The Obama government is working on new measures to strengthen airline security after an alleged terrorist attempt to destroy a Detroit-bound U.S. airliner on Christmas Day.
Fresh off a Hawaiian vacation dominated by news of the incident, US president Barack Obama scheduled a meeting Tuesday afternoon with high-ranking government officials charged with carrying out two reviews he ordered after the botched attack on screening for air travel and on the U.S. terror watchlist system.
Mr. Obama was to outline his findings for the public after the meeting to which 20 officials were invited, as well as a series of new steps to improve the watchlists and thwart future terrorist attacks, the White House said.
The Transportation Security Administration already has directed airlines, effective Monday, to give full-body, pat-down searches to U.S-bound travellers from Yemen, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and 11 other countries.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, CIA Director Leon Panetta and FBI Director Robert Mueller were among those expected to meet with Mr. Obama in the White House Situation Room.
Attorney General Eric Holder; Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence; Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Centre; national security adviser James Jones, and John Brennan, the president’s counterterrorism adviser, also were to attend.
Mr. Obama will get updates on the investigation from Mueller, on the prosecution from Holder and on the review of terrorist detection techniques from Napolitano. Brennan will update the president on his own review of the system of watchlists and outline his initial findings. Agency heads will comment on their internal reviews.
Mr. Obama prepared Monday afternoon by meeting privately with national security aides.
The government also has added dozens of names to its lists of suspected terrorists and those barred from U.S-bound flights. The addition of names to the government’s terrorist watch list and the no-fly list came after U.S. officials scrutinized a larger database of suspected terrorists, an intelligence official said Monday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the individual was not authorized to speak publicly.
People on the watch list are subject to additional scrutiny before they are allowed to enter this country, while anyone on the no-fly list is barred from boarding aircraft in or headed for the United States.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian who claims ties to al-Qaida, remained in federal custody, charged with trying to destroy the Northwest Airlines flight as it approached Detroit. He is alleged to have smuggled an explosive device on board the aircraft and set it off, but the device sparked only a fire and not the intended deadly mass explosion.
Abdulmutallab’s name was in the U.S. database of about 550,000 suspected terrorists, but was not on a list that would have subjected him to additional security screening or kept him from boarding the flight altogether. That omission prompted a review of the National Counterterrorism Center’s massive Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) database.
The incident also spurred enhanced security screening that began Monday for travelers to the U.S. from or through Yemen - where Abdulmutallab told U.S. investigators he received training and instructions from al-Qaida operatives - as well as Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, and Somalia.