AMERICA: Internal doubts over US 100% scanning

A lack of technology may prevent the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) from achieving a mandate to screen all cargo carried on passenger aircraft by 2010, agency security officials told a government subcommittee recently. TSA, which Congress mandated musts creen all cargo loaded on airplanes to check for materials that can be used in a […]


A lack of technology may prevent the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) from achieving a mandate to screen all cargo carried on passenger aircraft by 2010, agency security officials told a government subcommittee recently.

TSA, which Congress mandated musts creen all cargo loaded on airplanes to check for materials that can be used in a terrorist attack, cannot find technology that can screen packages loaded on pallets, said James Tuttle, director of the explosives division at the Science and Technology Directorate at the Home land Security Department.

“The biggest problem is the size ofthe pallets,” Tuttle told a hearing of theHouse Subcommittee on Transportation.”There is not technology that can screen a whole pallet, period. There’s nothing even close.”

Without the technology, he said TSA must unload a pallet to screen it on site or screen it before it is wrapped for shipment. In addition, while there are technologies that can screen cargo on ceit is unpacked from a larger shipment, those technologies can only scan certain kinds of products and food. Tuttle said his division was working on technologies that could scan unpacked pallets, but they will take a while to develop.

TSA must screen 50 per cent of all cargo on passenger jets by February2009 and 100 per cent by August 2010.The mandate poses significant challenges, warned John Sammon, assistant administrator for transportation sector network management at TSA. He saidTSA learned from a pilot program inSan Francisco that it was impossible tounload, screen and re-pack pallets onsite at an airport.

Sammon suggests TSA use a method similar to Britain’s, in which shipments are screened at the point of assembly. Once they are cleared, the goods are securely transported to the airport, with handlers and truck drivers whose background shave been checked. TSA plans to certify 80 shipping sites by February and 15,000 locations by August 2010.

Sammon assured law makers that with this strategy, TSA could meet the deadlines.”Screening cargo at the appropriate time and place in the supply chain will keep cargo and freight flowing,” he said.”Unscreened cargo will not be allowed to fly after 2010. If 100 pounds is all that is screened, 100 pounds is all that will fly,”he warned starkly.