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The Nation

Electronic Gear to Get Tougher Airport Scrutiny

August 06, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Compact disc players, cameras, laptop computers and other electronic devices will get greater scrutiny at airports, the government said Tuesday, warning that terrorists may try to use such items to conceal weapons or bombs.

The Homeland Security Department sent an advisory to law enforcement personnel nationwide alerting them to the possibility that Al Qaeda could use electronics to carry out attacks.

"Al Qaeda operatives have shown a special interest in converting a camera flash attachment into a stun gun-type of weapon or improvised explosive device," the advisory said.

Among the items that will prompt increased scrutiny at airports are remote keyless door or lock openers, automatic camera flash attachments, cellular phones and multi-band or dual-speaker radios.

"Depending on location, placement and configuration of the device, the amount of explosives that could be contained within even the smallest camera could cause collateral damage," the advisory said.

It also said terrorists could design such devices to be used against government buildings, public areas with controlled access and security screening checkpoints.

Security directors at airports were ordered to meet with all federal screeners within the next day and review procedures for checking electronic gadgets, said Brian Turmail, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration.

The TSA also is asking passengers to remove all their electronics from their pockets or bags and put them through the X-ray machine at the security checkpoint, Turmail said. Air travelers will still be required to remove laptop computers from their cases before they are screened, he said.

David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Assn., predicted inconveniences for travelers, including longer lines at security checkpoints.

"They're going to be subject to extraordinary scrutiny," Stempler said. But, he added, "I'd be disappointed if they weren't doing anything different, given these warnings."

The advisory was the latest effort to tighten security since the government on July 28 warned that terrorists might try more suicide hijackings.

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