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Container Security: Gaps in Global Supply Chain Leave U.S. Vulnerable to Terrorist Attack

By August 12, 2013No Comments

Original article from Homeland Security Today (HSToday), June-July, 2015, by Senior Editor Amanda Vicinanzo

Homeland Security Today — June-July 2015 – Container Security

With millions of cargo containers entering US ports every year, gaps in the global supply chain leave the United States vulnerable to criminal and terrorist attacks using containers, which can have a significant impact on the security and economic health of the nation. In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the newly formed Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency within the Department of Homeland Security launched the Container Security Initiative (CSI) to address the threat to border security and global trade posed by potential terrorists’ use of a container to deliver a weapon – especially a weapon of mass destruction.

However, supply chain experts like Dr. James Giermanski, chairman of Powers International Inc., have scrutinized CSI and say it is a weak program that lacks a basic understanding of how the global supply chain functions.

In 2012, CBP admitted there could be a serious vulnerability within the US in-bond cargo program regarding the contents, access and whereabouts of in-bond cargo shipments. Moreover, a 2013 Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit found CBP has not assessed the risk posed by foreign ports that ship cargo to the United States for its CSI program since 2005. More recently, a GAO audit determined CBP has not been accurately recording the disposition of high-risk maritime shipments, which may be creating vulnerabilities in the supply chain. Congress has passed two pieces of legislation, the Security and Accountability for Every (SAFE) Port Act of 2006, and the Implementing Regulations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, which
requires 100 percent scanning of incoming cargo at US ports.

Last fall, Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.) introduced the Scan Containers Absolutely Now Act (HR 5455) as an amendment to the SAFE Port Act of 2006, which would require a pilot program for 100 percent scanning of cargo containers at domestic ports – a congressional demand that’s had rough going. Indeed. The mandate for 100 percent screening has yet to be implemented because it’s been plagued with problems and declared impractical by many authorities.

“Since September 11, 2001, our nation has taken great strides in ensuring our airports are secure, but living near the Port of Los Angeles, I know that our nation’s ports are not as secure as they should be,” Hahn said in announcing her legislation. “Top security experts recommend that shipping containers entering our ports be scanned, but 13 years later we only scan three percent of incoming cargo. This is unacceptable.”

Dr. Gene W. Ray, CEO of Decision Sciences International Corporation (DSIC), told Homeland Security Today there are two major reasons why the 100 percent screening requirement has not occurred: the lack of a capability to detect shielded nuclear materials, and the cost of installing major X-ray systems around the world.
However, Ray believes the 100 percent screening mandate can be achieved with the right technology. For example, DSIC has harnessed the natural power of muons – subatomic particles similar to electrons created by cosmic rays entering the Earth’s atmosphere – with its multiple mode passive detection system (MMPDS) for detecting materials in shipping containers and other types of conveyances. Although Section 231 of the SAFE Port Act requires that scanning detect shielded and unshielded nuclear materials, the technology to enable compliance with this requirement did not exist at the time the legislation was drafted – and Congress knew it.
However, in the late 1990s, a team of scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico began looking at using muons to develop a technology to detect highly shielded nuclear materials.

In the mid-2000s, Decision Sciences was created specifically for the purpose of commercializing the technology. The MMPDS technology can detect shielded and unshielded nuclear material, as well as explosives and contraband such as tobacco. MMPDS, unlike an X-ray, can see into a dense object
like lead to determine whether there is a threat. Moreover, the more muons going through, the better the system will be able to detect a potential threat.

“With an X-ray, you take a picture, and that picture is what it is,” Ray explained. “If you take another X-ray, you get the same picture. But, with this system, the more time that goes by, the more you can determine.”
Although access to technology like MMPDS is a step in the right direction, the US also needs to do more to ensure containers remain secure from point of origin to end destination. Giermanski advocates the use of in-container security systems that begin at origin and end at destination to achieve a higher level of container

“CBP does not use off-the-shelf state-of-the-art technology which actually identifies the person at origin who physical verifies the cargo, seals the container and triggers the global monitoring all the way to origin, including any access to the container at transshipment ports, in effect providing an auditable record of actual people and their behavior along with the integrity of the container itself,” Giermanski said. Unless CBP begins protects the global supply chain – the lifeline of the US economy – from origin to destination, Giermanski believes “CBP’s container security measures are functionally no more than ‘smoke and mirrors.’”

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