The Associated Press story regarding the US government entrusting a Hong Kong conglomerate to help detect nuclear materials inside cargo passing through the Bahamas to the United States and elsewhere, on the heels of the Dubai ports controversy, has done much to bring the issue of seaport security and nuclear scanning to the forefront of political discussion.
According to the AP story, the Bush Administration confirmed that it entered into a no-bid contract with Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. will be involved in running a sophisticated US radiation detector at an overseas port without American customs agents present.
Since September 11, 2001, concern has increased that terrorists could smuggle nuclear weapons or materials into this country in the approximately 10 million containers that arrive annually at US seaports. Nuclear materials can be smuggled across borders by being placed inside containers aboard cargo ships. In response to this concern, since 2003, the Department of Energy has deployed radiation detection equipment to key foreign seaports through its Megaports Initiative.
DOE's Megaports Initiative has had limited success in initiating work at seaports identified as high priority by DOE's Maritime Prioritization Model, which ranks ports in terms of their relative attractiveness to potential nuclear smugglers. Gaining the cooperation of foreign governments has been difficult in part because some countries have concerns that screening large volumes of containers will create delays that could inhibit the flow of commerce at their ports. DOE has completed work at 2 ports and signed agreements to initiate work at 5 other ports.
Additionally, DOE is negotiating agreements with the governments of 18 additional countries and DOE officials told said they are close to signing agreements with 5 of these countries. However, DOE does not have a comprehensive long-term plan to guide the Initiative's efforts. Developing such a plan would lead DOE to, among other things, determine criteria for deciding how many and which lower priority ports to complete if it continues to have difficulties working at higher volume and higher threat ports of interest.
Through the end of fiscal year 2005, DOE had spent about $43 million on Megaports Initiative activities. Of this amount, about $14 million was spent on completing installations at 2 ports. Although DOE currently plans to install equipment at a total of 20 ports by 2010, at an estimated cost of $337 million, this cost projection is uncertain for several reasons. For example, the projection is based in part on DOE's $15 million estimate for the average cost per port, which may not be accurate because it was based primarily on DOE's work at Russian land borders, airports, and seaports.
DOE is currently assessing whether the Initiative's scope should increase beyond 20 ports; if this occurs, total costs and time frames will also increase. DOE faces several operational and technical challenges in installing radiation detection equipment at foreign ports. For example, DOE is currently devising ways to overcome technical challenges posed by the physical layouts and cargo stacking configurations at some ports. Additionally, environmental conditions, such high winds and sea spray, can affect radiation detection equipment's performance and sustainability.
Besides DOE operations, the US Customs and Border Protection has in place two programs to help address the threat posed by terrorists smuggling weapons of mass destruction into the United States: the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) and the Container Security Initiative (CSI).
In return for committing to making improvements to the security of their shipments, C-TPAT members receive a range of benefits that may change the risk characterization of their shipments, thereby reducing the probability of extensive inspection. Before providing benefits, CBP reviews the self-reported information contained in applicants' membership agreements and security profiles. Also, CBP assesses the compliance history of importers before granting them benefits.
Although CBP's goal was to validate members within 3 years, to date it has validated 11 percent of them, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office. Further, the validation process is not rigorous, as the objectives, scope, and methodology of validations are jointly agreed upon with the member, and CBP has no written guidelines to indicate what scope of effort is adequate for the validation.
The CSI program is designed to target and inspect high-risk cargo containers at foreign ports before they leave for the United States. It has resulted in improved information sharing between US and foreign customs operations and a heightened level of international awareness regarding securing the global shipping system and preventing the smuggling of WMD and nuclear material.
CBP continues to make refinements to the strategic plan and performance measures needed to help manage the program and achieve program goals. But until these refinements are completed, it will be difficult to assess progress made in CSI operations.
Sources: US Department of Energy, US Department of Homeland Security, Government Accounting Office, 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.