Napolitano pitches plan for air security to 190 nations

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Homeland Security chief will urge 190 nations today to improve aviation security with body scanners and other innovations to stop terrorists from carrying plastic and powdered explosives onto airplanes.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the push aims to counter terrorists who might use international flights for attacks by smuggling explosives through overseas metal detectors. Such devices can't stop suicide bombers from hiding unconventional weapons under their clothes. A Nigerian man is under federal indictment for trying to blow up an international flight headed for Detroit in December by igniting powdered explosives in his underwear.

"We need to move to the next stage of screening," Napolitano told USA TODAY. Terrorists "have kind of figured out the magnetometer business."

Napolitano will make her pitch in Montreal to the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations arm that sets global aviation standards. The nearly 200 nations that make up ICAO will agree Wednesday to improve aviation security through better technology and more sharing of information about terrorist threats, ICAO Secretary General Raymond Benjamin said in an interview.

"This is of the utmost significance," Benjamin said, because the agreement will commit nations to undergo security improvements.

Steve Lott of the International Air Travel Association, an airline group, said the pact forces countries to recognize that a security weakness in one country threatens others. "For the first time, nations will say we are globally interconnected, and we pledge to tighten up all of aviation," he said.

The December incident, in which terrorism suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is accused of smuggling explosives through airport security in Amsterdam, sparked worldwide alarm, although it was not the first such bombing attempt. In 2004, two Chechen women blew up two Russian airlines after smuggling plastic explosives on board. In late 2001, Richard Reid got plastic explosives through Paris airport security by hiding them in his shoes, but was thwarted by passengers when he tried to light the devices.

"There continues to be a threat stream about taking down a commercial airliner," Napolitano said, "in part because it was used successfully before and could have a huge impact."

Abdulmutallab, who flew from Nigeria to Amsterdam before boarding a flight to Detroit, forced nations to recognize how easily terrorists can move from airport to airport. "The aviation system really is a global system, and we needed to look at it that way," Napolitano said. "International aviation is one of the key feeders of growth of the U.S. and international economies, and we need it to remain safe."

Since December, the U.S., Netherlands, Canada and the United Kingdom began wide-scale installation of body scanners, though other countries have refrained because of concerns about cost or privacy.

The scanners create photo-like images of passengers under their clothing, though faces are blurred and images are viewed in a closed-off room.

New standards will require passengers to be checked for non-metallic weapons using scanners or methods such as pat-downs, said Benjamin of ICAO. (9.28.2010)

BODY SCANNERS: Backlash grows


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