- The Washington Times - Friday, August 27, 2004


Most airline passengers in the United States aren’t screened for explosives before boarding a plane, despite security enhancement since the September 11 attacks.

Luggage checked onto commercial planes goes through machines that can detect explosives. X-ray machines for carry-on bags can spot metal, such as knives and guns — but not explosives.

If screeners deem a carry-on bag suspicious, they use wands to detect explosive residue.

Most passengers receive no such scrutiny. They walk through metal detectors. Some of those are also checked with hand-held metal detectors. Some have shoes or other items inspected with the explosive-detection wands.

In its final report, the September 11 commission said the Transportation Security Administration and Congress must improve the way screeners look for explosives at airports. “As a start, each individual selected for special screening should be screened for explosives,” the report said.

Russian authorities say traces of an explosive were found among the wreckage of one of two commercial planes that crashed almost simultaneously Wednesday, raising the possibility a suicide bomber brought down at least one of the planes.

Former Navy Secretary John Lehman, a September 11 commission member, told the House Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee this week that the prospect of suicide bombers getting on U.S. aircraft is “a very real threat.”

He said it’s more likely now a terrorist will try to smuggle explosives aboard U.S. planes because they have been made more secure against other threats. Extra security measures include reinforced cockpit doors, more air marshals and electronic screening of checked baggage.

Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, Oregon Democrat, pointed to the British example of requiring screeners to physically search all passengers. “We’re doing nothing to detect nonmetallic explosives concealed on a person’s body,” said Mr. DeFazio, the subcommittee’s most senior Democrat.

TSA chief David Stone, appearing with Mr. Lehman, testified the agency hasn’t decided whether it should check more people for bombs when they’re screened a second time. He said the agency for now won’t try to require all passengers to be patted down.

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