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Aviation Security and Terrorism: An Analysis of the Potential Threat to Air Cargo Integrators

Dr. Bruce Hoffman *

Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence
St. Andrews University, Scotland

September 1997


In recent years, regulations have been proposed both in Europe and the United States that would apply identical security procedures to pure cargo as well as to passenger aircraft. The assumption behind this policy change is that the threat posed by terrorists to commercial aviation is equal to both categories of air carrier. Its underlying reasoning was alluded to at a 1992 meeting held at Berne of the "Sub Group for the Study of Operational Aspects of Security Problems," when essentially anecdotal evidence was offered as sufficient explanation for so considerable a policy change. The report of the Task Force on Cargo Security, for example, had only the following to say about so profound a proposed change to the existing regulations:

Whilst it was observed that the threat to freighter aircraft might be less than to a passenger aircraft and the consequences of a successful attack on a freighter aircraft less costly in terms of human life, it was difficult to be sure onto which type of aircraft a piece of cargo would be carried . . . [Accordingly it] was agreed that cargo security measures should apply to both passenger and to freighter aircraft. 1

This article assesses the validity and relevance of that rationale specifically as it applies to air cargo integrators: that is, commercial cargo shipping concerns whose primary business is the guaranteed, expeditious (often over-night) international delivery of letters, documents and small parcels (e.g., such well-known corporate entities as FedEx, UPS, and TNT among others). To do so, the article utilises empirical rather than anecdotal evidence to examine, based on the historical record:

Based on the above analysis, it concludes with an assessment of the terrorist threat to air cargo integrators specifically.

The Terrorist Threat to Civil Aviation: An Overview 2

Terrorism and commercial aviation share a common history. 3 Indeed, the advent of what is considered modern, contemporary, international terrorism began with a terrorist act involving a commercial passenger aircraft. On 22 July 1968, three armed Palestinian terrorists hijacked an Israeli El Al commercial flight en route from Rome to Tel Aviv. Although commercial aircraft had been hijacked before--this was the twelfth such incident in 1968 alone--the El Al hijacking differed significantly from all previous ones.

First, its purpose was not simply the diversion of a scheduled flight from one destination to another--as had been the case since 1959 when a seemingly endless succession of homesick Cubans or sympathetic revolutionaries from other countries had commandeered domestic American passenger aircraft simply as a means to travel to Cuba. This hijacking was a bold political statement. The three terrorists who seized the El Al flight had done so with the express purpose of trading the passengers they held hostage for Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israel.

Second, unlike previous hijackings, where the choice or nationality of the aircraft that was being seized did not matter (as long as the plane itself was capable of transporting the hijacker(s) to a desired destination), El Al--as Israel's national airline and by extension, therefore, a readily evident national "symbol" of the Israeli state--had been specifically and deliberately targeted by the terrorists.

Finally, by taking control of an already controlled environment--where no entry or exit was possible while the aircraft was inflight--and particularly where the movement and where the behaviour of a relatively large number of passengers could be closely monitored by a handful of persons while the consequences of a government ignoring or rejecting the terrorists' demands could potentially be catastrophic (i.e., causing the destruction of the aircraft and deaths of all persons on board)--terrorists throughout the world discovered that they had essentially created a travelling "theatre" which, via the intense media coverage that attended such events, could be used to attract, focus and keep the world's attention riveted on the plight of the aircraft and its hapless passengers for a prolonged period of time.

The four basic characteristics of the El Al hijacking--the air carrier as political "symbol," encapsulating the terrorists' animus against a specified "enemy state"; the act as a "political statement" designed to have repercussions beyond the actual aircraft itself and the passengers (i.e., victims) on board and thereby reach a wider "target audience"; the air carrier as a "national symbol" of the terrorists' enemy state--whether a designated official, "national carrier" or because of its popular association in the public mind with a particular country or destination--identical to its embassies, consulates or other symbols of national sovereignty; and, its "theatrical" dimension as an assured means, given the innocent civilian passengers on board, for terrorists to dramatically and incontrovertibly attract attention to themselves and their cause, continue today to influence terrorist decision-making and targeting regarding commercial aviation. Indeed, we will return to these four fundamental characteristics later in assessing the terrorist threat specifically to air cargo integrators.

