August 13, 2006

US to ease flight rules: Chertoff

By Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Restrictions on U.S. airline
travelers will likely be eased sometime on Sunday but Homeland
Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the threat of an
attack on airliners remained.

The Transportation and Security Administration, or TSA,
barred all liquids, except baby formula and breast milk, from
flights last week because of a plot to bring down jetliners as
they flew from London to the United States.

Plotters planned to use common chemicals often found in
liquids to make explosives and detonate them using a common
electronic device -- all of which were normally allowed on

"Later today, TSA will be announcing some minor refinements
in the restrictions, actually easing them in certain respects
based on our experience of risk," Chertoff told the ABC news
program "This Week."

"I do not see us moving to a total ban on hand baggage at
this point," he added. "With the measures we have regarding
liquids, with the training we've given the screeners and with
the tools we have, we're capable of protecting the airlines
without the measure that would so inconvenience people of
preventing them from bringing anything on the plane."

Britain has arrested about two dozen people in connection
with the plot.

"Obviously, they believe they've picked up the main
players, but it's a plot that's international in scope,"
Chertoff said on Fox News Sunday. "We're still concerned there
may be some plotters who are out there."

Chertoff told CBS's news program Face the Nation that he
knew of no suspects in the United States connected with the
plot uncovered in Britain.

"As we speak right now we've not found any indication of
active planning in the U.S. or plans to conduct operations
within the U.S.," he said. "Nothing so far."


Chertoff said that although the plot to bring down multiple
planes simultaneously looked like an al Qaeda plot, it was not
clear precisely what role the organization may have played in
planning or organizing it.

"I think even traditionally, al Qaeda has not always
carried out its plots with that kind of centralized control,"
he said on ABC's This Week. "But if you look at this plot, it
has the hallmarks of an Al Qaeda-type plot -- very
sophisticated. The idea of multiple terrorist attacks at the
same time."

The homeland security chief also defended two controversial
programs -- warrantless wiretapping and the SWIFT program to
track financial transfers -- as necessary.

"Surveillance of communications, tracking the flow of money
and transactions, that is -- those are the weapons of the
modern war against terror," he said.

The new regime of protecting airplanes would focus less on
technology to detect explosives and more on intelligent
questioning of air passengers by screeners.

"We've run six pilots on liquid explosive detection," he
told Fox News Sunday. "We have retrained 38,000 screeners in
up-to-date techniques for spotting detonators and modern types
of explosive devices. So it's not that we can't detect the
chemicals. It's that the chemicals are very common, and there
would be a lot of false positives."