Securing Air Cargo
- By Ralph C. Jensen
- Feb 02, 2010
Talk within the ranks of the security industry
often focuses on air cargo security in regard to
ground handling and transportation. There's
good reason for concern, according to a report issued
by the Office of the Inspector General within the
Department of Homeland Security. OIG determined
that some employees were sometimes accessing, handling
or transporting air cargo without the required
background checks or training.
The OIG report focuses on the Transportation
Security Administration's efforts to secure air cargo
while it's handled or transported on the ground. It
further stated, "The agency's inspection process has
not been effective in ensuring that requirements for
securing air cargo during ground transportation are
understood or followed."
The report uncovers security violations and vulnerabilities—
and it concludes that the nation's air
cargo is vulnerable to a terrorist attack.
In one case, undercover government investigators
gained access to already-screened cargo ready to be
placed aboard a passenger aircraft. This easily could
have provided them the opportunity to place an explosive
device into the cargo shipment. In other investigations,
undercover agents gained entry through doors
that were unlocked or had defective locks. In these
instances, they were met by disinterested employees
who did not prevent access to restricted areas.
"Although the percentage of facilities breached
was relatively small, any lapse in security could have
disastrous consequences," said Sen. Susan Collins
(R-Maine), ranking member of the Senate Homeland
Security Committee. "TSA must take urgent and
aggressive action to close these gaps. We cannot
expose the traveling public to this vulnerability."
TSA must redouble its efforts not only on testing
and training, but also with employee background
checks. To this end, OIG made six recommendations
to TSA that would strengthen air cargo security during
The first recommends that TSA mitigate access
control vulnerabilities by requiring more tests for access
vulnerabilities, providing corrective actions and
focusing more on entities that are not following access
control requirements. It also would behoove the
agency to promote awareness of access control vulnerabilities
and their impact on cargo security.
The second recommendation seeks to improve the
security threat assessment process by requiring regulated
entities to keep copies of reviewed documents to
authenticate the identity of an applicant, as well as revise
the application form for failure to provide a Social
Recommendation No. 3 calls to enhance training
and testing requirements by providing more specific
guidance to regulated entities regarding training and
The fourth recommendation asks for the revision
of the regulatory activities plan to allow more time for
inspectors to incorporate a risk-based approach that
emphasizes the use of historical data and analysis as
well as provide support and education to the regulated
entities to ensure that cargo security requirements
are understood and implemented.
Recommendation No. 5 seeks better guidance,
training and awareness for all users of the performance
and results information system, especially
TSA inspectors for cargo. Specifically, this means developing
an action plan for TSA officials responsible
for the performance and results information system to
Last but not least, the report recommends TSA
provides cargo inspectors with automated tools that
would allow them to spend more time with regulated
entities. These tools would include a PDA to enhance
To its credit, TSA is working to address access
control vulnerabilities. The agency has established
clear policy requirements for securing air cargo during
storage, including physical security measures such
as fences and cameras. With outside venders, TSA is
exploring the use of an electronically serialized locking
mechanism as a tamper-evident seal.
An interim final rule on air cargo screening will require
that each aircraft operator maintains copies of
an applicant's documents used to verify identity and
work authorization. TSA also plans to implement a
system to capture biometrics within the process.
The agency also is developing a regulatory activities
plan to include a risk-based approach to informal
inspections. This will provide a risk score per regulated
entity per location, which means regulatory staff
can access risk scores specific to their airport.
The 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 mandates that
DHS establish a system to screen 100 percent of cargo
transported on passenger planes by August. Although
the Certified Cargo Screening Program will relieve air
carriers from having to screen all cargo, they must
ensure that all cargo has been screened prior to takeoff.
One of the best ways to implement security is
controlling and tracking the screened air cargo's chain
of custody, including a network of regulated entities
and their third-party carriers responsible for ensuring
security of the air cargo.
This article originally appeared in the February 2010 issue of Security Today.