Page last updated at 18:15 GMT, Tuesday, 5 January 2010

UK airports to introduce new bomb detection equipment

Alan Johnson: 'Airport security is multi-faceted and needs to adapt constantly'

Body scanners are to be introduced at Heathrow Airport in about three weeks, Home Secretary Alan Johnson has said.

He also told the House of Commons that all UK airports must have new "explosion trace detection equipment" by the end of the year.

His comments follow an attempt to blow up a US airliner on Christmas Day.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is accused of trying to detonate a bomb on a plane from Amsterdam when it was about to land in Detroit.

Gordon Brown has ordered a review of security at UK airports.

BAA has begun training its staff in behavioural analysis techniques, which would be used to identify individuals requiring closer inspection.

'No guarantee'

Transit passengers passing through UK airports will face increased screening, more sniffer dogs will be used and more passengers will face searches by hand.

"It is clear that no one measure will be enough to defeat inventive and determined terrorists and there is no single technology which we can guarantee will be 100% effective against such attacks," the home secretary said.

The government is also examining whether "additional targeted passenger profiling" could help enhance airport security, he added.

Since the Detroit incident, working closely with our American colleagues our intelligence agencies have built up a fuller picture of the suspect
Downing Street

"We will be considering all the issues involved, mindful of civil liberties concerns, aware that identity-based profiling has its limitations, but conscious of our overriding obligations to protect people's life and liberty," he said.

Civil rights groups warn that body scanners could produce illegal images of children and images of celebrities that could be leaked online.

He said that a staff code of conduct was going to be developed.

Mr Johnson also told the Commons there was only a 50 to 60% chance that a body scanner would have detected bomb materials allegedly carried by Mr Abdulmutallab.

He said such machines were not a "magic bullet".

Mr Johnson also announced an urgent review of the "robustness" of the UK Border Agency's watch list.

And he said that while the UK government did provide information to the US linked to "wider aspects", no data shared suggested any attack on the US might have been imminent.

Mr Johnson said Mr Abdulmutallab was known to the security service, MI5, but not as somebody "engaged in violent extremism".

Information exchange

Downing Street said on Monday that intelligence about Mr Abdulmutallab had been handed to the US prior to the Christmas Day incident.

This disclosure has added to pressure on US security agencies to explain why they failed to identify him.

But a Downing Street spokesman said relations between the US and UK remained "excellent".

The spokesman said: "There is absolutely no suggestion that the UK passed any information to the US which they did not act on.

"We routinely exchange large amounts of intelligence with the US on a two-way basis so that we can build up a shared picture of the potential threats we face.

"Since the Detroit incident, working closely with our American colleagues our intelligence agencies have built up a fuller picture of the suspect in that case.

"As is usual this information has been shared appropriately."

Embassy re-opened

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said he supported the use of an "intelligence-led approach" to airport security.

But he accused Mr Brown of breaking the convention of not commenting on intelligence matters and warned the "inaccurate and cavalier" way he had acted could damage the relationship with the United States.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights group Liberty, said ethnic profiling would be "dangerous, self-defeating and downright irresponsible".

Meanwhile, Britain's embassy in Yemen re-opened on Tuesday after a two-day closure for security reasons.

Downing Street said the embassy in the capital Sanaa was operational with staff working inside, although it remained closed to the public.

Britain was one of a number of western countries - including the US and France - which shut their embassy doors amid concerns over a possible threat from al-Qaeda militants. The US embassy has also re-opened.

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