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OPINION / Two years later, where are we?

By Jim Giermanski

    In 2007, I wrote two articles on why 100 percent scanning was not doable. I laid out four fundamental reasons why 100 percent scanning would not work: its foreign acceptance, its limitation to seaports only, the non-existence of required technology, and the non-inclusion of land ports within the concept of critical infrastructure.

Two years later, where are we?

In October 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report entitled, SUPPLY CHAIN SECURITY -- Feasibility and Cost-Benefit Analysis Would Assist DHS and Congress in Assessing and Implementing the Requirement to Scan 100 Percent of U.S.-Bound Containers, in which the GAO concluded, in general, that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has made limited progress in scanning containers, "leaving the feasibility of 100 percent scanning largely unproven." Furthermore, “CPB faces a number of potential challenges in integrating the 100 percent scanning requirement into its existing container security programs...,” said the GAO report, which concluded what I predicted back in 2007. 

Here are four reasons why 100 percent scanning won’t work:

1.    Foreign acceptance   

    In June 2008, the World Customs Organization (WCO) refused to support 100 percent scanning saying that it would, “be detrimental to world trade and could result in unreasonable delays, port congestion, and international trading difficulties.” In May 2008, the European Parliament called for the U.S. to repeal the 100 percent scanning requirement, and the report added: “Government officials from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East that we spoke with have stated that the SFI program and 100 percent scanning are primarily for the security benefit of the United States and, as such, they are unwilling to pay for this security initiative. Further, officials from the World Bank and the WCO with whom we spoke stated that implementing 100 percent scanning would likely create additional shipping costs in certain parts of the world because of changes in trade routes that would be necessary.”

2.    Seaports-only appropriateness


    The report notes that, “C-TPAT members that transfer cargo by truck to the United States from Canada or Mexico will not be affected by the requirement. However, given that other companies who use maritime shipping may lose an incentive for joining C-TPAT or maintaining membership, the potential security benefit associated with the program could be diminished to the extent that C-TPAT membership does not grow or decreases.” The costs and time delays in attempting to scan 100 percent of cargo are impediments to acceptance by the commercial private sector. The report further noted the requirement to implement 100 percent scanning might actually risk the willingness of private companies to partner with CBP to improve their internal security programs since the benefits of faster CBP processing would disappear if implemented. The report recommended that CBP conduct feasibility analyses, develop comprehensive cost estimates to include alternatives to 100 scanning, and present its results to Congress.

3.    Appropriate technology

    It was determined that the scanning technology employed at participating foreign ports and U.S. ports is still not at the level of accuracy and reliability needed to reveal all that a container may contain. There are further concerns related to safety, logistical problems with containers transferred from rail or other vessels, scanning equipment breakdowns and poor quality scan images. “Every time responsibility for cargo in containers changes hands along the supply chain there is the potential for a security breach. As a result, vulnerabilities exist that terrorists could take advantage of by, for example, placing a WMD into a container for shipment to the United States or elsewhere,” the report noted.

 In addition to the time, costs and risks of acceptance by the U.S. commercial private sector, the technology itself is subject to weather, accuracy, unacceptable false/positive rates, fear of injury and the reliability of currently available technology.
4.     Land ports as critical infrastructure

    Critical infrastructure funds are still not available at land ports-of-entry to accommodate and install a 100 percent scanning requirement. The only reference to land ports-of-entry in the GAO report was a reference indicating that Mexican and Canadian commercial container/trailer traffic will “not be affected by the requirement.”

My alternative

    The report has estimated that the costs for scanning to meet federal legislation could go as high as $1.6 billion. As I observed in 2007, there is an "in-container" detection alternative that will not cost the government the millions -- if not billions -- to accomplish what scanning cannot. In fact, under certain circumstances, the private sector would be happy to accommodate CBP's needs and provide a zero cost alternative, especially since DHS has proven itself incapable of developing even one basic Container Security Device (CSD) on the shelf, ready for use.

In its own words, the DHS Science & Technology Directorate “began developing Container Security Device (CSD) technology in 2006 in response to a requirement from CBP.  The numbers reported below for CSD development, testing and evaluation are approximate as work (primarily T&E) for the CSD the Advanced Container Security Device technologies were funded via a single contract and conducted in tandem.

FY06: $3.9M
FY07: $1.9M
FY08: $1.9M
FY09: $2.0M
Total Obligated to Date: $9.7M

DHS S&T will deliver Open Performance Standards to CBP in Nov-Dec 2010 that will define the performance and operational characteristics for approved CSD technology.”
     In-container scanning for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is already doable. In May 2005, three scientists, Davabhaktuni Srikrishna, A. Narasimha Chari and Thomas Tisch, released a paper on detecting nuclear materials in transport, and concluded, first, that terrorists are most likely to use a highly enriched uranium (HEU) bomb, and, second, that terrorists can circumvent a network of fixed detectors, as at a transshipment port. Third, R&D will not likely change the physics of detection. Passive detection of HEU will continue to be limited by its natural rate of radioactivity, and the attenuation of radioactivity is sharp with distance/shielding.

In March 2006, the GAO’s undercover investigators brought radioactive material across the Mexican border. The primary portal scanning equipment did not detect the radiation. It was discovered only during secondary physical inspection. If HEU is shielded inside a container, a portal detector must contend with both the shielding of the container body, and the HEU shielding. If a terrorist weapon had 10 centimeters (about four inches) of shielding, it would take a detector a day-and-a-half to detect it from 20 inches away. Thus, X-ray machines currently used at ports simply cannot get close enough, or scan long enough, to detect the presence of HEU. 

    There are in-container systems available today that can detect radiation prior to its arrival at a port, at a transshipment port, or anywhere in-route and sound an alarm via satellite at a cost of a few dollars a month. Firms, such as ConSearch LLC, are now working with other container security device providers to incorporate radiation detection into, and along with, the chemical, biological, explosives and people sensors.  

    However, government has done nothing to encourage their use. What the private sector needs is a tax credit for investments in container and other security-related systems and products. As opposed to an expense deduction which reduces one's taxable income for every dollar spent on a qualifying deduction, a tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in one’s tax liability. There are tax credits for just about everything: home improvements, cars, solar energy, building contractors, appliance manufacturers, and even the orphan drug credit. And given the current rhetoric to create jobs in this economy, Congress could surely consider a tax credit for CSDs that secure the supply chain, report the existence of WMD and protect our ports, while at the same time create jobs. The obvious answer makes one question the degree to which Congress is really committed to protecting our ports and nation. The granting of a tax credit seems to be a minimal step in doing its job. Therefore, a tax credit for specific and qualifying homeland security investments -- along with the benefits of C-TPAT -- may accomplish what DHS and CBP cannot accomplish alone.

    It is both amazing and disappointing to witness the lack of vision by DHS and Congress in moving towards a container security system which was recognized as necessary in the Safe Port Act of 2006. Congress legislated the use of smart containers, satellite communications and tracking, verifications, and end-to-end supply-chain security in the Implementing Regulations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, but it fails to demand compliance with the laws it wrote. For the sake of politics, or favors, or its lack of understanding of the genuine vulnerabilities at our ports, Congress puts us all at risk.

Jim Giermanski is chairman of Powers Global Holdings, Inc. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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