WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., reacted Wednesday to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found that large foreign ports have been unable to scan anywhere near 100 percent of freight passing through those ports, as Congress has required.
GAO found that although Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has been able to scan a majority of the cargo passing through low-volume ports, it has been able to scan no more than 5 percent of freight coming into large ports, necessitating an extension of the 2012 deadline for 100 percent scanning at major ports.
“Protecting the nation against attack from smuggled weapons of mass destruction must continue to be a top priority for the Department of Homeland Security,” Lieberman said. “GAO’s latest report brings into sharp relief the difficulties DHS faces in trying to meet a Congressional deadline of 2012 for scanning 100 percent of U.S.-bound container cargo – which is just one way terrorists might attempt to smuggle WMD into our country. GAO also notes that meeting this deadline will negatively affect existing, successful security programs. I am confident that Secretary Napolitano understands these challenges. I look forward to working with her to use risk based approaches to improving security in our supply chains – on land borders, in the air, and in maritime domains, as well.”
Said Senator Collins: "Under the SAFE Port Act, all cargo designated as high-risk at foreign ports is now scanned for radiation and X-rayed. In addition, all arriving cargo at every major U.S. seaport is scanned for radiation. These security measures currently in place are part of a layered, risked-based method to help ensure that cargo entering the U.S. is safe, and, by extension, that the U.S. is kept safe.
“This GAO report highlights the substantial challenges with attempting to scan all U.S.-bound cargo containers at foreign ports with X-ray technology. Until this technology is proven effective at detecting radiological material and not disruptive of trade, requiring the scanning all U.S.-bound cargo, regardless of risk, at every foreign port is misguided and provides a false sense of security."
The SAFE Port Act, reported out of HSGAC and approved by Congress in 2006, required CBP to establish a pilot program for scanning 100 percent of cargo entering U.S. ports to protect against terrorist smuggling of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in cargo containers.
The following year, the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 required CBP to achieve 100 percent x-ray scanning at all foreign ports by 2012. The 2007 law, however, permitted the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary to extend the 2012 deadline under certain circumstances. In testimony Wednesday, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano confirmed that the conditions for an extension of the deadline had been met, citing technical difficulties, cost, and the effect on the flow of commerce.
Although the likelihood of WMD being smuggled into the U.S. in a cargo container is considered low, the ramifications of a successful WMD attack at a large port are enormous, with economic loss estimated at between $58 billion and $1 trillion.
At the request of Lieberman, Collins, Senators George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the GAO launched a review of CBP’s progress in implementing provisions in the SAFE Port and 9/11 acts regarding 100 percent scanning.
GAO found that CBP has no plan to scan 100 percent of U.S.-bound container cargo by 2012, but instead has a strategy to expand scanning to ports at greatest risk of being targeted for WMD smuggling. Nor has CBP conducted a feasibility study of expanding 100 percent scanning to all ports, a cost estimate, or a cost-benefit analysis.
GAO also found that the 100 percent scanning requirement may hinder other cargo security programs, such as CSI, C-TPAT, and the Automated Targeting System (ATS), a program to determine the risk of a particular container, because the 100 percent scanning requirement requires that all containers be scanned before CBP determines their potential risk.
DHS plans to issue a blanket extension to all foreign ports by July 2012 to be in compliance with the 9/11 Act. DHS officials acknowledged that they may revisit this plan before the July 2012 deadline.
GAO recommended that CBP complete and provide to Congress a feasibility analysis, cost estimates, and a cost-benefit analysis.