BONNER PROPOSES SMARTER TECHNOLOGY FOR CARGO CONTAINERS
U.S. Customs Commissioner Robert C. Bonner called for new technology and inspection at points of departure to tighten security for sea containers to prevent terrorists from using sea containers as vessels for terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.
Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Bonner stressed that these containers that are “high-risk,” or even of a questionable security risk, need to be inspected before departure before arrival in an American port of entry. Stressing that 50,000 of these containers arrive daily in the United States, he said that if a container came to an American port with weapons of mass destruction or biological weapons, inspection upon arrival would be too late.
To emphasize that point, he warned that terrorists would, if capable, attempt such a feat. “It’s certainly by no means far-fetched,” Bonner said. “It would, of course, potentially kill thousands and thousands of people.”
To thwart such events, Bonner proposed new technology like electronic seals to warn authorities of tampering while the secured and cleared cargo is in transport. Other technologies, he said, that are in use now include mobile x-ray machines, which scan containers before departure from a foreign port. Already, he said, U.S. Customs Inspectors are wearing radiation detectors, about the size of a personal electronic pager, which can detect even trace amounts of radiation.
In addition to technology, however, Bonner suggested that the United States cannot act alone in the fight to ensure security of seagoing containers. He said that these containers carried 90 percent of the world’s cargo. A shutdown on seagoing containers, as the result of a terrorist event, would not only injure the intended ground zero, but it would also stifle world trade. “We should be very concerned about the global trade and the ways it could be impacted by a catastrophic event involving sea containers,” he said. “We are looking not only to save lives, but to save livelihoods.”
Bonner stressed that inter-agency work in the United Stares is a boon to tightened security, particularly after Sept. 11. “Every morning, I receive a CIA intelligence briefing at Customs headquarters,” he said. Bonner mentioned that not only is communication and partnership among agencies essential for homeland security, other nations and their ports should join the U.S. in its efforts to prevent terrorists from leaving ports with contraband and terrorists on board vessels.
“When you get right down to it, it’s really a matter of enlightened self-interest” that other countries and ports would get involved in this security mission, he said.
Bonner said that, in spite of all the new proposed measures that some critics may see as a damper on trade, Customs will facilitate trade while ensuring protection against terrorism. “Our twin goals of facilitation and enforcement are more tightly bound than ever,” he said.