2012 deadline to scan all port cargo won't be met
Michael Chertoff says there are countless obstacles to the 100% scanning mandate passed by Congress in 2006.
By Mimi Hall
WASHINGTON — The Homeland Security Department says it will not meet a 2012 deadline set by Congress to scan the contents of every cargo container headed to U.S. ports. Instead, it plans to gather more information about who made the goods in the containers and who packed them.
Security personnel place warning cones in front of the closed gates at the entrance to the Port of Los Angeles May 1, 2008. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Under that proposal, only a small fraction of the 11 million containers shipped to the U.S. each year -- those from unknown companies and countries known to harbor terrorists -- would be flagged to be scanned for nuclear or radiological materials.
"It's called Risk Management 101," Secretary Michael Chertoff says. "I'm not terribly concerned someone's going to build a nuclear bomb in England" and load it into a container headed for a U.S. port. "But I might be more concerned about South Asia."
Chertoff says there are countless obstacles to the 100% scanning mandate passed by Congress in 2006. Among them: Some countries don't want U.S. Customs officers operating scanning equipment in their ports; scans could slow trade; the program would be costly.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., counters that the only way to guard against deadly weapons being shipped to the U.S. is to scan every container before it's loaded onto a ship overseas.
"It is vital to our nation's security," he says. "The more time the secretary spends on excuses, instead of solutions, the longer our nation's ports remain vulnerable."
Chertoff's also taking criticism from the shipping industry, which opposes both Congress' 100% requirement and his plan to collect more information from shippers.
"Two wrongs don't make a right," says Frank Vargo of the National Association of Manufacturers. He says Chertoff's plan will slow trade and could cost the industry as much as $20 billion a year. "It will result in a two-day -- maybe a five-day -- delay before that container (is cleared) and can be loaded onto a ship."
Security experts agree that 100% scanning would be very difficult to achieve. "It's not practical, and there's no threat that justifies it," says James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
P.J. Crowley of the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress says 100% scanning isn't feasible by 2012 but is a worthy goal for the next decade. "You want to have 100% confidence you know what's inside the box," he says. "You can't just do that by reviewing cargo data."