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Loopholes In Global Aviation System Pose Challenges To Effective Screening

Loopholes in the global aviation system beyond the control of the Homeland Security Department are stymieing steps to bolster screening, several federal officials told lawmakers, NextGov reported.

"Legal and cultural factors sometimes inhibit harmonization efforts" to standardize security measures, said Steve Lord, director of homeland security and justice issues for the Government Accountability Office.

Lord testified Thursday afternoon before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security at a hearing that focused on terrorist threats emanating from aircraft operations overseas. Since December 2009, when a passenger attempted to bomb a Detroit-bound plane by concealing explosives in his underwear, the U.S. government has tried to improve security throughout the global air transportation network.

But deploying more body scanners and raising awareness among international aviation partners did not reveal a November plot to take down cargo planes headed for the United States from Yemen. It was a tip from intelligence officials that alerted President Obama to a credible terrorist threat, according to the White House.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., chairman of the full committee, seemed particularly concerned about the disconnect between U.S. and foreign data systems. "We've talked about machinery," he said. "We need to talk about information that is about passengers. . . . That can be as important as the machinery itself and can reveal things that the machinery never could, such things as intent."

He noted Europe is not keen on the idea of adopting a passenger data system similar to the one the United States uses. Several bilateral agreements that would improve information sharing on known offenders haven't been signed and some European Union officials now are looking to restrict reviews of data from passenger name records, according to DHS officials. PNRs contain information that passengers give to travel agencies and airlines to book flights.

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