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National Security / National Security

Cargo Security Tightened

A UPS cargo plane rests on the tarmac at Philadelphia International Airport after a suspicious package was found onboard.(William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

U.S. security officials are not waiting for Congress to mandate tighter inspections of cargo planes and have already moved in the wake of the seizure of two bombs found aboard flights to enhance security and make sure no more explosive devices are headed to the United States.

John Brennan, the president’s top anti-terrorism adviser, disclosed that the new steps have already been implemented. But, as he made a sweep of the Sunday morning news shows on all the major networks, he did not offer specifics.

Security of cargo planes has long been viewed as a vulnerable point of potential attack by terrorists even as the Transportation Security Administration increased its measures to ensure the safety of cargo carried on passenger planes. After this latest attempt to place bombs in cargo, hearings in Congress are considered a certainty.


But Brennan said steps have already been taken to address any vulnerabilities revealed by these two bombs that were included in packages shipped from Yemen to addresses associated with synagogues in Chicago.

“We continue to upgrade and to enhance our procedures and to take stock of attempts by al-Qaida to penetrate our defenses and we make adjustments then as well,” he said on ABC’s This Week. “We continue to do that. We have already done it since the discovery of these packages the other day. We have made adjustments in it.”

He contended that the United States “every day is getting safer and safer in terms of ensuring that we’re taking the steps that will respond to the most recent attempts.”

But he said more needs to be done and more will be done once authorities fully understand how these bombs made it as far as they did.

“What we need to do is look at the procedures that are in place, see if there needs to be any type of adjustment of procedures or screening methods or technologies. We need to be able to detect these packages whether they be on a cargo flight or whether they be on a passenger flight,” he said. “We’ve stayed ahead of a lot of these adaptations of al-Qaida. We need to continue to do so.”

On Fox News Sunday, he promised, “We will take stock of this experience, make adjustments as necessary.”

The TSA is required to screen 100 percent of packages on passenger flights. That standard is being met on all passenger flights originating in the United States, according to TSA. But, in June, the Government Accountability Office told Congress that TSA estimates that only 55 percent of cargo bound for the United States aboard passenger planes from overseas is being screened.

There is no mandate for cargo aircraft. Under an agreement with Customs and Border Protection, shippers like the two involved in this incident – FedEx and UPS – screen their cargo to their own standards and provide Customs and Border Protection pertinent information four hours before a flight lands in the United States.

Brennan said authorities rely on a “layered defense and have a multi-dimensional effort.”

He added, “All cargo aircraft and all cargo coming into the United States is looked upon as something that we need to look at very carefully and indentify those packages coming from different places that we need to screen.”

He said the approach is varied. “Sometimes there are different types of screening technology. Some are with technical means. Some are actual physical inspections. So we look at all cargo coming into the United States as potentially pieces of cargo that need to actually have this kind of intrusive inspection.”

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