At the time, the success of the hijacking sent a powerful message to terrorists everywhere. For both tactical and strategic reasons, commercial aviation was viewed as an attractive and potentially lucrative target. The comparative ease with which a plane could be seized, the confined space which could be readily controlled, the seated hostages who could be easily intimidated and managed and the inherent drama and media attention a hijacked plane-load of innocent civilians carried with it, was evident to terrorists and others who, during the succeeding 17 months carried out an additional 89 acts of air piracy, bringing the number of airline hijackings between 1968 and 1969 to a total of 100. 4

The installation of metal detectors (magnetometers) and attendant pre-boarding inspection of passengers and their carry-on items that became standard after 1973 have played a critical role in reducing the number of hijacks. 5 Only nine hijackings occurred in 1973, for example, compared to 30 in 1972. The annual number of hijackings similarly declined from an average 50 per year for 1968-1969 to 18 per year for both the 1970s and 1980s before decreasing still further during the first half of the 1990s to the lowest level since 1968: an average of only 14.4 per year. 6 The effect of the decrease in hijackings achieved between 1969 to 1979, for example, is evidenced in the results of a 1979 study which concluded that the likelihood of a commercial aviation passenger being hijacked in the United States had dropped from 3.5 chances in 100,000 before the installation of metal detectors in 1973 to just 1 in 100,000 after. 7 Additional security measures that have been enacted since that time—such as "profiling" of passengers at check-in by specially trained security personnel, which El Al pioneered and since 1986 has been adopted by other "high risk" national carriers (i.e., those of United States airlines in particular)--largely account for the vast reduction in airline hijackings achieved thus far during the 1990s.

Viewed from another perspective, during the late 1960s, hijacking of passenger aircraft was among terrorists' favoured tactics, accounting for 33 percent of all terrorist incidents world-wide. However, as security at airports improved, the incidence of airline hijackings declined to just seven percent of all international terrorist incidents in the 1970s and only four percent for both the 1980s and for the first half of the 1990s. But while these measures were successful in reducing airline hijackings, they did not stop terrorist attacks on commercial airlines altogether. Instead, prevented from smuggling weapons on board to hijack aircraft, terrorists merely continued to attack commercial aviation by means of bombs hidden in carry-on or checked baggage.

It should first be emphasised that--despite media impressions to the contrary and the popular perception fostered by that impression--terrorist bombings or even attempted bombings of aircraft while inflight are comparatively rare. They amounted to only 15 incidents between 1970 and 1979 (out of a total of 2,537 international terrorist incidents--or .006 percent) and just 12 between 1980 and 1989 (out of a total of 3,943 international terrorist incidents--or an even lower .003 percent of incidents). Indeed, this trend has continued throughout the first half of the current decade. There have been a total of just six inflight bombings since 1990 compared with a total of 1,859 international terrorist incidents thus far this decade. In other words, inflight bombings of commercial aviation account for an infinitesimal--.003--percent of international terrorist attacks during the 1990s. 8 Nonetheless, the dramatic loss of life and attendant intense media coverage have turned those few events into terrorist "spectaculars": etched indelibly on the psyches of commercial air travellers and security officers everywhere despite the extreme infrequency or likelihood of their occurrence (especially when compared to the millions of commercial flights that are completed safely on a daily basis at airports throughout the world). 9

The overall paucity of inflight bombings is attributable in part to the successful passenger baggage reconciliation practices (i.e., where a positive match is effected before take-off between all baggage in the cargo hold with every passenger). Since these practices were instituted in 1985 following the inflight bombing of an Air India flight that year, where all 328 persons on board perished, a total of some 14 billion pieces of baggage have been screened and matched with only three bombs 10 --with admittedly tragic results--having failed to be detected. 11 These "first generation" measures, moreover, have been further strengthened as a result of the new security measures undertaken in the wake of the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing.

In sum, therefore, one can conclude beyond any doubt that the incidence of terrorist bombings of passenger aircraft has declined appreciably over the past three decades. Moreover, when viewed from the wider perspective of overall world-wide trends in international terrorist activity, both in statistical and actual terms, the terrorist threat to commercial aviation cannot be judged as a salient--much less significantly active trend--of international terrorism today.

Patterns of Terrorist Operations and Tactics

In the above context, it is important to note that, generally speaking, overall terrorist operations and tactics reveal a remarkably low degree of innovation in contrast to a very high degree of imitation. This has significant implications for terrorist targeting of commercial aviation and in fact explains the comparative paucity of terrorist bombing of aircraft. Terrorists are first and foremost "success" freaks. That is, they arguably have a higher institutional imperative to succeed than any other type of organisation or group. Simply put, the terrorist act has to succeed if the terrorists are indeed to "terrorise" anyone, i.e., put pressure on governments to act in a manner advantageous to the terrorists or generally create a climate of fear and intimidation amenable to terrorist exploitation. For this reason, terrorists have historically been remarkably risk-averse: adhering to the same narrow, "tried and true" repertoire of tactics. As terrorists want to ensure that their operations have the highest likelihood or margin of success, the vast majority of their attacks are therefore not tactically innovative. Thus it can be said that, as radical may be in their politics, they are commensurably conservative in their operations: rarely deviating from the familiar and adhering to an established modus operandi that, to their minds at least, minimises failure and maximises success.

