November 9, 2010 in Nation/World

U.S. officials expand air security measures

Brian Bennett Tribune Washington bureau

WASHINGTON – Trying to seal security gaps exposed by the Yemen mail bomb plot, the U.S. on Monday expanded a ban on air cargo coming from Yemen to include Somalia and announced that printer cartridges weighing more than 16 ounces will not be allowed on domestic and U.S.-bound international passenger flights.

U.S. officials have scrambled to tighten the international air cargo system after a Saudi intelligence tip two weeks ago enabled authorities to intercept two U.S.-bound packages from Yemen, both containing large printer cartridges packed with explosive powder and intended to explode in flight.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the new rules.

As part of stepped-up cargo screening, DHS also is asking shipping companies to provide sender and destination data on cargo shipments to DHS sooner than the current requirement of four hours before landing on U.S. soil. The makers of the mail bomb packages intercepted last month attempted to hide more than 10 ounces of the powdered explosive PETN inside printer cartridges.

Most ink cartridges weigh less than 16 ounces, so banning large toner cartridges won’t affect the vast majority of fliers and users of home printers.

The ban will help reduce the risk of a bomb hidden in a printer cartridge being smuggled onto a plane, said Dave Williams, a retired FBI bomb expert. “In my experience, these knuckleheads don’t just make a couple of these devices, they make a whole shelf of them,” he said.

The number of air cargo packages typically headed to the U.S. each day from Yemen and Somalia can be counted in the tens and not hundreds, a DHS official said, so the impact of the ban is small.

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