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TSA chief unveils air travel screening changes

U.S. air travelers will soon be allowed to carry small scissors and tools on planes, but they will face more random security searches as part of an effort to thwart potential terrorists, the Transportation Security Administration chief said Friday.
/ Source: Reuters

Air travelers in the United States will soon be allowed to carry small scissors and tools on planes, but they will face more random security searches as part of an effort to thwart potential terrorists, the Transportation Security Administration chief said on Friday.

TSA Director Kip Hawley announced the changes, which go into effect on Dec. 22, as part of a series of new procedures that focus more on detecting explosives at airports.

Part of the heightened security put in place by the TSA after the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked airline attacks was to sharply limit the number of items viewed as potential weapons that could be carried on board an airplane. But Hawley said the mindset had changed.

“As terrorists adapt to the measures we have taken, we too, are adapting, and have put increased focus on the threats posed by improvised explosive devices, a frequent weapon of choice for terrorists,” Hawley said.

“Our goal is to establish flexible protocols based on risk, so that terrorists cannot use the predictability of our security measures to their advantage when planning an attack,” he said. “We must be able to adapt quickly to changes in terrorist tactics, deploy resources effectively based on risk, and use unpredictability as a means to disrupt terrorist plans.”

Some sharp objects allowed on planes
Under the new plan, small scissors with blades less than four inches long and tools like screwdrivers that are less than seven 7 inches will be allowed. But box cutters, crowbars and hammers will still be banned.

The new focus on random searches will include more additional screenings of passengers and their bags at security checkpoints. While in the past passengers have been selected for extra or “secondary” screening when they check in for their flight, that will be expanded to checkpoints as well.

Hawley said the secondary checks will be based on behavior patterns and a random pattern selected by the screeners.

New pat-down procedure
TSA screeners will also use a different pat-down procedure, to improve their ability to detect nonmetal weapons and explosive devices that may be carried on the body. Pat-down searches will now include the arms and legs, Hawley said.

Hawley said the new random aspect of the searches should not result in major delays at security checkpoints.

“The idea is to make it not predictable,” he said, noting that in the past people could look at their boarding pass and see if they had been pre-selected for extra screening.

Hawley acknowledged that the decision to allow small scissors and tools on board has faced fierce criticism from some pilots groups as well as flight attendants and family members of victims of the Sept. 11 hijackings.

“I think we agree on far more than we disagree. We do disagree about some of the elements of this,” Hawley said. “But our job is to apply our resources where we think it is best. The items we are mentioning here today are not a risk for the transportation system.”