SFI report throws cold water on box scan law
Taking X-ray type images and radiation reads of every container bound for the United States only makes sense for a limited number of foreign ports, fails to capture transshipped cargo and presents enormous implementation costs for governments and industry, Bush administration officials said Thursday.
Based on the six-month results of a Secure Freight Initiative pilot program of 100 percent scanning at three low-volume ports, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has decided to conduct automated inspections only on specific high-risk trade lanes where the most security benefit can be realized, Deputy Commissioner Jayson Ahern informed Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee on surface transportation and merchant marine infrastructure safety and security.
Integrated scanning using radiation portal monitors (RPM) and non-intrusive inspection imaging equipment was conducted at Port Qasim, Pakistan; Southampton, United Kingdom; and Puerto Cortes, Honduras. A second round of small-scale SFI testing is underway at four other ports that handle larger volumes and transshipment cargo.
The pronouncement runs counter to Congress’ intent last year when it passed the 9/11 Implementation Act mandating that every container be scanned at foreign ports before being loaded on a vessel by 2012. The legislation, however, did provide six caveats (related to issues of equipment availability, false alarm rates, adequate port infrastructure, disruption of trade, and automatic detection capability) giving the secretary of Homeland Security the ability to extend the deadline in two-year increments.
DHS, which has objected to 100 percent scanning mandates from the start, made clear in the SFI report and testimony that it intended to take advantage of those out clauses, at least until better technology can be developed.
“While RPM spectra and NII images can be useful additional data points for evaluating the risk of U.S.-bound containers, the constraints of existing budgetary restrictions and lack of universal solutions to make the scanning cost-effective and efficient in every port underlies the department’s strategy to focus future SFI deployments on trade corridors that present the highest risk,” the Customs report said.
The news did not sit well with Lautenberg, who represents the Port of New York and New Jersey, and has been a critic of DHS port security efforts.
“The administration’s approach to securing our ports is unacceptable,” he said in a prepared statement.
Lautenberg said he would soon introduce legislation to correct port security programs. The bill will focus on ways to help achieve the goal of 100 percent scanning, “not working our way around the law,” and take alternative steps to plug vulnerabilities until a container scanning system is in place, an aide on Lautenberg’s staff told American Shipper.
“We will comply with the law,” Assistant Commissioner Thomas Winkowski said following the hearing.
Although Democrats made 100 percent scanning a hot-button political issue last year, Lautenberg was the only senator to attend the hearing.
Ahern said a big limiting factor to scanning containers at more than 700 ports worldwide is the lack of software that can automatically analyze radiographic images of a container’s contents for weapons, bombs and other contraband. Existing systems require humans to review the images, which would require enormous staffing levels to cover more than 11.5 million sea containers per year. It takes three to five minutes to read each image.
“Should technology continue to be developed where we have anomaly recognition software, perhaps we can move faster” on implementing overseas scanning projects, said Todd Owen, executive director of cargo and conveyance security, in post-hearing remarks.
Ahern, echoing statements by DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff in recent months, said the department cannot afford to focus on maritime cargo security at the expense of other potential border security threats such as small vessels, general aviation, airports, railways, and cross-border trucking.
“I’m concerned, however, that while we continue to increase resources specifically for container security initiatives, like SFI, we could be neglecting other areas of concern that potentially pose greater risk and vulnerability to the country,” he testified.
CBP scanned 170,564 containers between mid-October and late May at the three SFI port locations. Challenges identified during the pilot included:
' Equipment failure due to extreme weather conditions.
' High telecommunications costs for transmitting data to the National Targeting Center in the United States.
' Reconfiguring port layouts to accommodate the equipment without affecting port efficiency.
' Developing local response protocols for resolving alarms.
' Identifying who would incur the cost for operating and maintaining equipment.
' Licensing requirements for scanning technology.
' Identifying who owns the equipment and the data.
The U.S. government invested $60 million to conduct the pilot program, which would become prohibitively expensive if the same system was rolled out around the world, Ahern said. He said it cost about $8 million per truck lane to deploy the equipment. Many terminals have 10 or more lanes.
The National Nuclear Security Administration is working on several approaches to scan transshipped cargo through the use of straddle carriers and, along with CBP and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, is investigating crane mounted detectors.
David Huizenga, assistant deputy administrator at NNSA, noted that these solutions could address radiation detection but likely would not apply to imaging of the containers. ' Eric Kulisch