US overhauls terror watch lists

January 5, 2010 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, Jan 5 – The United States revamped its terror watchlists as President Barack Obama readied for talks with his intelligence chiefs on the security situation after a foiled attack on a US-bound jet.

Tougher screening procedures for all US-bound air travellers also swung into effect in airports around the world, prompting complaints by some countries that they were unfair.

Obama, who has denounced "systemic" intelligence failures in the Christmas Day bombing attempt, was scheduled to meet Tuesday with US intelligence chiefs on findings of two reviews into a Nigerian man\’s attempt to bring down the jetliner.

The president planned to speak to reporters after the meetings, the White House said.

White House spokesman Bill Burton said "safety and security measures are moving forward even as the review goes on" in a bid to plug security gaps.

"There\’s already been a rescrubbing of all the different lists," he told reporters, referring to the lists which determine whether a person is allowed to board a US-bound flight in a foreign airport.

"Probably thousands upon thousands upon thousands of names were scrubbed, and probably dozens were moved to different lists," he said.

Obama has directly linked the Al-Qaeda network, responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, to the botched bid to blow up a Northwest jet with 290 people on board.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, is alleged to have tried to detonate explosives sewn in his underwear as the plane was approaching to land, but was overpowered by passengers on the flight from Amsterdam.

The administration ordered tight new security measures for US-bound passengers, including random patdowns and baggage checks.

Travellers flying from or via 14 countries including Iran, Nigeria, Yemen and Cuba will have to undergo mandatory enhanced screening before boarding their US-bound flights under the new rules.

The draconian measures drew protests from some of the countries singled out.

"It is unfair to discriminate against over 150 million people because of the behaviour of one person," said Nigeria\’s Information Minister Dora Akunyili.

Cuba\’s official Communist Party daily Gramma blasted the tightened measures as "anti-terrorist paranoia."

A prominent US Muslim rights group criticized the move as "ethnic profiling" that "disproportionately" targets Muslims, including US citizens visiting family and friends in countries on the lists or performing a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

"While singling out travellers based on religion and national origin may make some people feel safer, it only serves to alienate and stigmatize Muslims and does nothing to improve airline security," Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) national executive director Nihad Awad said in a statement.

Obama received a review into the incident from the CIA on Monday and met with his top counter-terrorism advisor, John Brennan.

Brennan has defended the nation\’s 16 security agencies, saying there had been "no smoking gun" that could have helped unmask the plot earlier despite warnings from Abdulmutallab\’s father, a wealthy Nigerian banker. Related article: Nigerian would-be bomber \’caring\’

As the country searched for answers to how the attack was only narrowly avoided, FBI agents in Ghana investigated Abdulmutallab\’s stay there amid allegations he bought his ticket for Detroit in the country.

Obama has revealed that Abdulmutallab had spent time in Yemen during the summer where he was allegedly in contact with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The group has claimed responsibility for the thwarted attack.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, called instability in Yemen a global and regional threat, adding that the United States would reopen its embassy – closed since Sunday – only when conditions permit.

US lawmakers are gearing up for a series of hearings and briefings into the botched attack next week and lawmakers are expected to receive the preliminary findings of the reviews Obama ordered.

Burton said it was unlikely the results of the two reviews ordered by the president would be published.


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