| GEO World|
| US steps up air travel security measures|
| Updated at: 1312 PST, Saturday, April 03, 2010|
WASHINGTON: US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano unveiled new security measures subjecting all US-bound plane passengers to screening methods that use real-time intelligence to target potential threats.
The measures have been brought in the wake of the botched Christmas Day plane bombing, blamed on a young Nigerian en route from Amsterdam to Detroit.
"These 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," Napolitano said in a statement.
The Homeland Security department warned that "passengers traveling to the United States from international destinations may notice enhanced security and random screening measures throughout the passenger check-in and boarding process."
That would include "the use of explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams, or pat downs, among other security measures."
Napolitano also released a new assessment of security of US surface transportation, including mass transit, commuter and long-distance passenger rail, freight rail, commercial vehicles and pipelines.
The product of a three-month-long examination, the air travel security measures replace enhanced screening of travellers to the United States from 14 mostly Muslim nations, imposed after the foiled attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet.
The Homeland Security department said the new measures were designed to be more flexible and "to reflect the most current information available to the US government."
"It is much more surgically targeting those individuals we are concerned about and have intelligence for," a US official told the New York Times.
The current "no-fly" list is to remain in place under the new procedures, but supplemented by cross-referenced information that may see passengers subject to further screening even if their names are not flagged, the Wall Street Journal said.
Characteristics such as nationality, age, recently visited countries, and partial names will be used alongside the "no-fly" list, the Journal said.
The move aims to avoid the intelligence failures that allowed the alleged Christmas Day bomber, Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, to board the Detroit-bound flight from Amsterdam wearing underpants rigged with explosives, even though US intelligence had been alerted to information on him.
Fragmentary intelligence on a possible attacker -- a partial name, certain physical characteristics, or nationality -- would be forwarded by the DHS to airlines and foreign governments, the Los Angeles Times said, and the information used as a guide on who would be screened.
"This is not a system that can be called profiling in the traditional sense. It is intelligence-based," said the official, quoted by the New York Times.
US government guidelines prohibit authorities from singling out people on the basis of race or ethnicity, but the Christmas Day plot swiftly recharged the delicate debate surrounding racial profiling.
In the wake of the botched bombing at least one lawmaker, Republican Peter King from New York, called for US authorities to be less hesitant on the issue.
"The fact is, while the overwhelming majority of Muslims are outstanding people, on the other hand 100 percent of the Islamic terrorists are Muslims, and that is our main enemy today," he told Fox News after Abdulmutallab was apprehended.
Since December the Obama administration has meanwhile also pledged to boost airport security by speeding up the installation of full body scanners at US airports, and to increase funding for federal air marshals on flights deemed most at risk.