Chris Shelton

This week in 2010, a woman in Yemen walked into a shipping store to drop off a package addressed to a Chicago synagogue. In the box was a bomb hidden inside a printer cartridge. A few blocks away, another package concealing a homemade bomb was dropped off at a different shipping office, also headed to Chicago.

Within days, the two packages advanced through four countries in at least four different airplanes — two of them carrying passengers — before they were intercepted thanks to a last-minute tip from Saudi Arabia’s intelligence. Had this plot not been foiled, the bomb would have detonated midair over the eastern seaboard of the US. Even today, this historic incident stands as a sobering reminder of the consistent and pervasive threats that exist within the air cargo industry.

Staying in The Know on Current Threats

Intelligence played a vital role in preventing this catastrophic incident. While more than a decade has passed, timely intelligence has only grown as a critical component to any comprehensive air cargo security plan. Without access to government agency intel, where does an organization turn for relevant and timely intelligence to support decision making? Staying in the know relies on analytic partners who combine experience from the military, law enforcement, journalism and academia to provide a 360° picture of current and anticipated threats.

Air Cargo Industry Screening Challenges

Modern air cargo security has made major strides since the Yemen incident with both international standards and domestic regulations now in place requiring that all cargo transported in commercial and all-cargo aircrafts be screened for explosives. The industry has leveraged technology to meet these mandates and enhance security with the use of X-ray and explosive trace detection applications. Yet as our adversaries remain increasingly creative in their attempts and with billions of cargo pounds moving each year, are these technologies the most effective and efficient?

When it comes to explosive detection, there is no machine that stacks up to a properly imprinted and trained canine. Canines offer versatility, speed and reliability in air cargo sort and freight environments. Palletized items which are too large to fit through most machines must be broken down to piece level which wastes time, money and resources. This slows the speed and efficiency of the supply chain. An explosive detection canine team can sweep an intact pallet in minutes not hours.

A Unique Screening Combination

Comprehensive cargo screening is further enhanced by blending the abilities of an explosive detection canine (EDC) team with innovative technology and subject matter expertise. MSA’s patented Advanced Alarm Resolution is an example of this valuable combination at work. The EDC team delivers the first layer in the patented process, conducting staggered screening of unit loading devices, pallets or other cargo containers. If a canine exhibits a change of behavior and indicates a potential threat, the identified package is extracted and X-rayed by an on-site screener. If the screener is at all uncertain of what they see, the suspicious X-ray image is instantly transmitted to the MSA Emergency Operations Center where it receives real-time analysis and resolution by FBI-trained bomb technicians.

As the complexities of air cargo operations grow, terrorists and homegrown extremist groups will continue to innovate their methods to reach their goals. Like the perpetrators of the October 2010 air cargo bomb plot, hostile actors will use inexpensive but highly effective means to attack high-value and highly protected targets. To combat that ever-evolving threat, organizations must remain vigilant and invest in the proven processes necessary to protect people, property and assets.




In related content, MSA Security® prepared High Consequence Threats: A Timeline of Events to further illustrate the wide range of incidents that can occur anytime, anywhere.

Download the full Attack Timeline here

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