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Air passengers may be tested for explosives


WASHINGTON - Responding to criticism from the Sept. 11 commission, the government's aviation security chief outlined a plan yesterday to begin screening airline passengers for bombs hidden under clothing.

But a senior lawmaker said the Bush administration was moving too slowly to close a widely acknowledged loophole: Although bags and shoes are checked for traces of explosives, people are not.

A suicide bomber wearing a device that contained small amounts of metal - or carrying disassembled parts of a bomb - could get past security. "It's a very real threat," commissioner John F. Lehman said during a House subcommittee session.

"It is only a matter of time," said Rep. Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon, the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on aviation, which held the hearing. "A plastic explosive is not going to be detected with a [metal-detection] wand."

Transportation Security Administration chief David M. Stone testified that the agency had assessed the risk and was taking steps to counter it.

"Our strategic view is that we are going to go ahead and develop a plan to address this issue at the [security] checkpoints," Stone said.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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