Boston flight evacuated: What's going on with US airport security?

Two people were removed from a Boston-bound flight from Washington Sunday. After the Paris attacks and the airline crash in Egypt, US officials are looking hard at gaps in airport security.

(AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)
Transportation Security Administration employee John Carter demonstrates the stance in an advanced image technology unit as TSA supervisory officer Diana Hernandez operates the machine at Boston Logan International Airport, in 2010, in Boston. In the wake of the Paris attacks, the TSA has stepped up security measures.

The removal of two people from a Boston-bound flight from Washington Sunday is emblematic of heightened security at airports and other public places nationwide in the wake of the Paris attacks Friday and the crash of a Russian airliner in Egypt in late October.

The incident, which involved the delay of an American Airlines flight scheduled to leave Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport Sunday afternoon, reflects stepped-up security measures in major US cities over the weekend, including Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and New York. Authorities have not identified any specific dangers.

“Thank God there’s no specific threats toward New York City that we know of,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told The Wall Street Journal. “We believe this … is isolated to Paris. But it is a very, very painful thing to see Paris go through this again.” 

But on Monday, ISIS released a videotaped message threatening Washington, D.C. The self-described Islamic State warned that countries taking part in air strikes against Syria would suffer the same fate as France, and threatened to attack Washington, reported Reuters.

Friday night’s terrorist attack in Paris, which killed at least 129 people and wounded more than 350, raised tensions at airports and other points of entry across the US.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates three major airports out of New York City and New Jersey, increased security at its sites and warned travelers to remain vigilant, the International Business Times reports.

Police in Chicago are currently working with federal and international partners to monitor threat levels; Baltimore police deployed “unspecified additional resources” citywide; and Massachusetts state police said they would add security to man critical infrastructure throughout Boston, according to the Journal. 

In Washington, officials conducted a pre-flight evacuation of all passengers on the American Airlines plane Sunday afternoon after the crew reported concerns about the behavior of two passengers. A K-9 unit was called in to sweep the aircraft, and police later questioned and released the two passengers.

No specific threats were identified. 

Another, broader issue officials face is the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) reliance on airport operators to vet aviation workers – a matter that drew attention following the crash of a Russian charter plane over the Sinai peninsula late last month. Concerns that a bomb may have brought down the plane, and that attackers could have taken advantage of security gaps at the Sharm el-Shiekh airport to get an explosive device aboard, led US national security officials to scrutinize the airport security process here.

The nation’s 450 airports use contractors from the TSA, which oversees travel security in the US, to check employees’ names against terrorism databases, and review their immigration status and criminal histories.

Which is why despite the fact that US airports are seen as models for security worldwide, the screening process for workers has caused some to worry, a US official with knowledge of American aviation security told CNN last week

“[The TSA] checkpoint is only one part of it. You can lock that front door all you want, if you've left the back window open it doesn't really matter,” the official said.

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