In this month's Security Management, Assistant Editor Joseph Straw reported that it was unlikely the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would meet Congress' 2012 deadline to scan all cargo containers headed to the United States from foreign ports. DHS has since made it official.
The Homeland Security Department says it will not meet a 2012 deadline set by Congress to scan the contents of every cargo container headed to U.S. ports. Instead, it plans to gather more information about who made the goods in the containers and who packed them.
Under that proposal, only a small fraction of the 11 million containers shipped to the U.S. each year — those from unknown companies and countries known to harbor terrorists — would be flagged to be scanned for nuclear or radiological materials.
DHS Secretary Chertoff explained scanning 100 percent of incoming cargo containers isn't feasible for three reasons: foreign countries are not comfortable with U.S. customs agents operating scanning equipment on their soil, scans could impede trade flows, and the program is expensive.
The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee did not welcome the news or Chertoff's explanation.
"It is vital to our nation's security," Bennie Thompson (D-MS) told USA Today. "The more time the secretary spends on excuses, instead of solutions, the longer our nation's ports remain vulnerable."
But even think tanks of both political persuasions do not believe the 2012 deadline is feasible.
"It's not practical, and there's no threat that justifies it," said James Carafano of the conservative Heritage Foundation.
The liberal Center for American Progress' P.J. Crowley told USA Today that while 100 percent screening is a lofty goal, it won't feasibly occur for another decade. "You want to have 100% confidence you know what's inside the box," he said. "You can't just do that by reviewing cargo data."
Members of the shipping industry not only opposed 100 percent cargo screening but also oppose DHS' new plan to collect more information on cargo shipments heading toward the United States.
Frank Vargo of the National Association of Manufacturers said Chertoff's plan "will result in a two-day — maybe a five-day — delay before that container (is cleared) and can be loaded onto a ship." The estimated cost to industry, said Vargo, could reach as high as $20 billion a year.