening based on specific information. Security agents will try to connect intelligence about a suspect's nationality, movements, age, appearance and other characteristics -- even if their name is not known.
If US intelligence learns, for example, that terror groups are recruiting college-age men who have visited Asia and the Middle East, then anyone matching that description will be pulled aside.
Until now, the only information checked before boarding was the passenger's name, date of birth and nationality. A more detailed profile of a traveller's details such as where he bought his ticket or obtained his visa is checked by US customs only once the aircraft is in the air.
The new system will apply to travellers of any nationality, even US citizens.
"It is designed to be much more tailored, so that we don't stop everybody coming from a certain country, because that information is out. And if I'm a terrorist, the last thing I want to do then is send somebody with this passport going that way," an administration official, anonymous for security reasons, said.
Officials conceded, however, that even if the suspect in December's bomb attempt had been pulled aside for extra screening, airport officials might not have found the explosives allegedly stitched into his underwear.
Mr Abdulmutallab has been charged with trying to blow up Northwestern Airlines Flight 253 on December 25. He is reported to have told investigators he was trained as a suicide bomber by an al-Qa'ida affiliate in Yemen.
The blanket security measures imposed after the failed bombing affected all travellers from Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Cuba.
The list offended allies such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Nigeria and Algeria, partners of the US in the fight against al-Qa'ida. (© The Times, London)