Bomb Plot Ramifications Spark Worries in High-Tech Supply Chain

The explosive devices found in two shipments — one via FedEx and one via UPS — may not have detonated, but they have nevertheless struck terror throughout the supply chain. Or at least they should.

The incident highlights how vulnerable the global supply chain is and thus how easily terrorism could slow, or even halt, a substantial share of global commerce. Terrorists typically look for opportunities, not only to murder innocent people, but also to choke off economic activity. Disrupting the supply chain is like cutting off oxygen to the economy.

Anti-terrorism attention in the United States and around the world will now focus on the supply chain, and industry executives should prepare for more scrutiny and possibly new mandates about inspection and packaging.

Apparently air cargo shipments are not being consistently inspected today. According to a Nov. 1 article in The Wall Street Journal, only 50 percent of all air cargo worldwide is screened. It is telling that we did not find these bombs from any screening or inspection. Rather, we were tipped off by former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Jabir al-Fayfi, according to a report in The Washington Post.

Also telling is the fact that no government official would say — and they were repeatedly asked by the media — that they were confident that there were no other package bombs flying around in cargo planes. Their response, or lack thereof, does not inspire confidence.

Watch for these potential ramifications:

  • Congressional action. Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who wrote a 2007 law that requires 100 percent screening of air cargo in passenger planes at US airports, plans to introduce legislation this month to mandate the same screening requirements for all-cargo planes. “Friday's incident shows that al Qaeda is well aware of this loophole in the system, and they fully intend to exploit it,” Markey said in a statement. “It is time for the shipping industry and the business community to accept the reality that more needs to be done to secure cargo planes so that they cannot be turned into a delivery system for bombs targeting our country.” (See: House lawmaker plans legislation to require screening for all-cargo aircraft.)
  • Heightened security for shipments from, or traveling through, suspected countries, and perhaps for all shipments regardless of route. According to Adrian Gonzalez, a writer for Logistics Viewpoints, many supply chain professionals can’t pinpoint the exact routes their supplies travel.
  • If you don’t know the exact shipping routes of your goods, find out now. Do you know if your shipments pass through dangerous areas? Even if they do not pass through the Mideast, remember that terrorism knows no national boundaries. In the last several years there have been terrorist attacks in Indonesia, India, Great Britain, and Spain, just to name a few.

  • Requirements for new or different packaging. The FedEx and UPS bombs were in printer cartridges shipped inside laser printers. New regulations or mandates may very well specify new packaging techniques designed to enable easier inspection.

The timing of this heightened scrutiny shows just how easy it is to cripple our commerce. As the holiday season gets underway, caution and perhaps new regulations will slow down shipments. Just think about how much longer it takes for a passenger to board a plane today, and you get an idea of the potential for delay.

These are just the most obvious implications. There are certainly plenty of others. How has the package bomb incident affected your supply chain so far? What are you bracing for?

Tam Harbert has been covering electronics since the dawn of surface-mount technology. She lives online at

4 comments on “Bomb Plot Ramifications Spark Worries in High-Tech Supply Chain

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    November 3, 2010

    Tam, thanks for all the research and the links. Even though post-9/11 was supposed to pull security efforts together, I think the inability for one agency to cooperate with another continues to contribute to the patchwork-inspection that's going on here.

    At least someone paid attention to the tip-off this time–I think it was the underwear bomber who was reported as a threat by his father–and not ignored.

  2. Ariella
    November 3, 2010

    remember that terrorism knows no national boundaries”  That's an excellent point, Tam.  One cannot be too causal about security because of one's location or the location of the supplies one deals with.  Terrorism is most effective when an attack is unexpected.

  3. Hardcore
    November 3, 2010

    I strongly believe:

    Commercial passenger carrying aircraft should not be allowed to carry cargo that has been contaminated with materials from untraceable sources.

    What we are not seeing here is material directly from the HP factory, but rather material that has passed through dubious sources and then been placed on aircraft by a  'shipping/carrier' company.

    There are no systems that can be put in place to protect the aircraft and passengers whilst such systems are allowed to operate.It would mean that every  accepting office for a carrier would need to screen each and every packet plus have staff trained in such systems, performing this task at the central 'hub' would not work due to the shear volume of material, it would also not prevent the central 'hub' from being infiltrated and materials being introduced.

    That is not to say that materials direct from traceable sources, such as  bonded production facilities should not be allowed to use passenger aircraft, but rather the sources of material need to be 100% clean.

    This 'bomb plot' was obviously performed from this location in a deliberate attempt to isolate the country and try to undermine its trade systems, since the method and the materials could just as easily have been produced within the USA and executed within the USA with far greater effect.




  4. AnalyzeThis
    November 3, 2010

    Commercial passenger carrying aircraft should not be allowed to carry cargo that has been contaminated with materials from untraceable sources.

    I generally agree with that statement, but regardless of my personal opinion, I am fairly confident that new policies will drastically limit this practice. Especially on international flights, but perhaps changes will be made domestically as well.

    This has already happened to some extent, after 9/11 the DoT banned mail over 16 ounces from traveling on commercial planes, forcing the USPS to contract with FedEx. Prior to that, they obviously just put that mail on commercial flights. This change has negatively affected USPS financially and also resulted in slower service in some instances.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.