The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Wednesday announced that it would require airlines to quickly check the US no-fly list within two hours of being informed to do so.
The new rule came less than 48 hours after suspected Times Square bomber Fasil Shahzad boarded an Emirates airlines flight to Dubai at John F. Kennedy International Airport Monday evening despite the fact that US authorities placed him on the no-fly list that afternoon.
At the time, TSA required airlines to refresh the no-fly list every 24 hours. Still, agents from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) took Shahzad from the flight and arrested him because his name turned up on their watchlists. In addition, Emirates reported suspicious behavior from Shahzad to airport security. (He purchased a one-way ticket in cash with little advance notice.)
An administration official confirmed that the airline apparently didn’t find Shahzad’s name on the no-fly list because it had not refreshed the list recently enough, permitting him to board the flight.
Although airlines now must recheck the no-fly list within two hours of being notified of a special circumstance to do so by TSA, TSA itself is in the process of assuming direct control of the no-fly list checks through the Secure Flight program.
With Secure Flight, TSA willhave direct access to more detailed information to reduce the number of misidentifications that occur with the no-fly list presently.
TSA plans to assume responsibility for prescreening of passenger information against the no-fly list and selectee list for secondary screening for all US domestic flights this spring, a TSA spokesperson told HSToday.us. It should assume control for all international flights to and from the United States by the end of 2010.
Secure Flight permits TSA to run checks up to 72 hours before a flight departs. Under procedures for the program, TSA would run a check again directly before a flight departs, said the spokesperson, who spoke on background due to the sensitive nature ofthe security information.
"Currently airlines receive the watchlist and match their own passenger manifests against that," the spokesperson said. "Airlines are currently required to recheck the list within 24 hours of the flight.
"When TSA takes over watchlist matching responsibilities from the airlines in the form of Secure Flight, we’ll be able to efficiently and effectively match those lists, all while reducing misidentifications of individuals. We’ll be increasing security as well as increasing customer service," the spokesperson added.
In the meantime, the change in requirements to trigger a refresh of the watchlist in 2 hours under special circumstances brought applause from Capitol Hill.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) hailed the rapid response from TSA in changing the procedure to ensure other suspects such as Shahzad do not get as far as he did.
"I want to recognize the Transportation Security Administration’s timely efforts to revise the agency’s watch list screening procedures as terrorist threats continue to develop," Sanchez said in a statement. "The fact that Faisal Shahzad, the primary suspect in the Times Square bomb case, was able to board a plane to Dubai after his name had already been added to the no-fly list is completely unacceptable. Thanks to TSA’s changes, we’ll now be able to screen passengers up to the point of departure."
Sanchez again lamented the lack of a permanent administrator at TSA, which she said would strengthen the agency’s ability to respond quickly to security threats.
"I think it’s also important to note that this country has experienced two major attempted terrorist attacks in the last six months, yet TSA still does not have a leader to head its operations. I am hopeful President Obama will soon nominate a viable candidate for TSA administrator and I urge the Senate to move quickly when this happens. The ongoing lack of leadership at TSA puts the security of our transportation systems and airports at risk," she said.