- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 26, 2010

The U.S. has made air travel safer over the past year for Americans and is sharpening its focus on potential terrorists attacks on trains, subways and “soft targets” such as hotels, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Sunday.

“The overall message is everything is objectively better than it was two years ago, particularly in the aviation environment,” Ms. Napolitano said one year after a Nigerian man allegedly attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day. “But we’re also looking at threats in other areas.”

However, she said the enhanced screening of airline passengers with full-body scanners and pat downs at U.S. airports will continue into the “foreseeable future,” despite criticism about the intrusiveness of the procedures and whether they make the country safer.

She also said the pat downs and the body scans are just part of a larger, behind-the-scenes security network being developed by the U.S. and its international allies.

“There’s a whole kind of intel-based system that is going on, then we get to the actual gate,” Ms. Napolitano said. “It’s many, many layers before you even get to the magnetometer or the new machine.”

Her comments on CNN’s “State of the Union,” mark the second time in recent days that the Obama administration has put top U.S. security officials on TV to assure Americans about travel safety during the holiday season.

John Brennan, the White House’s top adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security, said Wednesday the U.S. has over the past 12 months increased its security efforts in part by improving its so-called No-Fly List and other terrorist watch lists. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security has “accelerated” the deployment of advanced-imaging technology to U.S. airports, adding to roughly 500 already in more than 75 domestic airports.

He said the enhanced security was not the result of a specific threat.

Ms. Napolitano said the increased security on trains and other surface-transportation systems was in part a response to the terrorist attacks in London and Madrid. She also said federal officials have in the past year contacted hotels and other soft targets and provided their employees with a “fair amount of training.”

Ms. Napolitano downplayed a recent report that U.S. airports, including major ones, are failing 70 percent of the time in detecting guns, bombs and other potentially deadly contraband. She said in part that the methodology was outdated and that new technology continues to improve security efficiency.

Still, she acknowledged that U.S. law enforcement is always looking for ways to improve security through technology and training.

“If there needs to be retraining of the individuals involved or if there was a failure in the equipment, that’s immediately addressed,” Ms. Napolitano said. “Our Transportation Safety Administration officers “are highly trained and we’re constantly looking at ways to improve their training.”

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