US Senate approves post-Brussels airport security rules

New regulations would double the number of visible security teams, more closely screen airline employees, and fund law enforcement training.

Laurie Dieffembach, Pool/AP
Passengers arrive at the temporary check in terminal at Brussels Airport, in Zaventem, Belgium, Monday, April 4, 2016. The US Senate approved several measures on Thursday to strengthen travel security in the wake of terrorist attacks at the city's airport and a train station last month.

The US Senate passed several measures to bolster travel security on Thursday, its first response to attacks on the airport and a train station in Brussels last month. 

The provisions would strengthen vetting of airport employees, double the number of transportation security teams with bomb-sniffing dogs and increase the number of teams that conduct covert operations designed to test security systems, The New York Times reports.

"Events around the world and security lapses at US airports necessitate new protections for the traveling public," Sen. John Thune (R) of South Dakota, who chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said on Thursday. "Keeping Americans safe from future attacks is a top priority in this Senate."

The bombings in Brussels, which killed dozens of travelers and injured dozens at the airport and a train station, have prompted nations around the world to strengthen their security measures.

The Senate's measures, which could pass as early as next week, are attached to a larger bill to reauthorize funding for the Federal Aviation Administration. Separately, the House scrapped a controversial proposal to privatize the nation's air-traffic control system.

The Senate's security measures also provide additional funds for law enforcement training to respond to active shooters and boost security around airport facilities' perimeters.  

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would be required to review potential threats of a terrorist attack posed by insider employees, a measure that comes in the wake of concerns that a recent attack on a Russian flight leaving Egypt was aided by an airline mechanic. Last June, a Department of Homeland Security report found that the TSA failed to uncover 73 employees' links to terrorism

The efforts would expand the TSA PreCheck program, which lawmakers said would both decrease wait times for passengers and give agents additional opportunities to screen other passengers.

But despite the increasing rigor, and the potential inconveniences for travelers, the measures arguably pale in comparison to the airport security model adopted in countries such as Israel, where screenings begin at a checkpoint on the highway.

As The Christian Science Monitor reported last month, the security measures at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport include questions about where passengers are traveling and who packed their bags, with Arab passengers often subject to more intensive questioning.

"The measures also include a system of racial profiling techniques that have raised allegations of anti-Arab discrimination from Israeli civil rights advocates. But security experts say that has helped prevent a major terrorist attack from being carried out at the airport for more than 40 years," the Monitor’s Joshua Mitnick reported in late March. 

In the United States, the Senate's bill also contains some provisions to aid consumers, such informing them of seats available together when the book, requiring airlines to return baggage fees if they lose luggage, and a standard method to let passengers know about fees for baggage and seat selection.

If the Senate's efforts pass this month, the House will need to decide whether to approve it and send it to President Obama to sign or create their own version. Airline trade groups have also hailed the effort to bolster security.

"The security of passengers and crew remains our highest priority," Vaughn Jennings, a managing director at trade group Airline for America, told the Times. "We are in the safest period in aviation history due to the ongoing and strong collaboration among the airlines, airports, labor, manufacturers and government."

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