Friday, March 10, 2006

Our Porous Port Protections

Our Porous Port Protections - New York Times: ' The nightmare is that an atomic bomb or some other weapon — perhaps a "dirty bomb" spewing radiation, or a biological or chemical agent — might be smuggled in on a container ship and either detonated in the terminal or exploded elsewhere in the country. Nobody knows whether terrorists would risk sending such weapons in unguarded containers, but it would be reckless to leave the way open.

To prevent such a disaster, the Bush administration, prodded by Congress, has adopted a sensible strategy that focuses on intercepting terrorist cargo abroad before it can be loaded onto ships headed for this country. But efforts to carry out this plan have been sluggish. The protective barriers need to be strengthened at every link in the international supply chain.

The Factories The government has a voluntary program under which companies abroad develop security procedures to protect their shipments from the factory to the port. Thousands of companies have signed up, lured by promises that their cargo will whisk through inspections faster. Unfortunately, the verification that these voluntary programs are truly secure is shaky, and there is always a risk that some poorly paid truck driver may be bribed to look the other way while cargo is tampered with. And shipments from companies that don't take part in the program aren't always inspected.

Overall security is dismal at many ports. Low-paid rent-a-cops often guard the gates and perimeter fences. Thousands of truck drivers gain access to some ports simply by flashing driver's licenses. At one major port, journalists found gaps in the fences, unattended gates, an understaffed police force and inoperative alarms and surveillance cameras.

A pilot program in Hong Kong found it feasible to screen every single container entering two of the busiest terminals with scanners and radiation detectors without disrupting port operations. The cost of installing and operating such systems could be paid through a surcharge estimated at $20 per container."

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