Homeland Security Watch

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Secure Freight Event – Transcript

December 7, 2006


Nebraska Avenue Complex
Washington, DC
1:05 P.M. EST

DEPUTY SECRETARY JACKSON: Good afternoon, welcome. Welcome to our guests, our distinguished guests from government and from industry. I’m Michael Jackson, the Deputy Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. I’d like to introduce our three guests in just a moment, but here’s our approach today. The Secretary and our colleagues from Energy and State will have brief opening comments, and then we’ll take questions. After a little bit of time, the Secretary will have to move to another engagement. I’ll stay here and help moderate any additional questioning, which will also give us an opportunity to hear from some of our industry colleagues as well, if you have questions for them.

So without further ado, let me start by introducing Ambassador Linton Brooks, who is our Under Secretary for Nuclear Security at the Department of Energy, and Under Secretary Bob Joseph, who heads Arms Control and International Security at the Department of State. And without any need of introduction, Secretary Michael Chertoff of DHS.

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: Thank you, Michael. Good afternoon, everybody. I’m delighted to welcome Ambassador Brooks and Under Secretary Joseph to this conference. I’m delighted to see the Ambassador of Pakistan. We have other representatives of the diplomatic community, as well as from the shipping community — terminal operators, shipping lines — all present as we announce the first step in our Secure Freight Initiative.

As we’ve discussed in the past, one of the most important priorities at the Department of Homeland Security is protecting Americans from a weapon of mass destruction. And there’s no weapon of mass destruction that is more formidable than a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb, radiological device. So it becomes critical to make sure that these kinds of devices and this kind of radioactive material does not make its way into the United States.

Since September 11th, our Department, the Department of Energy, the Department of State and other of our interagency partners have taken some very significant steps, in partnership with the private sector and with our allies overseas, to counter the danger of a weapon of mass destruction coming in through the threat vector of maritime commerce.

It’s been very important in this effort to have the cooperation and support of foreign governments, shipping companies, carriers and terminal operators. And again, I’m pleased that they have representatives here today.

Also very important has been our partnership with Congress, a bipartisan partnership. And I’m delighted to note that earlier this year, a bipartisan effort in Congress resulted in the passage of the Safe Port Act, which institutionalizes the work that we are undertaking to secure our ports and our cargo.

In particular, I want to thank members of the House and Senate Homeland Security committees and the Senate Commerce Committee for their leadership in this port security effort. I want to single out individually a number of people, specific members, such as Senators Collins and Lieberman from the Homeland Security Committee in the Senate; Congressmen King and Thompson from the House Homeland Security Committee; Senator Stevens and Inouye from the Senate Commerce Committee; and Representatives Dan Lungren and Jane Harman, who played pivotal roles in moving the Safe Port Act to a successful conclusion.

Now let me tell you what we’ve done, as part of a comprehensive program, because no one element of the program stands alone. It’s the combination of elements that give us real port security.

We’ve dramatically strengthened overseas inspections of cargo bound for the U.S. through our Container Security Initiative, which places our ability to inspect cargo overseas at the port of departure, rather than waiting for the cargo to enter the United States.

Our Container Security Initiative is now active in 50 ports overseas, accounting for over 80 percent of all cargo destined for the United States.

We’ve also increased our ability to assess cargo for risk and to resolve potential security threats through our National Targeting Center and through increasing the information we obtain.

Through the Department of Energy’s Megaports Initiative, we’ve partnered with foreign governments to enhance their capabilities to scan containers for special nuclear and other radioactive material. And here in the United States, we are working to deploy radiation portal monitors so that as we speak, roughly 80 percent of all containers coming into the United States is going through scanning devices for radiation. By the end of next year, we will be at virtually 100 percent.

A big part of our effort, of course, is working with the private sector. Through the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, and working with new global maritime security standards, we have elevated the standard of maritime security for the entire globe. And at the same time, we’ve remained faithful to our pledge to balance the need for security with the economic need to have a global and robust trade capability that makes a system in which we all get to prosper together. We do not want to destroy our ports in order to save them. What we want is security that protects our people and facilitates international commerce.

