Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Another Wake-up Call for the TSA?

The terrorist attack at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport yesterday, which killed 35 people and injured over 100 took place in the airports arrival hall, or often known as the “land side”. This is an open space for anyone to enter without having to go through any security checkpoints.

This vulnerability in airport security has been long recognized by both security officials and terrorists. "Every airport in the world, including every airport in the United States, has virtually no security until you get to the security checkpoint," said Richard Clarke, an ABC News consultant and former White House counter-terrorism official.

Passenger and baggage screening typically take place before entering the “airside” of the airport. For international arriving passengers, baggage pick-up normally occurs airside up until the exit from customs to the arrival hall. However, for domestic passengers, baggage pick-up can often occur landside, which adds a level of threat from terrorists who may have concealed weapons in their checked luggage. At Domodedovo Airport, the space between baggage pick-up and the public arrival area is very small and was vulnerable to attack. This is a problem worldwide. In fact, almost all violent criminal or terrorist attacks at airports over the past 20 years have occurred landside.

This is an issue that will not be easy to deal with because of the large number of people at land side that include those meeting travelers, service providers and friends and family of departing passengers. There is surveillance but no screening. Will land side screening become the next area for the TSA to pinpoint?

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