The Real Port Problem

Ken AshfordWar on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

It’s not who is conducting the stevedoring operations, and not really whether they are an American company, a Great British company, or a Dubai company.

The real problem from a national security standpoint is, and always has been, this:

Only 4 percent or 5 percent of those containers are inspected. There is virtually no standard for how containers are sealed, or for certifying the identities of thousands of drivers who enter and leave the ports to pick them up. If a nuclear weapon is put inside a container — the real fear here — "it will probably happen when some truck driver is paid off to take a long lunch, before he even gets near a terminal," said [Stephen Flynn, a retired Coast Guard commander who is an expert on port security at the Council on Foreign Relations].

John Kerry, by the way was all over this back in late 2003

PORTSMOUTH — Calling the busy harbor port here a "point of opportunity" for terrorists, John F. Kerry called yesterday for significantly increasing screening of cargo and hiring of customs inspectors to improve security at the nation’s ports. After a morning boat tour of the harbor, Kerry expressed concern that US inspectors scrutinize only 4 percent of containers that are unloaded daily at the nation’s ports. He declined to give his own target percentage when asked, but said that the US should strive for 100 percent, though he acknowledged that the high cost of inspecting all containers would make it difficult. Kerry argued that President Bush has failed to make US ports more secure after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

… and throughout the 2004 campaign:

"The measurement is not, are we safer; the measurement is, are we as safe as we ought to be. And there are a host of options that this President had available to him, like making sure that at all our ports in America, containers are inspected. Only 95 percent of them — 95 percent come in today uninspected. That’s not good enough."

I find it slightly amusing that Bush supporters kept calling Kerry weak on homeland security, and — even now — still are content to have only 5% of containers inspected in our ports.

UPDATE:  The New York Times informs us:

That port, along with the five others Dubai Ports hopes to manage, are the last line of defense to stop a weapon from entering this country. But Mr. Seymour, head of the subsidiary now running the operations, says only one of the six ports whose fate is being debated so fiercely is equipped with a working radiation-detection system that every cargo container must pass through.