US gov’t adding air security ‘enhancements’ amid crash probe

WASHINGTON (AP/WPRI) — The Homeland Security Department announced Friday a series of new security efforts aimed at international airports in the wake of the crash of a Russian jetliner over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said the latest security protocols will focus on commercial flights bound for the United States from certain overseas airports in the region. He did not say which airports will be affected.

The new security procedures will include expanded security screening of items put on commercial jets, airport assessments and offers of security assistance for certain airports.

Russian carrier Metrojet’s Airbus A321-200 crashed shortly after takeoff from the Sharm el-Sheikh airport in Egypt on Saturday, killing all 224 people on board. There are no direct flights from that airport to the United States.

Though the investigation is ongoing, President Barack Obama has said the U.S. is taking “very seriously” the possibility that a bomb caused the crash.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he has grounded all British flights to and from the Sinai Peninsula because of “intelligence and information” that points to a bomb as the probable cause of the crash.

On Friday, Russia announced that it will suspend all flights to Egypt until security is improved at its airports.

Michael Balboni, a security expert and former deputy secretary for public safety for New York state, said there are significant differences in the scrutiny of airport workers at overseas airports than in the United States. And in the wake of the downing of the Russian flight, those gaps are likely to gain renewed attention.

“Everything needs a refresh,” Balboni said. “Security is never a destination, it’s a journey. You have to change it up, you have to refresh it.”

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Local airport reaction

In Warwick, travelers told Eyewitness News they really don’t think twice about going through a checkpoint, though some said the security overseas is more intimidating.

“When I went to Germany there were armed guards everywhere. So that was like a huge difference. That there was the military there,” said Jamie Gionfriddo.

Arthur Nigro disagreed. “No, I don’t think it was any tighter than what we’ve got. I didn’t care too much for them sitting around with guns, either,” he said.

Warwick’s TF Green airport is under TSA protection, though the airport’s international service is limited to Germany and Cape Verde.

Eyewitness News analyst Lt. Reginald Centracchio weighed in on the news Friday.

“We have the propensity to think our standards and our systems are in place. And having said that – they’re not the best. We’ve seen in the last several days that report that was released by Homeland Security,” Centracchio said.

The report to which he is referring found that most TSA breaches remain, only months after domestic agents failed to intercept fake bombs and weapons in 95 percent of tests.

Centracchio said he urges domestic and international passengers to be proactive and vigilant while flying.

“If we see something that a TSA inspector is not doing, we need to take him to task and say, ‘how come you checked him and you didn’t check me, or ‘you checked me and you didn’t check him,’ or ‘you did something different,'” he explained. “We need to put major efforts into making sure that the people who are hired are well-trained and they’re held to task – to make sure they’re doing the job they were hired to do.”

Annie Shalvey contributed to this report.

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