Many news media reports and political leaders such as Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Democrat National Committee chairman Howard Dean frequently state that the Department of Homeland Security inspects only about 5 percent of the over 10 million sea containers entering the country each year. That 5 percent figure erroneously implies that 95 percent of sea containers receive no attention or scrutiny at all from customs agents.
While partisans are creating a frenzy over this issue, the media should educate the American people about the difference between anti-terrorism and counter-terrorism operations. Anti-terrorism operations are those that are defensive in nature and visible security measures, while counter-terrorism operations are offensive in nature and usually classified. Counter-terrorism includes developing information, identifying targets and taking out those targets in covert actions. Anyone who says they can provide security that is 100% effective is either a liar or a fool.
Truth be told, it is impossible -- IMPOSSIBLE -- to check every shipping container off-loaded at US seaports. If such an endeavor were possible, the negative impact on the US -- even the world -- economy would be staggering. The cost of such an endeavor to consumers would also create adverse economic conditions in the US. Nevermind the billions of dollars that would be spent on manpower and resources in order to check every single container.
This writer's wife works as an importer of goods from the Far East -- Hong Kong, Taiwan, China -- and she complains about the cost to her company of security measures already in place the impact on business. This naturally increases the prices of goods on the retail market. Ask any politician how they plan on checking every shipping container entering the US and they best you get from them is they are working on a plan.
The truth -- which is being withheld from Americans -- is that US Customs and Border Protection screens the data and information for all of the millions of cargo containers arriving in the US each year; and closely scrutinizes and examines all shipments identified as high risk. The CBP has developed a multilayered process to target high-risk shipments and provides a fast lane for legitimate cargo. In fact, according to the CBP, examinations of sea containers are a small part of this process.
The CBP goal is not to search five percent, 10 percent, or even 50 percent of the cargo at our nation's borders and ports of entry. US Customs and Border Protection thoroughly screens and examines 100% of the shipments that pose a risk to our country and they are doing that today. The goal is to screen these shipments before they depart for the United States whenever possible. There are US CBP officers throughout the world working with foreign governments in screening shipments leaving those countries
CBP receives electronic bill of lading/manifest data for approximately 98 percent of the sea containers before they arrive at US seaports. CBP uses this data to first identify the lowest risk cargo being shipped by long-established and trusted importers.
In the year 2000, nearly half a million individuals and companies imported products into the US. But 1,000 companies -- the top two-tenths of one percent -- accounted for 62 percent of the value of all imports. Some shipments for these companies are still randomly inspected, but the vast majority is released without physical inspection.
Following 9/11, the CBP and major importers joined forces in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism. C-TPAT is a cooperative effort to heighten security of the supply chain. Under C-TPAT, the high volume importers agree to take stringent security steps. In return they receive far less scrutiny at the border.
CBP has also partnered with the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA) to prescreen sea containers under the Container Security Initiative. Under this program US and Canada Customs have placed inspectors at one another's major seaports. Cargo arriving in Halifax, Montreal and Vancouver destined for the US is prescreened in Canada by targeting teams consisting of both Canadian and US Customs inspectors.
Conversely, cargo arriving at the seaports of Seattle/Tacoma and Newark and destined for Canada is prescreened at these US ports by Canadian and US Customs inspectors. Similar agreements are under discussion with major European and Asian seaports to ensure safe and secure flow of commerce around the world.
CBP uses an Automated Targeting System (ATS) to automatically flag the highest risk shipments. This powerful rules-based computer system sorts through records stored in a massive database that contains detailed information on every shipment that has entered the United States over the past 10 years. ATS screens each ship's electronic manifest, comparing and analyzing the information with this database.
US Customs and Border Protection has special targeting teams that further analyze data before the ship arrives at a US port. US Customs inspectors and analysts use their many years of training and experience to help identify anomalies in shipping information.
US Customs and Border Protection inspectors use full-truck gamma ray and x-ray machines to scan the contents of containers. These units can scan the interior of a full-size 40-foot container in under a minute. Specially trained dogs check for traces of narcotics and currency. Inspectors use personal radiation detectors to scan for signs of radioactive materials. Inspectors also use such special high-tech tools as densitometers and fiber-optic scopes to peer inside suspicious containers. Finally, if necessary, containers are opened and unloaded for a lengthy, more thorough carton-by-carton inspection.
Sources: Department of Homeland Security, US Customs and Border Protection, National Security Institute, National Association of Chiefs of Police, American Society for Industrial Security
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.