So against this background, today we are launching a new initiative, which we are calling Secure Freight, that will build upon all of these elements to increase the measures we have in place to protect against a weapon of mass destruction.

I first talked about a vision of this Secure Freight Initiative in July of 2005 when I gave a speech reviewing the survey that we had undertaken in the Department about all of our security measures.

At that time, I talked about the need to gather, fuse and analyze more complete information from the global supply chain so we could get a more specific capability to target cargo that is high risk.

As part of that, though, we need to have an automated system that scans as much as we possibly can for the kind of dangerous nuclear material that we all worry about. And to the extent we can get that scanning to take place overseas, even before the containers are loaded on the ships, we add additional measures of protection to those we are already putting into place at home.

And since, again, trade is international, this is the kind of overseas effort that can only be undertaken as a partnership. It is not the kind of effort that can be done unilaterally. And so today’s vision of going forward with Secure Freight is a testament to our ability and our commitment to work multilaterally with our partners all around the world — whether it be Pakistan or the United Kingdom or Central America or Singapore or Oman.

So, under phase one of Secure Freight, the U.S. government is delighted to say that we have reached agreement to place radiation portal monitors, radiography machines — which are basically big x-ray machines — and optical character readers in an initial set of six foreign ports.

Now let me translate that into plain English. What that means is we are going to build an automated system, and as part of that system, a container will enter into a lane of traffic. It will have its unique number scanned into a computer. It will go through a radiation detection monitor that will detect any emanations, radioactive emanations, from the container. It will then move through what is, in effect, a giant x-ray machine, which will look to see if there’s any shielding or any anomaly in the container that’s visible from scanning from outside. All of this will be integrated together to give the operator, a Customs and Border Protection official, a picture of whether there is a threat inside this container.

By having it automated, we can guarantee that 100 percent of the containers that run through that system will, in fact, be scanned for precisely the kind of material that we worry about.

Now, we’re going to begin with ports, such as Port Qasim in Pakistan, Puerto Cortes in Honduras, and Southampton in the United Kingdom, as well as the port of Salalah in Oman, Singapore, the Port of Singapore, and the Gamman Terminal in Port Busan in Korea. In these ports, and in the case of the first three, with respect to all the containers coming to the U.S., an integrated suite of exactly the kind of equipment I have explained — detection equipment, x-ray equipment and optical scanners — will scan containers that are destined to come to the United States, and we’re going to do that with respect to 100 percent of the containers destined for the U.S. in Pakistan, in Honduras and in Southampton, England. This will fulfill the requirements set out by Congress in the Safe Ports Act to scan 100 percent of cargo in three foreign ports.

But we’re going to do more than that. We’re going to go beyond the minimum. In Singapore, in the Republic of Korea, and in Oman, where we have three very large container ports, we are going to conduct limited deployments of this suite of equipment in some of the terminals.

In addition, we’re going to continue to work with the terminal operator in the Port of Hong Kong to follow their pilot program with respect to a similar system, and to refine that program to see how we can continue to advance along this pathway of doing integrated screening and scanning overseas.

Collectively, through these six ports that we are now beginning this Secure Freight operation in, over seven percent of all U.S.-bound shipments will be scanned overseas before they even come to the United States. And again, I want to reiterate, we are still on target to hit our 100 percent or virtual 100 percent goal in the United States by the end of next year.

Now, to get this job done, we’ve had to work very closely with our private sector partners and with our foreign governments, because the installation of the equipment and the operation of the equipment has to be done in partnership with host governments and in cooperation with shippers and terminal operators. And of course, in doing this, we’re going to be using some cutting-edge tools and integrated systems, as well as some proven technology already deployed in United States ports.

The way the systems works is this: The sensor and image data collected by the equipment I’ve described — the x-ray machines and the radioactive detection equipment, is going to be transmitted in virtual real-time to CBP inspectors — that’s Customs and Border Protection inspectors — located, in many instances, at the foreign port itself, and in every instance, at our national targeting center here in the United States. This data will be fused and analyzed under the supervision of our Customs and Border Protection officials so that we can assess whether there is anything in the container that is a threat, and, if so, identify that container as one that should be pulled out of the line and inspected more closely to resolve the question.

