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Tradeoffs after Obama’s meeting with security advisors

The Obama administration takes concrete steps after the Christmas Day bombing attempt on Flight 253. But some of the decisions carry risk.

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In less than two weeks since the attempt to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day, the Obama administration has rolled out new security measures to prevent terrorists from traveling to the US. But the measures, while perhaps reassuring, involve risk. They are so broad that they could alienate friendly nations with large Muslim populations and damage the US economy. And they may not be all that effective.

To a fearful flying public, the steps show the president taking action. Some of them, such as the decision to hold off on returning Guantánamo prisoners to Yemen, are clearly practical. Others are far more problematic.

Since Jan. 4, for instance, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has required enhanced passenger screening – a body pat-down or full-body scan and an extra check of carry-ons – for all people flying from or through 14 designated countries to the US. 

The administration is also reportedly lowering the threshold for putting individuals on its terrorist watch list for further scrutiny. Alleged bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was on a catchall list, but had he been on the narrower watch list, the Nigerian would have been supposedly blocked from flying to the US. The Washington Post reports two criteria for allowing more people onto the actionable list: the relative youth of a suspect (Mr. Abdulmutallab is 23) and the country of origin, such as Yemen, Nigeria, and Somalia


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