Locally, public access to arrival areas won’t be curtailed

By Katie Johnston Chase
Globe Staff / January 25, 2011

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Local airport officials said they have no immediate plans to change security measures after the bombing at the Moscow airport yesterday that killed dozens of people in an arrivals hall, an area of airports that is generally open to the public.

Securing the arrivals area of airports would be a massive and expensive undertaking, authorities said.

“To secure baggage-claim areas, you’d have to secure the entire terminal building,’’ said Tom Malafronte, spokesman for Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in New Hampshire.

At Logan International Airport, Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, and T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, R.I., people picking up passengers can reach the domestic arrivals and baggage claim areas without going through security.

The international baggage claim in Logan’s Terminal E is in the secure US Customs area, where bags are screened for food and drugs, but there is a public waiting area on the other side of the locked doors.

The airports, all of which have a regular police presence, declined to offer specifics on security measures.

The Transportation Security Administration said it is monitoring the attack in Moscow. “As always, we are working with our international partners to share information regarding the latest terrorist tactics,’’ the agency said in a statement. “Passengers may continue to notice unpredictable security measures in all areas of US airports, both before and after the security checkpoint. These measures include explosive detection technology, canine teams, and Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams, among other measures both seen and unseen.’’

Making an entire airport secure is unrealistic, said Theodore Postol, a professor of science, technology, and national security policy at MIT.

Every car and bus entering the property would have to be checked; every person entering the building would have to be screened at the curb or at a remote location, which airports aren’t set up to do.

“That’s a humongous effort, and it requires securing many entry points, all of which have to be able to handle high loads of people,’’ Postol said. “If you closed off the whole airport, you’d make flying essentially impractical.’’

The best way to prevent such attacks is through gathering intelligence, Postol said, but eliminating them is impossible. “You’re never going to be able to defend against attacks where people are using high explosives and are willing to die,’’ he said.