Napolitano: Planes still top of terror wish list

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ten years after al-Qaida used hijacked airliners as missiles to attack the United States, terrorists continue to target aviation more than any other potential U.S. vulnerability, Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano said Thursday.

As the country prepares to commemorate the anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Napolitano expects questions about whether the U.S. is safer than it was 10 years ago, after all of the security enhancements and the targeted killing of terror leader Osama bin Laden.

“The answer is yes, but there are no guarantees in a world of ever-evolving threats,” she told The Associated Press in an interview.

The Sept. 11 attacks prompted the largest government reorganization in decades, drastically changed U.S. security policies and led to billions in spending to strengthen U.S. terrorism defenses. Many of the changes, such as the linkages of federal intelligence databases and deployment of nuclear detection technology at ports, are not obvious to the American public. But a trip through one of the country’s 457 airports is an instant reminder of how much has changed.

Airport security went from being inconvenient shortly after the attacks to intrusive 10 years later.

At first there were frustratingly long lines and mandatory shoe-removal at security checkpoints. Then there were limitations of the amount of shampoo a traveler can bring in a carry-on bag and full-body imaging machines that display a naked picture of a passenger so screeners can detect hidden weapons. And other policies, like invasive pat-downs on children and the elderly — who appear to pose no terror threat — have enraged some travelers who want the government to use common sense.

There’s a reason for all of this, Napolitano said: “Aviation continues to be the most-often referenced intel that we receive.”

The government has made adjustments where it can, most recently introducing technology that would produce an outline of a person instead of a naked image on some of the airport checkpoint machines around the country. But restrictions on liquids, Napolitano said, aren’t going away any time soon.

The Homeland Security Department was created because of the 2001 terror attacks. The department is a merger of more than 20 government agencies and has more oversight and input from Congress than any other federal department. About one-third of the recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission, a panel assigned to diagnose the failures behind the 2001 attacks, are directed at or involve the department.

The report, issued seven years ago, was a best-seller, and its 41 recommendations quickly became major guidelines for government security improvements.


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