German Security Lapse Communications Error Enabled Explosive Package To Go Unchecked

German customs officials wanted to search last week's package containing a bomb from Yemen, but it had left the country by the time the paperwork arrived. According to information obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE, a communications breakdown enabled the explosive to pass through Germany without security checks.

German officials failed to screen the package containing this explosives-laden printer toner cartridge
AP/ CBS News

German officials failed to screen the package containing this explosives-laden printer toner cartridge

By and

A security gap at the Cologne-Bonn Airport meant that the explosive-laden printer from Yemen avoided customs, according to information obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE. The error prevented a thorough search of the suspicious package -- and the possibility of an early detection.

The German Finance Ministry confirmed that there had been a "flawed transfer of data" between the logistics firm UPS and German customs. That error meant that German security checks on the dangerous package failed when the package traveled through the airport on Oct. 28.

Analysis of the case reveals serious loopholes in Germany's handling of the package: UPS was apparently more than 12 hours too late in transmitting freight documents about the shipments from Yemen to German customs.

Sent from Yemen, the parcel arrived at the German airport at 10:56 p.m. on Oct. 28, and left again for London at 2:00 am the next day, but German customs officials said they did not receive the freight papers for the parcel until late afternoon that Friday.

Highly Explosive

Had it not been for this error, the package -- in which some 400 grams of the highly explosive Pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) had been hidden -- may have been stopped at the airport. But this didn't happen. After looking at the documents on Friday, German authorities immediately became suspicious of the package, given that it was sent from Yemen and was a second-hand printer. The authorities asked the courier service right away if it could examine the package, but it was already too late. Delivery number 1Z20001 V66809 43792 had already been flown to UPS' freight center in East Midlands, England.

The Finance Ministry stopped short of directly criticizing anyone. A written reply from Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble did not even mention the name of the firm UPS. However, the ministry did acknowledge that the package "was processed through Cologne-Bonn Airport one day before customs was informed by the freight firm."

No Checks

The consequences of this delay were wide-ranging. According to the Finance Ministry, which has jurisdiction for customs, the error meant that authorities "had no knowledge of the item while it was being transported through German territory" and "was therefore unable to properly control the package."

In effect, it allowed the package to pass through Germany without any security checks.

The parcel was detected thanks to a tip-off from the Saudi Arabian intelligence service, which contacted the liaison officers from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) late on Thursday night, saying they had evidence of a package containing a bomb and providing the numbers of both packages.

When this information reached Germany at around 3:00 am on Oct. 29, the suspicious package had already moved on. It was then found and deactivated at the UPS facility in England.


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