Obama poised to announce tougher airline security rules

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

After meeting this afternoon with top security aides, President Obama is scheduled to announce tougher airline security measures in response to a failed attempt to blow up a jetliner bound for the United States.

Obama will meet with representatives of 20 agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, the CIA and FBI before unveiling the new steps this afternoon. Airlines have already been ordered to step up searches in the wake of the Christmas Day incident.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, who has said he was recruited by Al Qaeda operatives, is in federal custody, charged with trying to destroy the Northwest Airlines flight as it approached Detroit from Amsterdam. Authorities said he smuggled an explosive device aboard the craft, but the bomb only ignited, causing a fire.

Abdulmutallab was subdued by passengers and crew and the plane landed safely.

But the incident has set off a firestorm of criticism as Republicans have blamed the Obama administration for reacting too slowly and have questioned the effectiveness of existing security protocols.

Obama, who was on vacation in Hawaii, ordered two probes, the first into how the materials were smuggled through security and a second into how the watch lists of potential terrorists are maintained.

Abdulmutallab's father, a prominent Nigerian banker, had warned authorities that his son was being radicalized, but Abdulmutallab was not added to the no-fly list and allowed to keep his U.S. visa.

On security issues, the TSA has already has directed airlines to give full-body, pat-down searches to U.S.-bound travelers from Yemen, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and 11 other countries.

Dozens of names have been moved to the tougher no-fly list, the White House announced Monday. People on the watch list are subject to additional scrutiny before they are allowed to enter this country, while anyone on the no-fly list is barred from boarding aircraft in or headed for the United States.

White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters on Air Force One en route to Washington from Hawaii that thousands of people whose names appear on a government terrorism-related database had been "scrubbed" since Dec. 25 and that "dozens" of people were shifted to either "no-fly" lists or a "selectee" list that requires special screening or stepped-up investigation.

Among those scheduled to attend today's session are: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, CIA Director Leon Panetta and FBI Director Robert Mueller. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder; Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence; Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center; national security adviser James Jones; and John Brennan, the president's counter-terrorism advisor, also were to be present.

The president plans to meet this evening in the Oval Office with Democratic leaders of the House and Senate as negotiations for healthcare overhaul get underway. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) are expected to join Obama at the White House, with Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) patching in via conference call.

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