On July 29th the WALL STREET JOURNAL printed a report that began like this:

“How do you keep a terrorist from smuggling a radiation-filled ‘dirty bomb’ or other weapon in one of the seven million-plus shipping containers that arrive at U.S. ports each year? That question has dogged policy makers, customs agents and counterterrorism experts ever since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“Until now, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has sought to secure global shipping by relying on intelligence and scrutinizing suspicious cargo manifests — such as an unrefrigerated container full of ‘frozen fish’ — to identify potentially dangerous shipments long before they reach American shores.

“But critics say this method is flawed because the information on shipping documents is often vague and unreliable, and intelligence is spotty, particularly from remote corners of the world. Currently, fewer than 6% of the containers headed for American ports are deemed ‘high-risk’ by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and pulled aside for examination by Customs inspectors.

“Now, port officials in Hong Kong, the world’s second-busiest port after Singapore, are testing a strategy that electronically scrutinizes every container full of sneakers, toys, gadgets or other contents. Proponents contend it better secures the global shipping system — without unacceptably slowing the flow of commerce …”

“Stephen Flynn, a respected maritime-security expert and consultant to Science Applications, which hopes to sell its machines to ports around the world based on the Hong Kong installation, said the system promises to revolutionize port security. He said it is the best way to ensure that a container is carrying, say, shoes, and not ‘a large black box that could go boom in the night.’

“In the event that a bomb got through in one container, Mr. Flynn said, U.S. officials could use the stored images and information to track a shipment back to its source … ‘My worst nightmare is that a shipment gets into Memphis or Chicago by rail and goes off, and they don’t know where it came from or how it got there,’ Mr. Flynn said …

“To date, Hong Kong has stored more than 250,000 container scans, many for cargo that was shipped to U.S. ports. However, none of the scans have formally been requested by U.S. authorities. In fact, until Tuesday, Washington had shown little enthusiasm for the project, saying that its efforts to beef up maritime surveillance and screening were sufficient … In part, U.S. Custom’s lack of enthusiasm for the screening system reflects a difference in philosophy. U.S. officials believe security can be maintained by checking only select containers that may be suspect, based on shipping manifests and intelligence the government receives. Moving to a system that scanned all incoming containers might represent a costly change in approach, these officials say.”

That’s what the July 29th report stated. But here’s what the NEW YORK TIMES had reported on May 7th:

“After spending more than $ 4.5 billion on screening devices to monitor the nation’s ports, borders, airports, mail and air, the federal government is moving to replace or alter much of the antiterrorism equipment, concluding that it is ineffective, unreliable or too expensive to operate.

“Many of the monitoring tools — intended to detect guns, explosives, and nuclear and biological weapons — were bought during the blitz in security spending after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“In its effort to create a virtual shield around America, the Department of Homeland Security now plans to spend billions of dollars more. Although some changes are being made because of technology that has emerged in the last couple of years, many of them are planned because devices currently in use have done little to improve the nation’s security, according to a review of agency documents and interviews with federal officials and outside experts.

“‘Everyone was standing in line with their silver bullets to make us more secure after Sept. 11,’ said Randall J. Larsen, a retired Air Force colonel and former government advisor on scientific issues. ‘We bought a lot of stuff off the shelf that wasn’t effective.’

“Among the problems:
• Radiation monitors at airports and borders that cannot differentiate between radiation emitted by a nuclear bomb and naturally occurring radiation from everyday material like cat litter or ceramic tile.
• Air-monitoring equipment in major cities that is only marginally effective because not enough detectors were deployed and were sometimes not properly calibrated or installed. They also do not produce results for up to 36 hours — long after a biological attack would potentially infect thousands of people.
• Passenger-screening equipment at airports that auditors have found is no more likely than before federal screeners took over to detect whether someone is trying to carry a weapon or a bomb aboard a plane.
• Postal Service machines that test only a small percentage of mail and look for anthrax but no other biological agents.”

In spite of these serious deficiencies, and in spite of the fact that the federal government had concluded that the $ 4.5 billion worth of antiterrorism equipment proved to be “ineffective, unreliable or too expensive to operate”, and that billions more must be spent on replacement equipment, U.S. authorities in Washington are still claiming that “its efforts to beef up maritime surveillance and screening were sufficient”. Are we looking at another example of deliberately designed obsolescence? Was Senator Byrd on to something when he placed in the Congressional Record his suspicion that the terrorist threat is a hoax? Why are so many billions of dollars and years of precious time being wasted? Why should billions of dollars be wasted on Naval and Coast Guard newbuilds for impossible interdiction measures? At a much, much lower cost, our patented shipboard system can be retrofitted in container ships and, as described in our Vol. IV, Art.16 commentary, our underway scanning procedure would eliminate the threat of terrorism. Absolutely!