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Terror alert spurs extra screening of cargo flown into U.S.

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Story highlights

  • Cargo entering the U.S. from Europe, the Middle East and Africa is under more scrutiny
  • "Redundant, dual screening" is under way, says a cargo industry expert
  • Stricter screening prompted by threats that have closed U.S. embassies, consulates

All in-bound cargo on commercial flights from Europe, the Middle East and Africa -- and quite possibly other areas of the world -- is being screened twice, as a result of the recent terror threats that have closed U.S. embassies and consulates in the Middle East and Africa, according to a cargo industry official.

The Department of Homeland Security late last week ordered airlines to increase the inspection of cargo at the last point of departure for the United States, said Brandon Fried, the executive director of Airforwarders Association, a trade group.

"They said, 'until further notice, this is what you're going to do,'" Fried said.

"Nothing unscreened gets on the plane," Fried said. "Basically they said, 'If you used one method, or several methods (of inspecting cargo), you need to do it again.' It's redundant, dual screening."

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"So now the freight is doubly secure," he said.

The U.S. beefed up screening after discovering two toner cartridges packed with plastic explosives on board two aircraft bound for the U.S. in October 2010. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula took responsibility for the plot. AQAP is involved in the communications leading to the most recent warnings that have closed U.S. facilities, U.S. officials say.

Department of Homeland Security officials have declined to say what, if any, security measures have been taken as the result of the recent worldwide terror alert.

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In a statement released to the media, a DHS official said: "As always, our security posture, which at all times includes a number of measures both seen and unseen, will continue to respond appropriately to protect the American people from an ever evolving threat picture."

Privately, officials say that even in the absence of specific intelligence, it is prudent to increase security in the United States, especially given AQAP's past deeds.

Fried said the increased screening has resulted in some backlogs and delays, especially as some airlines have sought to clarify the rules.

"We're in August, so it's not the busiest time of year," he said. "Our membership has reported sporadic delays." The impact would have been more severe had the change occurred during busier shipping seasons, he said.

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