- 2007 law requires screening of all U.S.-bound air cargo
- TSA has made statements that it would miss the December 31 compliance deadline
- In letter to TSA administrator, lawmakers say they're "troubled" by the wording
- TSA declines to answer CNN, saying it would respond to the congressional letter
Several House lawmakers want to know if the Transportation Security Administration is backtracking on plans to screen 100% of cargo placed on international passenger flights to the United States.
In a letter to TSA Administrator John Pistole, the representatives said a 2007 law requires screening of all U.S.-bound air cargo, but recent TSA statements to the media raise questions about the agency's intentions to fully implement the law.
In statements to the media confirming that it would miss a December 31 deadline to comply with the law, the TSA said it was working on agreements with other governments on a "risk-based" approach to screening.
Lawmakers said they are "troubled" by the wording. "TSA's statement implies that only (high-risk cargo) will be screened," the lawmakers wrote. "This approach would be contrary to the intent of (the 2007 law) and would pose significant security vulnerabilities for our country."
The letter is signed by Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.
The lawmakers noted that one year ago, an al Qaeda affiliate attempted to explode "printer bombs" in cargo planes destined for the United States. "Fortunately, the plot was foiled. Nevertheless, the exposure of this major terrorist plot is a reminder that our adversaries are well aware of the security vulnerabilities in our air cargo system and are determined to exploit them," wrote the members.
Several weeks ago, the TSA notified the airline and cargo industries it will not proceed with the December 31 deadline requiring inspection of all air cargo on international passenger flights destined for the U.S., shipping industry officials said. No new deadline was announced.
Asked by CNN on Tuesday whether it would eventually require 100 percent physical inspection of the cargo, the TSA declined to answer, saying it would respond to the congressional letter.
In a statement, TSA spokesman Greg Soule said air cargo is "more secure than it has ever been with 100 percent of cargo on flights departing U.S. airports and 100 percent of identified high-risk international inbound cargo undergoing screening."
"TSA is working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the air cargo industry on a pilot program to receive and process pre-departure, international advance air cargo information about shippers in order to focus more intensive screening resources on cargo we know least about. In coordination with stakeholders TSA will continue to take steps -- including ongoing efforts to test, evaluate and qualify air cargo screening technologies -- to strengthen our security posture."