Rep. Schakowsky: Reforms In Air Cargo Inspection Process Are Needed

CHICAGO (CBS) – Authorities are stepping up their investigation into the mail bombs addressed to Chicago synagogues, and they weren’t the only Chicago locations showing up on al-Qaeda’s radar.

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Just weeks ago, an al-Qaeda online magazine featured a photo of the Willis Tower front and center.

As CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports, FBI agents are going door-to-door across the area to gather intelligence for the failed plot involving bombs hidden in packages sent from Yemen. The packages were addressed to Chicago synagogues, but never made off the cargo planes that were carrying them.

The agents are attempting to find out whether there is a homegrown link to the plot.

Among the locations where the FBI agents stopped was a north suburban Islamic foundation, which recently received a FedEx letter from Yemen and never notified anyone.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) is calling for Congressional hearings on the inspection of air cargo.

“I’m also concerned that even after the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, we aren’t testing and securing all cargo that’s coming to the United States,” Schakowsky said. “That’s what we should be doing.”

According to the Government Accountability Office right now, the government is physically inspecting only about one fifth of the more than 9 billion pounds of air cargo that is sent into this country by plane each year from overseas destinations.

The problem was highlighted in the Oct. 29 incident, in which explosive-filled toner cartridges were found in the packages from Yemen. Investigators pulled the Chicago-bound packages off a UPS cargo plane England and a FedEx plane in the United Arab Emirates.

U.K. officials discovered that a toner cartridge on the plane had been manipulated and found wires attached to it and white powder. (CBS)

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The bombs were found before they went off, but they were wired to modified cell phones, which were likely intended to detonate the bombs, U.S. officials have said. Al-Qaeda might have hoped to blow up the planes either on runways or while flying over American cities.

French interior minister Brice Hortefeux said last week that one of the bombs was just 17 minutes from exploding.

In response, new rules have been put into effect banning air cargo shipments from Yemen and Somalia, two countries now identified as hotbeds of terrorist activity. Still, Schakowsky says that’s not enough.

“There’s new rules on all high-risk packages, but still, the goal still is and ought to be to inspect all of the cargo that’s coming into the United States,” Schakowsky told CBS 2’s Pamela Jones.

The new rules also apply to passenger flights. They can only carry printer toner and ink cartridges that weigh less than a pound.

Schakowsky says with al-Qaeda featuring the Willis Tower on one of its Web sites, it’s important that everyone remains on guard.

“People are becoming more vigilant – I think it’s in a very thoughtful sort of way now – because there are definitely things that can be done in these buildings to make sure that they are safer,” Schakowsky said.

A large percentage of air cargo is actually hauled in the bellies of passenger planes. For that and other reasons, reformers say the whole system needs to be redone from top to bottom.

Also, during his recent trip to India, President Barack Obama debriefed Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about David Coleman Headley, the Chicago resident who pleaded guilty to scouting locations for the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli contributed to this report.

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