Stepping up the war against terrorism, a federal commission proposed Thursday new layers of high-technology surveillance and background checks which would touch nearly all 500 million passengers who fly in and out of U.S. airports every year.
The measures would not eliminate the risk of terrorism, the commission said, and every step proposed came with some cautions about costs or potential burdens on passengers and the airlines. But the steps can be taken quickly to at least make terrorism harder to carry out, the panel said.
Among the proposed actions: All bags would have to be matched with passengers or they would be taken off flights, computer information on passengers’ flight habits would be used to help pinpoint potential terrorists, new machines for detecting bombs in luggage would be used and more money would be spent for old technology - bomb-sniffing dogs.
“No single action can do the job. There is no silver bullet,” said Vice President Al Gore. But with the variety of proposed measures, “we believe we can dramatically change the nature of the problem we are trying to solve.
“These actions are tough, they are doable and we’re going to get them in place quickly and effectively.”
The White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security was formed after the July 17 crash of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island, N.Y. No definitive evidence has pointed to a terrorist act bringing down the Boeing 747 and its 230 passengers and crew members, although there is mounting proof of at least one bomb on board.
The panel, which includes government officials, airline industry groups, anti-terrorism experts and relatives of victims of past attacks on airliners, is to make a formal presentation of almost two dozen initiatives to President Clinton on Monday.
Gore said that if, as expected, Clinton concurs with the panel’s recommendations, the administration will ask Congress for about $300 million to pay for the new moves. Much of that money would be used to buy more bomb-detecting machines to be deployed at some of the nation’s largest airports. The airports were not specified - and might never be for security reasons.
So far, bomb-sniffing technology has proved cumbersome - each machine processes only 100 to 125 bags per hour. That is one reason why the devices can’t be used on every piece of baggage and why other steps must be employed to detect potential terrorists, Gore said.
That also is why the number of teams of bomb-sniffing dogs would be increased, he said.
Among other key steps the commission wants to take:
Matching of all baggage with passengers. The so-called “full baggage match” currently is used on all international flights.
Computer profiling of passengers. Using techniques already employed by the U.S. Customs Service to snare drug smugglers, airline and airport security officials would use computer profiles of passengers to determine who should be checked more closely.
Criminal background checks of airline and airport employees. Not all employees working in areas where airplanes can be reached are checked now for arrest and conviction records.
Anti-terrorism training for airport security personnel overseas.
Increased use of the FBI in counterterrorism activities.