- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2016

The millions of Americans planning to fly over the Fourth of July weekend can expect stepped-up security in the wake of terrorist attacks at airports abroad, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Thursday.

“Our [Transportation Security Administration] viper teams have been more visible at airports and at transit centers generally” since the March bombing in Brussels, Mr. Johnson told a Senate committee. “The American public should expect to see this July Fourth weekend an enhanced security presence at airports, train stations and other transit centers across the country.”

Suicide bombings and gunfire Tuesday at Istanbul Ataturk Airport in Turkey killed at least 44 people and wounded more than 230 others.

The attack has raised concern about security at drop-off points outside airports but is unlikely to translate into any significant changes in protocol because of limited benefits and the associated costs, a transportation security and terrorism analyst said.

“Trying to protect public spaces is very difficult and it is extremely costly,” said Brian Michael Jenkins, senior adviser to the president of the Rand Corp. “The curb space between the entrance to other terminals and the actual curb is very small. It’s a narrow strip. If we were to try to implement some security screening at that point, it would be costly.”

Adding security checkpoints at airport entrances or sweeping vehicles before they pull up to curbs wouldn’t eliminate bottlenecks where crowds could become terrorist targets, he said.

Of the nearly 43 million Americans who are predicted to travel over the Independence Day weekend, 3.3 million are expected to fly, according to AAA.

Law enforcement will increase its presence at fireworks displays and other celebrations that draw large crowds.

“Clearly, they will be on the alert for any type of information indicating targeting of these events, but that goes on any day even if it’s not July Fourth,” Mr. Jenkins said.

Law enforcement also will be working behind the scenes to investigate people who may be on watch lists or otherwise have come to the attention of authorities, he said.

“In some cases where they have somebody who is of concern, they will have to make a tactical decision about that person,” said Mr. Jenkins, adding that police could try to account for the whereabouts of suspicious people or detain them for questioning.

But security precautions have limits.

“This isn’t a police state where someone can say, ‘Round up the usual suspects,’” he said.

In the District, where a concert with a fireworks display on the National Mall draws thousands of people each year, security perimeters are being set up.

U.S. Capitol Police will have security screenings at the entrances to the West Front, where the concert will be staged. All bags, coolers and backpacks will be searched for prohibited items, which include drones, alcohol, firearms, fireworks, knives and bicycles.

In New York, special units will be deployed to at least five major Fourth of July events to assist patrol officers, Police Commissioner William Bratton said.

The counterterrorism Critical Response Command Unit and the Strategic Response Group, he said, “are fully formed, fully staffed, fully equipped, so a lot more of those resources will be at the July Fourth-related events at the river, Coney Island,” he said.

Authorities say security activities shouldn’t discourage Americans from celebrating Independence Day.

‘We continue to encourage the public to travel, to associate, to celebrate the holidays and celebrate the July Fourth holiday,” Mr. Johnson said. “Continue to go to public events, but be aware and be vigilant. Public awareness and public vigilance can and does make a difference in terms of detecting possible terrorist plots, terrorist activity.”

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide