Category Archives: Air Cargo

Please deposit your phone in the bin

phone-288159_1280The Department of Homeland Security recently announced that they would require travelers from foreign airports with direct flights to the United States to possibly turn on their cell phones, tablets and laptops in order to prove they are functional and not concealing an explosive.

This is not without precedence. In the late 80s and early 90s when laptop computers were brand-new and very few of us carried them, travelers were required to turn on their laptop when they came through the screening checkpoint in order to demonstrate that they were a working laptop and not an explosive device. Sound familiar? So why, if terrorists have been able to smuggle explosives and laptops for the past 3 decades, why are we only now worried about them?

This too is also not without precedence. When terrorists attempted to put explosives in inkjet printer cartridges and ship them on air cargo out of Yemen, Homeland Security took similar measures.

They immediately restricted the shipment of printer cartridges.

While this might seem a bit ridiculous on its face, because couldn’t you just smuggle explosives in any other device or object put into air cargo? Of course you could that was not the point. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula at the time  not only constructed a device that could be placed in printer cartridges, they publicized those instructions and encouraged many others to attempt the same type of bomb attack. DHS did not know at the time how many other of those types of devices were in the system.

In order to reduce the possibility of more of those same types of bombs from reaching air cargo, Homeland Security just immediately stopped their transport. They would eventually allow them to be transported again. I suspect that in this case Homeland Security is working from intelligence that indicates that an explosive device combined with an electronic device has been conceived and possibly even deployed. These random security measures are meant to increase the likelihood that these devices will be discovered and, by publicizing the search for these types of devices makes the public more aware and also makes potential bombers less likely to attempt this type of attack.

Over the coming weeks look for this to be used as a new screening technique in TSA’s bag of tricks and once the intelligence indicates that this particular threat has passed, or at least been mitigated for the time being, this procedure may be reduced but I doubt it will go away completely. It may even extend here to the United States at some point.

There is always also the question: how do the good guys know when the bad guys have moved on? Well they don’t always know that. But well-planned operations of this nature usually require timing to be on the side of the bad guy. Often times these random types of procedures will throw off that timing thereby delaying a potential attack until the law enforcement agencies have time to roll up the planners, plotters and bombers, just like they did with the liquid bomb plot in 2006.

In that particular plot the intelligence agencies had been tracking the planners and bombers for weeks and months in advance but had to continue gathering intelligence while moving ever closer to the day which the bombs were going to be deployed so that they could find out who else was involved before they started the arrests. It’s a dangerous game, but to grab the bad guys too soon, and you let a lot of other bad guys get away to bomb another day.


They are sniffing, but is anyone noticing?

A recent GAO report on TSA’s canine program revealed that while canines have been deployed in record numbers in the past three years TSA needs to do more analysis to ensure the teams are being effectively used. The report also showed that some canine teams were repeatedly not in compliance with TSA’s monthly training requirement, to… Continue Reading

TSA’s Strategic Plan for Risk Based Security

Blogging live from the Colorado Airport Operators Association, Annual Conference, 2012, Vail, Colorado (paraphrasing as necessary) Douglas Hoffsass – Assoc. Administrator, Office of the Administrator, TSA The Right Reverend Hoffsass continues his nationwide tour to preach Administrator Pistole’s risk based security programs, most notably, PreCheck and Global Entry. I, Deacon Jeff, will attempt to pass… Continue Reading

Securing Air Cargo; the air cargo bomb lottery

The recent attempt to either bring down aircraft using air cargo, or mail letter bombs via air cargo (we’re still not sure but I’ll go with the Brits on this and agree it was likely an attempt to bring down a plane) has shed light on a little known part of the aviation industry. This will inevitably bring air cargo security to the forefront of a legislative aid somewhere, who will be directed to draft legislation to make sure that air cargo is “secured.” Before the Congressional staffers fire up their laptops, let’s look at what we’re really trying to secure here, because I can tell you that someone will soon call for the screening of all cargo that is shipped on all aircraft to be screened just like we screen luggage. That is NOT the solution. Continue Reading

Air Cargo Bombs

The jury is still out on the air cargo threat that has been the talk of the news outlets today. We still do not know if this is an aviation specific threat or test of the security system, or a mail bomb with a specific delivery address in mind. It could also be a scare tactic towards an indvidual or organization. Continue Reading