Terrorists therefore seem to prefer the assurance of modest success to more complicated and complex--but potentially higher pay-off (in terms of casualties and publicity)--operations. Indeed, this explanation possibly accounts for the overall paucity of terrorist "spectaculars" and the mostly limited number of casualties historically inflicted in terrorist attacks (i.e., more often in the tens and twenties and only occasionally ever stretching into the low hundreds). Indeed, since the beginning of the century fewer than a dozen terrorist incidents in fact have occurred that resulted in the deaths of more than a 100 persons at one time. 12

This identifiable trend has several implications for terrorist targeting of aircraft. First, it suggests a reluctance to undertake operations that do not have a large, virtually assured, margin of success. For example, if terrorists are inherently "success freaks," they must also be "control freaks" in order to "influence" and affect the environment in which their operation takes place as a means of ensuring its "successful" outcome. The obvious uncertainties of the commercial aviation environment created by the succession of security measures that have been continually adopted over the years may explain why terrorists in fact so infrequently target aircraft. 13 An operation against a commercial aircraft can be upset not only through the discovery of the explosive device through baggage screening or passenger profiling, but through unanticipated delays in departure, mis-routed baggage or even a malfunctioning bomb. 14 In 1985, for example, a bomb exploded at Japan's Narita Airport, killing two workers and wounding four others, while baggage was being unloaded from a Canadian Pacific Airlines flight. Doubtless this bomb was meant to explode--like the one later that same day on a Montreal to London Air India flight that crashed into the Irish Sea--whilst the plane was inflight over water thus rendering forensic investigation far more difficult, if not impossible. Moreover, even successful bombings may not go according to plan: Pan Am 103 is perhaps the archetypal example, as the explosion was meant to occur--like the 1985 Air India inflight bombing--while the aircraft was over water (in order similarly to thwart investigation).

Accordingly, what innovation does occur in terrorist operations both in general as well as specifically directed against commercial aviation, is mostly in the methods used to conceal and detonate explosive devices 15 not in the type of target or even in the actual tactics themselves. In this respect, terrorists mostly seek to imitate previously successful attacks against identical target sets using the same tactics (whether by other terrorists or non-political criminals) rather than experiment with either new tactics or against different types of targets (i.e., air cargo integrators or air cargo carriers rather than commercial passenger aircraft). This proclivity towards imitation rather than innovation is arguably most clearly evidenced by the history of inflight bombing of passenger aircraft itself.

We forget that this tactic is by no means a new phenomenon. Indeed, the first recorded incident of an inflight bombing of a commercial passenger aircraft occurred more than 60 years ago when a bomb exploded on a United Airlines transcontinental passenger whilst flying over Chesterton, Indiana on 10 October 1933, killing all seven persons on board. Although no motive or suspects were ever uncovered, this was most probably not a politically-motivated attack (i.e., terrorism) but one executed for criminal (i.e., insurance fraud) or highly personal, idiosyncratic (i.e., psychological instability) motives. Not for another 16 years is there any evidence of a similar type of incident occurring until 1949, when a Filipino woman and her lover hired two ex-convicts to place a bomb on a Philippines Airline flight. The motive was clearly criminal: the bomb was meant to kill the woman's husband, a passenger on the flight, in order to collect his inheritance and enable the woman to marry her lover. The bomb exploded on 7 May, killing all 13 persons on board. Just four months later another spouse, this time a Canadian male, placed a time bomb on a Canadian Pacific Airlines flight similarly in hopes of killing his wife, a passenger on the flight, and thereby collecting on her insurance policy. The device, which was concealed in the unfortunate woman's luggage, exploded in the forward baggage compartment whilst the plane was some 40 miles form Quebec City, killing all the aircraft's 23 passengers and crew. In yet another example of imitation, in this incident too it is widely presumed that the bomber had read about the recent Philippines incident. Indeed, six years later, in still another insurance collection plot, a son killed his mother and 44 other passengers on a United Airlines DC-6B jet on 1 November 1955 using a dynamite bomb that had been placed in her suitcase and checked in the luggage hold.16

