Blind Spots

Read what the Congressional Research Service (CRS) of The Library of Congress on January 24, 2006 had to say about home-made nuclear bombs:

“The Hiroshima bomb was a ‘gun assembly’ weapon. Its nuclear explosive was a gun barrel about 6 inches in diameter by 6 feet long … This is the simplest type of nuclear weapon. U.S. scientists had such high confidence in the design that they did not test the Hiroshima bomb … Many believe that a terrorist group could build a crude nuclear weapon. Five former Los Alamos nuclear weapons experts held that such a weapon ‘could be constructed by a group not previously engaged in designing or building nuclear weapons’ … A National Research Council study stated: ‘The basic technical information needed to construct a workable nuclear device is readily available in the open literature … ’”

Now let’s hear from Sen. Norm Coleman, chairman of the Homeland Security subcommittee: “America’s supply chain remains vulnerable to the proverbial Trojan horse,” he said. The committee’s investigators found that the Container Security Initiative — which stations U.S. personnel at overseas ports to help detect dangerous cargo before it is shipped to the U.S. — is inspecting less than 1 percent of containers.

Another program discussed in the committee’s findings, the Automated Targeting System, has never been independently tested, the investigators said, so it is impossible to know how well it assesses risks. The number of “high-risk” containers inspected before entering the U.S., however, is “staggeringly low”, they said, and government efforts to keep terrorists from exploiting the system are riddled with blind spots.

The “blind spots” exist on both sides of the pond and some of the local ones were revealed by John Gillie in the following March 10th, 2006 Tacoma News Tribune report:

“Major defects in port security — including thousands of unscreened truck drivers, unmarked containers of hazardous materials, undocumented container shipments, uninspected container seals and secret dockside security plans — are undermining waterside security at U.S. ports, a Tacoma Longshore union security official told Congress Thursday.

“Gary Brown, security liaison for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, told the House Coast Guard and Maritime and Transportation Subcommittee that Congress should be alarmed by ‘immediate, major deficiencies that exist today in America’s ports.’

“Brown, representing thousands of West Coast dockworkers, said his conclusions were driven by his concern for the safety of both his fellow maritime workers and the country. He alleged that shortages in funding and personnel and concern for profits over safety have resulted in widespread security issues on the docks.

“His principal points:

• Thousands of truck drivers daily gain access to maritime terminals with little effort to check their backgrounds or even verify their identities. Their trucks, including their sleeper cabs, are not inspected before entering port terminals.

• Hazardous cargo is frequently unmarked and is mixed with other cargo.

• Checking for broken or phoney container seals is seldom done at most terminals. Seals formerly were individually inspected, but many shipping lines or terminal operators have eliminated seal inspections to save money. The remote-control television cameras at the terminal gates don’t have the visual acuity to show whether the seals are broken.

• The Coast Guard requires ports to develop port security plans, but those plans are frequently not shared with dock workers.

• Cargo with missing or incomplete documentation is allowed to enter port facilities using a ‘said to contain’ or ‘dummy’ designation. In many cases, workers have no idea what’s inside.

• Empty containers are not inspected although they constitute some 40 percent of containers handled across West Coast docks. The union fears that containers labeled as ‘empty’ could contain hazardous materials or weapons of mass destruction and escape inspection or even routine weighing that could give away their status as loaded.

• Containers originating from domestic sources aren’t required to report their contents 24 hours before their arrival at a port facility, a rule that applies now to imported containers.

“An empty container could be loaded with explosives and then shipped from Tacoma to Los Angeles, (then) detonated after the container was unloaded in a Los Angeles container yard. The bomb could destroy a key bridge there and close down ports nationwide for a long period, said Scott Mason, a member of Tacoma Longshore Local 23’s communications committee.

“Port of Seattle spokesman Mick Schultz said security improvements need to be made throughout the multinational shipping supply chain.

“Schultz said the shipping system, which handles millions of truck-sized containers each year, will never be totally invulnerable to attack or exploitation. ‘You could put a thousand soldiers guarding each terminal and you still wouldn’t have total security,’ he said.

“‘But there’s wide agreement that we need to improve security throughout the supply chain, but Congress hasn’t provided us the funds to implement that security,’ he said.”

[“All it takes is one atomic or radiological bomb to make 9-11 look like a firecracker,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) … It’s too late if we find a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles or New York.”]