Approximately 12 million pounds of cargo is transported daily on passenger aircraft. To accommodate this considerable stream of commerce, the Transportation Security Administration currently has in place a multilayered, risk-based system for securing cargo traveling on passenger aircraft.
As required by applicable security programs and regulations, aircraft operators and foreign air carriers are now primarily responsible for screening a percentage of cargo transported on passenger aircraft. In addition, indirect air carriers (IACs) are required to screen or provide to TSA for screening, all cargo that meets certain high-risk criteria. Regardless of risk, TSA screens 100 percent of cargo at Category II-IV airports.
Currently, required cargo screening is conducted by aircraft operators and air carriers, using the following TSA-approved methods of screening: physical search with manifest verification, x-ray, explosives trace detection (ETD), explosives detection systems (EDS), and decompression chamber. Cargo consolidations built by aircraft operators and air carriers or accepted in that form from shippers and IACs are subject to random screening by TSA-trained and certified explosives detection canine teams.
For unique cargo types that do not lend themselves easily to these established screening methods, TSA permits alternative screening methods to be employed, such as verification of the description of the cargo and matching the identity of the shipper with information contained in the shipping manifest.
Additional layers of security augment the required screening. For example, with very few exceptions, cargo may only be accepted for transport on passenger aircraft when there is an established business relationship between the shipper and accepting IAC, aircraft operator, or air carrier. Employees and authorized representatives of aircraft operators, foreign air carriers, and IACs with unescorted access to cargo must undergo a security threat assessment (STA), and the Security Identification Display Area (SIDA) security requirements at regulated airports have been expanded to include areas where cargo is loaded and unloaded. TSA has timely processed and adjudicated 170,000 STAs for IAC employees.
The 9/11 Act mandates significant changes to this regime. Section 1602 of the 9/11 Act amends TSA’s primary screening authority, 49 U.S.C. §44901, to require TSA to implement a cargo screening program that will, no later than August of 2010, achieve the screening of 100 percent of cargo transported on passenger aircraft in a manner that results in a level of security commensurate with that of checked baggage.
The 9/11 Act defines the term “screening” to mean “a physical examination or non-intrusive method of assessing whether cargo poses a threat to transportation security” and includes within that definition x-ray systems, EDS, ETD, explosives detection canine teams certified by TSA, and a physical search combined with manifest verification.
The 9/11 Act also provides TSA the flexibility to develop additional methods to ensure that the cargo does not pose a threat to transportation security, including a program to certify the security methods used by shippers.
The requirements are easily stated, but the enormity of the task cannot be overstated. Essentially, this legislation mandates the reinvention of air cargo security.
The 9/11 Act’s mandate cannot be achieved by relying on the current system, whereby aircraft operators and air carriers are almost exclusively responsible for screening cargo. Currently, aircraft operators alone do not have the capacity to screen the volume of cargo that is now transported on passenger aircraft daily. Requiring passenger aircraft operators to screen 100 percent of air cargo would result in carrier delays, congestion at airport cargo facilities, backlogs of unscreened cargo, and missed flights—in short, such a requirement would significantly impede the flow of commerce.
Likewise, requiring screening of the current volume of cargo carried on passenger aircraft at the airports by parties other than the aircraft operators would be impractical, if not impossible, if only because of the lack of space to accommodate such an operation.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.