The Department of
Homeland Security is downplaying a New York Times report
that the government has sent aviation security experts abroad to
determine whether major foreign commercial airports can be defended
against terrorists who might try to shoot down passenger planes.
Department spokesman Brian Roehrkrasse confirmed that experts
have been sent to consult with security officials in Iraq, Europe
and Asia, but says concerns about such attacks are long-standing. The
New York Times says the move follows recent intelligence
reports suggesting that terrorists may be planning to use shoulder-fired
heat-seeking missiles to target passenger airplanes. The Times quotes
administration officials as saying the attacks could be imminent.
The Homeland official says teams have been sent to Baghdad
and Basra in Iraq, as well as the capitals of Greece, Turkey
and the Philippines. He confirms there are no indications that
such weapons pose a threat within the United States.
The spokesman added that the concern in Iraq comes from forces
loyal to the former government of Saddam Hussein. Elsewhere,
the threat is believed to be linked to the al-Qaida terrorist
network. Al-Qaida terrorists are thought to have been responsible
for a failed attempt to shoot down an Israeli passenger jet last
year in Kenya.
But the spokesman disputed the Times account that the teams
were dispatched several weeks ago in secrecy because of concerns
terrorists might strike before the experts could do their work.
Earlier this week, the Department of Homeland Security warned
U.S. airport officials to pay closer attention to passengers'
electronic items, including cameras, saying terrorists may use
them to hide explosives.