Reciprocating Engine

About a month ago, John Bruton, the European Commission’s ambassador to the U.S., complained about the U.S. law requiring foreign countries, including European Union members, to scan all cargo destined for U.S. ports.

“There’s no reciprocity here,” he said. “Our exporters are being asked to bear costs for the benefit of the United States, which the United States is not prepared to bear for others.”

The law requires that by 2012 all seaborne containers be scanned for radiation before they leave port for the U.S. to make sure that no nuclear weapons are hidden. The legislation would require foreign ports to make massive new infrastructure investments to keep goods flowing smoothly to the U.S., Ambassador Bruton said, and he added that, “There just isn’t places to put all these trucks that would be queuing up to be scanned. But most of all, we know the United States isn’t proposing to scan 100% of the containers destined for Europe. We could have a terrorist attack just as much as the United States could,” he remarked.

Ambassador Bruton has company. This past week Robert Verrue, the European Union’s Director General for Taxation and Customs, notified U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Ralph Basham that the U.S. law was pushed through without proper consideration of the facts. “From a European perspective,” he said, “it would be difficult for customs administration to set sovereignty aside in order to implement the U.S. legislation, to invest massively in a measure designed to protect the U.S., and to divert resources away from measures designed to strengthen security in the EU as well as that of international trade.

“It would also be difficult to imagine a situation where 100-percent scanning requirement would be applied in one direction, to U.S.-bound containers only. Finally, 100-percent scanning would imply systematic transfer of sensitive information, which would only take place in the context of a new international agreement between the USA and the EU,” Mr. Verrue wrote.

Mr. Verrue’s protest was the second time in recent days that there has been a negative reaction from foreign government officials over the unilateral nature of U.S. cargo security initiatives and sovereignty issues. A Taiwanese legislator has asked the Ministry of Justice to investigate why the country is footing the bill for the U.S. Container Security Initiative program at the port of Kaohsiung, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency. Lu Hsiu-yen complained during a hearing last week that the Container Security Initiative is not based on reciprocity — there are no Taiwanese officers on U.S. soil checking outbound containers to Taiwan — nor on mutual respect for sovereignty.

Chien Liang-chi, head of the Directorate General of Customs, noted that about 10 U.S. Customs officers are stationed in the port city and that the agency had paid for the container inspection equipment. He said two large imaging machines purchased by Taiwan Customs in 2005 for $ 5.9 million turned out to be unusable, and two other advanced machines acquired last October for $ 7.9 million are still not in use after undergoing test runs, the news agency said.

According to the report, the Taiwanese lawmaker criticized the Ministry of Finance for wasting public funds and allowing the nation’s sovereignty to be infringed upon by another country, and she questioned the programs benefits and whether the expenditure was justified.

An even louder objection is being heard from other Pacific countries. On April 17th, The Hindu Business Line reported that India and 29 other Asia-Pacific countries are gearing up to oppose the proposed implementation of the U.S. Container Security Initiative program. Citing cost implications, 81 customs administrators from 30 Asia-Pacific countries said that it would be impossible for many developing countries in this region to ensure 100 percent scanning of US-bound container shipments.

According to the agreement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection intends to station teams in 58 ports around the world to help identify suspicious containers for export to the U.S. that might possibly contain weapons of mass destruction or other components. The program also requires the 58 overseas ports selected to install large-scale X-ray or gamma ray imaging machines to inspect containers flagged by intelligence analysts as high risk.

Nothing about this program makes any sense. Not only are we alienating some of our friends, but by scrutinizing the cargo in only 58 selected overseas ports we would be gambling everything on a hopeless roll of the dice. The most recent issue of “Shipping Digest”, one of the most reliable guides for importers and exporters, provides a listing of no less than 647 overseas ports. Do our Homeland Security officials actually believe that a terrorist, with malice aforethought, would attempt to smuggle a weapon through one of the 58 hand-picked ports?… when there are almost 500 other unsecured overseas ports available?

And what about the Coast Guard’s job of interdicting ships under suspicion? According to Lloyd’s Maritime Information Services (LMIS), there are 87,000 merchant vessels registered with Lloyd’s, and on any given day approximately 55,000 of these ships are at sea. It would be unreasonable to think that our Navy and Coast Guard could ride herd on that many ships. It would also be unreasonable to hope that a clairvoyant system of some kind could ever be devised that would allow our ships to zero in only on those vessels that pose a threat to our nation.

Is the whole situation hopeless? It is as long as incompetents are in charge. If the threat is real, and we don’t have a clue about who’s threatening us or from whence the threat will come, why waste good money on wild guesses? Either lock every door or none at all. Here’s how to lock them all.

If national security is to be assured, it can be obtained only by means of installing our patented shipboard storage and retrieval system aboard container ships. We described it earlier as a system which makes it possible to retrieve any single container regardless of its location on the vessel, but even more important, the system allows for the scanning/inspection of every container while the vessel is en route to one of our ports. The procedure can be completed in less than a week’s time and prior to the vessel’s arrival in the U.S. Every safe container would be granted clearance and suspect containers could very well be jettisoned. The likelihood of a watery grave would discourage subversive operations in all 647 overseas port, not just in 58 spotlighted ones.