All together now …

James J. Carafano, Ph.D., says that inspecting every container that is shipped to the U.S. makes no sense and that doing so would cost billions of dollars and drown authorities in useless information. Already the United States evaluates every container coming into the country and inspects the suspicious ones, he said.

“We need to do more,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the Homeland Security Committee’s ranking Democrat. “A little safety is just not good enough after 9/11.”

“Subjecting 100 percent of all containers to full inspection is neither feasible nor logical,” said Christopher Koch, president and chief executive officer of the World Shipping Council, which represents more than 40 of the world’s largest shipping companies. He said such a requirement would be “enormously expensive” and disrupt global trade.

Senator Susan Collins, (R-Maine), the chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, says that “We do need to extend our borders and push the threat from our shores. But the implementation has been flawed and thus cannot deliver on the promise of the programs”.

“How do you bring good inspection on the millions and millions of boxes?” asks Edward H. Bilkey, chief operating officer of Dubai Ports World. “Nobody has it in the whole world.”

“It doesn’t matter much if we don’t scan every container for a nuclear or radiological bomb that would make 9/11 look like a firecracker,” said Jerry Nadler, (D-N.Y.) If only suspicious containers are scanned, he said, terrorists will simply put bombs in low-risk containers.

For their part, Homeland Security officials say they screen all cargo, which means an inspector reviews a manifest stating what is in every container. Only cargo that raises a red flag is actually inspected, which now comprises about 5% of the roughly 10 million containers that arrive in the United States each year.

If officers opened every container, shipments would back up and “we would cripple the economy,” says Kevin McCabe, the Homeland Security Department officer in charge of security in Newark.

“If I were the shipping industry, the maritime industry, the cargo industry … I would be concerned about measures that would strangle business and put workers out of work in this country,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the Business Times in March. Suggestions that all cargo containers entering the US should be inspected would be “tantamount to shutting the ports down,” he said. In April, however, Secretary Chertoff announced that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Coast Guard will begin background checks on some 400,000 longshoremen and other port workers.

[Limited screening for foreign containers, mind you, but full screening for U.S. port workers.]