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FBI barred no-fly list update call to airlines

WASHINGTON — Law enforcement officials decided not to call all airlines directly on Monday to tell them an important name had been added to the government's "no-fly" list, even as investigators pursued the man they suspected was the Times Square bomber.

Emirates airlines apparently didn't notice the addition to the list, and Faisal Shahzad boarded a Mideast-bound jetliner before federal authorities pulled him off and arrested him. On Wednesday, the government issued a new requirement for airlines to check the no-fly list more often, a move aimed at closing that security gap in future cases of terror suspects.

But officials could have called all the airlines themselves in such a critical situation — they've done it before.

This would have put Shahzad on the radar of the carriers, and it could have prevented him from being able to board the Emirates plane headed for Dubai.

The FBI asked the Transportation Security Administration not to make the calls, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the ongoing investigation. The FBI did let the Transportation Safety Administration call a few domestic air carriers, which did not include Emirates.

According to the Obama administration, the airline appeared to drop the ball on Monday by not consulting an updated list when the Times Square suspect purchased his ticket. A post-Sept. 11 requirement that airlines provide Customs and Border Protection officials with lists of passengers 30 minutes before departure kept Shahzad from leaving the country.

Obama administration officials say this is why the aviation security system has multiple layers. Emirates airlines officials did not respond to requests for comment about their role in the security lapse.

On Wednesday, the government issued a new requirement: Airlines must check updates to the no-fly list within two hours of being notified of changes.

Previously, the airlines have had to check for updates every 24 hours. If they don't comply with the new policy, they could face penalties, a Homeland Security official said.

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