Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano marked the one-year anniversary of a foiled airplane bombing by touting improved security and warning of new threats.
“The overall message is everything is objectively better than it was a year ago, particularly in the aviation environment,” Napolitano said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “But we’re also looking at addressing other areas.”
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, tried to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines plane on Christmas 2009, prosecutors say. Today, new screening machines and pat-downs allow airport security officers to detect plastic explosives that conventional metal detectors cannot.
New intelligence-gathering efforts allow the U.S. to vet international passengers before they get to the boarding gate, Napolitano said.
Napolitano said other transportation modes are also being looked at. Suicide bombers killed 52 people on three London subway trains and a bus in 2005. New York City installed 586 cameras last month in Times Square, Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station.
In addition, the department has given more attention to shopping malls, hotels and other “so-called soft targets,” she said.
Another target could be U.S. computer systems, Michael McConnell, former national intelligence director, said on CNN.
“From a remote location, anywhere in the world, at the speed of light, which is milliseconds, someone could mount an attack into the United States to turn off the lights or to disrupt the money supply or disrupt transportation,” he said.
The Internet is also being used to recruit terrorists, McConnell said. Pressure on al-Qaida’s leadership has forced the group to look for other ways to launch an attack, including using the Web to attract individuals, some of them Americans.
While an individual might be spurred to act, such an attack won’t be as bloody or damaging as a large-scale al-Qaida assault, though one may be harder to stop, former Central Intelligence Agency director Michael Hayden said.
“There’s always going to be a vulnerable young man or woman out there who is angry or has an ax to grind about something that will join up,” Hayden said.
A nationalized U.S. citizen, Faisal Shahzad, failed in an attempt to detonate a car bomb in Times Square in May. He admitted traveling to a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.
Another powerful terrorist recruitment tool remains Guantanamo Bay prison, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said on CNN.
Gibbs said President Barack Obama’s ability to close the prison, as he promised during his campaign, depends on congressional Republicans’ willingness to listen to those who have said al-Qaida uses the facility as a “recruiting tool” to lure “young people to do harm, to try to blow up airplanes, to blow up themselves and kill others.”
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