Feds warn of bombs implanted in passengers

KEITH HERBERT

NEWSDAY

The U.S. government has warned domestic and international airlines that terrorists may be planning to surgically implant bombs in airline passengers.

Federal officials confirmed the warnings Wednesday. "Recent intelligence" brought to light the possible terrorist scheme but no specific plot had been uncovered, said Lisa Farbstein, a Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Wednesday that a bomb implanted in airline passengers is something government security officials have been worried about for "a while."

"This is a concern about human bombs," King said. "We believe we've informed everyone."

A U.S. security official said that a potential terrorist with a bomb implanted in his or her body is likely to come from overseas rather than domestically and that precautionary steps have been taken internationally and in the United States to be on guard for such suspects.

In August 2009, an al-Qaida suicide bomber, Abdullah Hassan Tali Assiri, attacked and injured Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef with a bomb concealed in a body cavity after passing through two airport scanners, King said.

King and TSA officials would not say if the full-body scanners currently employed at U.S. airports would detect bombs implanted in a human.

One aviation security consultant, Alvy Dodson, a former TSA official in Texas, said X-ray technology would detect such concealed bombs, but their deployment would create other concerns.

That technology "is a little bit more invasive" than what's currently deployed and could create health issues, Dodson said. "It's a balancing act for aviation security."

Passengers flying from international locations to the United States might notice additional security measures, including additional pat-downs and other physical screening, the TSA said in a statement.

However, the security measures are designed to be "unpredictable" so that passengers might not notice the same level of activity at every international airport, according to the TSA.

Dodson said talk among aviation security officials about a bomb hidden in a body cavity is nothing new.

Dodson, who retired from the TSA in 2008, said, putting a bomb in the body is similar to "a lot of the drug smuggling that's done. Obviously, there's an inherent danger."

Chemicals needed to make a bomb could become poisonous if exposed to internal organs of the human body, and signs like sweating, nervousness, flushness or an unusual gait would be clues that a person was smuggling something in a body cavity, Dodson said.

The TSA stepped up installations of full-body scanners at U.S. airports after the Christmas 2009 attempt to blow up a flight over Detroit by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Abdulmutallab tried to detonate a bomb concealed in his underwear.

The attempt failed as the jet, carrying 300 people, prepared to land on a flight from Amsterdam.