Screening Concerns

During a congressional hearing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was informed of concerns over the inability of the Department of Homeland Security to scan 100 percent of cargo coming into US ports for nuclear or radiological materials.

Lawmakers Pan DHS Waiver Of Maritime Cargo Scanning Mandate
By, Mickey McCarter, HS Today

In a congressional hearing Wednesday, frustrated Republicans and Democrats alike told Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano they were unhappy with the inability of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to scan 100 percent of cargo coming into US ports for nuclear or radiological materials.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, led the questioning of Napolitano on why DHS could not meet the maritime cargo scanning mandate set by the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-53), a law that he introduced and shepherded through Congress.

In a letter dated May 2, Napolitano formally informed Congress that DHS would not meet a deadline of July 2012 to meet the maritime cargo scanning mandate and that she would extend that deadline for two years under the authority provided to her by the same law.

But Thompson protested that the direction of Congress could not be ignored indefinitely. Thompson summed up his view in a letter he sent to Napolitano after the hearing Wednesday.

“You, like your predecessor, refuse to implement the law, as evidenced most recently by your signing of a blanket two-year waiver of the requirement. Instead, you have stated that you support an alternative approach — what you call a layered, risk-based approach to maritime cargo security — targeting only those containers you believe to be ‘high risk,'” Thompson wrote.

And, in fact, Napolitano said exactly that. DHS uses specialized algorithms to make determinations as to what cargo is high risk and then it scans that cargo. On top of that, the department scans a random selection of other containers, but a very small percentage of them.

“There are a lot of ways to protect the ports of the United States from dangerous cargo,” Napolitano commented.

DHS has done everything it can to work through US Customs and Border Protection and the US Coast Guard as well as other agencies to mitigate any threat posed by nuclear or radiological material being shipped by seabound cargo, Napolitano insisted. But 100 percent scanning of maritime cargo remains impractical because of the high cost of doing so, the cost to business of delays in legitimate commerce due to scanning, and the lack of access to many foreign ports where DHS would prefer to scan cargo before it ships to the United States.

Coupled with the 100 percent scanning of high-risk cargo, Napolitano expressed confidence that DHS was actively keeping US ports safe from nuclear or radiological threats with additional methods, including intelligence-driven analysis and certification of trusted shippers.

Napolitano could not tell Thompson exactly what percent of maritime cargo was being scanned and where, nor what percentage of maritime cargo constituted high-risk cargo, prompting the congressman to formally request that information in his letter.

In previous House hearings, DHS officials have testified that the rate of overall scanning of maritime cargo stands at about 5 percent, Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), chairwoman of a maritime security subcommittee, told Napolitano.

DHS previously estimated the cost of scanning all maritime cargo at roughly $15 billion to $20 billion annually, she added.

Miller said legislation she sponsored and that was passed by the House June 28 — the Securing Maritime Activities through Risk-based Targeting (SMART) for Port Security Act (HR 4251) — would task DHS with conducting a risk-based assessment of how to best secure US ports to include leveraging partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies and trusted shipping partners participating in the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism.

Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) reminded Napolitano that she wrote to the Government Accountability Office on May 7 to examine the cost and relationships involved in 100 percent scanning of maritime cargo.

In response to inquiries from Richardson, Ambassador Ron Kirk, the US trade representative (USTR), said he had not been working with DHS on the issue of gaining access to foreign ports to scan US-bound cargo.

Although that is true, Napolitano said, DHS and USTR staff have held discussions and often security concerns are communicated from port to port. However, she indicated she would be happy to talk to Kirk about how DHS and USTR could work together on the issue.

Janice Hahn (D-Calif.) noted that 44 percent of maritime cargo enters the United States through the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, making the issue of cargo scanning of particular interest to Californians.

She too introduced a bill passed by the House to direct DHS to conduct a comprehensive examination of port security gaps — the Gauging American Port Security (GAPS) Act (HR 4005).

In a statement after the hearing, Hahn said, “It is clear to me that DHS is not convinced that scanning 100 percent of incoming cargo is feasible, but I disagree. I understand how difficult this goal is but I believe the new technology coming online will make it possible to achieve without slowing down commerce. I want to continue to work with DHS to improve our port security, that is why I authored and the House passed the GAPS Act.”

Source: HS Today

See also:  Scanning Delayed

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