US governments asks airlines to check the no-fly list more often

(Associated Press) Law enforcement officials decided not to call all airlines directly on Monday to tell them an important name had been added to the government’s “no-fly” list, even as investigators pursued the man they suspected was the Times Square bomber.

Emirates airlines apparently didn’t notice the notification from the Transportation Security Administration that there was an addition to the list, and Faisal Shahzad boarded a Mideast-bound jetliner before federal authorities pulled him off and arrested him. On Wednesday, the government issued a new requirement for airlines to check the no-fly list more often, a move aimed at closing that security gap in future cases of terror suspects.

According to the Obama administration, the airline appeared to drop the ball on Monday by not consulting an updated list when the Times Square suspect purchased his ticket. A post-9/11 requirement that airlines provide Customs and Border Protection officials with lists of passengers 30 minutes before departure kept Shahzad from leaving the country.

Obama administration officials say this is why the aviation security system has multiple layers. Emirates airlines officials did not respond to requests for comment about their role in the security lapse.

On Wednesday, the government issued a new requirement: Airlines must check updates to the no-fly list within two hours of being notified of changes.

Previously, the airlines have had to check for updates every 24 hours. If they don’t comply with the new policy, they could face penalties, a Homeland Security official said.

This is the latest policy change for one of the government’s best-known counterterrorism tools, a list that is constantly updated based on terror threats — but one that is also known for inconveniencing innocent travelers when they are held up at airport security because their names are similar to those on the list. The list was never intended to be the country’s last line of defense against terrorism. But whenever there is an aviation security-related incident, the process gets refined.

Intelligence officials have always been concerned about sharing sensitive information widely, such as the name of a suspect. Some airlines are partially owned by their governments, and law enforcement officials could have thought that notifying all of the airlines to be on the lookout for Shahzad could jeopardize the case.

The changes announced Wednesday do not go far enough, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. said. The administration should require that airlines flag passengers who pay for tickets with cash as well, he said.

Schumer also said matching names to watch lists in the commercial aviation sector should be up to the government, not airlines.

The government agrees. It has planned to take over the responsibility, but the transition has taken longer than expected. The new program is almost fully implemented for domestic airlines and is months away from beginning with international carriers.

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