WASHINGTON — The U.S. government is refining its terrorism-screening policy to focus on specific terrorism threats and not travelers' nationalities.
The new policy replaces a security requirement put in place after the attempted bombing of a jetliner en route to Detroit on Christmas Day that singled out people from 14 countries that have been home to terrorists. It also expands the pool of foreign travelers targeted for extra screening beyond those whose names are on a U.S. terrorism watch list.
The changes, announced Friday by the Homeland Security Department, come after a three-month review of counterterrorism policies ordered by President Obama in the wake of the attack.
Officials hope the new procedures will close a security gap that that allowed alleged bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board a Detroit-bound airplane in Amsterdam with a bomb hidden in his underwear.
Under the refined policy, a person traveling to the U.S. would be stopped if he or she fits a specific description of a potential terrorist provided by U.S. intelligence officials — even if the suspect's name is unknown.
Currently, passengers' names are compared to names on U.S. terrorism watch lists. If air carriers have a potential match to a watch list, the passenger is either banned from flying to the U.S. or subjected to extra screening such as a full-body pat-down before boarding the airplane.
For example, if the U.S. has intelligence about a Nigerian man between the ages of 22 and 32 whom officials believe is a threat or a known terrorist, under the new policy all Nigerian men within that age range would receive extra screening before they are allowed to fly to the U.S.
If intelligence later shows that the suspect is not a terrorist, the extra screening for others matching the description would be lifted.