Container Security: Who's In Charge?

Guest columnist Jim Giermanski takes issue - actually seven specific issues - with DHS comments on the role of technology in container security.

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On June 24, 2005 all member countries of the World Customs Organization (including the United States) unanimously adopted the final Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade. In the Customs-to-Customs Pillar of the document is the following statement: "Maintaining cargo and container integrity by facilitating the use of modern technology is also a vital component of this pillar." This statement is further defined as advance electronic information (my emphasis added). In more specific detail, the WCO Framework calls for exporters or their agents "&to submit an advance electronic export goods declaration to the Customs at export prior to the goods being loaded into the means of transport or into the container being used for their exportation."   Deborah Spero, the former Acting Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, confirmed the importance of the WCO Standards in one of her press releases.  "Adopted unanimously by the WCO Members in June 2005, the WCO Framework of Standards provides global standards for supply chain security for implementation by the public and private sector that will secure international trade supply chains and facilitate the movement of goods globally."  

Finally, in 2006 the Congress passed and the President signed the SAFE Port Act. In it, Congress defined a container security device: The term "container security device" means a device or system, designed at the minimum, to identify positively a container, to detect and record the unauthorized intrusion of a container, and to secure a container against tampering throughout the supply chain.

But in 2007, we saw a continuation of DHS and CBP's apparent ignorance of and even in-house division on container security. In January 2007, W. Ralph Basham, CBP Commissioner, stated I'm saying that just because you have a device that secures the doors does not mean that the container is secure. It just means that the doors are secure and not the whole container. If technology is being developed it should be toward making sure the entire container is tamper proof.  That is the challenge. Not just the doors on the container but the entire container&.   But, on December 18, 2007, as posted in American Shippers NewsWire, Basham's boss Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff went to the other extreme by saying Therefore, effective Oct. 15, 2008, we expect to have the requirement in place mandating that all containers be secured with a standard bolt seal.  In other words, contrary to the leadership of CBP who publicly announced the need for total container protection, and contrary to the mandate of Congress which said the Secretary shall issue a rule, and almost 6 months before the deadline to do so, and having already spent millions of dollars to develop a CSD, Secretary Chertoff decided that container security amounted to "dead-bolting" (my words) the container doors.

Statement 7

In discussing the need for issuing another RFI, this time for technology involving "crane-mounted" radiation detection technology to use at seaports to detect shielded radiation, Ahern said:

"The reliability, ruggedness, and standard operating procedures associated with this technology will not be extensively evaluated during these tests as field validation activity would be the logical course of action after testing with surrogates and actual threat material, but this requires more time."


The problem is that these so-called crane-mounted scanners cannot detect shielded radiation at this time, and it will take years to develop them.  Congress knew that the technology did not exist when the legislation was drafted. In referencing the requirement to scan at foreign ports, the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 reflects the following with respect to its application:

...shall apply with respect to containers loaded on a vessel in a foreign country on or after the earlier of--(A) July 1, 2012; or (B) such other date as may be established by the Secretary under paragraph (3). (Section 1701)

Therefore, Congress is expecting that new portal machines, or in Ahern's statement, crane-mounted machines, will be developed and commercialized to detect dangerous radiation. The GAO -- in April of 2007 (GAO-07-347R, Combat Nuclear Smuggling) -- stated very clearly that the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) established and responsible for ASP development has not even collected all the testing data on its basic PVT portal detectors and is not close to any developed ASP portal detector. Experts do not expect a commercial version of the ASP anytime soon, if ever. We do not have the machines now, and we won't likely have them in 5 years (in 2012) as indicated by Congress. Therefore, Congress allowed for an extension until such time that these radiation portal detection machines become available.

However, the physics of detection are fairly simple. Gamma rays and neutrons from shielded HEU are detectable at only short distances and only when there is adequate time to count a sufficient number of detected particles. Five basic issues are relevant: the mass of the HEU core, the degree of shielding, the size of the radiation detector, the distance to the source, and the time necessary to integrate photon counts. Therefore, the closer a detector is to the source of emission and the longer it "sniffs," the greater the probability of detecting HEU. So the natural question is: does CBP know this and has it actually read the 9-11 Bill? Why is there an intention of developing crane-mounted scanning that cannot detect shielded uranium any time soon, when there are in-container systems that can detect it now? 

They say we need to develop CSDs when they already exist. They say we need to develop portal and crane-mounted scanners to detect shielded enriched uranium when this detection capability already exists for use in containers. They say that doors are what is really important and are satisfied with bolting them when surreptitious container intrusions are not made through the doors. They say that CSDs will disrupt a flow, when CBP's current "layered" approach actually disrupts the flow of commerce. They say they don't know about any industry CSDs when there is a global market with U.S. entrants like IBM, Lockheed Martin, GE, Motorola, GlobalTrac, and Powers International with others like Raytheon considering entry. Then we have Astrium, Siemens, and Zoca in the EU, one of which is producing its product which includes a U.S. patent.

Only a few conclusions are plausible.  One, CBP really does not know what is going on in container security worldwide. Two, it knows but has an agenda of working with certain companies that yet do not have the "origin-to-destination" system, along with detection and reporting capability worldwide. Three, its management may simply be lethargic and virtually dull, or fourth, it may not think container security is really a security threat and that the laws passed requiring performance do not really apply to them.

As a private citizen, not politically connected to either party, it is apparent to me that Congress cannot or will not do what we expect it to do. Who is in-charge of the nation's security—Congress, DHS, CBP, or the private sector? When this question can be answered, and safeguards are mandated, we should all feel safer.  ##

Dr. James Giermanski is chairman of transportation security company Powers International and Director of the Centre for Global Commerce at Belmont Abbey College.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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