The point, with regard to all the above incidents, is that long before terrorists began to attack passenger aircraft with bombs, assorted criminals, frustrated lovers and plain lunatics were "pioneering" the use of such tactics against the same targets. 17 Accordingly, one can persuasively argue that terrorists only later adapted a tactic that had already proven its success. The implications of this "copycat" factor of terrorism with regard to air cargo integrators is clear: terrorists themselves rarely innovate, relying instead on proven tactics against previously tried targets utilising techniques of the past. Accordingly, as no adversarial terrorist action has ever occurred (at least that we are aware of) against an air cargo integrator, this particular target set of commerical aviation therefore arguably has not attracted terrorist attention. In this context, moreover, it should be emphasised, there is no conclusive evidence that terrorists have ever attempted to place a bomb among the cargo carried by integrators, much less in the air cargo processed by commercial, passenger airlines.

Moreover, within the context of air cargo integrators, this element of assured "success" (that is, of terrorists thereby having complete "control" over an operation is critical to understanding why this particular target set, i.e., air cargo integrators) would not only be unattractive to terrorists but might perhaps also serve as a formidable deterrent. Two key elements of air cargo integrator operations virtually deprive terrorists of the predictability and certainty of timing that they crave. One is the integrators' inherent multi-modal distribution system the other is the uniquely specialised service that the integrator's provide based on the most expeditious delivery possible of a consignment. Indeed, the raison d'être for the integrator's very existence--speed of delivery--requires the exploitation of all available ground transport resources 18 that renders impossible predictability and certainty of a specific carrier, much less its flight, time of departure, planned route, etc. Accordingly, terrorists cannot ascertain, much less predict, the exact time that a particular item will be in transit (except to assume that it will likely be transported between point A and point B as expeditiously as possible) or even from which airport or to what intermediate destination it might depart and over what route it will travel. This lack of control, therefore, severely militates any exact planning or timing. Surely, this uncertainty and "unscheduled" dimension of the movement of air integrator cargo alone must seriously negate any terrorist attempt to exploit this means of transport.

Moreover, the strict accounting measures and "paper trail" requirements both to manage the expeditious delivery process and for efficacious Customs clearance procedures still further diminishes the terrorist threat. Since every item accepted for transit is meticulously logged and accounted for on a computerised database; with exact details of the sending and receiving parties; date and time of pick-up; originating location; delivery location, etc. meticulously recorded; the forensic evidence that would be available to law enforcement authorities in the event terrorists might attempt to exploit this avenue of supposed attack, becomes extremely daunting. By contrast, for example, passengers on commercial flights regularly arrive at airport check-ins with no readily available or accurate means of verifying from where specifically their journey originated or where specifically they are in fact going once they depart the aircraft at their destination. The only information required is a ticket and a passport. On the other hand, because of the nature of the service they provide, air integrators must routinely record on secure automated systems all details for each consignment in order to track with the greatest degree of accuracy (which is, of course, integral to the service that the integrators provide) its movement from pick-up to delivery. As one analysis concluded, "forwarders usually know more about a shipment than the carriers." 19

Obviously, this tracking requirement is particularly critical in facilitating Customs clearance: thus further enhancing consignment accountability. Equally obviously, Customs' concerns with narcotics trafficking via parcels consigned to air cargo integrators or the illicit movement of cash across international borders imposes a high degree of standardisation of practice that readily identifies suspicious anomalies and in turn suspect parcels or letters. Moreover, in order to facilitate the expeditious movement and delivery of items, Customs themselves have direct access to air integrator computer systems. The argument raised by the European Express Organisation itself is surely pertinent to this argument: "The discovery risks inherent in exposing themselves to such systems are well understood by many who fallen foul of them and there is no reason to believe that they are not equally well known in the world of the terrorist." 20 Indeed, the aforementioned terrorist operational imperative to succeed clearly suggests that terrorists would avoid so stringent and standardised control procedures and so daunting a routinised audit trail is of itself a significant deterrent to terrorists as well.

