The New Air Security Threat

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For months, federal security officials have been warning of possible threats from aircraft flying into the U.S. from overseas. On Feb. 2 a potential danger became a frightening reality: three men were able to bypass screening in a foreign country and get onboard a cargo aircraft that flew into one of the U.S.'s largest airports, Miami International. It was a chilling echo of an incident last year where a man was able to ship himself in a box on a cargo flight within the U.S. "This is more disturbing evidence that without actual inspection of cargo, our security system will remain vulnerable," says Paul Rancatore, a security expert for the Coalition of Airline Pilots Association.

According to two aviation sources, the men were able to get inside a container on a Boeing 727 cargo aircraft flown from the Dominican Republic to Miami under contract for DHL Airways. DHL did not return messages seeking comment. More troubling is that at least one of the men had an employee identification card of a company that allowed him access to the secure area of a foreign airport. "Inside jobs are the soft underbelly of the system," says one aviation security expert.

The men traveled undetected all the way to Miami, where the container was offloaded and put into a warehouse. The three, who appear to have been illegal immigrants presenting no obvious terrorist threat, were deported.

The revelation comes at a terrible time for the Transportation Security Administration, the main agency responsible for making the skies secure. The agency has come under fire for failing to issue security rules for the cargo industry, as it was supposed to have done by the end of last year. This week, the TSA is expected to face harsh criticism from members of Congress at hearings on Capitol Hill on that and other issues. Congressmen are expected to charge the TSA with not adequately funding baggage screening systems at some major airports in the U.S. and a mismanagement of tens of thousands of airport screeners that has some airports begging for personnel while others are overstaffed.