Senator Lieberman Urges Passage of Port Security Bill

Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., the Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Tuesday urged the Senate to approve the Port Security Improvement Act of 2006. He is an original co-sponsor of the bill. The following statement was prepared for delivery on the Senate floor:

I am proud to be an original cosponsor of the Port Security Improvement Act of 2006, its predecessor, the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act, and a partner with Senators Collins, Murray and Coleman, in bringing a comprehensive, bipartisan port security bill before the Senate.

I would also like to thank Senators Stevens and Inouye of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Senators Grassley and Baucus of the Finance Committee, for their hard work, leadership and commitment to passing a port security bill this Congress.

Ninety five percent of our international trade flows through our ports. Prior to 9-11, the main goal was to move these millions of tons through our ports efficiently. Since 9-11, we’ve realized we need to bring security into that equation, but without inflicting on ourselves the precise economic harm terrorists have in mind.

It’s a tricky – but imperative – balancing act.

The 9/11 Commission report said that “major vulnerabilities still exist in cargo [security]” and that, since aviation security has been significantly improved since 9/11, “terrorists may turn their attention to other modes. Opportunities to do harm are as great, or greater, in maritime and surface transportation.”

Just last month, RAND’s Center for Terrorism Risk Management Policy published a report titled: “Considering the Effects of a Catastrophic Terrorist Attack” that considered the effects of a nuclear weapon smuggled in a shipping container sent to the Port of Long Beach and detonated on a pier.

The potential short and long term effects truly are devastating. The report estimated that up to 60,000 people might die instantly from the blast or radiation poisoning; with 150,000 more exposed to hazardous levels of radiation.

The blast and the fires could completely destroy both the Port of Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles and every ship in the port. As many as 6 million people might have to be evacuated from the Los Angeles area and another two to three million from the surrounding area might have to relocate due to the fallout.

Gasoline supplies would quickly dry up, as one-third of all the gas used on the West Coast is processed at the Port of Long Beach’s refineries.

Short-term costs, for medical care, insurance claims, workers’ compensation, evacuation and reconstruction, could exceed $1 trillion. By comparison, 9/11 cost between $50 and $100 billion.

Besides the damage to the United States, the attack would cause economic effects that would ripple across the globe.

The dangerous little secret of port security – and why we need this bill – is that we still have very little idea about the contents of thousands of containers that are shipped into and across the heart of this nation every day.

Just 5 or 6 percent of those containers are physically inspected.

While Senator Collins and I began working on port security legislation in late 2004, the truth is port security legislation did not really begin to develop any traction in Congress until the Dubai Ports World controversy earlier this year.

Looking back on it, perhaps we can at least be thankful that the Dubai Ports World incident raised the collective consciousness of the American people and Members of Congress to the vulnerabilities that we face at our ports.

Following that incident, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee marked up the GreenLane bill, and later, Senator Collins and I started working with the Senate Commerce and Finance Committees to craft comprehensive port security legislation that stands before the Senate today.

The Port Security Improvement Act of 2006 builds on these foundations for homeland security by strengthening key port security programs by providing both direction and much-needed resources. I would like to focus my colleagues’ attention on a few critically important parts of the bill.

First, the bill moves us closer towards the goal of inspecting all of the containers entering the United States through our ports. The legislation requires DHS to establish a pilot program to inspect 100 percent of all containers bound for the U.S. from three foreign ports within one year and then report to Congress on how DHS can expand that system.

There is legitimate concern that inspecting 100 percent of containers would be so burdensome that it would bring commerce to a halt. However, technology companies have been working for several years to build more efficient inspection systems. The Port of Hong Kong is currently testing an integrated inspection system to scan every container entering the two largest terminals at that port, while the research and development offices of DHS have begun work on developing automated systems to analyze this data. We should move towards 100 percent inspection as fast as we can get there, understanding that we can not afford to bring commerce to a halt– and this legislation will provide us critical information about how soon we can achieve this goal.

Second, this bill authorizes comprehensive and robust port security grant, training and exercise programs, with a $400-million grant program available to all ports. Third, this legislation requires DHS to deploy both radiation detection and imaging equipment, to improve our ability to find dangerous goods and people being smuggled into the United States.

DHS has committed to deploying radiation portal monitors at all of our largest seaports by the end of 2007. Unfortunately, this “solution” is, in fact, only half of the equation. To provide real port security, radiation detection equipment capable of detecting unshielded radiological materials, as these portal monitors do, must be paired with imaging equipment capable of detecting dense objects, like shielding.

This legislation requires DHS develop a strategy for deploying both types of equipment, and the pilot program for screening 100 percent of containers at three ports similarly requires that both types of equipment be used.

Fourth, this bill requires DHS to develop a strategic port and cargo security plan, and it creates an Office of Cargo Security Policy in DHS to ensure federal, state and local governments and the private sector coordinate their policies.

Currently, the Coast Guard is responsible for the waterside security of our ports. U.S. Customs and Border Protection regulates the flow of commerce through our ports. The Transportation Security Administration is responsible for overseeing the movement of cargo domestically. And the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office has been working with the Defense Department and the Department of Energy to strengthen our ability to detect radiological materials anywhere in the country.

It is imperative that these agencies, offices and departments are working closely with each other, as well as state and local government and the private sector to develop and coordinate port security policies and programs.

Lastly, since most experts agree that another terrorist attack is more a matter of when than if, this bill requires DHS to develop a plan to deal with the effects of a maritime security incident, including developing protocols for resuming trade and identifying specific responsibilities for different agencies.

This is critically important to ensuring the private sector and our global partners have enough confidence in our system, so that we can mitigate any economic disruption and foil a terrorist’s plan to hurt our economy.

Moving the Port Security Improvement Act of 2006 forward will take us one giant step closer to where we ought to be by building a robust port security regime, domestically and abroad, and provide the resources necessary to protect the American people.

I look forward to continuing to work with Senators Collins, Stevens, Inouye, Grassley and Baucus, and our colleagues in the House, to finalizing meaningful port security legislation. Thank you.