Why Terrorists Target Aircraft

Although terrorist are often portrayed by the media or assumed in the public mind to be random and indiscriminate, if not irrational, this is not true. Terrorist select targets with high "symbolic" value. For this reason, as noted previously, national air carriers have been attractive targets for terrorists as a means to strike at a less well-protected symbol of a hated enemy, for example, than an embassy or a consulate for example. Almost without exception, therefore, the 67 identified terrorist bombings of commercial aircraft that have occurred since 1968 all targeted name recognised national carriers--not the far-less well-known, largely unfamiliar dedicated air cargo carriers, much less the arguably slightly better known charter passenger aircraft. Hence, in all these terrorist incidents involving commercial passenger carriers, the terrorists' intent was to strike directly at a symbol of national sovereignty. For this reason, terrorists specifically target specific symbols of a nation-state as embodied in a state's national passenger air carriers. Obviously, high name-recognition, "national" carriers (whether state-owned or privatised) like Israel's El Al Airlines, France's Air France, the United Kingdom's British Airways or India's Air India will lead the list of attractive targets; while other carriers known more perhaps for their association with a particular country, like Canadien Airlines (formerly Candian Pacific), Pan Am, United, American, Delta, etc. that are widely known as Canadian or United States-based airlines flying on Canadian or United States routes, for example, will similarly attract terrorist interest because of their "symbolic" value as well.

In all instances when these aircraft are targeted, the terrorists' intention is to bring down a passenger aircraft in order to obtain maximum publicity and therefore have maximum effect for the terrorists and their cause. This is enhanced--indeed one can argue that it is only achieved--through the often instant name-recognition in the public and media's mind associated with target-sets such as El Al and its obvious Israeli connection, for example, Canadien Airlines with Canada and United, American, Delta, etc. with the United States. Therefore, it is unclear, if not extremely doubtful, whether an attack on an air cargo integrator--that is known, if at all to the general public--through an "alphabet soup" of letters or innocuous corporate names like TNT, UPS, FedEx, etc., completely divorced from any identifiable national affiliation--would generate anywhere close to the same intense concern as an attack against a more familiar "name-brand" passenger carrier. This argument alone renders any divining or hypothesis of a terrorist motive in targeting an air cargo integrator difficult, if not impossible.

To sum up then, in no way can one argue that air cargo integrators such as FedEx, UPS, TNT, etc. have anywhere near the same nationalist associations or symbolic connotations and, most importantly, name recognition of such well known national carriers such as El Al, British Airways, Air France, etc. or the obvious country associations of United, American Airlines, Delta, etc. who are popularly linked to the United States and these other countries because of advertising, routes, etc. Moreover, since many of the air cargo integrators have a world-wide commercial remit, rather than the direct geographical route associations of most "national" passenger air carriers, it is doubtful that terrorists could reap any advantages from attacking them as opposed to those of the arguably far more publicity-rich and therefore attention-lucrative (from the terrorists' point of view) commercial air carriers.

The 1990-1991 Gulf War Exemplar

In the above respect, however, it has been suggested that terrorists supposedly intent on paralysing world-wide air traffic might resort to placing bombs indiscriminately in consignments transported by air cargo integrator parcels in order to achieve this end. To date, though, even at times of extreme international crisis or tension, such as the 1990-1991 Gulf War, when this threat might most likely have been anticipated, it never in fact materialised. Indeed, given that so much terrorist activity, as noted above, is imitative and not innovative, the previous absence of any previous plot of this type in cases of extreme international tension arguably considerably vitiates this possibility at all other times.

For example, almost from the start of the conflict in August 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and US. forces were deployed to defend Saudi Arabia against Iraqi aggression, thinly-veiled threats began to emanate from the Middle East warning of terrorist actions in response to the American and coalition forces' intervention. Saddam Hussein called on fellow Muslims to embark on a holy war against the United States and attack American interests wherever they could be reached. 21 Abul Abbas, the Palestinian terrorist who masterminded the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship, Achille Lauro, ordered his men to "Open fire on the American enemy everywhere." 22 Not to be outdone by a rival's clarion call to battle, Abu Nidal, the architect of the brutal machine gun and hand grenade attacks on the Rome and Vienna airports in 1985, immediately followed suit, warning that his organisation was preparing to carry out "90 attacks in 20 countries" against U.S. and Western targets. And George Habash, the founder and leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, went a step further: threatening American cities with nuclear terrorist attacks.

Throughout the long build-up of U.S. and coalition forces in the Gulf and as successive diplomatic initiatives failed, fears of a world-wide terrorist onslaught against Americans and American interests in particular (as well as those of the other coalition member-states) mounted. 23 Thus by the time the war began in January 1991, the world was primed for the possibility of retaliatory international terrorist operations that never occurred to any significant extent.

There were, admittedly, some spontaneous shows of support for Iraq by terrorists throughout the world. According to The RAND-St Andrews University Chronology of International Terrorism, for example, 188 incidents occurred between the start of the war on January 16, 1991 and the cessation of fighting on February 26th--compared to only 35 incidents during the same time period in 1990. 24 None, it should be emphasised targeted commercial, much less military, aviation--passenger or otherwise.

