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U.S. Tightens Domestic Airport Security

RENÉE MONTAGNE, host:

We turn now to NPR Homeland Security correspondent Pam Fessler. Good morning.

PAM FESSLER reporting:

Good morning.

MONTAGNE: You've been following this morning's events and the U.S. response to the arrest in London. What do the U.S. authorities seem to know about the foiled plot at this point?

FESSLER: Well, they're clearly in the middle of an investigation, working very closely with the British authorities. We know, obviously, that 21 individuals are in custody in relationship to the alleged plot, but they are clearly very concerned, and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff repeatedly said that this was something that was very imminent, not in the thinking stages where we've had some arrests recently where people have just only been alleged to have been thinking about plotting an attack.

He also would not say one way or another whether or not officials believe that all those involved had been caught. As you know, we have raised the threat level for flights from the United Kingdom to the United States to the level red, which does seem to indicate that they think that there might be a chance that some of those involved are still at large.

MONTAGNE: And what else besides raising that threat level to red is the U.S. doing in terms of response?

FESSLER: Well, authorities have raised the alert level for all U.S. flights. Those are within the United States and international flights coming in and leaving the United States to orange. They have also banned all liquids on carry-on luggage because, as you just spoke with John about, they were very concerned that this involves liquids that might have been mixed on the plane to create explosives.

So no liquids will be allowed on carry-on luggage: you have to check them in your baggage. There is an exception for baby formula and medicine, but individuals have to then be able to present those for inspection to the TSA authorities.

We're also going to see probably a lot more - there will be more federal air marshals on international flights from Great Britain. You'll see more canine teams around airports. There will be much, much greater scrutiny of all passengers coming in and leaving the United States.

MONTAGNE: So leave that bottled water and hand lotion at home, and what else should people who are traveling by air this morning know about traveling here in the U.S.?

FESSLER: Well, the people are just going to have to expect delays, and they have said that people - they hope that people will be patient. One thing right now, even though they've asked everybody to stop liquids, it's not clear to me that our existing technology could actually detect whether or not somebody is bringing liquid onto a flight against these rules, and I expect there's going to be a lot of hand-searching of carry-on luggage, a lot more than people are used to, and they should expect very long delays and lines.

MONTAGNE: But of course, carry-on luggage is okay in the U.S.? In Britain they're not allowing even the luggage itself.

FESSLER: Right. And actually, a lot of these alerts in the United States, authorities say they're taking as a precaution. One, they're concerned about any copycat attacks or plans or plots, and the other thing is just as a precaution, because they're not sure right now the extent of this plot and whether or not they have everybody in custody.

MONTAGNE: NPR Homeland Security correspondence Pam Fessler. This MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renée Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler
Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.
Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.