Targeting Security

We submitted the previous commentary, Art. 16, on Thursday, August 4th. An unnamed informant had advised MARINE DIGEST and Cargo Business News that Radiation Portal Monitoring procedures are inadequate, stating that, “The RPMs check containers after they have been off-loaded from containerships and have reached the dock …”, and the informant brought up a very upsetting scenario with this question, “… but what if the port itself is the target?” An undetected radiological device could be timed to explode on a ship as it enters port, he said, and an explosion in the LA-Long Beach port complex, where more than 40% of all foreign imports arrive, could bring the U.S. economy to its knees. Eric Watkins, the writer of that excellent piece, was zeroing in on a problem that is beginning to bother a growing number of officials. The August 5th edition of Federal Computer Week, in fact, carried this headline, “Better inspections needed for cargo containers”, and the story went on to report that two senators have stated that ports remain vulnerable to a terrorist attack, following an inspector general’s report disclosing that a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) information system for shipping containers is deficient.

Oddly enough, that inspector general just happened to be Richard Skinner … of the DHS … who released a 6-page unclassified summary on August 2nd after conducting an investigation over the movement of oceangoing containers through the international supply chain. The report said that improvement was needed in the container data supplied to the Automated Targeting System (ATS) and that physical controls over containers also needed improvement. Two days later, on August 4th, in a press release, Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, along with ranking member Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), said that more needs to be done to improve the way Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials examine containers coming into U.S. ports.

“Today, we cannot inspect every container without bringing trade to a standstill,” Collins and Lieberman said in a prepared statement. “For that reason, an effective targeting system is important to focus the use of our inspection resources … We urge DHS to address the deficiencies identified in the IG report as quickly as possible … The possibility that weapons of mass destruction could be imported into our country constitutes a worst case scenario.”

About 25,000 containers arrive at U.S. seaports daily, or more than 9 million annually. In his report, Inspector General Skinner wrote that the overseas segment of the supply chain — the handling, movement and loading of those U.S. bound containers at foreign ports — remains “most problematic” because it is outside the U.S. government’s jurisdiction. Senator Carl Levin had already cautioned us about putting our faith in such faulty and limited offshore systems, and Dr. Stephen Flynn was bluntly critical of our misplaced trust. “It’s as simple as a good payment to a truck driver to take an extra long lunch break. Access to that load, and you’re on your way”, he said, paraphrasing the old smuggler’s rhyme: “There’s an extra week’s pay, if you look the other way.”

Isn’t it about time we became self-reliant? … by building the patented vessels described in Art. 16?