And, what attacks did occur, were not only "symbolic" in the sense of terrorists attacking readily identified "symbols" of a particular nation-state; they were almost universally directed against "soft" targets--not, for example, against either airline flights or airports. Terrorists in Ecuador, for example, stepped up their attacks on U.S. banks and churches there; German radicals fire-bombed a Woolworth's department store in Bonn; guerrillas belonging to the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement in Peru attacked Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets in that country, while terrorists in Uganda bombed an American athletic club. The only incident that had even a passing connection to aviation was when Islamic militants in Malaysia attempted to blow up a downtown American Airlines ticketing office.

In sum, then, even when a massive global terrorist campaign 25 --orchestrated by a ruthless, renegade dictator leading one of the globe's leading "pariah" states--is mounted for stakes arguably at least remotely commensurate with the complete paralysing of world-wide aviation--commercial aircraft are not even targeted, much less that of air cargo integrators, are even actually threatened. Thus, in the absence of another significant global crisis, cum conflict like the 1990-91 Gulf War, it is hard to envision what motive terrorists would have in attempting to "paralyse" world-wide air traffic--even if this were conceivably possible--by placing bombs in the packages transporting by air cargo integrators. In any event, in any instance where any concern or suspicion might be aroused, appropriate additional security measures can be implemented. In such circumstances, when appropriate, cargo may of course be subjected to thorough inspection and, in some instances, refused. Finally, as international air cargo integrators in particular rely almost exclusively on their own specifically, dedicated all-cargo aircraft, it is difficult to see how any such motive of terrorists' to "paralyse" international civil aviation could or even would in fact succeed.


The potential threat to air cargo integrators posed by terrorists cannot be considered high at this time. Terrorist activity against commercial aviation in general has primarily consisted of "symbolic" attacks against known and demonstrable "symbols" of specific nation-states in order to call attention to political causes. Terrorists have not attacked air cargo integrators because they lack this identification or associational value, are considerably less-known than commercial air passenger carriers and, since they do not carry passengers (i.e., human beings whose death and injury is grist for the media) do not have the same "sensationalism" and publicity value as established passenger carriers.

In this respect air cargo integrators cannot be said--unlike their air passenger counterparts--to "symbolise" a particular nation-state in the manner that national airlines do; accordingly lack the political significance associated with passenger carriers; and, bereft of actual victims (i.e., passengers) to actually target in order to reap this publicity, deprive the terrorists of the elements that arguably make attacking passenger carriers so attractive to them.

Further, terrorists--because of an inherent organisational imperative--are driven towards achieving a higher margin of success in their operations than any other type of organisation or group. Simply put, if terrorists fail in an attack, they do not succeed in "terrorising" anyone. Hence, terrorists are decidedly more imitative than they are innovative in either their tactics or targets. The fact that air cargo integrators have not previously ever been the targets of criminals (whom terrorists might aspire to imitate) or other terrorists themselves, on its own suggests that this type of potential target is at extremely low risk.

Moreover, if terrorists are obsessed with success--and accordingly operationally very cautious and conservative, adhering to a narrow, but proven, tactical repertoire--they are therefore ineluctably also "control freaks," seeking to dominate and affect all aspects of an operation in order to ensure its greatest likelihood of success. As previously recounted, the nature of the air cargo integrator--relying on speed of delivery and exploiting a variety of modes of transport whilst not adhering to a strictly scheduled time-table--obviously negates this terrorist imperative. In addition, the standardised and detailed accountability and tracking procedures of all consignments accepted by air cargo integrators acts as a further deterrent to terrorist attack given the forensic evidence and paper-trail available to law enforcement to aid its investigation of an incident. Finally, it is also worth noting that even at times of intense, extreme international tension, such as during the 1990-91 Gulf War, terrorists did not attempt to paralyse international commercial air traffic on passenger carriers, much less cargo or air cargo integrator carriers.

In conclusion, it should be emphasised that, overall, the incidence of terrorist attacks on aircraft is declined and has declined appreciably in the 1990s to the point where it accounts for an infinitesimal .003 percent of all international terrorist attacks. As I wrote in an article published in Aviation Security, "Beyond a certain point, security considerations . . . can become so cumbersome as to impede the operation of the facility they are meant to protect from intrusion and interference." This applies equally to air cargo integrators. Indeed, there is a point beyond which security measures are not only inappropriate to the level of the threat, but become so bureaucratic and illogically inconsistent if not intellectually dishonest, that they threaten to throttle the livelihood of an entire industry with a hitherto impeccable security and safety standard. Surely, we are approaching that point with the proposed changes equating the threat to, and the attendant security measures required, regarding commercial passenger air carriers and air cargo integrators


Note *: This article is to be published in Terrorism and Political Violence, vol. 10, no. 3 (Autumn 1998). Back.

