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GAO Report: Air Cargo Still A Security Threat

Several measures were suggested to resolve the problem: boost security before cargo gets to airports, and identify and develop technology to inspect high-risk cargo, among other things.
Although airline passengers go through extensive security screening with technology from wind tunnels to sensor wands, the cargo beneath their seats is barely checked, according to a federal report released this week.

The GAO report outlined four key objectives to address the threats: boost security before cargo gets to airports; identify and screen high-risk cargo as it enters the shipping area; develop technology to inspect high-risk cargo; and improve security aboard the aircraft and in airports.

Airlines deliver more than 23 billion pounds of cargo annually, of which about 6 billion travels on passenger aircrafts, Cathy Berrick, director of homeland security and justice issues, said in an interview. Much of it is not screened.

Transportation Security Administration began to evaluate explosive detection systems to screen air cargo in January 2004 at six airports, but "because of the nature and size of the different packages, the machines aren't effective in screening everything," Berrick said.

Some cargo is exempt from screening and inspections based on nature and size. The GAO found limitations on this practice. The specifics are restricted information and that the GAO declined to comment on, but the recommendation is for the TSA to rethink the exemption policy.

Although the Bush administration created a plan in November 2003 outlining a secure air cargo approach, officials have yet to determine a schedule for completing it, the report said. The original plan outlined a commitment to inspect 100 percent of "elevated risk" cargo and to ensure the safety of all cargo supplies. It focused on both the prevention of explosive devices on passenger aircraft and the hijacking of cargo aircraft.

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