Monday, November 1, 2010

Will Terrorist Threats Change Cargo Security Rules?

Thanks to tips from Saudi Arabian authorities, two boxes containing explosive devices were quickly found and taken into custody without any injuries or damage to property. A question many of us may be contemplating is how these recent events affect importers, exporters, carriers and individuals.

The bombs found in the toner cartridges late last week serve as a wakeup call that Al Qaeda is alive, active and has found a new target – cargo carriers. Previously, it was thought that passenger aircraft were more likely targets. These packages did travel on passenger planes; however, they were destined transport via FedEx and UPS, known for shipment by cargo-only aircraft.

While experts are not 100% certain, they believe that the intent may have been to detonate the bombs in flight. Cargo shipped on passenger aircraft has been subject to more intense screening than cargo on freighters; however, the recent events will likely increase the level of screening for all cargo on all air carriers. Yemen pledged to tighten security at all of its airports and to inspect every piece of cargo and luggage at the airports.
CNN reports that cargo carriers such as, FedEx and UPS will be required to perform more thorough inspections before accepting any package. What else can be done to prevent other potentially deadly shipments?

Increased inspection slows movement of cargo and increases cost. Hopefully, our allies will support a higher level of scrutiny, as the hatred against Americans endangers their own citizens. Regardless of where the bombs were intended to detonate, they could have exploded anywhere along the journey. With increased focus on Yemen, will Al Qaeda set up shop in a country receiving less scrutiny?

Notice that this terrorist event was not an example of a breach of security related to a major importer or exporter. The packages were not shipped to or from an importer or exporter that would normally participate in C-TPAT or other security programs, but instead a shipped from an individual to a synagogue. To complicate matters more, the terrorists are using more sophisticated at techniques to disguise the bombs. There is some question as to whether the bombs would have been found even if the packages had been screened using x-rays, dogs or other techniques.

Implemented by the TSA, Congress mandates that 100 percent of shipments on passenger planes go through screening; however, the rule does not apply to packages on cargo planes, those not carrying passengers. The rules for cargo on passenger aircraft cover domestic and outbound international flights. Air cargo security processes and regulations vary by country. Congress intended for this rule to cover international inbound flights, but it is taking more time for the U.S. to convince other countries to agree to and implement a similar air cargo inspection processes. Cargo carriers such as UPS and FedEx have their own set of security rules and processes. Cargo may not be inspected, depending on the shipper, destination, origin or other information that triggers suspicion.

On a final note, another issue to consider is the use of stolen identities to ship the bombs. The two women originally arrested in the plot have been released, claiming their identities had been stolen. Along with more intense security exams, the use of stolen identities should be a big concern. Wouldn’t the terrorists like to claim victory by shipping explosives using an American’s identity? If you’ve ever been the victim of identify fraud, can you imagine what it would be like to have your name associated with a terrorist plot? The hassles you endured from collection agencies, the bank and vendors would pale in comparison.

Stay tuned! This incident is likely to generate more robust security measures for all cargo, including packages shipped cargo planes.

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