Bioterror fears raised over cargo flights

Yossi Sheffi

Security and bioterrorism prevention experts have pointed to the potential vulnerability of cargo flights that pass over the United States each week as potential sources of bioterrorism.

These flights, called overflights, do not receive federal standards of screening or use the terrorist watch list, the Washington Post reports.

"(A terrorist could) explode a plane with a dirty bomb or a biological weapon or an actual nuclear weapon on board, and that material will spread wherever it crashes," Richard Bloom, a longtime U.S. intelligence operative and current teacher of counterterrorism courses at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona, said, according to the Washington Post.

While the Transportation Security Administration said that other countries have their own screening processes for cargo, it does not use the same methods as the TSA's Secure Flight program that might weed out potential terrorists, according to the Washington Post. This vulnerability has security experts divided.

"We have tens of millions of packages flying almost every night," Yossi Sheffi, director of the Center for Transportation and Logistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said, according to the Washington Post. "We can't stop the huge flow of packages from all over the world. There has to be a balance between acceptable risk and they economy."

The recent October plot to detonate bombs placed in printer cartridges designed to detonate in flight evaded X-ray detection even though authorities knew they were in the packages.

"Congress would make a mistake by passing a requirement for 100 percent screening of cargo," Rafi Ron, former security chief at Tel Aviv's airport, now a security consultant based in McLean, said, the Washington Post reports. "What's the use of legislating 100 percent screening even if the bomb which triggered this legislation would not have been detected by it?"

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