Reality Check

From the Associated Press on February 26, 2009:

“Cargo screening deadline challenged”

“WASHINGTON – Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers yesterday that the agency cannot meet its 2012 deadline for screening all cargo coming into the United States for radiological and nuclear materials.

“At her first hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee, Napolitano said the 2012 deadline set by Congress is not going to work.

“A law passed by Congress in 2007 requires the Homeland Security Department to screen all cargo headed for the United States by 2012. About 11.5 million containers come into the United States each year.

“Total screening could significantly slow commerce at busy ports, and at least 27 countries and major industry associations have raised significant concerns with how they would be affected by the law.

“Among the major obstacles to meeting the deadline is deploying trained officials to more than 700 foreign ports to operate scanning equipment.

“Napolitano said the agency currently screens almost all cargo containers considered suspicious. She has said she agrees with the concept of catching threats before they reach the United States.

“Earlier, Napolitano discussed the department’s role in preparing for threats. Deviating from her prepared remarks, she said that terrorism is among those threats.”

By this time, the AP has probably received a ton of static about certain inaccuracies in the above report. In the first place, the 2007 law passed by Congress required “scanning” of all containers, not “screening”. Ms. Napolitano, in fact, pointed out that, “There is a difference between screening and scanning in the lexicon of the cargo world, and I believe we are close to 100-percent screening now.”

She made it clear that the agency screens almost all suspicious cargo containers, but that 100-percent radiation scanning would require agreements with many countries, as well as the training and deployment of thousands of trained technicians to more than 700 overseas ports. Under those circumstances, the DHS has been forced to rely on a risk-based approach (random screening).

The first thing that occurs to us is this: If a so-called “terrorist” had the smarts to build a nuclear weapon, do our officials actually believe that the culprit couldn’t figure out a way to circumvent the random screening methods used by the DHS? Our guys are living in a dream world.

We’ve already devoted some of our commentaries to Ms. Napolitano’s “concept of catching threats before they reach the United States”. Here’s what we wrote back in Vol. V, Art. 26 (Checkmate!!):

“‘A terrorist attack in a U.S. port would send economic ripples around the world … The Dow would drop at least 500 points and cost the U.S. economy $ 58 billion.’

“Those were the words used by the DHS spokesman last week when addressing the Warehousing Education and Research Council. The spokesman wasn’t being too accurate, however. In the ‘Congressional Research Service Report for Congress’, which we cited in our Vol. II, Art. 24 commentary, it clearly states that a terrorist nuclear bomb ‘detonated in a major seaport would kill 50,000 to 1 million people and would result in direct property damage of $ 50 billion to $ 500 billion, losses due to trade disruption of $ 100 billion to $ 200 billion, and direct costs of $ 300 billion to $ 1.2 trillion.’

“When you consider what we have at risk, and what we are spending in an illogical attempt to prevent those losses, shouldn’t some of our Congressional representatives step forward and suggest a more in-depth review of what some of them are calling an inevitable event? Isn’t there a better way, a more reliable way, of dealing with this threat? If throwing money at the threat isn’t removing the threat, why spend anything at all?

“Let’s look again at that theoretical $ 58 billion, or $ 1.2 trillion, or whatever, as well as the daily millions we’re throwing away. Let’s recognize that the proper way to prevent a homeland catastrophe would be to locate the threat and ‘cut it off at the pass’. Our first step should be to concentrate our efforts on designing an infallible method of detecting the threat while still offshore and well before it’s within the territorial limits of the U.S. The followup would be to settle upon an equally infallible method of destroying the threat. The U.S. Navy, you’ll recall, employed this two-step strategy when forced to deal with hostile submarines. ‘Hunter-killer’ aircraft were paired up in the beginning and even this tactic was refined by designing aircraft that had dual capabilities. The strategy was infallible. So was the execution. It was the simplest way to approach the problem, and this website began promoting such a program in our Vol. II, Art. 19 commentary:

“‘Our shipboard systems: Although this website is dedicated to terminal operations, if ultimate security is ever required, it can be obtained by means of our shipboard storage and retrieval system. Our ‘Chronology’ page makes reference to U.S. Patent Number 5,860,783, Granted on Jan. 19, 1999, and Entitled: CARGO CONTAINER STORAGE AND RETRIEVAL SYSTEM AND METHOD INCLUDING ON DECK CARRIAGE ASSEMBLY. This shipboard system makes it possible to retrieve, or store, any single container, regardless of its location aboard the vessel, without handling any other container. As an added advantage, the system allows for the scanning/inspection of every container while the vessel is enroute to our shores. The procedure can be completed in one week’s time, and prior to arrival at our ports every safe container will be granted clearance, and any suspect containers may very well be jettisoned. The threat to ‘deepsix’ offenders will be enough to discourage terrorists and any others who would wish to gain illegal access into our country.

“‘[Checkmate!!] Infallible! And the cost? A lot less than $ 50 billion or $ 1.2 trillion.’”