U.S. airline restrictions eased

Restrictions on U.S. airline travelers were eased slightly on Sunday, but Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the threat of an attack on airliners remained.

The Transportation and Security Administration, or TSA, said on its Web site it would allow passengers to bring up to 4 ounces (118 ml) of nonprescription liquid medication on board, including pain relievers and cough medicine.

It also said it would allow on board glucose gel and other medicines for low blood sugar treatments for diabetics.

The TSA had barred all liquids, except baby formula and breast milk, from flights last week because of a plot to bring down jetliners as they flew from London to the United States.

Plotters planned to use common chemicals often found in liquids to make explosives and detonate them using a common electronic device — all of which were normally allowed on aircraft.

On Sunday, the TSA also said it would require all passengers traveling on domestic and international flights to remove their shoes for screening.

Until now, it had been recommended that passengers be asked to remove their shoes for X-ray screening before boarding. But the practice will become mandatory at all airports, the TSA said.

Since convicted “shoe bomber” Richard Reid of Britain tried to blow up a transatlantic American Airlines flight shortly after the September 11, 2001, hijack attacks, U.S. airport officials have paid closer attention to passengers’ shoes.

But while the United States moved quickly last week to tighten security, Chertoff told CBS’s news program “Face the Nation” that he knew of no suspects in the United States connected with the plot uncovered in Britain.

“As we speak right now we’ve not found any indication of active planning in the U.S. or plans to conduct operations within the U.S.,” he said. “Nothing so far.”

Britain has arrested about two dozen people in connection with the plot.

“Obviously, they believe they’ve picked up the main players, but it’s a plot that’s international in scope,” Chertoff said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We’re still concerned there may be some plotters who are out there.”


Chertoff said that although the plot to bring down multiple planes nearly simultaneously looked like an al Qaeda plot, it was not clear precisely what role the organization may have played in planning or organizing it.

“I think even traditionally, al Qaeda has not always carried out its plots with that kind of centralized control,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “But if you look at this plot, it has the hallmarks of an al Qaeda-type plot — very sophisticated. The idea of multiple terrorist attacks at the same time.”

The homeland security chief also defended two controversial programs — warrantless wiretapping and the SWIFT program to track financial transfers — as necessary.

“Surveillance of communications, tracking the flow of money and transactions, that is — those are the weapons of the modern war against terror,” he said.

Chertoff said the latest efforts to protect airplanes would focus less on technology to detect explosives and more on intelligent questioning of air passengers by screeners. He said authorities have been honing screeners’ skills in finding liquid explosives but the task is daunting.

“We’ve run six pilots on liquid explosive detection,” he told “Fox News Sunday. “We have retrained 38,000 screeners in up-to-date techniques for spotting detonators and modern types of explosive devices. So it’s not that we can’t detect the chemicals. It’s that the chemicals are very common, and there would be a lot of false positives.”

(Additional reporting by Diane Bartz)

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