TSA reviewing cargo screening, concerned about terror vulnerabilities

The Transportation Security Administration is reviewing its screening procedures for cargo flown into and within the United States because of concerns that potential security vulnerabilities could be exploited by terrorists, a US official told CNN.

The review, which is examining screening for cargo carried by freight airlines and passenger planes, stems in part from a terror plot that was foiled in Australia last month, according to the official.

Investigations revealed that a senior ISIS commander shipped partially assembled components of a bomb on a commercial cargo plane from Turkey to Australia, according to Australian law enforcement.

Two men in Australia assembled the parts into a functional explosive device, police said. The plan was to place it on an Etihad Airways passenger plane on July 15 at an Australian airport and detonate it, according to police.

The plot involved a cargo plane — the one that carried the components — and the passenger plane that the extremists intended to target, but “at no stage did (a bomb) breach airline security,” according to Australian authorities.

Police have not elaborated on why the attack did not proceed as planned, but they arrested two men in late July and charged them in August with terror-related offenses.

The do-it-yourself bomb assembly method, referred to by some terrorism experts as “IKEA-style,” has raised concerns for US officials. Partially assembled bomb components mean amateur bomb-making extremists no longer have to make the bombs from scratch by themselves.

The US official said, “Anytime you have an aviation terror plot anywhere in the world, it forces TSA to look at whether that could happen here.”

In a written statement to CNN, TSA said it is working to “raise the baseline on transportation security domestically and internationally and cargo security is a part of that effort.”

“While there is no specific or credible terrorist threat to the US, we’re working closely with our partners in law enforcement and the shipping industry to ensure our nation’s ports and cargo facilities are secure,” the statement said. “Intelligence is one of our best tools to protect Americans from attacks. Every day, with our colleagues in the intelligence community, we evaluate and reevaluate intelligence to ensure we’re doing everything in our power to address all threats to transportation security.”

As the TSA continues to study its current cargo screening protocols, it is unclear if or when it might implement any changes.

But an airport security official told CNN that new safety protocols and additional resources may not close all the gaps that exist in airline cargo security.

“Cargo is a vast area with lots of access points — you can never get it completely right,” said Mark Hatfield, chief security officer at Miami International Airport.

“It’s something that keeps us up at night,” he added