December 29, 2009
President Obama's options for airline security
Posted: 05:57 PM ET
By JOSH GERSTEIN
President Barack Obama has promised to tighten up aviation security in the wake of last week’s frightening attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight as it approached Detroit, but experts say nearly all the steps Obama is likely to consider come with tradeoffs that have scared off other policymakers in the past.
Obama said he’s ordered a review of the terrorist watch list system to determine why a warning the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria received from the father of alleged bomber Omar Abdulmutallab didn’t result in Abdulmutallab being barred from flying to the U.S. or given extra security screening. The president also said he’s asked his subordinates to look at why existing screening didn’t detect the plastic explosives he managed to bring on board the plane — allegedly by concealing them in boxer shorts crafted by Al Qaeda bomb-makers.
Some things likely to be quickly addressed are specific to last Friday’s attack. They include giving more weight to complaints from family members that a relative has become radicalized and may engage in terrorism. "The Saudis will tell you that’s some of the most important and reliable information you can get,” said Fran Townsend, homeland security coordinator under President George W. Bush.
There are other obvious loopholes to be closed. Officials say they’re considering an automatic review of outstanding visas for people entered into the broad U.S. terrorism database. And perhaps greater information-sharing with allies such as Britain, which, unbeknownst to the U.S., refused to grant Abdulmutallab a new student visa after he allegedly provided the name of a nonexistent school.
But broader policy changes have greater ramifications — tradeoffs that the Bush administration was well aware of. And while increasing security may seem like a political no-brainer, some frequent travelers have become so incensed at what they call “security theater” that they are recoiling at steps already taken, such as banning the use of blankets and personal items in the last hour of some flights.
Filed under: Airline Industry Politics President Obama Terrorism
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