Air freight and security

The recent thread on confiscated items made me wonder whether air freight is carefully checked. The fact that checked luggage is only occasionally examined means a suicide bomber could still get away with blowing up a plane. But if you check luggage and then fail to get on, they will delay takeoff for nearly forever to remove your luggage. So I conclude that they are not really concerned with suicide bombers. But then why the concern about liquids? And finally, if all you want to do is blow up a plane full of passengers, why even bother suiciding (I guess there are those 72 virgins), why not just air freight a bomb with a pressure detonator (as was done over Lockerbie, Scotland by allegedly Sikh terrorists). True you won’t know which flight you will destroy but why would you care?

You don’t give your location but IIUC checked baggage in the US is exhaustively X-rayed and bomb-sniffed. What happens only occasionally is actually opening the luggage.

I don’t know what checks freight go through but I would guess it would get the same treatment, since freight is often loaded on passenger flights.

Let me just speak up in defense of my Sikh brethren: the Pan Am Lockerbie deal was done by, AFAWK, Libyan (i.e., Muslim) operatives working from Malta.

It was the Air India flight from Canada to Bombay that the Sikhs (probably) blew up, near Ireland.

Yes, the real issue they are concerned about is that you check a bag through from some tiny airport that has iffy or bribable security. Once it gets into the system, it’s not usually checked again. This is alleged to be the source of the Pan Am bomb, that the Libyan checked it in Malta.

Sorry about that. But I did recall a case involving (allegedly) Sikhs. I am certainly not claiming all (or all but a tiny minority of Sikhs are terrorists) and the same with Muslims.

Well, as I noted, you were right to do so, and it occurred in the same rough area of airspace over the British Isles:

Returning to the OP, and assuming we’re talking about the USA …

Congress mandated some years ago that all air freight shipped on passenger planes be screened. Air freight carried on dedicated freighters, e.g. FedEx or UPS, would not be screened.

For many reasons, the original Congressional deadline has long passed & screening has not happened yet. Mostly the difficulty of practically screening all the kinds & shapes & packages of stuff. So the TSA has been dragging their feet, aided & abetted by the freight lines & airlines that don’t need another multi-billion dollar cost stuffed down their throats, and by the shippers who don’t want to pay more for shipment, nor want anything which might slow down the process.

The current half-ass workaround is called “Known Shipper”, which essentially moves the checking requirement upstream to the person who packed the box.

Officially it’s the first carrier who is supposed to “know” that the person offering the package for shipment is trustworthy. But as a practical matter, how does the carrier know that? By asking the shipper: “Did you put a bomb in this box?” When they say “No”, the shipper takes their word for it. And the box enters the freight system for transportation.

The risk of shipped bombs is not zero. But it’s not huge either, given that we’ve had zero in the last 10-15 years. Meanwhile, the cost of reducing the risk 10-fold might be $5 billion up-front plus $1 Billion a year in the US alone. Reasonable minds may differ on whether this is a wise use of resources.

A little Googling will give you a lot more on the topic.

The “known shipper” method is just stupid. I, a private person, have been looking into shipping some stuff by air from the USA to Europe and I am finding it pretty much impossible. It seems the easiest way is to ship it over land to Canada and ship by air from there. I think I will end up shipping it by ocean. I don’t understand why they can’t implement whatever security they need rather than just deny the service to private people who aren’t “known”. I suppose I could find a friend of a friend who worked for some corporation which regularly ships stuff and have them ship my stuff of my behalf. The whole thing is just nuts and is costing millions and adding little or no security.

Terrorists do not want to kill people, they want to terrorize people and in America they have been successful beyond their wildest dreams. They have made America do things which are costing billions. This is what they wanted and they have achieved more than they could dream of.