CongressÆ mood shifts on scan-all mandate
Consensus appears to be slowly building in Congress that the law requiring X-ray scans in oversees ports of all imported maritime containers by 2012 is neither practical nor effective, and should be modified.
At a House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, several lawmakers agreed with the Department of Homeland Security that the challenges and expense of implementing such a comprehensive inspection regime outweigh any marginal gains in stopping terrorists from smuggling mass destruction weapons or components into the United States.
'It has been clear that the sheer scale and the technical and diplomatic complexity of the project made this target hard to meet, said Subcommittee Chairman David Price, D-N.C.
Ranking Republican Hal Rogers of Kentucky endorsed reconsideration of what he called the 2007 law's 'capricious mandates.'
• Lawmaker backs Napolitano on scan-all law
And Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., said taking images of every container bound for the United States 'seems to me not cost effective.'
Their comments come on the heels of testimony last month by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano that significant technical, political, legal, environmental and funding challenges make the 2012 deadline too difficult to achieve. She has suggested that the deadline be pushed back or that she may exercise authority in the law to grant waivers to ports that don't have a system in place to inspect containers with imaging technology.
Last week Rep. Jane Harmon, D-Calif., told AmericanShipper.com that technical and logistical challenges may justify relaxing the deadline.
During the hearing no other congressmen spoke up to defend the 100-percent inspection effort. The change in attitude in the House towards scanning all containers is significant considering its more reactionary approach to hot political issues and the widespread support for the measure there in 2007.
Jayson P. Ahern, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, reinforced Napolitano's position, saying the 2012 deadline 'does appear to be unattainable.' CBP has long opposed the 100-percent inspection mandate as running counter to its risk management strategy of:
' Using advance information.
' Targeted inspections of high-risk containers by foreign customs authorities in 58 key ports.
' Supply chain security partnerships with industry.
' Radiation detection machines at the outbound gates of U.S. ports.
The risk of the maritime transportation system being used to deliver a nuclear or radiological device for an attack is 'relatively low,' Ahern said, in large measure because there are so many handoffs, delays, mix ups and other uncertainties throughout the supply chain that terrorists are likely to want a more predictable method for transporting what may be their one and only weapon.
He repeated DHS's argument during the past year that the scan-all mandate would place a disproportionate amount of scarce agency resources in the maritime security arena at the expense of equally important areas that have received less attention so far. Small boats and general aviation are two vulnerabilities DHS has started to address because terrorists can use those conveyances to maintain control of the delivery process from beginning to end.
'Our focus on risk management and security has to be driven by our informed judgment about the totality of risks ' As the department and the Congress look to apply limited resources to multiple areas of threat and vulnerability, we should therefore not over emphasize maritime containers at the potential detriment of other threat areas in need of resources,' Ahern said.
The collection of more robust information about the origin and content of ocean imports through the '10+2' rulemaking, as well as strengthening established programs such as the Container Security Initiative (CSI) and the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) have improved the multilayered, targeted approach to security and made 100-percent imaging unnecessary, he added.
CBP has ironed out some CSI protocols and is getting excellent cooperation now from participating foreign governments responding to U.S. requests to inspect suspicious containers, Ahern said. China is the only country that presents a challenge because it does not allow U.S. Customs officers on-site to observe how the images are taken or when a follow-up physical inspection is triggered by an anomaly in the cargo, he said.
Shenzhen and Shanghai are CSI ports.
Ahern reiterated that a scan-all approach makes sense in some specific high-risk trade lanes, such as from Pakistan, where the additional data can provide reassurance that inbound cargo is not compromised.
CBP's Secure Freight Initiative pilot project showed that X-ray, radiation detection and optical character recognition technology for identifying the container could be integrated to non-intrusively inspect all containers and transmit the images to CBP for review. Ahern noted that favorable conditions in the original pilot ports — Puerto Cortes, Honduras; Qasim, Pakistan; and Southampton, England — would be difficult to replicate across the board.
In all three cases the United States had willing partners and the universe of containers to inspect was small. Officials at Puerto Cortes had already installed X-ray equipment at their expense for their own purposes and the Department of Energy was able to loan radiation portal monitors to set up the system. About 50,000 to 60,000 containers arrive in the United States each year from the port.
The government of Pakistan was willing to provide land in Port Qasim for the high-tech detection systems and the United States set up a remote video capability to monitor secondary inspections because it is too dangerous for U.S. personnel to be stationed there. The United States receives less than 3,000 containers per year from Qasim. CBP is working with Pakistan Customs to expand the scanning capability to the Port of Karachi later this year, Ahern said.
Southampton was blessed with a large area for setting up a scanning operation, but U.K. Customs declined the continue participating in the test program beyond the original short-term commitment.
Very limited SFI trials are also underway at the Port of Hong Kong and Port Busan, South Korea, and will soon commence in Salalah, Oman.
Challenges with moving to a wholesale 100-percent scanning regime identified in the trials include:
' Impact of harsh weather on equipment
' Data transmission costs.
' Getting host country permission.
' Space limitations on port grounds for accommodating equipment without impacting cargo flow.
' Developing local response protocols in the event of alarms.
' Health and safety concerns of local truckers driving through X-ray systems.
' Determining who pays the cost for operating and maintaining the systems.
' Acquiring necessary trade data to match up with the container images for easy processing.
' Data privacy.
' Staffing implications for foreign customs services and terminal operators.
Meanwhile, 27 countries have indicated that they expect the United States to reciprocate and inspect export cargo too if the U.S. imposes such a requirement on ports around the world.
'The 100-percent requirement needs to be thoughtfully reconsidered,' Ahern said.
DHS will soon present a plan to Congress for how to meet the mandate in a way that is realistic and adds to security, he added. ' Eric Kulisch