Lack of Cargo Screening Requirements Opens Door to Terrorists

Lawmakers call for better technology and cooperation to screen air freight.

ByABC News
October 29, 2010, 6:36 PM

Oct. 30, 2010— -- A lack of systematic screening requirements for cargo planes creates a large and easily exploited loophole for terrorists, experts said after international authorities discovered two explosive devices on UPS planes bound for the United States.

"There is no requirement for systematic screening of cargo sent on cargo planes, only on passenger planes," said Stephen E. Flynn, president of the Center for National Policy and a member of the government's bipartisan National Security Preparedness Group.

"We should not be surprised that the bad guys have figured that out and have selected cargo planes for sending explosive materials to the U.S.," he said.

Suspicious packages from Yemen intercepted in Dubai and England on Friday tested positive for explosives.

In an address Friday from the White House, President Obama called the discovery "a credible terrorist threat against our country."

Law enforcement authorities long have suspected the cargo network could be exploited by terrorists. While much has been done in the way of enhancing security at passenger airports and shipping ports, air freight depots remain vulnerable, said experts and lawmakers.

In a 2007 Congressional report, the air cargo system was called out for its susceptibility to an explosives plot.

"The air cargo system is a complex, multi-faceted network that handles a vast amount of freight, packages and mail carried aboard passenger and all-cargo aircraft," read the report by the Congressional Research Service. "The air cargo system is vulnerable to several security threats including potential plots to place explosives aboard aircraft [and] illegal shipments of hazardous materials."

The device found in the U.K. was a bomb disguised in a printer toner cartridge and laden with PETN. That's the same explosive carried by 2009's foiled Christmas day bomber. And like that plot, these bombs originated in Yemen.

British authorities only discovered the bomb after receiving quality intelligence from Saudi Arabia and not as a result of screening measures, authorities said.