Napolitano Says U.S. Cannot Meet Cargo-Screening Goal

(Dec. 3) -U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano yesterday told lawmakers her department cannot meet a congressionally-mandated 2012 deadline for scanning all U.S.-bound ship cargo for potential WMD ingredients (Jim Watson/Getty Images).
(Dec. 3) -U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano yesterday told lawmakers her department cannot meet a congressionally-mandated 2012 deadline for scanning all U.S.-bound ship cargo for potential WMD ingredients (Jim Watson/Getty Images).

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano yesterday said her department would be unable to meet a terrorism security measure's 2012 deadline for checking all U.S.-bound ship cargo for WMD materials, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN , July 24).

As a result of insufficient technology and the high expense associated with scanning the 10 million cargo containers that enter the country annually, Napolitano would request an extension of the congressionally imposed deadline, she told lawmakers.

"In order to implement the 100 percent scanning requirement by the 2012 deadline, [the Homeland Security Department] would need significant resources for greater manpower and technology, technologies that do not currently exist, and the redesign of many ports," Napolitano said.

"These are all prohibitive challenges that will require the department to seek the time extensions authorized by law," she said.

To meet the 2012 deadline, Napolitano said, costs must increase to a minimum of $168 billion for monitoring the country's 21,000 inbound shipping routes.

The 100 percent scanning requirement was intended to ensure that no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons could be brought in through the U.S. port system, which many analysts consider a security vulnerability.

"Expanding screening with available technology would slow the flow of commerce and drive up costs to consumers without bringing significant security benefits," Napolitano said in testimony to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

She added that a less comprehensive measure could focus only on incoming containers from a small fraction of the more than 700 ports connected to the country. She said that the large majority of imported cargo comes from only 58 of those 700 ports (Agence France-Presse/Google News, Dec. 2).

The U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report yesterday that faulted Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection office for failing to conduct "a feasibility analysis of expanding 100 percent scanning" of foreign ports participating in the U.S. Secure Freight Initiative as mandated by Congress.

While "CBP has been able to scan a majority of the U.S.-bound cargo containers at the comparatively low volume ports, it has not achieved sustained scanning rates above five percent at the comparatively larger ports," the report found.

The government auditors suggested that the CBP office carry out a feasibility analysis of the scanning initiative and a cost-benefit study to present to Congress. Existing DHS reports on the matter have not gone far enough in analyzing the issue, said the accountability office (U.S. Government Accountability Office release, Oct. 30).

"GAO's latest report brings into sharp relief the difficulties DHS faces in trying to meet a congressional deadline of 2012 for scanning 100 percent of U.S.-bound container cargo -- which is just one way terrorists might attempt to smuggle WMD into our country," Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a released statement.

Until scanning technology is improved and no longer disrupts trade, "requiring the scanning [of] all U.S.-bound cargo, regardless of risk, at every foreign port is misguided and provides a false sense of security," said Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), the committee's ranking Republican (U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee release, Dec. 2).

December 3, 2009
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U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano yesterday said her department would be unable to meet a terrorism security measure's 2012 deadline for checking all U.S.-bound ship cargo for WMD materials, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN , July 24).