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Flurry of proposals targets air security

Dec. 31, 2009 - 09:48AM   |  
By THOMAS FRANK and KATHY KIELY   |   Comments
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., has called for dramatically expanding a list of 16,000 people who will require additional airport screening.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., has called for dramatically expanding a list of 16,000 people who will require additional airport screening. (TIM SLOAN / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE)

Passengers could face more intense screening at the nation's airports as lawmakers urge the government to adopt tighter regulations in the wake of an alleged plot by a Nigerian man to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner.

President Barack Obama called for a review of the events leading up to the incident on Christmas Day on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as it approached Detroit.

Obama said the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, should have been on a government "no-fly" list because of his extremist views.

A flurry of congressional proposals is under way.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., called for dramatically expanding a list of 16,000 people who will require additional airport screening, such as a pat-down.

That list is part of the government's broader watch list containing 400,000 names of people who are suspected of terrorist activities, ranging from suicide bombings to financial crimes.

DeFazio said everyone on the watch list should be included on the smaller list, meaning many more people would be subject to tighter screening.

Senate aviation subcommittee Chairman Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said his committee will hold a "wide-ranging" hearing as soon as the Senate returns as early as Jan. 19 on air security.

Topics to be covered will include security screening and watch lists.

"This is a pretty serious security problem," Dorgan said, "and until it gets resolved it's a significant potential terror threat."

In a letter Wednesday to Obama, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., noted that Abdulmutallab was not on the no-fly list or the smaller "selectee" list.

She said intelligence agencies should expand their broad terrorist database, though she acknowledged such a move "may lead to increased delay and hassle to many Americans."

Before his death in August, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and other lawmakers were among the thousands of innocent passengers who said they were hassled at airports after being mistaken for a terrorist with a name similar to their own.

"Do we really want our limited resources spent hassling innocent travelers?" said Michael German of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Abdulmutallab remained in custody after he was subdued by passengers.

According to a government indictment, he attempted to set off an explosive under his clothing in an attempt to down the airliner.

Thomas Frank and Kathy Kiely report for USA Today. Alan Levin contributed to this article.

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