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 advisor 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 be 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 the AAA automobile club.
With celebrations and fireworks displays expected to draw large crowds, law enforcement will be working to deploy extra officers to events to step up visible and covert presence and will be working to gather intelligence.
“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.
In addition to the added security presence at events, law enforcement also will be working behind the scenes to vet information on individuals who may be on watch lists or who have come to the attention of police, 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 individuals or bring them in for questioning.
But there are limits to how far security precautions can go.
“This isn’t a police state where someone can say, round up the usual suspects,” he said.
In the District, where an concert and fireworks display on the National Mall annually draws thousands of people, security perimeters already are being set up. Attendees will go through security screening before being allowed to enter the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, according to the U.S. Capitol Police. All bags, coolers and backpacks will be searched for prohibited items, which include drones, alcohol, firearms, fireworks, knives and bicycles.
In New York City, where at least five major events are scheduled on July 4, Police Commissioner William Bratton said specially trained units will be deployed. The counterterrorism Critical Response Command Unit and the Strategic Response Group will be out in force to assist patrol officers.
“Both of those units 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,” Commissioner Bratton said Wednesday.
Authorities say their security activities shouldn’t discourage anyone 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.”