Sen. Schumer Says Proposed Cargo Screening Rules Leave Holes in Air Security

NEW YORK--Sen. Charles Schumer charged Sunday that the federal government's proposed cargo screening rules would leave gaping holes in New York's air security, putting millions of passengers at risk.

The federal Transportation Security Administration released a plan this month to tighten air cargo security by checking the backgrounds of workers who handle freight and restricting access to sections of airports used for loading and unloading cargo. The plan also requires cargo airlines to screen people who board their planes.

Schumer, D-N.Y., said the rules fall far short of protecting the 9.6 million passengers a year who fly into or out of New York-area airports on jetliners carrying unscreened cargo.

"The holidays aren't just the busiest travel time of the year -- they are the busiest shipping time of the year, too," Schumer said at a news conference in his Manhattan office. "But even as people getting into planes this weekend see strong new precautions at the gate, the cargo and mail flying in the belly of the plane is still virtually unexamined."

Schumer had several criticisms of the TSA's proposed rules, which are open to public comment until Jan. 10.

--He said the TSA has ruled out screening 100 percent of cargo because it would be too expensive, but Schumer said "there is no reason any cargo... should go on a passenger aircraft without being inspected."

--Although there is a "known shipper" system designed to prequalify shippers as safe, the TSA says it will consider letting unknown shippers put cargo on passenger flights.

--Schumer said that while the proposed rules do require more criminal background checks, they do not required fingerprint-based checks for cargo handlers. "If there is no identifier, there is no way to ensure that the person is who they say they are," he said.

--He said they ignore a recommendation from the Sept. 11 Commission that every passenger aircraft have at least one hardened container in which suspicious cargo could be shipped.

Schumer also asked President Bush to put "the full weight of his office" behind passage of bottled-up legislation to overhaul intelligence agencies.

The legislation passed the Senate almost unanimously but stumbled in the House on objections by two committee chairmen.

Schumer is among the authors of an amendment to the bill that would require the TSA to develop better technologies for air cargo security.