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New U.S. Airport Security Measures To Use 'Real-Time' Intelligence

An official checks passengers' identification prior to entering a security checkpoint at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia.
(RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has unveiled new airport security measures for all U.S.-bound flights aimed at catching passengers who might pose a terrorist threat before they board a flight.

In a statement, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said the 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."

The new measures are the result of a three-month study ordered by U.S. President Barack Obama to determine how security systems failed on December 25, 2009, when a Nigerian man was allowed to board a U.S.-bound plane with explosives under his clothing.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was already on a U.S. watch list and his association with an offshoot of Al-Qaeda was suspected when he boarded a Detroit-bound plane in Amsterdam. But with a crude syringe and explosive powder taped to his leg, he passed easily through metal detectors and security checkpoints.

A snap White House-ordered investigation into what went wrong concluded that there had been information in the intelligence system to have justified keeping him off the flight.

'Intelligence-Based Targeting'

Napolitano signaled in early March that stricter passenger-screening measures were being developed. "Of course, after the events of December 25, I think it reminded everyone that aviation remains a target of Al-Qaeda and how important it is going to be for us to work in a variety of ways to keep improving aviation security," she said.

The new procedures do away with mandated extra screening for passengers from 14 mostly Muslim countries -- a check put into in place following the botched Christmas Day attack.

Instead, a passenger will undergo extra screening if he or she matches a description provided by intelligence officials of potential terrorists believed to be active at the time.

Homeland Security officials say the new measures are designed to be more flexible and "to reflect the most current information available to the U.S. government."

The intelligence-based targeting will be in addition to the normal practice of screening passenger's names for inclusion on terror watch lists.

The government's "no fly" list of suspected terrorists who are banned from flights to or within the United States has some 6,000 names.

Additional new security measures include the increased use of explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology -- including body scanners -- canine teams, pat downs, and random screening.

In developing the new security measures, Napolitano said U.S. officials consulted with international counterparts, including those in Israel.

"We did actually talk with the people in Israel after Christmas. Of course, their situation is somewhat different: They have one airport that throughputs about 50,000 passengers a day [while] we throughput about 2 million passengers a day, so some of the things they can do would really clog up U.S. air travel," Napolitano said.

"But we're always looking at what other nations are doing and sharing that with other nations."

Israeli aviation security is known for its direct engagement with individual passengers and multiple levels of screening.