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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Watch those gaps: Containers and Sea Ports

Newsday has a disturbing artice about gaps in security coverage caused by inter-jurisdictional problems in a key port here.
Harvey said the governor's executive order is a "short-term fix" that does not fully address a vexing case of inefficiency for the nation's third-largest cargo port.

Harvey's remarks came amid a stark portrayal of security at the city's port, the No. 1 gateway nationally for petroleum products and a corridor that helps supply five states with aviation fuel, gasoline and home heating oil.

Many security experts believe the limited number of checks of shipping containers coming into the nation's ports to be the greatest risk for exposure to terrorist threat. Post Sept. 11, 7 percent of the containers are now inspected through a voluntary system, up from 2 percent.

As cargo is moved across international waters and often through several ports, "There are no standards for how that is done nor accountability for the integrity of the container as it changes hands," said Richard Larrabee, director of the port commerce department of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Seems to me that short of the legislative fix suggested in the article that the states and the feds should be discussing some memoranda of understanding to get some immediate relief in place.

Many have suggested ways in which 100% container screening can be attained, including the development of offshore "mega ports", passive film sensors, and gamma and other scans.

Still, the best inspection is "over there" instead of on our shores- which is being addressed by the "Container Security Initiative"
CSI is now operational in 30 ports in Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America and will continue to expand to other strategic locations that ship substantial amounts of cargo to the United States, according to an October 19 press release by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, of which U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is an agency.
The CBP message reads, in part:
"The primary purpose of CSI is to protect the global trading system and the trade lanes between CSI ports and the U.S. By expanding CSI to the ports of Liverpool, Southampton, Thamesport, and Tilbury, the government of the United Kingdom is helping to make a safer, more secure world trading system," Commissioner Bonner said.

United Kingdom Customs officials, working side by side with CBP officers, are responsible for screening any containers identified as a potential terrorist risk. CBP and the United Kingdom signed a CSI declaration of principles on December 9, 2002. The CSI port of Felixstowe became operational on May 24, 2003. U.S. Customs and Border Protection deployed a team of CBP officers to the port of Felixstowe to target cargo containers that pose a potential risk for terrorism destined for the United States.

CSI is now operational in 30 ports in Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America. The operational ports include: Halifax, Montreal, and Vancouver, Canada; Rotterdam, The Netherlands; Le Havre, France; Bremerhaven and Hamburg, Germany; Antwerp, Belgium; Singapore; Yokohama, Tokyo, Nagoya and Kobe, Japan; Hong Kong; Göteborg, Sweden; Felixstowe, Liverpool, Southampton, Thamesport, and Tilbury, United Kingdom; Genoa, La Spezia, and Naples, Italy; Busan, Korea; Durban, South Africa; Port Klang and Tanjung Pelepas, Malaysia; Piraeus, Greece; Algeciras, Spain; Laem Chabang, Thailand.

The 30 ports represent the world's major seaports. The CSI network will expand even farther. CSI will be expanding to strategic locations that ship substantial amounts of cargo to the United States, and that have the infrastructure and technology in place to participate in the program...
CSI is the only multinational program in existence in the world today that is actually protecting global trade lanes by preventing containerized shipping from being exploited and disrupted by international terrorists.

CSI not only adds security to the movement of cargo containers, but because the targeting, and if necessary, inspection, occurs at outbound ports, rather than at the ports of arrival, the containers move faster and more efficiently through the supply chain.

The World Customs Organization and the G8 have supported CSI expansion through their adoption of resolutions that support the implementation of the security measures introduced by CSI at ports throughout the world. On April 22, 2004, the European Union and the Department of Homeland Security signed an agreement committing both parties to further cooperate on CSI and related matters.

Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) technology allows the screening of a larger portion of commercial traffic in less time. This enables targeting containers that pose a potential risk for terrorism while facilitating legitimate trade. Customs officers use large-scale gamma ray and x-ray imaging systems to safely and efficiently screen conveyances for contraband, including weapons of mass destruction. These units can scan the interior of a full-size 40-foot container in under a minute.

As part of CSI, officers also use radiation detection devices to scan for signs of radioactive materials. If necessary, containers are opened and unloaded by the host government Customs service for a more intensive manual inspection. CSI officers observe this manual inspection.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is the agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the protection of our nation's borders. CBP unified Customs, Immigration, and Agriculture Inspectors and the Border Patrol into one border agency for the United States.
It is unclear to me whether the 7% figure reported in the above Newsday article takes into account the CSI system.