If the scanning systems indicate that there is a concern, the specific container, which we will have identified through the optical scanner, will be pulled from the line, and we will make sure an inspection is conducted before that container continues its travel to the United States.

Now, there’s one point I want to make 100 percent crystal clear: We will not outsource our security. Therefore, it is pivotal to this system that for every container, the determination about what is inspected and the decision that a particular question has been resolved will be made 100 percent by U.S. government officials — Customs and Border Protection officials — either on the scene locally or here at the National Targeting Center.

Of course, the actual inspection itself, physical inspection that takes place of course will have to be operated by the local police authorities who have the legal authority to do the inspection. But we will make sure that with people on the scene, and, in many cases, with streaming video that allows us to actually see the inspection, American customs officials satisfy themselves about the security of any container before that container is allowed to continue on course to the United States.

And let me be clear: If we are not satisfied that our security concerns have been met overseas, we will not allow that particular container to be loaded on a ship or to come into the United States of America.

This Secure Freight effort overseas is a significant step forward in a general strategy that will enable us to identify and protect against radiological or nuclear threats well in advance of the time they arrive at our shores. It will allow the host governments overseas greater visibility into potential dangerous shipments in their own ports, and it will help assure Americans that we are doing everything humanly possible, using cutting-edge tools, to keep dangerous materials outside the United States.

Ultimately, this system of partnership — government-to-government and public to private sector — will be a powerful template for a global system that will be stronger and more effective in harmonizing risk reduction for the international maritime trade community. This is a perfect example of an area in which global cooperation and international activity can raise security standards and trade efficiency around the globe. We want to be hospitable to world trade. We want to be very inhospitable to terrorism and to dangerous nuclear materials.

Now, because Secure Freight represents a true multi-agency partnership with the Department of Energy and the Department of State, as well as other government actors, this effort is going to be funded jointly, through a roughly $30 million amount of funding contributed by the Department of Homeland Security for radiography equipment, and another $30 million from the Department of Energy for radiation portal monitor installation. And I want to thank Secretary Bodman and Secretary Rice for their full partnership and enthusiasm for this major international security effort.

So now I’m going to turn to Ambassador Brooks to add a few words.

AMBASSADOR BROOKS: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. The Department of Energy is obviously honored to be part of this important step. Secretary Bodman has asked that I express his apologies. He has been called to a meeting with the President, and there are very few people who trump you, Mr. Secretary, but it turns out the President is one of them.

But he wanted to be here because we see this as so important to overall U.S. security. As Secretary Chertoff mentioned, we are providing $30 million to support the first phase of Secure Freight. And under this first phase, the United States will integrate data generated by detection equipment, along with images from the x-ray systems that you heard discussed. And it’s this integration that is the important new aspect here.

Now, this is the latest step in the continuing efforts under the President’s leadership to fight nuclear terrorism. The effort involves all aspects of the U.S. government. Under Secretary Joseph, who will follow me, has been personally involved in conceiving and bringing to fruition many of the overall international initiatives.

I come at this and my organization comes at this from a different perspective. I run the part of the Department of Energy National Security Administration that works national security issues, including nonproliferation and particularly keeping the most dangerous material in the world out of the hands of the most dangerous people in the world.

And so for more than a decade, we’ve focused starting initially at improving security. We’ve improved security at about 80 percent of the weapons and material sites in the Russian Federation, and then we moved from there to improve security at the land borders, and then under the Megaports approach, to improve security at ports. And that’s where we meet our partners from the Department of Homeland Security, first through the Container Security Initiative, and now through this new over-arching Secure Freight Initiative.

And we believe that this is a wonderful next step. It will take what we have done — both departments have done in the past — it will build on it to a new level by combining different detection technologies. You can circumvent anything, but you can’t circumvent everything. And that is the key to this integrated approach.

