Monday was supposed to be the first day of a major airport security upgrade, but despite the stated urgency, change seemed to be coming gradually.
Air travelers coming to the U.S. are now supposed to be put through enhanced screenings if they have been in or have passports from 14 suspect countries, including Pakistan, Nigeria and Yemen, and U.S. officials said today that they have added new names to the no-fly list.
But officials at airports in Britain, Italy, Russia and Lebanon told ABC News they had not even received the new security directives from Washington.
Since the attempted bombing of Northwest flight 253 on Christmas, air passengers in general have been subjected to more intensive screening, including patdowns. The announcement of a 14-country list marks the government's attempt to focus the enhanced screening, including full-body patdowns and bag searches, on fewer, but higher-risk, passengers.
But at Newark airport today, Sharon Collins, a U.S. passport holder who had just stepped off a flight from Paris, questioned whether the patdown she'd been subjected to was effective. She said no one checked to see if her underwear held a bomb, though she noted that's where alleged Northwest 253 bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had stashed his device.
Said Collins, "I guess because of sexual things they can't pat you down in the crotch area and that's where he had the bomb-making things, I believe. And somebody can still slip by with something sewn into the crotch of their pants."
"They did pat me down in the bra area but not in the panty area," said Collins. "The hips yes, the crotch no. It was very thorough but just not in that area.
"We are just as vulnerable now as we were when that flight landed in Detroit," said David Learmount, safety editor for Flight International magazine. "There is nothing that has been done yet which is making much of a fundamental difference."
Pakistan, Cuba, Iran, Yemen on List
The 14 countries whose passport holders are subject to intensive screening are Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Nigeria, Yemen , Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, Somalia, Libya, and Afghanistan.
"There is no question that these particular 14 countries have long had ties to terrorism," said Clark Kent Ervin, former inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security and now head of the Homeland Security Program at the Aspen Institute.
Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism czar and now an ABC News consultant, said a patdown may not detect the kind of bomb allegedly carried by Abdulmutallab in his underwear on Christmas. "It has to be a very intrusive and somewhat intimate pat-down in order to feel a bomb in that location."
Eventually, U.S. officials want full body scan machines to be the standard for security screening, although to stop a bomb hidden in a traveler's underwear will require a complete lack of privacy.
" So, do you want your private parts felt by a security agent or do you want to be scanned" asked Flight International magazine's Learmount." If you don't want either, then I'm afraid you're not going to be able to fly."
The European Union is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to set aside privacy concerns and expand the use of full body scanners.
In this country, the House had voted last summer to restrict the use of full body scanners because of privacy issues, but that amendment is unlikely to pass the Senate now, given what happened on Christmas day.
Senior administration officials also told ABC News Monday that the Northwest incident prompted the intelligence community to review the approximately 550,000 names in the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), and the roughly 400,000 names in the Terrorist Screening Data Base (TSDB) and –"based on age and nationality criteria" extrapolated from the recent plot – identify dozens of people from those two lists and add them to the "Selectee List." Officials also said that a smaller number of names had been added to the "No-fly" list, and that a reexamination of the larger lists also lead to the revocation of five U.S. visas.
The Selectee List includes about 16,000 individuals who require more stringent screening before they are permitted to board an airplane. The No-fly list includes 4,000 individuals. Abdulmutallab had been on the TIDE list but not the TSDB list, the Selectee list or the No-fly list.