Trojan Horse Grounds?

“Ever since terrorists toppled the World Trade Center towers, U.S. seaports have been preparing for an attack,” writes Alwyn Scott in the Seattle Times. “But ports appear to have left at least one gaping hole in their security — a hole so big you could ride a truck through,” he went on. So to prove his point, that’s just what he did — several times.

Just by hitching a ride with truck drivers coming to pick up or drop off cargo, Mr. Scott easily penetrated the security of two of our largest port complexes, the Pacific Container Terminal in Los Angeles-Long Beach, and then Terminal 18 in Seattle. With security as lax as it is, terrorists could easily gain access the very same way. In Mr. Scott’s own words, here’s how simple it was:

“In the only instance where identification was sought, flashing an expired driver’s license was all it took before a uniformed guard waved us through the gate. Past that point, we had access to secure areas where cargo ships tie up under giant cranes and where thousands of containers move into and out of the United States.

“Terrorists could enter the same way. Indeed, with the lax controls we found, a half-dozen men and several thousand pounds of equipment or explosives could enter in a supposedly empty truck. …”

“Port officials nationwide know about this hole and say they are doing what they can … But meanwhile, port operators aren’t taking seemingly simple steps such as checking the ‘condo’ sleeping units behind the driver’s cab, where bunk beds could accommodate half a dozen men with equipment …”

Listen to Mr. Scott describe his test run:

“I hopped into his blue Freightliner. Within minutes we were at the gate of the Pacific Container terminal in Los Angeles-Long Beach, the nation’s largest port complex. I hid in the ‘condo’, behind a curtain. But I didn’t need to. No guard was visible on duty.

“The driver picked up a black telephone receiver attached to a stainless-steel column. He gave his driver’s license number and the number of the container he wanted to pick up. A printed ticket popped out, like at a parking garage. With that we rumbled through the gate.

“We now had what’s known as ‘unescorted access’ to the terminal, a 256-acre concrete expanse of stacked containers, whirring cranes and waiting trucks, with massive cargo ships tied up at one side. ‘Unescorted access’ means nobody checks where we go.

“Moving around would be even easier when Longshore workers are on breaks or shift changes, said Michael Mitre, director of port security for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. ‘People coming off a ship could get in the cab and hide, or they could come into the terminal in the cab and get on a ship,’ he said.

“On the way out of the terminal, we drove through a radiation monitor, which checks outgoing trucks to make sure they aren’t carrying materials to make a dirty bomb. The Department of Homeland Security says that by year-end, two-thirds of containers leaving ports will be checked by such monitors. Currently only about half are. There is no such check on containers coming from the land side — and no plans for one.”

That’s the way Mr. Scott tested the effectiveness of the DHS in our nation’s most visible and vulnerable port complex. But that port wasn’t the exception to the rule. Let’s listen to what he found at the Port of Seattle. And again, we’ll let him tell us in his own words.

“In Seattle, I rode into two terminals sitting in the passenger seat beside a trucker I’d just met, an African immigrant who has worked in the United States for 11 years. During two hours inside the secure facilities, no one asked who I was. At the rail yard on South Hanford Street, run by BNSF, a guard walked around our full container and issued a ticket from a handheld device.

“And once again, we had unescorted access to a terminal.

“Better driver checks also won’t solve the problem of empty containers, which account for three of every four containers entering ports from the land side. Longshore clerks used to open containers for stolen cars or stowaways. But today, they work from an office, using video cameras and scales that weigh the trucks as they roll through the gate.

“Clerks say the weight can vary by up to 5,000 pounds before it raises eyebrows. ‘You figure you’re going to have a thousand of these tonight, why stop this one?’ Said a clerk who asked that his name not be used.

“Terrorists could pack explosives in a container and bring it in as an empty, said Mitre, the Longshore security director.

“‘It’s easy to lose 1,000 to 2,000 pounds in a container of that weight,’ he said. ‘You’ll never know there’s something in it.’…”

“A short time later, on a second trip, we brought an empty container into Terminal 18, the largest container dock in Seattle. The driver said we had to show ID, so I gave him an expired driver’s license. He held both licenses out the window. From 15 feet away, a guard in a blue uniform waved us through. The check was so casual, I asked if the guard knew the driver. ‘No. He doesn’t know me. I just see him there,’ the driver said. At a second checkpoint, the driver simply talked into a metal speaker box …”

When Mr. Scott informed port officials of his unauthorized entries, a spokesman for the operator that runs both Seattle’s Terminal 18 and Pacific Container Terminal in Long Beach said:

“‘We’re doing exactly what’s prescribed by the Coast Guard’”.

[Remember what Senator Byrd inserted into the Congressional Record a few months ago?]