But while I’m very proud of the technology, because the technology lets us ensure automation and a hundred percent throughput, technology is not all the answer. The real answer is close cooperation — close cooperation with the governments represented in this room, close cooperation among agencies, close cooperation between the public and private sector. And we believe that this initiative will lead to strengthening the overall security of the global supply chain.

So we hope these first deployments will serve as a model. We’ve worked closely with the Department of Homeland Security putting this initiative together, drawing on our complimentary areas of expertise. And we believe that the initiative Secretary Chertoff has described to you will deepen and expand our partnership, but much more importantly will deepen and expand our security.

Thank you very much. And I’ll be followed by my colleague, Under Secretary Bob Joseph.

UNDER SECRETARY JOSEPH: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, Mr. Under Secretary, Mr. Ambassador, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of Dr. Rice, let me thank the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy for their leadership in making a reality of the Secure Freight Initiative. This is a very important step in the overall strategy that the President has put together to fight what is perhaps the preeminent threat that we face as a nation, and that is a terrorist with a nuclear weapon.

Let me also, of course, thank all of the foreign representatives who are here today for their participation, because as the Secretary said, this is a fight that we are in together. This is a threat to the entire international community. It’s not simply a threat to the United States. And, in fact, it is an international responsibility to take these types of steps to defend ourselves against the threat from nuclear terrorism.

In October, the United States and Russia co-hosted a meeting in Morocco with 11 other countries to put in motion a new initiative, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. At that inaugural meeting, we agreed on a statement of principles. And I would just point to three themes that were very prevalent in that meeting and in those principles, three themes that are reflected in the Secure Freight Initiative.

The first is, as I mentioned, this is an international fight. This is a fight that we must wage together. The consequences of one successful act — whether it be a terrorist with a nuclear weapon or a terrorist with a dirty bomb — are so profound that we must do everything we can to deter and defeat the threat.

Second, the importance of detection. Being able to detect the movement of fissile material or radioactive material is absolutely essential to our overall success. And here, again, the Secure Freight Initiative will add an important capability in our overall posture.

And finally, as the Secretary mentioned, the public-private partnership aspect of the Secure Freight Initiative is one that we have to, I think, use as a model in many other areas dealing with the overall posture for combating nuclear terrorism.

Again, thank you very much for your leadership, and we look forward to working with all of the countries here today and others in the future in this important adventure. Thank you.

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: And now we’ll be happy to take some questions. Pete.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you talked a little —

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: Nice tie, by the way.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. You talked about the timeline for the radiation portal monitors here by next year. What’s the timeline for devices like this at ports overseas, first of all for the limited deployment in Singapore, the ROK, and Oman, and then in the rest of the ports?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: I think the first two that we’re going to go operational in will be in Pakistan and in Honduras. Those are scheduled to go operational in February of ’07. That’s just in the matter of two to three months. I think in Southampton, we’re due in June or July of ’07. And then the others are scheduled during the course of ’07. As we bring these online and we actually see how they work in a true operational environment, that will give us additional insight into how we can continue to expand the program.

And I don’t want to leave you with the impression that we’re going to put our pencils down at this point. We’re continuing to work with other countries to see if we can expand the program. But we did want to get rolling because the actual operational experience is going to be very helpful as we adjust the program over the next year.

QUESTION: But is it — do you have a long-term goal to try to get this in at least the same 50 ports that have the CSI for example?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: I don’t think we’ve set a specific goal for a couple of reasons. First of all, the physical layout of each port is a big element in the challenge of this program. Some ports are physically laid out in a way that can accommodate this kind of machinery and allow the containers to move through the line. There may be some ports where that’s not physically possible.

So I can’t tell you that we have a fixed percentage. I don’t think it’s possible, for example, to reasonably say 100 percent. But if we could do 30 percent at some point, and then 70 percent here in the United States, that would still be a significant step forward.

