- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2003

A new government report released yesterday describes broad lapses in air-cargo security, which two senators used to justify a new bill to increase oversight of freight.
Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and Dianne Feinstein said the risks are too great that terrorists could slip a bomb or other weapon unnoticed onto an airplane. They mentioned as an example the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which explosives were hidden in the cargo hold, killing 270 persons aboard and on the ground.
The U.S. General Accounting Office reached similar conclusions in a new report. It said too little cargo is inspected, freight forwarding companies often lack adequate security programs or employee background checks, and terrorists could easily tamper with the shipments at transfer points.
Freight forwarders collect cargo from shippers and deliver it to air carriers.
The report recommended using new security technologies and increasing Transportation Security Administration (TSA) oversight of air cargo.
"TSA lacks a comprehensive plan with long-term goals and performance targets for cargo security, time frames for completing security improvements and risk-based criteria for prioritizing actions to achieve those goals," the GAO report says.
Many of the recommendations in the GAO report are included in a bill introduced yesterday by Mrs. Hutchison, Texas Republican, and Mrs. Feinstein, California Democrat. Their bill also would require better tracking of cargo from origin to destination and stricter certification requirements for shippers and freight forwarders.
"There is no point in asking travelers to wait in long security lines if we let cargo onto the very same flight with no precautions whatsoever," Mrs. Hutchison said.
Air-cargo industry officials acknowledge risks in their shipments but do not want to pay the costs of added security.
"It's just difficult to police everything," said Gdala Laosebikan, president of GAL International Shippers, a Philadelphia freight-logistics company.
"The whole responsibility of financing air-cargo security is not that of the shippers," he said. "It's everybody's problem."
He recommended a federal security program for air cargo similar to the TSA's airport screening of passengers.
The International Air Cargo Association warned last May that imposing new security costs on the air-cargo industry could hurt both shippers and their customers.
"Even a 10 percent increase will add $25 billion to shippers' costs," said Larry Coyne, International Air Cargo Association president, during a conference in Washington.
Mrs. Feinstein warned against waiting for another terrorist attack.
"Each time there is a major airplane crash or bombing, we re-examine our approach to aviation security," Mrs. Feinstein said. "I hope it will not take another accident or attack for us to see this legislation enacted into law."


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