WASHINGTON — The government is now requiring airlines to check no-fly lists within two hours of being notified of list updates — a move aimed at preventing known terror suspects from boarding airplanes — as the man accused in the Times Square bombing attempt did.
Faisal Shahzad, who prosecutors say tried to blow up an SUV in Times Square Saturday evening, was added to the no-fly list early Monday afternoon, only hours before he boarded an Emirates flight bound to Dubai.
When updates are made to the no-fly list, notifications are sent to airlines instructing them to check the updated list. Until now, airlines have been required to check for updated lists every 24 hours. Effective immediately, airlines will have to check the updated list within two hours of being notified of changes, according to a U.S. homeland security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the policy change. The official says airlines could be fined if they don't comply.
The no-fly list has been one of the government's most public counterterrorism tools since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But the list is only as good as the officials who analyze it and those who match names against it. If an intelligence lead is not shared, or if an analyst is unable to connect one piece of information to another, a suspected terrorist could slip onto an airplane. And if an airline decides not to look at an updated version of the list, someone on the list can board an airliner.
Shahzad was able to purchase a last minute ticket from Emirates airlines and board a Dubai-bound airplane at John F. Kennedy International Airport late Monday night.
But Emirates airlines apparently failed to check the latest version of the terror watch list that included Shahzad's name.
Customs and Border Protection officials saw Shahzad's name on the list of passengers 30 minutes before the flight was to take off. They pulled Shahzad off the plane and arrested him before the plane left the gate.