QUESTION: The Democrats will now control Congress. The Democrats supported mandating 100 percent screening. It’s likely to come up again now that they’re in control. How would you feel if early next year they put a mandate on you that you have to have 100 percent screening? Are you ready to handle that?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: The question is really not are we ready to handle it. The question is, what do our foreign partners say. One can mandate that we have to have 100 percent of this deployed in foreign ports. It requires the agreement of the foreign country. It takes two to tango, and it takes two to enter into a bilateral international agreement.

Certainly, I share the aspiration of working cooperatively to get as much of this overseas as we can. But I have to be candid and say that if somebody says, well, you have to make it 100 percent and the foreign country doesn’t agree, that’s not a mandate that can be carried out. So this is one of those areas where you hear a lot of talk about international cooperation and respect for our foreign partners. And I think respect for our foreign partners indicates that we have to do this in a cooperative way.

But certainly I’d love to see us do this in as many ports as we can reach agreements in, and as we can practically do, given the real constraints of time and space — and without sacrificing our operational control.

QUESTION: So you would be opposed to a legislative mandate from Congress that would be within five years 100 percent globally?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: I think what I’d say is you’ve got to — it’s going to take foreign governments to agree to this. I don’t have any reason to believe that foreign governments will feel obliged by a U.S. law if they’re not otherwise inclined to work with us. So I certainly don’t want to have the United States appear to be bullies in the international arena, or saying to other countries, my way or the highway. I’d much rather get the support, as we’ve gotten in Congress for what we’re doing, continue to move forward. I’m more than happy to continue to report to Congress on our progress. I would certainly like to see as many countries as possible sign on to it. But again, it’s got to be cooperative. And we certainly can’t sacrifice our operational control over the process. I won’t do this — I won’t agree to do this with another country if the terms and the conditions the other country sets down, for example, compromise our ability to have the last word on security — because we’re not outsourcing our security.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you’re well aware of the controversy of when it was learned that Dubai Ports World was going to buy and operate some U.S. ports.

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: Yes, I remember a little bit about that.

QUESTION: Many people, including many elected officials, deemed that it was a security risk to have a foreign government and a foreign-owned company so intimately involved in something involving U.S. national security. What can you tell us about Dubai Ports World’s involvement in this initiative? What will they be doing? And you can hear the critics already — they’re going to say, here we go again. What is different about this?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: Well, let me start by saying that Congress has mandated by law that we do this. And I think that the act passed almost overwhelmingly. So Congress has overwhelmingly said, we want you to begin a program of doing scanning overseas. So anybody who disagrees with that is basically saying we should disregard Congress’s law.

Second, I want to be completely clear about the role that Dubai Ports World or any terminal operator is going to play in this. The total authority to decide go or no-go as to whether something is loaded rests with the U.S. government. The operational authority under which inspections will take place overseas will rest with the host government.

Obviously, we want the cooperation of the terminal operator. I believe Dubai Ports World operates the terminal in Southampton, England. And that’s a great example. It will be the British government and the British authorities that exercise their authority under this program in Southampton. And it will be pursuant to instructions and decisions that we make about what ought to be inspected or not. So I think, in short, this is — the entirety of the control over the authority rests with — or the decision-making rests with us. The authority exercised in the case of Dubai Ports World will be the British government, with whom we obviously have a very close relationship. And this is specifically pursuant to an overwhelmingly endorsed mandate from Congress to do this.

The bottom line is this: If you want to do security overseas, which everybody seems to want to do — they seem to want to have it overseas as the preferred method, you got to work with foreign governments and foreign companies because they own the ports. So I think we’re going to take the direction of Congress. We’re doing this in a way that I said rule one is we don’t outsource security. And I think it’s going to be another powerful layer in security that’s going to protect this country.

QUESTION: Can you just talk about — how accurate is this radiation detection equipment that we’re going to be installing? I thought we were not yet at the phase where we had the next generation of detection equipment that actually —

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: There is a next generation. The value of the next generation is that it’s much more precise. And what it does is it allows us to resolve innocuous or innocent readings much more easily. The current equipment tends to alert for more things that are really problematic, and so it makes it a little bit harder to resolve.

