* TSA to require airlines to check watchlists frequently
* Report finds people on watchlists buying firearms
(Adds GAO report on background checks and watchlists)
By Jeremy Pelofsky
WASHINGTON, May 5 The Obama administration on
Wednesday ordered tighter airline screening to stop passengers
on the "no-fly" list from boarding, a move that came after the
suspected Times Square bomber nearly left the country on a
Airlines will have to re-check passenger manifests against
the list -- banning people from flying inside the United States
as well as to and from the country -- within two hours of
notification of a special circumstance about a person, an
administration official said.
Prior to the change they were required to do the check
within 24 hours, a loophole that may have enabled Faisal
Shahzad, the Pakistani-American accused in the failed New York
car bombing, to board an Emirates flight late on Monday.
Shahzad had bought a ticket on Monday and boarded the
flight at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport
despite having been added to the no-fly list earlier in the
day. The cabin door was closed as authorities were in pursuit.
"As we saw with Faisal Shahzad, in an expedited no-fly
nomination, the airline is responsible for manually checking
the name against the no-fly list within 24 hours," the official
said, declining further identification.
"In his case, the airline seemingly didn't check the name,
and the suspect was allowed to purchase a ticket and obtain a
boarding pass," the official said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials discovered he
had boarded the flight but before it left the gate, they had
the door re-opened and Shahzad was taken into custody, a U.S.
official has previously said.
Shahzad, 30, was arrested and charged with driving the car
bomb into Times Square late on Saturday and trying to detonate
it. He has admitted to his role in the plot and receiving
bomb-making training in Pakistan, according to court papers.
When U.S. authorities searched the car he drove to the
airport, they found a handgun that he had purchased in March.
However, Shahzad was not on any of the terrorism watchlists at
A report released on Monday by the investigative arm of
Congress found that over the last six years, 91 percent of
individuals who were on various U.S. watchlists and had
undergone background checks to buy firearms or explosives were
permitted to make such purchases.
The Government Accountability Office cited FBI data that
only 9 percent of the 1,228 applications were denied, sparking
debate among U.S. senators about a legislative proposal to bar
individuals on the watchlists from buying firearms.
Republican Senator Susan Collins said the information used
to draw up the watchlist was often only partial.
"The evidence used to compile the watchlist is often
fragmentary and can be of varying degrees of credibility." She
said it was questionable whether the watchlist should be used
to prevent Americans from owning guns.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a strong gun control
advocate, and Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of
the Senate Homeland Security Committee, noted that the law
already restricted and in some cases banned gun ownership by
"To me this is an extraordinarily limited law that is being
proposed," said Lieberman, a backer of the legislation.
(Editing by Paul Simao)