The Heritage Foundation published a memorandum today on port and cargo security by Alane Kochems and Jim Carafano, entitled “Complete Cargo Inspection and Port Security Grants Do Not Promote Homeland Security.” The argument of the paper is a bit confusing; they attack the idea of 100% physical inspection of cargo containers, but that’s a straw man; no one in the mainstream of the homeland security debate is making the case for 100% physical inspection of maritime cargo containers. There is a solid case for 100% non-intrusive screening of cargo containers, and indeed DHS is moving in that direction. The memorandum also argues in its introduction that port security grants should be cut, but later says that ports are more likely to be attacked “from land than from sea,” which seems somewhat contradictory.
The core argument of the memorandum is that the “nuke-in-a-box” threat is overly hyped by policy-makers, and doesn’t deserve the resources that many have proposed to address it. Kochems and Carafano argue that other attack scenarios are equally plausible, and that there are no good cost-effective solutions to addressing this threat. I agree with this first contention, but not the second; I think it will be possible in the coming years to develop a smart, cost-effective cargo security regime that is responsive to multiple threats and helps pay for itself by delivering supply chain efficiency benefits.
The authors then argue for new attention instead to the following issues:
- Expanding the Coast Guardâ€™s International Port Assistance Program.
- Improving public-private information-sharing on container risk management.
- Moving CBP’s intelligence and compliance activities out of CBP and into an unspecified office elsewhere in DHS.
- Mandating joint DOD/DHS operations and intelligence fusion centers.
- Accelerating the funding of the Coast Guard’s Deepwater program.
- Restructuring U.S. assistance programs.
These are for the most part solid proposals (except perhaps #3), but I don’t think that they provide a complete substitute solution or agenda for the cargo security activities that the authors deride. I think we need to do many things at once, consistent with a smart, layered strategy for port and cargo security.