So the next generation of equipment will allow for greater efficiency and greater speed. But we have with the current equipment the ability to detect gamma and neutron emissions. When you add to that the x-ray equipment — and there’s a fancy word for it, which I can never pronounce, radiography — when you add the x-ray equipment, that will help us identify if, for example, they’re shielding because we’ll see a density or an anomaly in the container itself. And it’s the combination of these two systems which really dramatically enhances our ability to identify containers that we need to inspect.

At the end of the day, though, here’s the kicker: When in doubt, we pull it out. And then we open it up and we look at it. And this is basically a way of selecting among the millions of containers that are on the way to the U.S., those that require a closer look.

QUESTION: Quickly, is there any estimate of what percentage of what percentage of — what was the error rate?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: There’s not such a thing as an error rate. There are innocent hits. In other words, there are certain kinds of material that have natural radiation. And so, therefore, sometimes you get a container, you get a radioactive hit, and it’s an accurate hit, it turns out there’s an innocent explanation.

So one of the advantages of pairing it up with the x-ray is it will allow us to separate some of the wheat from the chaff. Also, when we have hits, we have analysts who can take some of the information back — it’s electronically transmitted back to the lab. And there are ways to read it that allow us to separate what we know is benign types of radiation from questionable radiation. And again, if there’s a doubt, you resolve it by opening it up.

So it’s not an error, the question is whether we’re hitting false positives.

QUESTION: If in doubt, pull it out; who then does the inspection?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: Inspection is done under the authority of the home country where the port is, with their police or customs authorities. We often have our own people on the scene. Sometimes if we don’t have our people there, we have vetted nationals of the country in question who are present during the opening, and in many cases they’ll have cameras, and they’ll actually stream video back to us at the National Targeting Center so we can see what happens. And again, I’m going to leave you — I’m going to drill this point home — in the end, the go, no-go decision rests with our guys sitting in a CBP office. And if they have any doubt about how this has been resolved, they’re going to say time out, it doesn’t come in.

QUESTION: What is the approximate cost for a full installation of one of these integrated series of devices? Who picks up the check for it, and what is the additional amount of time per container for going through the entire sweep?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: I think the Deputy may be able to answer the cost question a little bit more specifically. I’ve seen it operate. It doesn’t take — the whole point of this is it’s got to move pretty quickly, and when I went to Hong Kong they were able to drive the trucks through — reasonably, within a matter of a minute or so. It didn’t add a lot of additional time to take it through the process.

The operational issue which has made this so challenging has been precisely that — you don’t want to make every container a five-minute exercise, or that’s going to be the end of the whole port. So we’re confident that we can move the throughput in a way that’s quick enough that it’s not going to impede the ordinary flow. But that’s one of the challenges as we roll this out further, to make sure that the physical layout of the port is such that we can move the containers through without slowing them up.

Now, in terms of the cost per item, I don’t know whether — do you have a cost estimate?

DEPUTY SECRETARY JACKSON: When you’ve seen one port, you’ve seen one port. It will vary depending upon the port. We have looked at sort of a maximum of $10 million investment for the initial phase here, when you combine the Department of Energy’s investment and our investment, and then there’s an investment in the infrastructure to gather the data, multiplex it and send it back to the United States.

QUESTION: Ten million dollars per copy, or $10 million for all six?

DEPUTY SECRETARY JACKSON: No, $10 million for a port is the maximum end of what we’ve looked at investing. But, again, I’m going to tell you —

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: That’s why we’re going to have $60 million.

DEPUTY SECRETARY JACKSON: — that there’s a fair bit of variation, depending upon the circumstances, the number of lanes, et cetera. We’ll —

QUESTION: And the United States pays for it, in the foreign countries?

DEPUTY SECRETARY JACKSON: In phase one, we are paying for the equipment to be installed, for the gathering of the data, and the resolution of the alarm data to be sent to the appropriate local officials.

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: I do want to add, though, that the foreign government will have to pick up the tab for the personnel who do inspections or move — if we do identify something to be inspected, they’re going to have to put foreign customs personnel and police personnel and pay for them to work with us in doing the inspection. So there’s a foreign cost, or a cost borne by the foreign country, as well.

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