WASHINGTON – Travelers from 14 countries that have been home to terrorists will no longer automatically face extra screening before they fly to the U.S.
Beginning this month, anyone traveling to the U.S. will instead be screened based on specific information about potential terrorist threats, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Friday. Previously, authorities needed the name of a suspect to screen against passenger names.
A person would be stopped and would undergo extra screening if he or she matches a description provided by intelligence officials. For example, if the U.S. has intelligence about a Nigerian man between the ages of 22 and 32 whom officials believe is a threat or a known terrorist, under the new policy all Nigerian men within that age range will receive extra screening before they are allowed to fly to the U.S. If intelligence later shows that the suspect is not a terrorist, travelers will not be screened against that description.
The new procedures replace those that went into effect after the attempted bombing of a jetliner en route to Detroit on Christmas Day. Those rules required extra screening, such as full-body pat-downs, for everyone from, or traveling through, any of 14 countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The new terror-screening strategy is a result of a review ordered by President Barack Obama.
The intelligence-based targeting will be in addition to screening names on terror watch lists. The government's "no fly" list of suspected terrorists, who are banned from flights to, or within, U.S. territory, has about 6,000 names.
A Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has been charged with boarding a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day with a bomb hidden in his underwear. One of the reasons the alleged bomber was able to board the flight in Amsterdam was that his name was not on a U.S. terror watch list. However, officials failed to even share a description of the suspected terrorist.
The new policy should significantly decrease the number of innocent travelers from the 14 countries who have been inconvenienced by the extra screening, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security issues.
In the past three months, senior U.S. security officials have been meeting with foreign countries to discuss how to improve aviation security, and many countries have adopted enhanced screening methods, including the use of body-scanning machines.
The U.S. does not have the authority to screen passengers in foreign airports. But if air carriers do not agree to follow the U.S. guidelines for international aviation security, they could be fined and potentially banned from operating flights to the U.S.