Amsterdam airport tightens security after sting

/ Source: The Associated Press

Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport — the departure site for the Detroit underwear bomber — tightened security Tuesday after journalists orchestrated a sting operation that smuggled bottles of liquids onto planes bound for London and Washington.

Security at Schiphol has been under scrutiny since Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian student, flew from the airport to Detroit on Christmas Day with explosives in his underwear. Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to detonate the explosives over the United States before being grabbed by passengers and crew.

In an undercover operation broadcast on television Sunday night, reporters refilled bottles bought at a duty free store, resealed them and smuggled them back into the store. They then went through the check-out counter again with the same bottles, where they were put into sealed plastic bags that were not checked by security staff.

The Netherlands National Anti-terror Coordinator says extra security staff will immediately begin patrolling duty-free stores at the airport and there will be more stringent checks on bottles bought there. Some stores will stop selling liquids altogether.

The stunt was possible because handbag security at Schiphol is conducted at boarding gates rather than before entering the departure lounge where the duty-free shops are located.

Schiphol spokeswoman Mirjam Snoerwang said Schiphol is the only major European airport that has security checks at the boarding gate for intercontinental flights and trips to Britain, Ireland and countries that are not part of the so-called Schengen borderless zone of 25 EU countries as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.

Snoerwang said the airport knew about the possible weak link in its security before it was exposed on national television.

"We considered it — together with our minister of justice — an acceptable level of risk," she said. But after the television show "automatically the risk is not acceptable any more so that is why we have taken some extra measures."

The reporter who led the sting, Alberto Stegeman, said he was surprised that Schiphol knew about the risk and had not acted earlier.

"If I can think of this, then so can anybody," he said in a telephone interview. "It is easy to think up and easier to carry out."

Our cartoonists take a wry look at airport security and anti-terrorism measures.

Liquids have been considered a potential security threat since the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid, tried to detonate liquid explosives hidden in his shoe in 2001.

Abdulmutallab has been indicted in the U.S. on six charges, including the attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253. He faces up to life in prison.

After the Abdulmutallab security lapse, Schiphol ordered 60 new full body scanners to screen passengers flying to the United States. Those who do not pass through the scanners are patted down but neither the scanners nor the pat downs would have targeted bottles bought in the airport's duty free stores.

Stegeman is well known for exposing security flaws at Schiphol. In the past he has posed as an airport maintenance worker. He also smuggled a fake bomb into a royal palace in The Hague.

Earlier this year, Stegeman was fined euro1,500 ($2,000) for encouraging an employee of the Dutch airline KLM to give him his identity pass so it could be forged, prosecutors said in a statement.

In another case, prosecutors refused a request from KLM and Schiphol to charge Stegeman with illegally entering secure an area at the airport. At the time, prosecutors said the value of Stegeman's investigative journalism outweighed the seriousness of the crime.

It was not clear what, if any, charges Stegeman and his investigative team faced from the latest airport security sting.