A SCHEME to protect Australia's ports from terrorists by screening all workers and issuing them with identity cards will not meet its deadline unless changes are made to the process.Now, if the Australians are having trouble with 130,000 maritme workers, I expect the US will encouner similar challenges in dealing with 400,000, despite the confidence of HS secretary Chertoff as set out here:
The peak ports body said yesterday planners for the Maritime Security Identification Card scheme had underestimated the time and complexity of the task.
The federal Government said last August that the country's 130,000 maritime workers must apply for the card, as part of a tough counter-terrorism strategy.
But The Australian has learned that only 1900 applications have been received - just 1.5 per cent of the nation's maritime workers. Some ports have not yet made arrangements to issue the cards for the scheme, which will begin next January.
Today I am announcing yet another step in DHS plan to implement a comprehensive personnel screening program for port workers nationwide. What this will do is it will elevate security at our ports themselves so that we can be sure that those who enter our ports to do business come for legitimate reasons and not in order to do us harm.Maybe we have better mojo than the Aussies...
What this program will specifically require is that people working in the ports and those who get daily access to port facilities receive background screening and then a tamper-proof biometric credential that will strengthen our security at all of these facilities. We are going to begin to implement this program immediately.
Today, the Coast Guard has exercised its legal authority to submit a notice requiring these background checks at our nation's ports. TSA will immediately begin conducting name-based background checks on all port workers operating at major U.S. ports.
And to jump start this step, we've already been working and consulting with our industry partners to provide a process that will compare a worker's biographical information against our terrorist watch lists. Workers who we determine pose a security risk will be denied access to our nation's ports.
Moreover, these checks will also include a review of a worker's immigration status, conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and supported at TSA. Just like with other critical sectors of our economy, we will not tolerate the employment of illegal workers at our nation's ports or maritime critical infrastructure.
This initial round of background checks, which is beginning with today's legal notice, will cover an estimated 400,000 port workers and will focus first on employees and longshoremen who have daily access to the security areas of port facilities. In other words, we're going to focus on those who could potentially be the greatest risk to our security. TSA anticipates this first layer of checks will be completed by the end of this July.