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Home Front: WoT
Study Warns of Lapses at U.S. Ports
2006-03-12
EFL.
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, 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. A warehouse in Maine was graded less secure than any in Pakistan, Turkey or Brazil. "There is a perception that U.S. facilities benefit from superior security protection measures," the study said. "This mind set may contribute to a misplaced sense of confidence in American business practices."

_No records were kept of "cursory" inspections in Guatemala for containers filled with Starbucks Corp. coffee beans shipped to the West Coast. "Coffee beans were accessible to anyone entering the facility," the study said. It found significant mistakes on manifests and other paperwork. In a statement to the AP, Starbucks said it was reviewing its security procedures.

_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. standards." But, the study noted, "It has been done that way for decades in Turkey."

_Containers could be opened aboard some ships during weekslong voyages to America. "Due to the time involved in transit (and) the fact that most vessel crew members are foreigners with limited credentialing and vetting, the containers are vulnerable to intrusion during the ocean voyage," the study said.
This, to me, is the most interesting bit in this article:
_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 regarded."

_Security was good at two terminals in Seattle and nearby Tacoma, Wash. The operator in Seattle, SSA Marine, uses cameras and software to track visitors and workers. "We consider ourselves playing an important role in security," said the company's vice president, Bob Waters.

Cherry-picked this little bit:
The study, called "Operation Safe Commerce," undercuts arguments that port security in America is an exclusive province of the Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection and is not managed by companies operating shipping terminals. The theme was an important element in the Bush administration's forceful defense of the deal it originally approved to allow Dubai-owned DP World to handle significant operations at ports in New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.
And also this:
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.
...but, it is assumed, they will cooperate with everything else involving security. Except this study. For competitive reasons, you see.
Posted by:Rafael

#14  Rafael, same here. Both sides have something right, and neither wants to hear it. And thanks for the sensibility, lotp.

wxjames, that money would be better spent covering up the covert ops from Congress and the media. :-P
Posted by: Edward Yee   2006-03-13 00:00  

#13  It's ultra costly to protect everyone from everything all the time, that's why we go on offense. The money would be better spent training hundreds of thousands of special ops and canvas the world with them for gathering intel as well as foiling some plans now and then.
Posted by: wxjames   2006-03-12 18:39  

#12  You might feel the tradeoff is acceptable

Measuring the risk involved in any one policy is difficult - but it's also a separate question. First must come the realization that there are no perfect policies - i.e. no way to eliminate risk.

It's only a case of which risks, to which degree, based on information that is of less than perfect scope and accuracy.
Posted by: lotp   2006-03-12 16:29  

#11  The key is not so much to inspect every pallet of cargo that enters the U.S., but to develop sufficient intelligence on the various WMD programs around the world so that retaliation is feasible.
Posted by: Perfessor   2006-03-12 16:24  

#10  I make the drive from Colorado Springs to Spring, Texas, regularly, to visit my brother that lives there. If you drive Hwy 287 from Amarillo to Wichita Falls, you'll notice train after train of shipping containers - several hundred at a time. Yes, it's a problem to guarantee their security. it's also not going to be easy to do much about the problem except at two places - the point of entry, and the destination point. Anything else would be like hunting for a particular needle in Kansas at harvest time. Part of the problem at the point of entry is that there are too many containers and too few inspectors. We need to develop more automated inspection equipment, and keep the capabilities to ourselves. If the US government wasn't so assinine about the requirements of US-flag shipping (to placate the Merchant Marine), we could probably have more US cargo carried by US flag carriers. We've got to look at ALL the options, including those that might step on a few Union manager's toes.
Posted by: Old Patriot   2006-03-12 15:17  

#9  And that means that we WILL choose to stay open to some risks.

Staying open to some risks is one thing, but to purposely expose yourself to more risk is another. You might feel the tradeoff is acceptable or worthwhile, but apparently many did not. Trust was the central issue here, and your side simply failed to convince. Not that it would have been easy.

As someone who is somewhere in the middle on this debate, it's apparent to me that both sides are ignoring each other's valid arguments.
Posted by: Rafael   2006-03-12 14:43  

#8  It's too late to isolate from the rest of the world. The only hope is utter destruction of people with funny assents and too spicy food.
Posted by: 6   2006-03-12 14:22  

#7  aren't there high end cargo locks that can be noted if tampered with?

Yes.
Posted by: lotp   2006-03-12 09:27  

#6  It would take a lot more than $75 million to isolate us - and that's not counting the overall economic hit in the short and long terms.

Nope. Just as the Muslim world has to come to grips with the presence of Western culture all around them, and China will have to deal with the currency imbalance, we're gonna have to find ways to manage illegal immigration and import security risks at a cost we can bear. And that means that we WILL choose to stay open to some risks. Or rather, we won't have the choice to eliminate them all.

That's life in the real world.
Posted by: lotp   2006-03-12 09:26  

#5  To get an idea of the scope of the problem, I looked at some statistics (@ http://www.marad.dot.gov/MARAD_statistics/index.html) and I agree with Cloth Snatch4013, i.e., the only answer is the porcupine strategy. $75,000,000 well spent!


Posted by: swiss Tex   2006-03-12 09:03  

#4  Oh, almost forgot... mine everything between the islands and shoot down any aircraft that fail to land there.
Posted by: Cloth Snatch4013   2006-03-12 06:16  

#3  Looks like we'll have to nationalize everything that crosses our borders and could possibly have a risk associated with it.

Wait... I'm getting a funny feeling...

Yes! Close the borders down cold. Design infiltration-proof barriers for both the Mexican and Canadian borders and magically install them - overnight!.

No more foot traffic or car traffic or truck traffic crossing our borders, nosireee! The ferry people will LOVE this...

We build big islands about 200 miles off both coasts, install shipping ports and airports, and have all sea/land/air cargo and passengers dock/land and unload there. Then hire about a bajillion more Customs & Immigration people with perfect backgrounds, ex LE and Military probably, to check everything, and I mean everything, the proctologists will swoon, then load it on a huge new fleet of Coast Guard barges and assign a detail of, say 50 agents, to ride shotgun on each barge into the old ports - accompanied by the new fleet of Coast Guard cutters bristling with weapons, of course..

Yeah!

What inconvenience? This'll fix everything.

U-Haul is a recommended buy...

We'll need, what - about 100 islands?

Yeah, that's the ticket!

/funny feeling

LOL.
Posted by: Cloth Snatch4013   2006-03-12 06:14  

#2  '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."
Again, aren't there high end cargo locks that can be noted if tampered with?

Posted by: Jan   2006-03-12 04:10  

#1   "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."
We shouldn't be predetermining which cargo containers we inspect. It should always be random. Shouldn't it? I'm reminded of the practice at airport screening of our checking little old ladies rather than profiling.

"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." I'm curious as to why this information is available now if the study wasn't expected to be completed until this fall. Homeland Security did this study? The timing to release this information is a bit interesting.
"The lengthy study has been beset by problems."
hmmm, $75 million, 3 year study. I thought we had the ability of knowing if these locks on cargo had been tampered with.
Posted by: Jan   2006-03-12 04:02  

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