Nine years after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Transportation Security Administration has tightened passenger screening.
But not everything loaded onto jetliners gets a thorough check. One-quarter of all the cargo flown doesn’t get screened.
That’s more than a billion pounds.
As visible as the TSA is in airport terminals, there’s one place you won’t always find vigilant agents: The cargo holds inside jetliners.
“I don’t think with the budget and the personnel they have that they could ever verify everything,” said counter-terrorism specialist Tony Cooper.
A new report by the General Accounting Office questions whether the TSA will be able to inspect every piece of cargo by August 1, as Congress mandated three years ago.
TSA is currently screening 75 percent of aircraft cargo. It would not reveal how much gets checked at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and at Love Field in Dallas.
The report also said the TSA still hasn’t approved a technology that can inspect large pallets and added the agency often does “not verify” what’s inside cargo from certain approved shippers.
Tony Cooper has studied terrorism for decades, written books on the subject, and he worked 20 years as a security consultant for American Airlines.
Cooper said the country has concentrated more on skyjackings after 9/11 rather than the lessons of Pan Am Flight 103. A bomb in the cargo hold blew the 747 jumbo jet out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.
“That is much more likely than the repetition of 9/11,” Cooper said.
The TSA agrees with that assessment, admitting that bombs hidden in cargo are a “significant” risk — and remain a “high” likelihood.
The TSA said it will meet its deadline, screening all domestic cargo in the country by August 1. It will take longer to check shipments arriving on international flights.
Anything that doesn’t get screened is still subject to random inspections.