German Security Lapse: Communications Error Enabled Explosive Package To Go Unchecked
Part 2: A Professional Job
German officials failed to screen the package containing this explosives-laden printer toner cartridge
According to the British police, the bomb was apparently intended to detonate as the plane flew over the United States.
The bomb seized by British investigators was a cleverly built one. The terrorists had filled part of a plastic medical syringe with up to five grams of lead azide, an explosive mass which is also used in military detonators. The 400 grams of PETN were imbedded in white powder inside a printer toner cartridge. A broken light diode was also placed inside the lead azide, connected to a mobile phone circuit board and a battery.
According to research conducted by the BKA, the device was designed to explode when the mobile phone sounded a previously set alarm. The diode would then light and warm, thus igniting the lead azide, which would in turn set the PETN on fire -- a potentially deadly chain reaction.
British criminal investigators found that the explosive PETN was of "an extremely high concentration." Its manufacturers in Yemen would require "logistics that only state facilities should have access to," according to the German investigators' dossier.
Serious Lack of Controls
British investigators, in their initial findings, said the explosion would have been a "supersonic blast." It would have ripped through the side of the plane, triggering its crash. And even if the attack had only killed a few people, it would have sent out a strong signal, according to one analysis.
This newly uncovered gap in German security shines a light on air freight controls which, until now, have been lax. Customs officials at the Cologne-Bonn Airport report that, in practice, attempts to identify suspicious packages on freight lists often lead nowhere.
In more than one-third of cases, there are no controls, despite customs' suspicion, the sources said. One resigned official described how the packages are often "already up in the air," when the officials want to check them.
It remains to be seen whether action will be taken as a result of the embarrassing mistake. When queried by the reporter, UPS said customs had first asked the company to carry out further checks on Oct. 29, by which time the freight had already been transported on to England. The company said it would review its procedures and declined to comment further.
In a statement, the Finance Ministry said that "a complete physical inspection of all freight transport" was "impossible" due to the sheer volume. The ministry added that the "so-called security risk analysis" which was made apparent by the Yemeni package, "would be comprehensively expanded, especially given the available facts and the possibilities for analysis."
- Part 1: Communications Error Enabled Explosive Package To Go Unchecked
- Part 2: A Professional Job
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