Looking Back: Air Cargo Bomb Plot Foiled on October 29, 2010


Two years ago today, on October 29, 2010, US planes which had received cargo in transit from Yemen to the US were searched after authorities received a tip from Saudi Arabian intelligence officials regarding a terrorist plot to send explosives via air cargo packages to the US. Two planes that were searched had explosives on-board; one UPS (United Parcel Services) plane in East Midlands Airport in the UK, and a FedEx plane in Dubai. After searching the two planes, authorities found PETN (explosives) and lead Azide PbN6 (explosive used in detonators to initiate secondary explosives) which were packaged into computer printer ink cartridges. Officials found that the bombs were sophisticated and were connected to electric circuits and telephones with timed alarms that were meant to detonate the explosives over or on US soil.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) took responsibility for the plot nearly a week after it was foiled. AQAP also took responsibility for a UPS cargo plane that crashed at an air base in Dubai shortly after takeoff on September 3, 2010. Both crewmen of the plane were killed. However, in November 2010, US investigators said there was no evidence that the plane crash was caused by an explosion and a terrorist attack was ruled out.

In a US Senate hearing titled “Closing the Gaps in Air Cargo Security,” Senator Joseph Lieberman stated the following in regards to the air transportation/cargo system, the threat of terrorism, and the importance of a solid US strategy:

“Beginning with the attacks against America on September 11, 2001, our terrorist enemies have consistently sought to use airplanes as weapons of mass destruction, and more generally, they have seen in our aviation system a strategic choke point of international transit and commerce that could be brought to a halt, or at least stopped, through terrorist attacks. We have seen shoe bombers, liquid bombers, and underwear bombers. Again and again, terrorists have sought different ways to blow up an airplane. In the most recent attempt, of course, terrorists hid bombs inside the toner cartridges of printers and sent them to the United States as air cargo. This plot, as the others before it, was thwarted, in this case largely because of extraordinary intelligence, and here we give thanks and credit to our friends and allies in Saudi Arabia. But there was in this an element of good fortune or luck, and luck, of course, is not a strategy to defend our Nation from a threat of terrorists.”

Below you will find documents from the HSDL collection that highlight the October 29, 2010 plot as well as documents relating to air cargo/passenger safety and security.

Background Report: Package Bombs on Cargo Planes

Air Cargo Advance Screening Pilot Strategic Plan

S. Hrg. 111–1105: Closing the Gaps in Air Cargo Security, Hearing Before the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, United States Senate, One Hundred Eleventh Congress, Second Session, November 16, 2010

United States and Canada Announce Air Cargo Security Improvements [May 31, 2012]

Aviation Security: Actions Needed to Address Challenges and Potential Vulnerabilities Related to Securing Inbound Air Cargo, Report to Congressional Requesters

Supply Chain Security: Container Security Programs Have Matured, but Uncertainty Persists over the Future of 100 Percent Scanning, Statement of Stephen L. Caldwell, Director Homeland Security and Justice, Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, Committee on Homeland Security, House of Representatives

Transportation Security: Issues for the 112th Congress [February 1, 2011]

Article formerly posted at https://www.hsdl.org/blog/newpost/view/s_4648