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Friday, February 08, 2008

Shipping Container Security: Resistance Movement


The politics of container security reported here:

Atlanta-based Home Depot and fellow "big box" chain stores have targeted donations to key lawmakers and stepped up lobbying efforts amid industry resistance to a law mandating 100 percent security scanning for imported cargo.

The new measure - recommended by the commission that examined the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks - requires that every cargo container be scanned for radiation or nuclear hazards before being shipped to the United States.

Business groups, who argue that importers are doing enough to improve cargo security already, are seeking to delay its implementation, which is slated for July of 2012.

"It is not a smart way to conduct cargo security" by checking every container, said Jason Conley, homeland security policy chief for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Foreign seaports would have to buy costly scanning equipment and America's trading partners could retaliate against U.S. exports, he said.

At the retail giants, including Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, Best Buy and Circuit City, corporate political action committees have focused campaign dollars on Republican members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, a study of campaign filings by Congressional Quarterly found.

Of the top five Senate recipients of these funds, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, and John Sununu of New Hampshire are all GOP members of the homeland security panel, which could play a crucial role as retailers seek a potential two-year extension of the cargo-scanning deadline.

Maritime security authority Stephen Flynn said he has watched the "energetic" delay tactics with concern.

"The status quo is not sustainable," Flynn said of the current system, under which only a tiny percentage of cargo-that which has been identified as high risk-is scanned for hazards.

No system is fail-safe, said Flynn, a former Coast Guard officer and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. But he warned that an explosion of a single radiation device in a cargo container would freeze trade worldwide indefinitely unless shippers had a 100 percent scanning system to restore public confidence.

Although industry critics point out that scanning technology is imperfect and prone to false alarms, Flynn said that sending cargo boxes through a portal that combined both radiation detection and image scanning would give inspectors instant and reliable information about suspicious materials. He said the cost would be about $20 per container, which he called reasonable since a typical Wal-Mart container has about $60,000 in merchandise.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association, the trade group for the "big-box" chains, attempted to defeat the 100 percent scanning proposal last year. Spokesman Brian Dodge said that was only one of many issues-including product safety, crime, and tax issues-that have prompted his group to grow and have an expanded presence on Capitol Hill.
Shipping company concerns discussed here. Need for "tamper-proof" containers here, which references a threat scenario:
In a recent piece in Seapower magazine by David W. Munns here. Mr. Munns posits a scenario in which containers passing through Pakistan have had their contents stolen by thieves who un-weld the seams of the metal containers, take the products from inside the container and then re-weld the seams, apparently without breaking the seals on the boxes.
The cost savings of cargo theft reduction ought to help some shippers feel better about an improved container...though it seems to me that a combination of more secure containers, other forms of electronic security and a good random container container checking policy would serve as well as 100% scanning.

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