Of course, in March of 2004, the GAO issued a report on the topic, which was, as usual, cautionary (GAO CYA, in my view):
CBP has taken steps to address the terrorism risks posed by oceangoing cargo containers, but its strategy neither incorporates all key elements of a risk management framework nor is it entirely consistent with recognized modeling practices. Actions CBP has taken included refining the Automated Targeting System to target cargo containers that are a high risk for terrorism, or other smuggling, for physical inspection. CBP has also implemented national targeting training and sought to improve the quality and timeliness of manifest information, which is one of the inputs for its Automated Targeting System. However, regarding risk management, CPB has not performed a comprehensive set of assessments vital for determining the level of risk for oceangoing cargo containers and the types of responses necessary to mitigate that risk. Regarding recognized modeling practices, CBP has not subjected the Automated Targeting System to adequate external peer review or testing. It has also not fully implemented a process to randomly examine containers in order to test the targeting strategy. Without incorporating all key elements of a risk management framework and recognized modeling practices, CBP cannot be reasonably sure that its targeting strategy provides the best method to protect against weapons of mass destruction entering the United States at its seaports.

Cargo containers are an important segment of maritime commerce. Approximately 90 percent of the world's cargo moves by container. In 2002, approximately 7 million containers arrived at U.S seaports, carrying more than 95 percent of the nation's non-North American trade by weight and 75 percent by value. Many experts on terrorism-including those atthe Federal Bureau of Investigation and at academic, think tank and business organization- have concluded that oceangoing cargo containers are vulnerable to some form of terrorist action. A terrorist incident at a seaport, in addition to killing people and causing physical damage, could have serious economic consequences. In a 2002 simulation of a terrorist attack involving cargo containers, every seaport in the United States was shut down, resulting in a simulated loss of $58 billion in revenue to the U.S. economy, including spoilage, loss of sales, and manufacturing slowdowns and halts in production.

Can every container be inspected? No, and there is no need:
The Commissioner also said it is unrealistic to expect that all containers warrant such inspection because each container poses a different level of risk based on a number of factors including the exporter, the transportation providers, and the importer. These concerns led to CBP implementing a layered approach that attempts to focus resources on potentially risky cargo containers while allowing other cargo containers to proceed without disrupting commerce.

As part of its layered approach, CBP employs its Automated Targeting System (ATS) computer model to review documentation on all arriving containers and help select or target containers for additional scrutiny.

Of course, the Daily Kos is on the case, putting anti-Bush spin on the issue, but citing to a useful DEBKAfile:
In DEBKA-Net-Weekly 64, on June 14, 2002, we disclosed that between 75 and125 al Qaeda operatives were known to have illegally penetrated the United States over a period of two months, mostly through American ports as stowaways in commercial sea containers. US port authority sources believed infiltrations occurred at New York, New Jersey, Long Beach, Miami and Savannah, Georgia, as well as Port Everglades, Florida. In Miami and Savanna, containers with clandestine human freight were unloaded from incoming vessels. Anti-terror squads shifted the boxes to a quiet corner of the harbor, drilled holes in their sides and filled them with gas and smoke bombs.
It seems that someone in Miami and Savannah got the memo.

Somewhat chilling:
On September 15, 2002, DEBKAfile reported the strange case of the Palermo Senator, a Liberian-registered freighter that steamed into New York six days earlier. After unexplained sounds issued from several holds, the ship was diverted to Port Newark, New Jersey, to be checked for stowaways. But when low radiation traces were detected, it was escorted six miles (10 kilometers) out to sea for further examination by the US Nuclear Emergency Security Team – NEST -- and Navy SEALS.

It transpired that the ship had docked in the United States after taking on its container cargo at Gioia Touro on August 25. US authorities had been alerted before its arrival. Thorough searches failed to turn up the 40 terrorists reportedly aboard. But what was found was an extraordinarily sophisticated honeycomb structure whereby once the ship was out in the open sea, the stowed away terrorists, helped by accomplices among the crew, cut passageways between the containers, and paid each other visits after dark.

It should be noted that the DEBKA described events occurred before the implementation of CSI.

This system is still a work in progress.

Hat tip: The CounterTerrorism Blog

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