OUR Manifest Solution

Some 647 overseas ports export goods to U.S. territories, and late last year Congress passed legislation, known as the Secure Freight Initiative, requiring 58 of those 647 ports to scan 100% of all U.S.-bound cargo. Mr. John Bruton, the European Commission’s ambassador to the U.S. complained about that law, and shortly thereafter Mr. Robert Verrue, the European Union’s Director general for taxation and Customs, filed a similar complaint with the the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner. Following his lead, Alfons Guinier, the secretary general of the European Community Shipowner’s Association, criticized the pilot projects in three selected ports because the results of such limited testing would not reflect accurately the problems faced by larger ports.

Lu Hsiu-yen, a Taiwanese legislator likewise had expressed dissatisfaction with the legislation, as did her country’s Directorate General of Customs. Thirty other Asia-Pacific countries are also objecting to the implementation of this illogical and impractical legislation.

The messages finally got through. Mr. Jayson Ahern, the deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told a congressional homeland security committee last month that checking 100% of the containers at massive foreign ports like Hong Kong is “unrealistically feasible”. A test program at three small foreign ports has already identified potential obstacles that may prevent security officials from scanning every U.S.-bound container as mandated by Congress, and among the problems, he said, are financial constraints, logistical limitations and diplomatic hurdles.

When the law was passed, leaders in the shipping industry, and even top Customs officials, called the 100% scanning plan flawed, and warned that implementing it would interfere with the flow of commerce.

Experts continue to question the program. Mr. Randall Larsen, director of the nonpartisan Institute for Homeland Security, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization, said, “It’s a total waste of money.” Terrorists, he said, could more easily smuggle the materials needed for a nuclear weapon in a vehicle unloaded from a car ship – because those ocean-going car carriers do not go through radiation scanning.

Officials aren’t discussing the specific cost of the three port pilot program, or the full-scale screening program, but Mr. Ahern said that the expense will be a burden. “It’s going to take a substantial amount of resources,” he told the committee. “More than I believe that we would even be able to bring forward in a request to you.”

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), however, said security officials should not back away from the 100% screening goal. “If we require every airline passenger and every piece of luggage to be scanned, we can work to make sure every piece of cargo that comes to our shores is screened, too.”

Senator Menendez has a point. So does Mr. Larsen, and so does Mr. Ahern. But neither they, nor anyone else, has found a way to scan 100% of U.S.-bound containers. We have though.