Air travelers will face new security procedure at U.S. airports

Thursday, February 18, 2010; A04

The Transportation Security Administration will begin randomly swabbing U.S. travelers' hands and baggage for explosives beyond security checkpoints at airports starting Thursday, the latest increase in aviation security measures after the failed bombing attempt of a jetliner on Christmas, the agency announced Wednesday.

The expanded use of machines to detect explosives was tried at five airports for 17 days after the failed al-Qaeda attack on Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit, TSA spokeswoman Kristin Lee said. In that incident, Nigerian suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is accused of trying to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear.

Passengers should notice random checks in boarding and gate areas as they are phased in at 450 airports nationwide over a period of weeks starting Thursday.

Airport screeners have generally reserved explosives checks for "secondary screening," in which passengers are selected for additional scrutiny, but the Abdulmutallab case exposed gaps in the government's ability to identify people who might pose a threat.

-- Spencer S. Hsu

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