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Chertoff remains defiant on 100% box scans

Chertoff remains defiant on 100% box scans

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in a speech Friday called attempts to require overseas technology-based inspection of all ocean containers a throwback to Soviet-style command-and-control methods, as the standoff between the department and congressional Democrats over cargo security policy intensified.

Chertoff



   Congress one year ago passed a law instructing the Department of Homeland Security to scan 100 percent of U.S.-bound containers at foreign ports by July 2012. DHS, which has steadfastly held to its strategy of using risk analysis to target inspections on the greatest potential threats and minimize the time border security officers spend on innocent shipments, said this summer it only intends to use the scan-all approach on high-risk trade corridors.

   The government does not have the resources or expertise to physically protect all of the nation’s infrastructure when most of it is in private hands, Chertoff said. Private companies own and operate the vast majority of shipping lines, port facilities, railroads, airlines, warehouses and other facilities that form the backbone of the international trading system, and many of the assets and networks are controlled by foreign entities.

   The old model of issuing dictates from Washington may create the perception of security, but tends to be ineffective and create excessive costs for businesses, he said. The better approach, he added, is to set standards and let private industry partners figure out the best way to implement security measures that address their particular vulnerabilities rather than a broad, undefined threat, with appropriate oversight and stiff penalties if they don’t comply. The philosophy forms the basis of the voluntary Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism.

   “It’s simply impossible for the federal government, certainly within any reasonable budget, to take on the responsibility of micromanaging the business operations of every major business activity in the United States, and to supply federal boots on the ground to all of those businesses to reduce vulnerability,' Chertoff said at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

   “The fact is that the government, whether the federal government or the state government, does not need to order people to protect assets when the people themselves place great value on the assets. What we have to do is we have to help them do the job they have a natural incentive to carry out themselves,” he said.

   Industry officials and foreign governments have strenuously argued that trying to inspect all containers would create costly transit delays for cargo, cost businesses or governments hundreds of billions of dollars in X-ray style machinery and more money for ongoing operations and personnel.

   Chertoff’s disparaging remarks about 100 percent scanning indicate that the administration is still intent, over the objections of the House Homeland Security Committee, on implementing the mandate on a limited basis and availing itself of out-clauses to extend the deadline in two-year increments in other port locations. DHS is engaged in a similar dispute with committee Democrats over interpretation of the law’s requirement for 100 percent inspection of cargo on passenger planes, with the Transportation Security Administration passing on a large part of the daily inspection process to shippers and carriers, and insisting the law only applies to cargo loaded in the United States. DHS is also advocating a limited approach to using electronic container security devices on high-risk trade lanes in another ongoing dispute with the Homeland Security Committee.

   DHS has yet to formally respond to an Aug. 5 letter from Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., asking for an explanation by Aug. 11 of progress towards meeting the box scan deadline, whether there are any continuity plans for the next administration and a definition of high-risk trade corridors.

   “The Department of Homeland Security appears to be engaged in a concerted effort to thwart the will of the American people on the issue of 100 percent scanning of U.S.-bound maritime cargo,” Thompson wrote.

   “Your actions to hinder progress on this vital homeland security initiative are very troubling and may have put at risk our nation’s security and the credibility of the American government in the eyes of our international partners,” he added.

   Chertoff characterized the 100 percent inspection regime as typical of paternalistic government solutions. DHS does check radiation levels in nearly all containers exiting U.S. ports by truck using roadside detectors as part of its layered strategy, but imaging is more time consuming and labor intensive.

   “People who run complicated businesses, global businesses, don’t need the government telling them through heavy-handed regulation that if a flood wipes out their computer system, they’re going to be out of business, and therefore they ought to keep their servers in a high enough position to avoid flooding. In fact, what these businesses do need is information and guidance about the best way they can carry out what they’re already motivated to do, which is to make sure that their investments are secured and that the people who work to carry out their businesses are safe,” he said.

   “The partnership model also acknowledges the reality that it’s simply impossible and impossibly expensive for the government to handle 100 percent of homeland security preparedness, prevention, response and recovery responsibilities in the 21st century. There are simply too many places, too many things and too many people for the government to take on the job of doing everything itself. What the government can do is work with the natural self-interest of people and businesses to help them be most efficient in protecting their own property and their own employees.”

   The collaborative model enshrined in the 18-sector National Infrastructure Plan includes consulting with industry to identify critical assets, vulnerabilities and safeguards and using third-party auditors to ensure companies are meeting the minimum standards, Chertoff said.

   He pointed to the department’s program on chemical plant security as a good example of the department’s flexible approach because facilities work to achieve different levels of security based on whether they are assessed at high, medium or low tiers of risk.

   “The outcome here and the result of this is a system that allows the vast majority of responsible companies to find the most efficient way to satisfy security requirements but gives us the ability to find the irresponsible actors and to punish them to make sure that they come into line with what the general standard really is,” the secretary said.

   Prioritizing the nation’s inventory of infrastructure assets in advance of hurricanes, fires or other disasters “allows us to know exactly what we have to move to protect, what we have to move to restore as quickly as possible, what we have to be able to work around while a particular piece of infrastructure may be out of action, and that visibility and that ability to go directly to those economic actors and business actors has time and again — hasn’t eliminated the pain of some of these disasters, but it has reduced the pain of disasters that otherwise might have a much more serious cascading effect across our country with health consequences, with consequences in terms of people’s individual safety and security and with serious economic consequences,” Chertoff said.

   Last year, he noted, DHS began an initiative to catalog critical infrastructure, such as oil refineries, in other countries that the United States depends on so contingency plans can be made if they become inoperable and guidance offered to foreign companies on ways to protect their infrastructure.

   “We are currently working in different parts of the world with other governments helping them secure critical assets that are of importance to their citizens as well as to our citizens,” the secretary said.

   He faulted the nation for failing to adequately invest in maintenance of public infrastructure such as highways and levees to prevent their catastrophic failure.

   “When it comes to making long-term investments simply to maintain the things we rely upon against the normal passage of time or against the kinds of natural disasters that are imminently predictable over a long period of time, we have failed time and again to devote the energy and the effort and the investment to make sure that these structures can be preserved,” Chertoff said.

   “Of course,” he added, “when a disaster occurs and these systems fail, then we have to turn around and pour huge amounts of money into emergency relief, response and recovery and rebuilding, often much more than we would have had to spend if we had a disciplined program of putting the investment in over a long period of time.”

   Chertoff recommended that government begin prioritizing infrastructure based on life-cycle risk as it did before for terrorism risk. ' Eric Kulisch

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