The Department of Homeland Security has assured us on a number of occasions that we’re getting our money’s worth. When Senator Kerry in a campaign speech last fall accused the administration of settling for a security policy that screens only 5% of the containers coming into U.S. ports, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Bonner issued this sharp rebuttal:

“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 … 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 such a way that’s consistent with security, and doing it without shutting down our economy, and the economy of the rest of the world.”

If it’s true that a risk assessment is done on “every container” that’s heading to the United States, and if it’s true that “100 percent” of the containers identified are scanned/inspected, then there can be little doubt that we are indeed getting our money’s worth. No sweat, right? But it isn’t true.

Earlier this week we wrote about the Princeton, NJ-based company, AVANTE, which has developed what it terms “a long-sought solution” of intrusion detection. This firm is one of the leaders in the development of RFID technologies and has criticized CSI e-seals which monitor the integrity of the lock-and-seal rather than an actual intrusion of the container AVANTE’S patented system, on the other hand, detects an actual intrusion and not just lock-and-seal tampering. [Now why would a company of this stature spend it’s money to design and patent this system if “100 percent” of incoming containers were already being scanned/inspected by existing security measures?]

PASSPORT SYSTEMS is a small company started up just three years ago by an MIT physics professor, and the federal government just awarded it a $ 1.6 million contract to develop a scanner capable of determining the contents of a container without actually opening it. Now why do you suppose the DHS is spending $ 1.6 million on this project after assuring us that a risk assessment is being done on “every container”? But wait … there’s more. The DHS, “scrambling to find innovative, high-tech ways to combat a host of threats”, is sponsoring a two-day conference in Boston for 500 scientists and engineers from firms such as US Genomics, Tufts University, Echo Technologies, and Physical Sciences, Inc. Representative Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and senior member of the Homeland Security Committee said, “I am pleased that the Department of Homeland Security is funding innovative technology in Massachusetts that can be used to screen for explosives and other dangerous materials”. Three and a half years have elapsed since 9/11, and several hundred billion dollars have been dissipated, yet we’re still exposed to terrorists threats. We deserve more than just “assurances” for our tax dollars.