Airline Passenger Screening Changes Coming

In this photo taken Monday, Dec. 28, 2009, an employee of Schiphol stands inside a body scanner during a demonstration at a press briefing at Schiphol airport, Netherlands. On display the highlighted area shows an alert on possible forbidden items. The newest models do not show the gender of the passenger, but you can see if someone carries liquids, weapons or other objects. The Netherlands announced Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009, they will immediately begin using full body scanners for flights heading to the United States, issuing a report that called the failed Christmas Day airline bombing a "professional" terror attack. (AP Photo/Cynthia Boll, File)
AP Photo/Cynthia Boll, file
Travelers from 14 countries that have been home to terrorists will no longer automatically face extra screening before they fly to the U.S.

Beginning later this month, anyone traveling to the U.S. will instead be screened based on specific information about potential terrorist threats, a senior Obama administration official said.

"It's much more tailored to what intelligence is telling us and what the threat is, as opposed to stopping all individuals from a particular nationality," one Obama administration official told CBS News homeland security correspondent Bob Orr.

A person would be stopped if he or she matches a description, even if officials do not have a suspect's name, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security issues.

The new system is supposed to raise red flags on those whose names do not appear on "no fly" lists by "surgically targeting" potential terrorists - looking at suspicious travel patterns and other activity consistent with intelligence reports, says Orr.

For example, if the U.S. has intelligence about a Nigerian man between the ages of 22 and 32 whom officials believe is a threat or a known terrorist, under the new policy all Nigerian men within that age range will receive extra screening before they are allowed to fly to the U.S. If intelligence later shows that the suspect is not a terrorist, travelers will not be screened against that description.

The new procedures replace those that went into effect after the attempted bombing of a jetliner en route to Detroit on Christmas Day. Those rules required extra screening, such as full-body pat-downs, for everyone from, or traveling through, any of these 14 countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The new terror-screening strategy, to be announced Friday, is a result of a review ordered by President Obama.

The intelligence-based targeting will be in addition to screening names on terror watch lists. The government's "no fly" list of suspected terrorists, who are banned from flights to, or within, U.S. territory, has about 6,000 names.

A Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has been charged with boarding a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day with a bomb hidden in his underwear. One of the reasons the alleged bomber was able to board the flight in Amsterdam was that his name was not on a U.S. terror watch list. However, officials failed to even share a description of the suspected terrorist.

The new policy should significantly decrease the number of innocent travelers from the 14 countries who have been inconvenienced by the extra screening, the official said.

In the past three months, senior U.S. security officials have been meeting with foreign countries to discuss how to improve aviation security, and many countries have adopted enhanced screening methods, including the use of body-scanning machines.

The U.S. does not have the authority to screen passengers in foreign airports. But if air carriers do not agree to follow the U.S. guidelines for international aviation security, they could be fined and potentially banned from operating flights to the U.S.

Below are answers to Frequently Asked Questions posted by the Department of Homeland Security:

Is the list of 14 countries of concern still in use?
These measures supersede the list of countries concern put in place as an emergency measure on January 3, 2010. The enhanced security measures that are going into effect are tailored to intelligence about potential threats and are focused on all passengers from all countries. They are part of a dynamic, threat based process covering all passengers traveling to the United States while focusing security measures in a more effective and efficient manner to ensure the safety and security of all those traveling by air to the United States.

Is this a weakening of the current posture system?
It's a strengthening of the system. These new, more flexible security protocols are tailored to reflect the most current information available to U.S. authorities and are based on real-time, threat-based intelligence that will now be applied to all passengers traveling to the United States.

Which countries are affected by the new directives?
The security measures apply to all passengers on international flights directly to the U.S. worldwide.

What can passengers expect to see at airports?
Passengers traveling to the U.S. from international destinations may notice enhanced security and screening measures throughout the passenger check-in and boarding process which could include explosives trace detection, use of advanced imaging technology, canine teams or pat downs, among other security measures to keep air travel safe.