Istanbul attack revives fears over airport security

Istanbul attack revives fears over airport security
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The deadly suicide bombings at Istanbul's largest airport are ratcheting up fears over aviation security in the United States.

Airports around the country can expect to see a stepped up police presence over the July Fourth weekend. And Congress is expected to soon vote on Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) legislation with enhanced security provisions and a separate anti-terrorism package next week.

But the attack is also highlighting the lack of easy answers for improving airport security.

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Some have questioned whether airport checkpoints should be expanded or if the security perimeter should be pushed further out.

But security experts are urging U.S. airport officials and policymakers to resist those calls, saying it would just shift the target for terrorists.

“Checkpoints create bottlenecks and queues of people waiting to get through them, which then become an easy target,” Brian Michael Jenkins, senior adviser to the RAND Corporation’s president and director of the National Transportation Security Center at the Mineta Transportation Institute, wrote in an op-ed for The Hill. 

The response to every terrorist attack cannot be the creation of another security perimeter.”

Tuesday’s suicide bombings that killed 42 people at Turkey's Istanbul Ataturk Airport were the second major terrorist attack on an airport abroad in recent months, following a similar devastating attack on a Brussels airport and subway station in March.

While attacks on airports are not a new trend – the aviation sector has long been a top target for terrorists – the latest events are likely to put Americans on edge, amplify security fears and influence response efforts in the U.S.

As it has become more difficult to hijack airliners, terrorists have increasingly turned to unmanned perimeters, or so-called soft targets.

CIA Director John Brennan told Yahoo News this week that he would "be surprised if Daesh is not trying to carry out that kind of attack in the United States," using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Brennan also said it’s difficult to prevent attacks when terrorists are willing to die for their missions, further complicating the U.S. security strategy.

House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said on "Fox and Friends" that Istanbul “is like the sequel to Brussels... we’re seeing these attacks all too common.”

A false-alarm bomb scare at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport this week caused a brief evacuation of one terminal, while Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, D.C., went into lockdown Thursday morning after a preparedness drill was mistakenly reported as an active shooter situation.

Those incidents highlight the extent to which officials are on edge.

In the immediate aftermath of the Istanbul attack, Department of Homeland Security officials said extra police patrols and bomb-sniffing dogs were being deployed to the busiest transportation hubs.

In some countries, passengers and vehicles are screened for explosives and suspicious behavior on the roads leading up to the airport and before they arrive at the terminal.

But aviation security in the U.S. is more likely to focus on increasing highly visible security personnel around airport perimeters.

Lawmakers are eyeing a reauthorization of the FAA as the primary vehicle to beef up airport security.

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneAviation panel recommends Trump roll back safety rules Overnight Regulation: House moves to block methane rule | Senators wrestle with allowing driverless trucks | EPA delays toxic waste rule Overnight Tech: Senate looks at self-driving trucks | Facebook to keep ads off fake news | House panel calls Equifax CEO to testify MORE (R-S.D.), touted a number of security provisions likely to be included in an 18-month FAA bill, which hasn’t been released yet but could be considered on the floor as soon as next week.

Thune pointed to language that would increase the presence of special teams with bomb-sniffing dogs, require stronger vetting of airport employees and expand enrollment in the PreCheck program so that fewer passengers are standing around in unsecure checkpoint lines.

“There’s just a lot of measures in the bill that we think are going to strengthen aviation security,” Thune said on Fox News this week. “And they’re things we need to do given the threats that we face.”

With public anxiety mounting, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson encouraged the public to continue with their celebrations and plans this holiday weekend. But he also urged people to remain vigilant and exercise caution in all public places – not just airports.

McCaul echoed a similar sentiment, saying that it’s important to not let terrorists defeat the public’s ability to travel.

“If you don’t travel, they win,” he said.