Terrorists helped by 'predictable' airport security, BAA warns

Airport security measures are ‘too predictable’, and 'play into terrorists’ hands', according to BAA.

The company, which owns Heathrow and Stansted airports, has called for an overhaul of current security checks that it says are 'too prescriptive'.

Passengers are shown at the check-in desks at Heathrow airport

Staff at six UK airports, including Heathrow, have been trained to scrutinise passengers' body language and facial reactions in the airport terminals

BAA's director of security, Ian Hutcheson, said that imposing standard global checks gave terrorists an advantage.

Hutcheson told The Guardian newspaper: ‘Regulation has to change. Internationally it is too prescriptive, which gives this consistency of security which plays into terrorists' hands.

‘There has to be an element of not being sure what security you are being subjected to. Most attacks on aviation are well-reconnaissanced and well-planned. If you have a consistent security system around the globe it is quite easy to reconnoitre that and predict it.’

Suggestions for alternative security measures include training staff to scrutinise passengers' body language and facial reactions.

BAA carried out successful trials of such ‘behavioral detection’ at its six UK airports: Heathrow, Stansted, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Stansted. Staff were trained by government agencies to detect suspicious behaviour by passengers at terminals, a system which is currently used in the US.

Hutcheson said the trial had led to prosecution and criminal convictions of some of the passengers who were under observation.

He said: ‘We have been using behavioural detection officers for some time now with some success. Psychology is very much part of security. Terrorists use psychology to produce fear so why can't we use psychology against potential terrorists?’

Hutcheson, a former chief superintendent in the Metropolitan police, said airport operators should be given a greater say in how passengers and baggage are screened: ‘That would bring the opportunity to have some unpredictability and try new methods and new technologies.’

He also claimed that the requirement to subject all passengers to the same screening machines was ‘unsustainable’:

‘Currently the requirement is to apply 100% of the measures to 100% of passengers. That is very predictable and it is not really sustainable. It acts as a barrier to technological development because technology capable of screening masses of people takes longer to evolve.’

‘But if you focus on a smaller group, more technology might become available. Body scanners are an example.’

He suggested that the system for screening cargo coming into the UK, in which packages from ‘high-risk’ countries are subjected to more sophisticated screening, could be extended to passengers.

‘It might be more difficult because clearly we have got to look after human rights. But we should at least examine a risk-based approach to passengers and their carry-on items,’ he said.

A woman hold's a placard at a US airport that reads: 'Sexual assault survivor against gate rape'

Passengers in the US recently demonstrated against 'pat down' searches at airports which they say are intrusive and unnecessary

Transport officials are meeting in Geneva this week to discuss changes to security guidelines. They are expected to discuss a variety of suggestions, including the use of ‘behavioral detection’, at a meeting of the UN-backed International Civil Aviation Organisation in Switzerland.

Last month, travel industry chiefs said many airport security checks are ‘completely redundant’ and should be scrapped.

The chairman of British Airways, Martin Broughton, called for a complete overhaul of the security regime.

He criticised security checks in the US in which passengers are subjected to full-body scans or pat-down searches, and said the UK should not ‘kow-tow to the Americans every time they wanted something done’.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond signalled that the checks in the UK could be slimmed down by airport operators.

‘They can do them differently if they believe that can reduce the queueing and ease the passenger experience,’ he said.

A spokesman for his department suggested airports could even be fined if they fail to reduce queues.

However, Mr Hammond warned he had no power to force the U.S. to relax restrictions on passengers travelling to America.

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