Note 1: WP/4 Report of the Task Force on Cargo Security presented to the Meeting of the Sub Group for the Study of Operational Aspects of Security Problems held at Berne contained in European Express Organisation Comments on the Report of the Task Force Submitted to the Berne Meeting (30 November to 2 December 1994). Back.

Note 2: For a more detailed analysis of the general threat, see Bruce Hoffman, "Aviation Security and terrorism," Aviation Security International: The Journal of Airport and Airline Security, vol. 1, issue 1 (January 1996), pp. 4-8. Back.

Note 3: See, for example, Brian Jenkins, The Terrorist Threat to Commercial Aviation (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, March 1989, P-7540); C.J. Visser (Netherlands Institute of International Relations), "Civil Aviation and the Aircraft Bomb," Flight Safety Foundation, Flight Safety Digest, October 1990, pp. 1-13; "Aviation Statistics: An Update of World-wide Airport Security System," Flight Safety Foundation, Flight Safety Digest, November 1989, pp. 9-12; and, E.A. "Jerry" Jerome, "Recent Hijackings, Bombings Accelerate Security Concerns," Flight Safety Foundation, Flight Safety Digest, July 1985, pp. 1-9. Back.

Note 4: Source: The RAND-St Andrews University Chronology of International Terrorism. The RAND-St Andrews University Chronology of International Terrorism is derived from, and is one component of, The RAND-St Andrews University Databases on Terrorism and Low-Intensity Conflict and the collection of materials on 20th century conflict donated by Control Risks, Ltd. Both of these resources consist of newspaper clippings and journal articles from more than 100 countries and in over 5 languages. Material from The RAND-St Andrews databases is organised in 9 on-line, specialised computerised "chronologies" of terrorist incidents, where terrorist incidents and other acts of politically-motivated violence are listed in chronological format and coded for rapid data retrieval. The largest and best known of these is The RAND Chronology of International Terrorism. The Chronology contains information on international terrorist incidents since 1968 derived from the open literature (as are all the databases): newspapers, journals, published government reports and documents, radio broadcasts, and the foreign press. It provides a comprehensive, independent source of information with which trends in various aspects of terrorism can be analysed. It is widely acknowledged as the pre-eminent open-source (i.e., unclassified) independently maintained repository of data on terrorism world-wide. Back.

Note 5: "Aviation Statistics: An Update of World-wide Airport Security System," Flight Safety Foundation, Flight Safety Digest, November 1989, p. 9. Back.

Note 6: Statistics from the RAND-St Andrews University Chronology of International Terrorism. Back.

Note 7: William Landes, "An Economic Study of United States Aircraft Hijacking, 1966-1976," Journal of Law and Economics, vol, 21 (1978), pp. 1-31. Back.

Note 8: Source: The RAND-St Andrews University Chronology of International Terrorism. Back.

Note 9: Among the most recent incidents, for example, are: the 1985 inflight bombing of an Air India passenger jet killed all 328 persons on board; the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988 killed 278 persons; the 1989 inflight bombing of a French UTA flight killed 171; and the inflight bombing in 1989, of a Colombian Avianca aircraft on which 107 persons perished. Back.

Note 10: A bomb exploded in the cargo hold of an Air Lanka passenger jet whilst on the ground at Colombo Airport, Sri Lanka in 1986; Pan Am flight 103 in 1988; and a UTA passenger flight in 1989. This list refers only to bombs that were concealed in checked baggage. See Report of the President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism (Washington, D.C., 15 May 1990, p. 166. Back.

Note 11: This practice has also saved airlines an estimated half a million dollars a year in compensation for lost baggage. Presentation by Rodney Wallis, former President of the International Aviation Organization, at the "Seminar on Technology and Terrorism" held at St. Andrews University, Scotland, 24-27 August 1992. Back.

