August 31, 2006 - ON EVE OF 5 YEAR 9/11 ANNIVERSARY, GAPING LOOPHOLE IN AVIATION SECURITY STILL ALLOWS TERRORISTS TO SEND UNSCREENED PACKAGES ON SPECIFIC PASSENGER FLIGHTS

MEDFORD, MA -- U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee, urged the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Michael Chertoff to require ALL packages brought to airline counters for shipping to be physically inspected for explosives before being loaded onto passenger planes.  Rep. Markey, who has been the leader in Congress for physical inspection of all cargo loaded onto passenger planes, directed his staff to survey major passenger airline cargo policies and question DHS officials on its policies regarding cargo that is brought by individuals to an airline ticket counter or cargo intake to be placed on a specific passenger flight leaving as soon as 30 minutes after drop-off.  After this research and questioning of DHS officials, it is clear that Sec. Chertoff misspoke on ABC This Week on August 13, when he said that DHS has issued a rule requiring all such “counter-to-counter” cargo to go through regular baggage screening.  There is no such rule.

 

Rep. Markey stated, “The Bush Administration is engaging in a faith-based aviation security strategy when it allows counter-to-counter cargo weighing 16oz or less to be loaded onto passenger planes without screening it for explosives.  Secretary Chertoff should issue an immediate order that all packages that are brought to airline ticket counters or cargo intake areas by individuals to be placed on a passenger airline be physically screened for explosives.”
Many major airlines allow any individual to bring packages weighing less than 16 ounces to the airport as little as one half hour before a passenger flight of their choosing, fill out a document, pay a shipping fee, and the envelope or package is then put onto the flight for a speedy delivery.  There is no 100% inspection requirement for these packages.  Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie Scotland, was brought down by less than 16 ounces of Semtex plastic explosives. 
Below is Rep. Markey’s letter to Sec. Chertoff:
August 31, 2006
The Honorable Michael Chertoff
Secretary
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC  20528
Dear Secretary Chertoff:
I am writing to urge you to immediately close a critical loophole in U.S. aviation security by immediately requiring that all “counter-to-counter” cargo be physically inspected for explosives prior to being loaded onto passenger airlines. 
I am prompted in part by your statement on ABC This Week on August 13, 2006 that “We’ve now got a rule that any time you put checked baggage or a or [sic] cargo that you want to send in a passenger plane if you go up to the airline, that goes through the regular baggage screening.” In fact, as you know, there is no rule requiring that all cargo of any type be physically screened.
Moreover, with respect to packages weighing less than 16 ounces, current rules allow an individual to bring the package to an airline ticket counter or cargo intake window and instruct that it be placed on a specific passenger flight leaving as soon as 30 minutes after drop-off.[1]  There is currently no requirement that 100% of these “counter-to-counter” packages be physically inspected.  As you know, Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie Scotland, was brought down by less than 16 ounces of Semtex plastic explosives (according to press reports, this had the explosive force of about a half-dozen grenades[2]).
The British terror plot disrupted several weeks ago reportedly would have involved the use of liquid explosives being smuggled onto a number of passenger planes by suicidal terrorists.  The “counter-to-counter” cargo loophole does not require the terrorists to commit suicide –terrorists could simply deliver numerous packages containing bombs weighing less than 16 ounces to multiple airlines/airports to be placed on multiple flights, and go home to wait for news of the explosions that could follow.
My office recently examined some airlines’ policies regarding “counter-to-counter” cargo shipments. The results were alarming:
·          Many airlines allow any individual to bring packages weighing less than 16 ounces to the airport only 30 minutes prior to the takeoff of the desired passenger flight it is to be placed upon.
·          Depending on the airline and the airport in question, the packages are delivered by the individual to the airline’s ticket counter, the baggage claim area or the cargo area.
·          The waybills provided to the customer by at least one airline states that “the carrier shall not be obligated” to inspect the packages. Similar disclaimers are on other airlines’ websites.
As you know, it has long been my view that all cargo being placed on passenger planes should be physically inspected in the same manner as checked passenger baggage is physically inspected. I continue to urge your adoption of this important and comprehensive security measure, and will continue to offer legislation in this area.  However, given the ease both for a terrorist to smuggle a bomb onto a passenger plane by exploiting the “counter-to-counter” cargo loophole, and the ease of conducting physical inspections of these small yet potentially deadly packages, leaving the “counter-to-counter” cargo loophole open would be nothing short of reckless.  I appreciate your prompt attention to this matter. 
                                                            Sincerely,
                                                            Edward Markey
For more on Rep. Markey’s aviation security work, please go to http://markey.house.gov.


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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 31, 2006

CONTACT: Israel Klein
202.225.2836