Friday, November 18, 2005

Most airline cargo isn't checked for explosives

Yahoo! News
Report: Most airline cargo isn't checked for explosives

By Thomas Frank, USA TODAY

Nearly all of the cargo in the nation's aviation system goes unchecked for explosives, and policies aimed at thwarting cargo bombs on passenger planes are flawed, according to a government report due out Wednesday.

Terrorists could foil the government's strategy for keeping bombs out of cargo holds by meeting a few basic requirements that would allow them to put an explosives-laden package on a jet, the Government Accountability Office said.

Passenger planes carried 6 billion pounds of cargo last year, and only "a very small percentage" is inspected, the report said. By contrast, all domestic luggage is scanned for bombs.

The GAO, a watchdog arm of Congress, urged the Transportation Security Administration to come up with ways to close cargo security loopholes. A study should be done to track the steps in which cargo goes from shippers to the belly of an airplane, the GAO said.

"TSA has not taken needed steps to identify shippers who may pose a security threat," the report said.

The TSA said in a statement Tuesday that it has improved cargo security but "recognizes the need to do more."

Rep. Edward Markey (news, bio, voting record), D-Mass., said air cargo "is an opening which al-Qaeda can exploit." He requested the GAO report last year with four House members from both parties. All cargo should be inspected before going on passenger planes, Markey said.

The TSA objects to the idea, saying it would cost the government $3.6 billion over 10 years and could delay cargo shipments.

The agency allows cargo on passenger planes only from shippers that meet certain security requirements. Air carriers must randomly inspect some cargo. But the GAO said the criteria "may not ... deter or prevent terrorists." The report said a significant portion of cargo is exempt from random inspection.