Note 12: A bombing in Bessarabia in 1921; a 1925 bombing of a crowded cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria; a largely unrecorded attempt to poison imprisoned German SS concentration camp guards shortly after World War II; the crash of a hijacked Malaysian passenger plane in 1977; the arson attack at a Teheran movie theatre in 1979 that killed more than 400; the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon that killed 241; the aforementioned 1985 inflight bombing of an Air India passenger jet that killed all 328 persons on board; the simultaneous explosions that rocked an ammunition dump in Islamabad, Pakistan in 1988; the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988 that killed 278 persons; the 1989 inflight bombing of a French UTA flight that killed 171; the inflight bombing, as in 1989, of a Colombian Avianca aircraft on which 107 persons perished; and the 1995 bombing of the Edward P. Murrah Federal Government Office Building in Oklahoma City in which 164 persons died. As terrorism expert Brian Jenkins noted in 1985 of the list upon which the preceding is an expanded version: "Lowering the criterion to 50 deaths produces a dozen or more additional incidents. To get even a meaningful sample, the criterion has to be lowered to 25. This in itself suggests that it is either very hard to kill large numbers of persons or very rarely tried." Brian M. Jenkins, The Likelihood of Nuclear Terrorism (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, P-7119, July 1985), p. 7. This author would argue that it is the latter explanation given the terrorists' organisational imperative of success. Back.

Note 13: This argument is even more pertinent to air cargo integrators. See the discussion below. Back.

Note 14: Such as 1985 explosion at Japan's Narita Airport while baggage was being unloaded from a Canadian Pacific Airline aircraft that killed two airport workers and wounded four others Back.

Note 15: For example, the mixture of liquid plastic explosive concealed in a half gallon whisky jug that was triggered by a block of C-4 plastic explosive hidden in a radio that exploded in mid-air on board a Korean Airlines flight, whilst over Burma, in November 1987. Back.

Note 16: See Jeffrey D. Simon, The Terrorist Trap: America's Experience with Terrorism (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995), pp. 46-51. Back.

Note 17: According to the RAND-St Andrews University Chronology of International Terrorism, the first recorded international terrorist incident of inflight bombing occurred on 1 March 1969, when a bomb exploded aboard an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 707 jet while on the ground in Frankfurt, West Germany. Back.

Note 18: For example, the "trucking" of a consignment to a more geographically distant airport in order to make an earlier scheduled flight. Back.

Note 19: Billie H. Vincent and Robert W. Smith, "Safeguard your cargo with new securities: enhanced technologies , such as x-rays and particle detectors, dampen illegal acts," Air Cargo World, vol. 83, no. 6, June 1993, p. 31. Back.

Note 20: European Express Organisation "Comments On the report of the Task Force Submitted to the Berne Meeting (30 November to 2 December 1994). Back.

Note 21: Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Department of State Dispatch, November 5, 1990. See also, Patrick E. Tyler and John M. Goshko, "U.S. Warns Iraq About Terrorism," Washington Post, September 14, 1990; Arthur Allen, "Expect terror, Iraq warns," Washington Times, September 14, 1990; and, Marie Colvin, "Saddam aims for supremacy in Arab world with terrorist take-over," Sunday Times (London), September 23, 1990. Reuters, "Guerrilla chief orders ‘Hit US'," The Guardian (London), August 16, 1990. See also, "Terrorist says his groups attacks is U.S. strikes," Washington Times, September 10, 1990; and, Tony Horwitz, "A Terrorist Talks About Life, Warns Of More Deaths," Wall Street Journal, September 10, 1990. Back.

Note 22: Reuters, "Guerrilla chief orders ‘ Hit US'," The Guardian (London), August 16, 1990. See also, "Terrorist says his groups attacks is U.S. strikes," Washington Times, September 10, 1990; and, Tony Horwitz, "A Terrorist Talks About Life, Warns Of More Deaths," Wall Street Journal, September 10, 1990. and, Walter S. Mossberg and Gerald F. Seib, "Before Its Invasion, Iraq Strengthened Ties To Terrorist Network," Wall Street Journal, August 20, 1990. Back.

Note 23: Peter F. Sisler, "Terrorist threatens widening of war," Washington Times, January 8, 1991. Back.

Note 24: The U.S. Department of State recorded 120 incidents during the war compared with 17 during the same period of time in 1990. In any event, so huge an increase is extremely uncommon. Back.

Note 25: Ibid.; Michael Wines, "International Teamwork May Have Foiled Terror," New York Times, March 4, 1991; Harvey Elliot, "Security agencies link up to tackle international threat," The Times (London), January 30, 1991; and, Peter Grier, "Terrorist Impact In US Still Small," Christian Science Monitor (Boston), August 8, 1991. See also the testimony of Mr. Ken Bergquist, Associate Director of the U.S. State Department's Office of Counter-Terrorism before the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, July 16, 1991; and, Ambassador L. Paul Bremmer's speech to the Institute for East-West Security Studies on April 11, 1991 as reported in the Institute's newsletter. Back.