Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) had an editorial in the Wall Street Journal this past weekend (by subscription only) that offers wise guidance on what our next steps should be to improve port security, in the aftermath of the Dubai Ports World controversy:
Shortly after 9 a.m. on a beautiful sunny spring day, an improvised nuclear device explodes on the National Mall in Washington. Within seconds, the Capitol and the White House are flattened and a plume of radiation spreads to the surrounding suburbs. Intelligence sources quickly determine that this weapon was smuggled through a U.S. port in a maritime container. Unfortunately, this horrific scenario is not just a plot for the television show “24” — it is the paramount security challenge facing our nation.
Our goal should be to screen 100% of the maritime containers entering the United States of America; as of today we inspect a dismal 5%. A system in Hong Kong that I’ve personally inspected demonstrates the potential to screen all containers with an x-ray and a radiation scan without impeding commerce. Effectively screening containers is the only definitive answer to the perplexing question of “What’s in the box?” To that end, I have introduced legislation directing the Secretary of Homeland Security to provide a plan within 90 days on how to implement 100% screening of maritime containers.
Note that “screening” containers is very different from physically “inspecting” containers. The latter would be implausible, in my opinion; but it makes sense to aim for 100% radiation and x-ray screening of containers as a port security objective.
The editorial continues:
The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which I chair, has conducted an extensive investigation into port security, supply-chain security and nuclear terrorism for the past two years. We have found that, although the administration will claim the 5% inspection rate is adequate, both the General Accounting Office and the Homeland Security Inspector General have concluded that our targeting system — which identifies the containers to inspect — is seriously inadequate. The government’s layered strategy to protect the global supply chain may be predicated upon a targeting system that is fundamentally flawed.
Equally disturbing, less than 40% of containers imported into the United States are screened for radiation. Moreover, our program to implement security standards in the supply chain is completely voluntary. We still do not have standards for a uniform container seal or secure identification for port employees. We provided only $1.6 billion in funding for port security in 2005, a mere one-third of the aviation security budget. Port security, a first-tier homeland security vulnerability, is being funded as a second-tier priority.
Sen. Coleman held a hearing last May that provided the basis for his analysis in these two paragraphs. The testimony from the hearing is worth reading.
On March 28 and 30, my subcommittee will hold hearings to examine supply-chain security and U.S. government efforts to prevent terrorists from smuggling a radiological or nuclear weapon into the country.
To remedy these problems, I have cosponsored legislation with Sens. Susan Collins, Patty Murray and Joe Lieberman — called the Green Lane Maritime Cargo Security Act. It will improve our targeting system, establish an office of cargo security policy, establish container security standards, ensure containers are screened for radiation, codify and strengthen our voluntary security programs, establish a port security grant program and make other important security improvements.
Hopefully the Dubai Ports World issue provides a new impetus for this bipartisan legislation, which was written prior to the outbreak of this controversy, to move through Congress this year, and for additional resources to be directed toward port security in the FY 2007 budget.