CBP says it will tighten procedures for clearing radioactive imports
U.S. Customs and Border Protection expects to have a process in place within 30 days to validate licenses for transporting radioactive material across the border, a top agency official told Congress.
The action is in response to news that two undercover investigators were able to smuggle boxes with radioactive material across the northern and southern border on two occasions in December after producing false documents.
The Government Accountability Office reported this week that investigators posing as employees of a fictitious company entered the country with small amounts of radioactive material and specialized equipment in their rental vehicles. The investigative arm of Congress said the amount of material was sufficient to create a “dirty bomb,” a potential terrorist weapon of choice made by wrapping explosives with radioactive material that is dispersed to contaminate an area. The teams underwent secondary inspections after radiation portal monitors they drove through detected the material, but were able to convince CBP officers to let them continue into the country after presenting a counterfeit Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license and bill of lading for the radioactive material.
Jayson Ahern, assistant commissioner for field operations, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs permanent subcommittee on investigations that CBP will develop within 30 days a way to verify the authenticity of NRC licenses to prevent illegal import of radioactive materials.
Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said in a statement that the NRC has dragged its feet on issuing regulations on the importation of radioactive sources. Markey authored a law enacted last summer that requires the agency to set up procedures for CBP to contact the NRC when high-threat radiation sources are imported to determine whether the documents possessed by the importer are legitimate and if the importer is authorized to possess the material. Markey said the NRC has missed the deadline for issuing the regulations.
Sen. Norman Coleman, R-Minn., the chairman of the subcommittee, questioned whether the NRC is interested in taking corrective action. The GAO reported that the NRC differed with other experts on whether the amount of material used in the incidents was sufficient to make a “dirty bomb.” The congressional agency countered that it could have made multiple purchases and shipped them across the border using similar cover stories to make a bomb.