The discovery of two explosive devices shipped by cargo planes has called attention to a long-running debate about how thoroughly cargo needs to be screened on its way into the U.S., says the New York Times. Despite the increased scrutiny of people and luggage on passenger planes since 9/11, there are far fewer safeguards for material loaded on cargo-only planes.
Experts said the latest case suggested that terrorists may have singled out cargo aircraft because they are not subject to the same scrutiny as passenger planes. Only a small percentage of all cargo from abroad is physically checked on freight planes bound for the U.S.; a law that took effect in August requiring full screening does not apply. “The 100 percent screening requirements only pertains to passenger flights that carry air cargo,” said Steve Lord of the Government Accountability Office. The size of a package can determine whether it is checked. A legislative aide who has studied the issue said large packages were subject to a higher level of scrutiny, usually meaning they are opened, in an effort partly meant to detect stowaways.