Christmas Terror Alert Brings Security Changes

An alleged attempt to blow-up a Northwest Airlines service between Amsterdam and Detroit on December 25 has led to a widespread review of aviation security.
Flight number NW253, an Airbus A330 in the livery of Delta Air Lines was approaching its destination, Detroit-Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW), Missouri, when a passenger, 23-year-old Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, allegedly tried to detonate an explosive device hidden under his clothing.  US officials say he was restrained by passengers and crew as cabin staff used blankets and fire extinguishers to put out a small fire that had started.
The aircraft landed without further incident and was parked at a remote area − Abdulmutallab was immediately arrested.
On January 7 a grand jury in Detroit was told that Abdulmutallab intended to destroy the plane by injecting chemicals into a package of pentrite explosive concealed in his underwear “at a time of his choosing”.  He was indicted on six counts, including attempted murder and trying to use a weapon of mass destruction to kill 290 passengers and crew aboard the airliner.  If convicted he could face a life sentence.
On the following day he briefly appeared before a federal court where a judge entered a ‘not guilty’ plea when Abdulmutallab declined to answer the charges.
In the aftermath of the security scare, it was claimed that Abdulmutallab had started his journey on a KLM flight from Lagos before transferring to the Northwest Airlines aircraft at Amsterdam’s Schiphol.  The US authorities subsequently acknowledged that Abdulmutallab’s name was already known to them as it appeared on a ‘watch’ list but was not included in its ‘no fly’ category.
Investigations are underway to try to discover how he was able to pass through security at two major international airports when en-route to Detroit.
Within days new security guidelines had been issued on both sides of the Atlantic.  The British Government announced its first major changes to aviation security requirements since August 2006 when rules came into force to restrict the amount of liquids passengers could carry on board.
More pat-down body searches, more sniffer dogs in terminals and an increase in hand luggage inspections are already being carried out.  The Government’s Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, acknowledged that flights face delays as airports adopted the tighter rules.  When announcing the changes on January 5, Mr Johnson said that millimeter-wave body scanners − already in use at Glasgow and Manchester − would be introduced at London Heathrow “within weeks”, but noted that: “no single technology” could be 100% effective against: “innovative and determined” terrorists.
“Air passengers are already used to being searched by hand, and having their baggage tested for traces of explosives,” he added.  “The government will direct airports to increase the proportion of passengers searched in this way.  There may be some additional delays as airports adapt, but I am sure the travelling public will appreciate the reasons behind this,” he added.
Explosive detection equipment capable of testing swabs taken from hand luggage will also be a legal requirement at all UK airports by the end of this year.
BAA says it supports the use of scanners, stating: “Body-scanning and other technology will play an important role in enhancing the security process.”
Since its initial announcement, the government has stated that body-scanning technology will be introduced across all the UK’s commercial airports by the end of 2010.
Although the enhanced security searches now in place have inevitably resulted in delays, the massive problems caused by the similar measures temporarily introduced in 2006 have been avoided.  At the time of writing, British airports appear to have suffered more disruption from a prolonged spell of snowy weather than anything generated by the new security measures.
The government has tried to allay travellers’ privacy worries regarding the introduction of full-body scanners at British airports.  However, questions over whether using them to scan under 18s is legal under current UK child-protection laws have yet to be answered.  But Mr Johnson believes that there is no cause for concern stating that: “Given that all the images are destroyed immediately, given that the person responsible for the scanning is completely in a separate room – they’re important considerations but I think we can actually ensure that those who do have worries can have those concerns satisfied.”
Mr Johnson described the general use of body scanning technology as a: “second line of defence” that would be used to check randomly-chosen travellers.
Industry watchers have estimated that the new equipment would have had only a 50% to 60% chance of detecting the type explosives believed to have been at the centre of this current scare, but most commentators appear to support their introduction as a step in the right direction.
Mr Johnson acknowledged that the ‘new’ scanners were not a: “magic bullet” and, interestingly, supported the views of airport owners, that an effective security regime comprises many layers including the most controversial of all security topics in the UK − profiling.  Johnson said BAA, which also owns five major UK airports has started to train its security staff in “behavioural analysis techniques”, that are designed to enable them to identify passengers posing a potential threat, and subject them to extra searches.
 
Stateside
On January 3, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued new security directives to all US and international air carriers with inbound flights to the United States effective from January 4, 2010.  These state that everyone flying into the US from a list of selected countries deemed to have links with terrorism would undergo: “enhanced screening” at check-in.  The list of nations includes Nigeria, home of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and Yemen, where investigators claim the accused had links with al-Qaida operatives.  The other listed countries are Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Somalia, Sudan and Syria.
Initially US airports were instructed to adopt emergency measures which required every traveller to undergo full security checks, but these were dropped when new directives were introduced on January 4.  Now the focus has moved towards ‘threat-based’ screening of any passengers who are deemed to be acting suspiciously.  These passengers will undergo full body pat-downs, bag searches, full body scanning and explosive detection scans.  The TSA said its ability to introduce the new security rules were possibly as a “result of extraordinary co-operation from our global aviation partners”. In a statement it said: “TSA is mandating that every individual flying into the US from anywhere in the world travelling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening.”