Homeland Security tightens rules for air cargo

Larry DePace, president of Secor Group's Federal Forwarding Company in Dulles, Va., explains how his team's operations have been impacted by the explosive devices that were recently found in packages coming from Yemen.
By Derek Kravitz and Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 9, 2010; 12:24 AM

The U.S. tightened security on cargo shipments flown from abroad Monday, banning "high-risk" cargo from flying on passenger planes after last month's discovery of a plot that originated in Yemen to send bombs in shipped packages.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also extended last week's ban on all air cargo from Yemen to include Somalia as well. And she limited to less than 16 ounces the size of toner or ink cartridges that can travel in checked or carry-on baggage, a response to the discovery of a bomb disguised as a toner cartridge and shipped as cargo at a London airport.

"The threats of terrorism we face are serious and evolving," Napolitano said in a statement, "And these security measures reflect our commitment to using current intelligence to stay ahead of adversaries."

The new rules also affect items deemed high-risk that are shipped on cargo planes. Napolitano said such cargo will go through additional screening before it is loaded. A spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) declined to define "high-risk" cargo, other than to say it isn't limited to that shipped from countries that have been linked to terrorist activity.

'A delicate balance'

Millions of tons of crates and packages fly into the United States from abroad every day, filling the holds of passenger airliners and cargo planes. Those millions of tons break down into millions of pieces bound for tens of thousands of addresses.

Finding a bomb among them - before the Chilean grapes rot, the Colombian flowers wilt and without delaying a vital replacement widget needed to get an assembly line moving - is a hectic security challenge in a global economy that moves at hyper speed.

"We have a delicate balance to strike," TSA Administrator ohn S. Pistole said after the bomb plot was discovered. "The flow of global commerce is key to economic recovery. Security cannot bring business to a standstill."

Responsibility for keeping cargo bomb-free falls principally to the airlines, though the TSA sets the standards and monitors operations. All packages are screened before they are put on board both domestic and inbound international passenger flights from high-interest countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.

Cargo bound for domestic cargo-only planes - which haul about 80 percent of all cargo - must pass through a TSA-certified screening program at one of 1,200 facilities. For inbound international cargo planes, detailed manifests must be filed on takeoff for planes flying within the Americas, and four hours in advance of arrival for those coming from overseas.

Napolitano said Monday her agency is working with the airline industry on a plan for handing over cargo manifests more quickly so authorities could scrutinize a plane's contents more closely.

The bomb discovered in London on Oct. 30 had been mailed in Yemen and was destined for an address in Chicago. It was found based on a tip from a Saudi informant. A second mail bomb was intercepted at a Federal Express facility in Dubai.

Great Britain responded by banning all air cargo from Yemen and Somalia, another terrorist haven.

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