- Associated Press - Monday, November 29, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) — The U.N. agency that oversees aviation is pushing new guidelines for cargo security to counter al Qaeda’s new mail-bomb strategy but is stopping short of calling for 100 percent screening of packages, as pilots and some U.S. lawmakers have urged.

The proposed changes by the International Civil Aviation Organization concentrate on “supply-chain security,” or checking outbound shipments before they even reach the airport. A draft of new guidelines will go out to all 190 member countries in the next few weeks, the agency says.

Governments increasingly are worried about cargo security as the holiday season swells the number of packages moving around the world.

In October, militants based in Yemen tried to blow up cargo jets with 38 bombs hidden in printer cartridges. The bombs were stopped only because of a tip from Saudi intelligence officials, Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole told Congress.

Since August, the United States has been screening all cargo loaded onto passenger planes that take off from U.S. airports, but there is no such requirement for cargo-only planes or for flights coming from abroad.

Last week, a magazine published by al Qaeda urged members to launch more mail-bomb attacks, calling them a “good bargain.”

“An attack is an attack, whether it’s large or small, and we’re trying to defeat all of those,” said Jim Marriott, head of ICAO’s security branch.

The Montreal-based ICAO writes the standards that allow planes to fly easily from one country to another, from the frequencies used by navigation systems to the phrasing pilots use on the radio.

While not binding, the agency’s recommendations carry tremendous weight, and member countries usually incorporate them into their aviation laws.

A panel of two dozen ICAO experts worked on the cargo security measures for several years, and they were approved by the organization’s governing council Nov. 17, Mr. Marriott said.

The text is not public until member governments submit their comments, but most of the changes focus on inspecting cargo before it leaves for the airport, then protecting it from tampering until it reaches the plane, Mr. Marriott said.

The amendment also urges countries to introduce inspection machinery, an important change in poor countries where airports still rely on searches by hand and see little reason to introduce high-tech sensors, he said.

Other parts of the amendment urge countries to secure air-traffic control sites and protect their computers against viruses and digital attacks.

ICAO is preparing to send a draft to member countries for their comments in the next few weeks; the final guidelines will be incorporated into the 1944 Chicago Treaty on international aviation sometime next year, he said.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration praised the proposal, saying it “exemplifies global collaboration.”

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