Airport Screeners to Focus on Explosives

Supporters of the changes say security enhancements since Sept. 11, 2001, make it far less likely that hijackers could commandeer a jet and crash it into a building.


The government's decision to allow airline passengers to carry small scissors is part of a broader shift in airport security, focusing more on keeping explosives off planes and less on stopping another Sept. 11-type attack.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation Committee's aviation panel, applauded the decision as a welcome change in the mindset of the Transportation Security Administration.

"They're trying to shift from shaking down little old ladies with scissors and knitting needles to looking at what the real threats are," Mica said. "Explosives are my major concern."

TSA chief Kip Hawley plans a major policy speech Friday in which he'll outline security changes. Among them: Passengers will be allowed to carry scissors less than 4 inches long and wrenches and screwdrivers less than 7 inches long, according to a Homeland Security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the complete list has not been made public.

It's unclear whether small knives will still be banned from passenger cabins because the list of prohibited items hasn't been finalized yet, the official said.

Flight attendants and the families of Sept. 11 victims object strongly to the plan.

"The devastating effects of 9/11 showed the world how a simple box cutter could become a deadly weapon in the hands of the wrong person," said Patricia Friend, president of the Association of Flight Attendants.

Mica and other supporters of the changes say security enhancements since Sept. 11, 2001, make it far less likely that hijackers could commandeer a jet and crash it into a building. In addition to hiring government screeners, thousands of air marshals have been deployed to fly undercover, cockpit doors have been reinforced and pilots who receive training may now carry guns.

Passengers also are seen as much more likely to intervene.

But holes remain - in particular, the threat of passengers sneaking explosives aboard. Bomb-detection machines can find explosive substances in checked baggage, but the X-ray machines and metal detectors that screen passengers and their carry-on luggage can't.

It wasn't until shoe bomber Richard Reid tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight in December 2001 that the TSA began asking people to take off their shoes for inspection.

In August 2004, two Russian jetliners were apparently blown up in midair by Chechnyan terrorists wearing suicide belts. The TSA then began patting down air travelers for explosives and requiring them to take off their coats.

Since taking over the TSA in July, Hawley has advocated a new approach to security, one that understands what the vulnerabilities are and what kinds of attack would have the direst consequences.

He believes the time and effort that screeners put into finding prohibited items like scissors detracts from their ability to detect explosives and the kinds of devices used in improvised bombs. So far this year, TSA screeners have confiscated 3 million scissors and 819,450 tools, according to the Homeland Security Department.

David Castelveter, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, agrees with that approach.

"We should be focusing on what poses the greatest risk," said Castelveter, whose organization represents major airlines.

Hawley also will announce Friday that airports will change their security procedures to be less predictable, Mica said.

"Terrorists are not dumb. They can observe routine operations and find ways to thwart them, so that's why we want to vary the routine," Mica said.

In an example shared with reporters recently, Hawley said passengers might be required to take their shoes off one day but not the next at a given airport.

James Carafano, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the approach makes sense.

"Terrorists like things that are dependable, they like to know what they're going to face," Carafano said. "Having an assembly line doesn't necessarily keep terrorists off airplanes."

___

On the Net:

Transportation Security Administration: http://www.tsa.gov

This content continues onto the next page...

We Recommend