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U.S. Expands Terror Watch List as Airline Security Tightens

January 4, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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The fallout from the failed attempt to attack an airliner bound for Detroit on Christmas Day continued Monday as the U.S. tightened security for international travelers, and the White House weighed its response to the terror fight in Yemen.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: There was more fallout today from the attempted Christmas Day attack on an airliner about to land in Detroit. U.S. officials expanded lists of potential terror suspects, and new threats kept Western embassies closed in Yemen.

President Obama flew back to Washington from Hawaii today amid reports that dozens of new names are now on a list barred from flying into the U.S. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria was not on the no-fly list before he allegedly tried to blow up Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day.

The president ordered reviews of the list after the failed bombing. And shortly after his return to the White House today, he met with John Brennan, his top counterterror adviser, for an update.

Mr. Obama had already said over the weekend that militants in Yemen were directly linked to Abdulmutallab.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It appears that he joined an affiliate of al-Qaida and that this group, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, trained him, equipped him with those explosives, and directed him to attack that plane headed for America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Yemen today, the U.S. and British embassies remain closed, after that same al-Qaida offshoot issued new threats on Sunday. Other Western embassies curtailed activities. And Yemeni security forces killed two militants in a raid outside the capital, Sanaa.

Back in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the American Embassy would reopen as conditions permit. And she said the situation in Yemen is a top concern.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. Secretary of State: The spillover effects from instability directly impact the neighbors. Obviously, we see global implications from the war in Yemen and the ongoing efforts by al-Qaida in Yemen to use it as a base for terrorist attacks far beyond the region.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On Sunday, Brennan, the president’s deputy national security adviser, said the U.S. will help Yemen deal with al-Qaida.

JOHN BRENNAN, U.S. deputy national security adviser: We’re not going to let al-Qaida continue to sort of make gains in Yemen, because we need to take whatever steps necessary to protect our citizens there, as well as abroad.

CHRIS WALLACE, host, “FOX News Sunday”: Could that mean U.S. troops on the ground in Yemen?

JOHN BRENNAN: We’re not talking about that at this point at all.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In the meantime, the U.S. government is trying to make it tougher to get a bomb on a plane. As of today, travelers bound for the U.S. from 14 countries will face full-body pat-downs and increased luggage screening, no exceptions.

The list includes countries accused of sponsoring terror, Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria, as well as Yemen and Nigeria, plus Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia.

Secretary Clinton said today her department was reviewing its own security.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: We’re looking to see whether those procedures need to be changed, upgraded. And that is, you know, my goal, as secretary, to do everything I can to make sure that, not only American citizens, but, you know, all people traveling on airlines of any nationality, can arrive at their destination safely.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But a number of reports from Europe said many airports were not yet following the new rules. And flights in and out of Newark, New Jersey, were still running behind schedule today, after a major security snafu last night.

WOMAN: As you can see, it’s absolute chaos.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A man had bypassed a security checkpoint, triggering an alert. Officials made all passengers in the terminal go back through screening, a delay that lasted up to six hours.

We get more now on the latest efforts to strengthen air security from independent airline analyst David Field.

Good to have you with us again.

DAVID FIELD: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is going to be different for air travelers, and which travelers?

DAVID FIELD: OK. The people who will feel the greatest effects from the steps announced yesterday and today are going be to people coming into the U.S. from overseas destinations, the countries mentioned in the report. And you will also see increased screening at major European gateways, such as London Heathrow, Paris, Charles de Gaulle.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it’s not just those 14 countries where the plans will change?

DAVID FIELD: It is primarily those 14 countries, but you have to bear in mind that very few of those countries have flights had that come nonstop into the U.S. They have to go somewhere else and change, places like Frankfurt, places like London, places like Paris.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is going to be different, though, in terms of each — is it going to be every single passenger? We mentioned they were saying no exceptions. Do they — do you think they literally mean that?

DAVID FIELD: I think they literally mean that. And I think one of the reasons why you’re going to see increased security at European gateways is just in case they don’t do it, just in case they don’t keep their word on it being every passenger.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, now today, it was reported that some of these European countries were not yet implementing these new procedures. What does that mean? How much leverage does the U.S. have on these other countries to do what we’re asking them to do?

DAVID FIELD: The U.S., statutorily, has a lot of leverage, but it’s not leverage that we’re willing to use, simply because it hurts us more than it hurts them.

If we restrict the number of flights coming in from France, just imagine the repercussions. Imagine the economic effects. What we’re going to have to be doing is jawboning the European authorities.

JUDY WOODRUFF: To what extent is it your sense that authorities want to keep travelers off-guard? I mean, they’re announcing full-body pat-downs. They’re announcing we’re going to go through your carry-ons. But how much are they going to keep unknown and undetermined, unsure?

DAVID FIELD: OK. One of the good things that the TSA, the Transportation Security Administration, has been doing for the last three or four years is sort of active chaos theory, where, particularly for domestic flights, they will change the routine and the protocol day by day or even hour by hour, so that the bad guys, in case they’re observing, will be kept off-guard.

And you’re going to see that I think, at a lot of U.S. domestic airports. You’re going to see that at Newark. You saw it yesterday. You’re going to see it at Dulles. You’re going to see it at JFK.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it’s not just international flights coming into the U.S.?

DAVID FIELD: It’s primarily international flights, but, because of the need for the TSA to assert itself and reassure the public, you will see increased pat-downs, body scans, and so on at domestic flights at U.S. airports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Field, what frame of mind should travelers be in, in this new set of circumstances?

DAVID FIELD: Bear your cross proudly. It’s going to be more hassle. You’re going to have more time devoted to getting through the airport and getting up to the airplane, particularly for international flights, particularly for flights leaving the U.S., even though they are not on the list.

Let’s say you’re going to London to go take in a couple shows and do some shopping. You’re going to have to spend four and five hours at the airport, rather than the three or four that you spend now, certainly for the first couple of months.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And from the people you’re talking to, what are the opinions out there about how much more safer they think air travel will be as a result of all this?

DAVID FIELD: There’s no way to tell how much more safe you are, because we don’t know what the threat is. And, unfortunately, the TSA tends to react to past events, rather than future events.

And, to be honest, I’m not really sure there’s any other way to do it. You — it’s very hard for us to tell what the bad guys are thinking, what the bad guys are planning, what the bad guys might do. So, you have to go by past events and just try to keep current with them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we know, if nothing else, passengers are going to be more vigilant. It was passengers, after all…

DAVID FIELD: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: … that stopped this last event.

DAVID FIELD: Yes, thank goodness.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Field, thank you very much.

DAVID FIELD: My pleasure.