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Napolitano sees chance to set global standards in airline security

By Mike M. Ahlers, CNN
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was in Europe last week conferring with counterparts about airline security.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was in Europe last week conferring with counterparts about airline security.
  • Homeland Security secretary senses new resolve after failed December 25 bombing attempt
  • Napolitano: U.S. should push for global security standards in aviation
  • Napolitano traveled to Spain and Switzerland last week for security talks
  • European privacy laws have stymied U.S. efforts at getting passenger information

Washington (CNN) -- Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday there is a "renewed sense of urgency in the international community" about terrorism after the Christmas Day bombing attempt aboard a U.S.-bound plane, and the U.S. should now push for global security standards for international airports and aircraft.

"The attempted attack on the 25th of December was a powerful illustration that a terrorist would stop at nothing to kill Americans," Napolitano said. "I believe we have an important opportunity right now, right in front of us, to strengthen the system."

Napolitano last week traveled to Spain and Switzerland to meet with her counterparts, as well as foreign ministers and airline executives. Talks focused on four broad areas -- sharing information between countries, passenger vetting, security technology and creating international aviation security standards, she said.

"I was very gratified to see there exists a broad consensus for working on these four areas among my European counterparts and a clear sense of urgency to take immediate action to strengthen security measures," she said.

The trip culminated in a declaration confirming European and U.S. commitment to advancing security initiatives and to hold further talks about security.

The thwarted attack, in which suspect Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab allegedly tried to ignite a bomb hidden in his underwear, has rattled air carriers and passengers, largely because it exposed gaps in a vast and expensive security net designed to keep terrorists off planes.

The attack has changed international attitudes because other nations realized terrorists will go "anywhere in the international system" to find security gaps and because citizens of 17 nations were on the targeted plane, Napolitano said.

Napolitano suggested that International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) -- an agency of the United Nations -- set standards that would apply to all international airports, strengthening weak links in the security chain.

Previous efforts by the U.S. to gain access to passenger information has been stymied by European privacy laws, but Napolitano said she believes the governments can find a way to share information "in a way that deals with their privacy issues."

Napolitano said the sense of urgency after the September. 11, 2001, attacks has "perhaps dissipated over time," but has now has been renewed and "added to."