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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Airports Lack Rules to Fight Terror

Following two near-simultaneous plane crashes, airports across the country reported Wednesday that they were tightening security, yet both airport and airline officials complained that there are no clear laws on how they should combat terrorism and other threats.

"Most countries after the Sept. 11 attacks worked out the relevant legislation," said Yevgeny Zvonkov, deputy head of the Russian Airport Association. "The Americans did it in six months and we are still waiting for the government to approve it."

One of the first things President Vladimir Putin did upon returning to Moscow on Wednesday was to order the government to change the law to transfer responsibility for airport security from the Transportation Ministry to the Interior Ministry, Interfax reported.

At a Transportation Ministry meeting on security earlier this month, Deputy Minister Sergei Aristov said legislation covering anti-terrorism measures for the entire transportation sector was still being worked out and would be completed only at the end of the year.

He said the term "transportation security" only appeared earlier this year, and that the sector remains highly vulnerable to terrorist acts.

The number of terrorist attacks involving transportation has quadrupled since 1997, reaching 350 so far this year alone, according to ministry data.

The Transportation Ministry would provide no information on how much the federal government spends on transportation security.

Zvonkov said the new legislation is supposed to identify the government's financial responsibility in fighting terrorism on transportation. "Now it has been placed with the companies themselves, and they are scrambling for lack of money while terrorists don't stand by and wait," he said.

Not all airports provide complete baggage scanning, Zvonkov said. "Regional airports especially have outdated equipment. New scanning equipment costs up to $100,000 apiece, and they simply cannot afford that."

In April, the Transportation Ministry ordered that metal detectors be placed at airport entrances, but they have not yet been installed in all 450 of the country's airports, Zvonkov said.

Domodedovo Airport, the departure point for both planes that crashed late Tuesday, has refused to install the metal detectors, saying they clog the entrance.

Its director, Sergei Rudakov, has insisted that the airport has other, more effective measures, including thorough baggage scanning and dogs trained to detect drugs and explosives.

Sheremetyevo Airport's aviation security chief, Vasily Kunashev, said it installed the metal detectors to provide "an extra line of control."

Both airports said they use sensors capable of detecting explosives. Zvonkov said Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg is testing a new gadget that can detect plastic explosives.

An official from one airline operating from Domodedovo said that with the surge in passenger traffic at the airport, exacerbated by the high season, security has become more lax. "The number of passengers is growing at night, and there are lines and the quality of checking is dropping," he said.

Domodedovo spokeswoman Yevgenia Chaplygina defended the airport's security system, in particular the quality of its personnel.

"Our security personnel get certified training," she said. "They are taught psychology to recognize suspicious behavior."

About 300 of East Line Group's private security staff are normally on duty at Domodedovo, looking for unusual behavior and checking bags, she said. Regular police officers, who are there to check documents, are also on guard at every entrance.

On Wednesday, as security was heightened, at least two police officers guarded each entrance to Domodedovo's departure terminal, checking the documents of all passengers with large bags. East Line security guards also stopped people with a lot of luggage, which they scanned with portable metal detectors.

The airport has its own canine center, Chaplygina said. "Our bomb-sniffing spaniel is wonderful."

Several times a day, trainers walk around the airport with the dogs, most of which are German shepherds. The dogs also sniff all checked luggage, which is sent to a room in the basement, where it also passes through a scanner and a metal detector, she said.

The airport also takes special precautions with its employees, believing they potentially present the greatest threat, Chaplygina said.

"It may seem absurd, but even our cleaning ladies' buckets get inspected several times a day," she said.

All sensitive areas have biometric sensors, which scan employees' thumbprints to unlock doors. "An employee badge may be lost or stolen," Chaplygina said. "That's why we use biometrics."

While airports in major cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg are generally thought to provide the best security, many regional airports are far from up to the required standards.

"Some airports are impossible to control," said Sibir deputy director Mikhail Koshman. "Take Adler. There is an uncontrolled flow of baggage, boxes with flowers, fruit and cognac. You can transport anything in them, from cash and drugs to weapons. Aviation security remains an open subject. You can get anything through that you want."

Once in the air, Russian airplanes provide security to the crew. Even before Sept. 11, 2001, Russian aircraft had reinforced armored doors to the cockpit, which the crew are not allowed to open under any circumstances, said Aeroflot's aviation security chief, Azat Zaripov.

Following Sept. 11, such doors were introduced on foreign-made jets.

On some flights, Aeroflot also has its own unarmed security agents, who are known to only a few of the crew.

A proposal to install video monitors on board has not been implemented for financial reasons, Zaripov said. The cost per plane would be $20,000, and there is no government backing, he said.

Proposals to introduce sky marshals also have been quashed, with transportation officials opposed to having armed agents on board. In 1972, on board a Tu-104 flying from Irkutsk to Moscow, a sky marshal shot a passenger who was holding a grenade, which then fell out of his hand and exploded, killing everyone on board.