The Achilles’ Heel

On the 6th of this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $ 38 billion spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security. Noticeably absent was the much-discussed amendment that would require the scanning of 100 percent of all incoming cargo containers. It wasn’t even offered by its proponents because it was known ahead of time that there was no chance of acceptance. The same group of politicians that saw apocalyptic consequences in DP World’s acquisition of U.S. port assets earlier this year don’t seem at all concerned about the real threat to our container terminals, the nation’s acknowledged Achilles’ heel.

Here’s what doesn’t pass the smell test;

– In a recent public bulletin, Customs and Border Protection requested carriers and terminal operators to “provide immediate notification to CBP when stowaways and/or any evidence of stowaway smuggling is detected, to include the detection of stowaway activities within a container or in a vessel’s cargo hold area”. A similar bulletin had been issued to vessel masters and agents in November of 2005. [But $ 648 million for container scanning was eliminated by Congress, even though dozens of stowaways, on a number of occasions, have been seen scurrying from landed containers.]

– We’re expending money and shedding blood in an effort to contend with threats from foreign nationals in foreign lands, but we feel no threat from cargo container stowaways, some of whom undoubtedly escape unnoticed after landing in our terminals. [Yet we’re spending $ 40 million for the Transportation Workers Identification Credential because we feel threatened by the 750,000 American transportation workers here at home.]

– We’re spending almost $ 900 million for the Coast Guard Deepwater vessel replacement program and more than $ 70 million for the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism. [But next to nothing for container scanning, practically speaking, even though dozens of stowaways and contraband regularly elude detection by the Coast Guard and the C-TPAT.]

– Clark Ervin, the former inspector general of the Homeland Security Department, points out that although some strides have been made by investing almost $ 20 billion in aviation security, in the area of container port security the government is inspecting only 6 percent of the containers entering the country’s ports. In fact the highly-touted Automated Targeting System that the CBP uses to determine which cargo containers should be inspected is flawed, he insists. “All the experts agree that the likeliest way for a terrorist to sneak a weapon of mass destruction into our country would be through one of the 26,000 cargo containers that come into our 361 seaports every single day,” Mr. Ervin stated. [Why then, are we deliberately exposing our most vulnerable flanks … those seaports?]

Makes you wonder about the remarks Senator Byrd inserted in the Congressional Records, doesn’t it?