WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee, released the following statement on DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff's visit to Boston's Logan Airport to announce a new policy on packages brought to passenger airline counters by individuals, which rep. Markey has been critical of:

"It is about time the Bush Administration considered an aviation security loophole dangerous enough to actually close it.  All cargo brought to an airlines counter by individuals who aren't even required to be known shippers or submit to paperwork checks should be inspected.  Last month I urged Sec. Chertoff to close this glaring security gap, and I am pleased that DHS has taken action.  But the bottom line is that until the Bush Administration physically screens all cargo on passenger planes for explosives and requires all cargo to arrive at the airport in a form that is screenable using existing screening technology, passenger planes are vulnerable to terrorist attack by people who don't even fly on the planes they seek to bring down.

“The Bush Administration is still presiding over a state of homeland insecurity by bending to corporate interests and lurching from problem to problem without any clear plan."

Until today's announcement, many major airlines allowed 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 would then be put onto the flight for a speedy delivery.  There was 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.

On August 31, 2006, Rep. Markey sent a letter to Secretary Chertoff urging that this loophole be closed.  The text of the letter follows:

August 31, 2006

The Honorable Michael Chertoff
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.


Edward Markey

September 14, 2006

CONTACT: Israel Klein