Airport Screeners Check Pillows

Massachusetts National Guard Military police officer checks tickets at security checkpoint, Logan International Airport, Boston AP

Not so long ago, no one had ever heard of a shoe bomb.

Those days are long gone.

Now, feds are warning that terrorists might try to make pillow bombs.

According to the Washington Post, airport screeners in the U.S. and overseas have been warned that al Qaeda might try to turn items such as pillows, coats and stuffed animals into bombs.

The alert, sent out in August but only now being reported, says intelligence officials have picked up indications that al Qaeda might be trying to manufacture a chemical called nitrocellulose that could turn innocent items into explosive devices.

Airport X-ray machines reportedly cannot detect nitrocellulose but screeners do have other techniques which are said to be effective in detecting the substance.

Word of the pillow bomb warning comes as Logan International Airport in Boston ramps up to yet another level of high security.

Logan - which was origin point for the terror flights on Sept. 11, 2001 and has led the way in security upgrades since that date - on Tuesday becomes the first airport in the U.S. to electronically screen cargo before it is loaded on commercial flights as part of a test program.

In a 30-day program to begin Tuesday, a mammoth screening machine will scan full truckloads of cargo at the Boston airport for explosives, addressing what many people say is a gaping hole in the government's response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

While the Transportation Security Administration has focused on passenger and baggage screening, only a small percentage of cargo is checked before being shipped in cargo or passenger planes.

According to the General Accounting Office, about 22 percent of air cargo transported in the United States is carried aboard passenger planes.

After the 30-day pilot program, Logan expects to try other versions of the technology and decide on a new security approach for cargo.

Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., has been leading a fight in Congress for increased cargo security, arguing that terrorists could easily slip a bomb through the current security system. He is proposing a measure that would require the TSA to physically inspect all cargo bound for passenger planes.

The agency objects, arguing that such a requirement would be so cumbersome and time-consuming that it would prevent any cargo from being shipped on commercial flights, leading to a loss of revenue for already struggling airlines.

  • Lloyd Vries

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