The U.S.-bound cargo planes that were part of Friday's coordinated terrorist attack would not necessarily have been subject to the government's certified cargo screening program because the initiative's inspections only cover cargo on passenger flights, according to Homeland Security Department policies posted on the agency's website.
Federal auditors recently criticized the existing program, run by the Transportation Security Administration, for struggling to comply with a post-Sept. 11 law that mandated the use of a system to screen 100 percent of cargo on passenger aircraft by August 2010.
In late June, the Government Accountability Office found that the freight security effort, called the certified cargo screening program, was carried out on only 75 percent of shipments flown on passenger flights. The auditors reported TSA has not approved technology to screen large containers.
TSA Administrator John S. Pistole said in a statement that, following Friday's incident, the agency and Customs and Border Protection immediately deployed a team of inspectors to help the Yemen government with its cargo screening procedures.
He added that, before even before Friday, procedures were in place to screen 100 percent of certain cargo deemed high-risk on inbound passenger planes.
"All cargo flying to the U.S. on passenger or all-cargo planes is held to TSA security standards that include specific requirements covering how facilities and cargo is accessed, the vetting of personnel with access to cargo, employee training and cargo screening procedures," Pistole added.
All international U.S.-bound aircraft carrying cargo must provide cargo manifest information to CBP before arrival on long-haul flights -- and at wheels-up on flights from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, for additional screening upon arrival, he said.
"We continue to work with our international partners and the private sector to meet these screening mandates," Pistole said. "As always, TSA will continue to evolve our security procedures based on the latest intelligence to further strengthen air cargo security."
In a statement on Friday, Homeland Security officials said that as a result of explosives found on planes carrying cargo, the government would take precautions to boost scrutiny at airports, including "heightened cargo screening." Officials said "passengers should continue to expect an unpredictable mix of security layers that include explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology" via body scanners and "canine teams and pat downs."