March 12, 2006 — AP: Study Warns of Lapses at U.S. Ports (By Ted Bridis)
“Lapses by private port operators, shipping lines or truck drivers could allow
terrorists to smuggle weapons of mass destruction into the United States,
according to a government review of security at American seaports.
“The $ 75 million, three-year study by the Homeland Security Department
included inspections at a New Jersey cargo terminal involved in the dispute
over a Dubai company’s now-abandoned bid to take over significant
operations at six major U.S. ports.
“The previously undisclosed results from the study found that cargo containers
can be opened secretly during shipment to add or remove items without
alerting U.S. authorities, according to government documents marked
‘sensitive security information’ and obtained by the Associated Press.
“The study found serious lapses by private companies at foreign and American
ports, aboard ships, and on trucks and trains ‘that would enable unmanifested
materials or weapons of mass destruction to be introduced into the supply
“The study, expected to be completed this fall, used satellites and
experimental monitors to trace roughly 20,000 cargo containers out of the
millions arriving each year from Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Most
containers are sealed with mechanical bolts that can be cut and replaced or
have doors that can be removed by dismantling hinges.
“The risks from smuggled weapons are especially worrisome because U.S.
authorities largely decide which cargo containers to inspect based on shipping
records of what is thought to be inside.
“Among the study’s findings:
• Safety problems were not limited to overseas ports …
• No records were kept of ‘cursory’ inspections in Guatemala for containers
filled with Starbucks Corp. coffee beans shipped to the West Coast …
• Truck drivers in Brazil were permitted to take cargo containers home
overnight and park along public streets. Trains in the U.S. stopped in
rail yards that did not have fences and were in high-crime areas. A
shipping industry adage reflects unease over such practices: ‘A
container at rest is a container at risk.’
• Practices at Turkey’s Port of Izmir were ‘totally inadequate by U.S.
• Containers could be opened aboard some ships during weekslong voyages to
America. ‘Due to the time involved in transit (and) the fact that most
of the vessels crew members are foreigners with limited credentialing
and vetting, the containers are vulnerable to intrusion during the ocean
voyage,’ the study said.
• Some governments will not help tighten security because they view terrorism
as an American problem. The U.S. said ‘certain countries’, which were not identified, would not cooperate in its security study — ‘a
tangible example of the lack of urgency with which these issues are
“The study applauded efforts to install radiation monitors overseas. ‘While
there is clearly value in nuclear detection at a U.S. port, that is precisely the
concern — it is already on U.S. soil,’ it said.
“Finding biological and chemical weapons inside cargo containers is less
likely. The study said tests were ‘labor intensive, time-consuming and costly
to use’ and produced too many false alarms. ‘No silver bullet has emerged to
render terrorists incapable of introducing WMD into containers,’ it said.”
“Sen. Patty Murray, who advocated the study, said: ‘There are huge holes in
our security system that need to be filled.’ The Washington Democrat said the
study ‘shows us there are major vulnerabilities over who handles cargo, where
it’s been and whether cargo is on a manifest’…”
“The lengthy study has been beset by problems. Japan refused to allow
officials to attach tracking devices to containers destined for the United
States. Other tracking devices sometimes failed. Many shipping companies
refused to disclose information for competitive reasons …”
“Parts of the study could not be finished at all. U.S. officials went to Pakistan
to inspect how workers in Karachi handle cargo containers. But they canceled
plans for a return inspection because of an outbreak of terrorist attacks there.”
Now that insurmountable difficulties are being publicly acknowledged, and
expressing his concern that some legislators will call for legislation that just
won’t work, Mr. Michael Laden, the former head of customs for Target, the
retailer, and a government advisor, remarked that, “There are people on
Capitol Hill who are not well educated on this topic”. Mr. Laden must have
seen the reports issued by our elected officials calling for “100%” inspection
of incoming containers.
When this off-the-wall “100% inspection” pipedream was reported by the
• U.S. importers at the Trans-Pacific Maritime Conference in Long Beach
voiced concern that the political uproar about the DP World purchase
of P&O assets might lead to draconian measures that would disrupt
trade and increase supply chain costs.
• David Heyman, a homeland security expert at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies in Washington revealed that, “Commerce just
doesn’t have enough resources to do adequate screening”.
• Brian Doyle of the DHS Department’s Container Security Initiative stated,
“You cannot inspect every container — you would stop business in its
• And from overseas, Llew Russell, CEO of Shipping Australia, stated, “To do
100% would be an enormous cost and delay to the efficient function of
the through transport chain”.
Question: Should we continue to waste time and money on security measures
that are admittedly unsuccessful? Isn’t it about time we inspected every
container? Offshore? On U.S.-built ships?