Many foreigners arriving in the United States soon will have their fingerprints and photographs taken as part of measures to enhance border security.
The Department of Homeland Security says the long-awaited program will begin January 5 at all 115 U.S. airports that handle international flights, as well as 14 major seaports. The program is designed to let American customs officers check the criminal histories of visitors when they enter and leave the United States.
The extra security measures will not apply to visitors from 28 countries, mostly European nations whose citizens are allowed to visit the United States for up to 90 days without visas. But other foreigners will be asked to look into a camera and to put their fingers into an inkless scanner.
While those security measures are being implemented, published reports in the United States say U.S. officials suspect members of the al-Qaida network are planning more terror strikes. The reports say the plot could involve taking control of foreign airplanes flying into the country.
Department of Homeland Security officials announced the start of the fingerprinting program Monday, as President Bush advised Americans to be vigilant but not to let an elevated nationwide terror threat alert ruin their holiday plans.
In Washington Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters that the threat is serious. He said the decision to raise the alert was not made lightly because doing so is costly to federal, state and local governments.
Security has been tightened at airports, bridges and power plants. Customs and border patrol agencies have canceled holiday leaves. Military air patrols have been increased over several major U.S. cities.
The Bush administration says it is considering extending the heightened alert well into January.