A Way Out

The Coalition for Secure Ports was formed about a month ago by maritime interests in order to lobby for enhanced maritime security. Mr. Basil Maher, President of Maher Terminals and President of the National Association of Waterfront Employers, stated that, “Too much is at stake for the nation to be lulled into a false sense of security”, and he called for the government to focus as much attention on maritime security as it has on aviation security. The coalition has for its purpose to make policymakers aware of the progress that has already been made in marine cargo security, and to avoid actions that merely impede the flow of commerce, creating that false sense of security without delivering real container security.

A number of influential members of Congress continue to remind us that a mere 4% or 5% of containers are now able to be scanned at our terminals. Senator Chuck Schumer even went so far as to file legislation that would require manual inspection of at least 10% of all incoming containers. The suggestion was roundly shouted down, however, because it was considered to be a definite impediment to “the flow of commerce”. To add emphasis to the general feeling that little has been done with respect to the inspection of containers, President Bush signed the $ 28.9 billion Homeland Security Appropriations Act on October 18th, which includes funding for radiation detection monitors to screen cargo at ports.

Mr. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential hopeful, in a recent speech accused the Bush administration of settling for a security policy that screens only 5% of the cargo that comes into U.S. ports. He quite accurately echoed all the information that has been made known on this matter. Almost immediately Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner took Mr. Kerry to task. Mr. Bonner stated; “It’s terribly misleading to say you’re not inspecting 95 percent of the containers, and leave out the fact that for the first time since 9/11, we get information, and we do a risk assessment of every container that’s heading to the United States … The containers we identify, 100 percent of them are inspected using large-scale x-ray machines and radiation detection equipment. We have implemented CSI (Container Security Initiative) to be able to screen the highest risk containers before they leave the foreign port”. (So, take that, Senator Kerry!)

Unless Mr. Bonner is resorting to double-talk, therefore, Senator Kerry, Senator Schumer, and many others in Congress are way off base. But let’s look at what Dennis Eng wrote on October 18th in “The Standard”, a newspaper of the Sing Tao Newspaper Group and Global China Group. He’s closer to the action than we are and reports that Daniel Wagner, senior co-financing specialist at the ADB (Asian Development Bank) states that about 90 percent of all goods transported into or out of the United States occurs by sea but only 5 percent of this is inspected. This is a statement that’s difficult to ignore because the threat of terrorism is just as important to the Asians as it is to us. Mr. Wagner makes it clear that, “When one considers the extent to which Asian economies are dependent on exports to the U.S. [and Europe] for their livelihood, the risk that a terrorist attack on the transportation infrastructure of the U.S. would impact Asian countries is profound”. Mr Wagner makes it perfectly clear that the Asians aren’t playing games with security issues.

Back in the first paragraph, you’ll recall, we related the purpose of the Coalition for Secure Ports. The intention of this Coalition, it was stated, is to lobby policymakers to avoid actions that merely impede the flow of commerce ( which is why Senator Schumer’s amendment was defeated last week) and also to avoid creating a false sense of security without delivering real container security. ( For any policymaker to give knowingly a false sense of security to the people in this country would be nothing short of criminal.)

Senator Kerry is striking for the presidency, and although his statement could be taken with a grain of salt, there’s no denying that it was in line with everything else that has been said or published about the amount of container scanning being done in our ports.

Mr. Bonner has just as much at stake because he holds a position in the challenged administration, but his statement, with regard to our security, our livelihoods, and quite possibly our very lives, is supposed to be the gospel truth. His obligation is supposed to be to us, not to any political agenda. Mr. Bonner was emphatic when he added, “We have done an amazing amount of things to better secure cargo containers that are being shipped to the U.S. And at the same time do it beforehand, and in a way that’s consistent with security, and doing it without shutting down our economy, and the economy of the rest of the world”.

Mr. Wagner of the Asian Development Bank assesses the situation differently, however. He is at the scene, and because his position in the ADB requires first hand knowledge of high risk situations, it doesn’t seem likely that he’d be in the dark on this matter. Neither is President Bush in the dark apparently, else why would he appropriate more than $ 28 billion for the problem? Hasn’t Mr. Bonner advised him yet that container inspections are being adequately handled in Asia? Do you suppose someone is pulling Mr. Bonner’s leg? Or do you suppose Mr. Bonner is pulling … Nah!

There’s a way out of this quandary. We can dispense with all political agitation, labor disputes, unemployment problems, and yes, even security concerns by reviewing some of the previous commentaries offered by this website. For a fraction of that $ 28 billion just appropriated, a small fraction, this whole question of container scanning and guaranteed security can be put to rest. Everyone would come out a winner. The patented system this website is touting is the answer to everyone’s concerns, whether they be economic concerns, safety concerns or political concerns. Inevitably it will come to pass, but as we all know, “the first step is the hardest”.