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March 10, 2003

Senators in plea for port security funding
U.S. Senators Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), Charles Schumer (D- N.Y.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and others have urged the Bush Administration to fully fund port security measures passed by the Senate and immediately boost security at U.S. border crossings and ports. They renewed their calls for funding in light of reports of North Korea's new ability to produce, and possibly sell, nuclear materials to terrorists. They said that intelligence gleaned from the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed arrest showed that building a dirty bomb is high on Al Qaeda's list of priorities, underscoring the need for increased border measures.

"Failing to secure our ports from attack could result in a catastrophic attack on our economy and, ultimately, on the health of our nation," Sen. Hollings said. "We do not have adequate port security resources right now, and I have not seen from this Administration the requisite commitment to secure our seaports in the future. The Coast Guard, Customs, Transportation Security Administration, local law enforcement, and port operators are doing their best. However, this Administration must help them acquire the resources necessary to institute effective security. If they do not make that commitment, we will be defenseless from a catastrophic attack. I urge the White House to address this immediately, make the necessary funding commitment, and get going on protecting our ports from a very real threat."

"If the Administration's opposition to funding common sense security measures was aggravating a few weeks ago, it's becoming maddening now," Schumer said. "North Korea and Al Qaeda are combining to pack a lethal threat to the United States but the country isn't close to making the kinds of preparations that are needed to defend against those threats. The ideological opposition to making the kinds of investments needed to secure our ports and borders is endangering America and cannot be allowed to continue."

"Six million containers enter America's seaports each year, and we don't know enough about what's inside them," Murray said. "Last year, Congress passed and the President signed a pilot project to improve security by enabling our ports to track foreign containers from their point of origin, across the ocean, and into the U.S. This money has been in the President'ss pocket since August of 2002, but after eight months of waiting for this new initiative, our Ports are being given excuses instead of federal dollars. What will it take to get the Administration to act?"

To address its desperate economic situation and gripping famine, North Korea has established itself as the world's arms dealer of last resort, selling weapons to those rogue nations shunned by the world community. Today, North Korea is the world's top supplier of arms technology to Syria, Iran, Yemen and Libya--all of which have strong connections to terrorists--and earns as much as $100 million a year from this trade.

North Korea's decision to reactivate the Yongbyong reactor, along with the Administration's expectation that the North will activate the reprocessing plant able to produce weapons-grade plutonium, has increased the possibility of North Korean plutonium being sold to rogue nations or terrorist groups. This scenario is even more plausible given recent intelligence showing that the construction of a dirty bomb is high on Al Qaeda's list of priorities. Earlier this month, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage echoed this warning in testimony before Congress, saying North Korea could sell plutonium to "a nonstate actor or a rogue state."

The Department of Homeland Security announced that it would equip all 18,000 border inspectors with radiation detection devices. This effort, however, will not be completed until the middle of next year, doing little to protect the U.S. from the risk of a bomb being smuggled into the nation in the near future. In addition, it does nothing to prevent nuclear material from entering the country via sea containers which are virtually unscreened by customs agents.

About 95 percent of the shipping containers--6 million containers-- arrive in the U.S. each year via sea transport. Currently, only 2 percent of these containers are actually inspected, while even less are screened for nuclear material. This inadequate monitoring makes it exceedingly easy to smuggle the components of a dirty bomb into the country.

To address this problem, Senator Hollings and Senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.) introduced the Port and Maritime Security Act, which was signed into law in December 2002. The bill mandates for the first time that all ports, facilities and vessels have comprehensive security plans and incident response plans based on detailed Coast Guard vulnerability assessments and security recommendations. The bill also calls for coordination among the Coast Guard, Customs Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service and local port security entities to implement collaborative long-term solutions for seaport safety issues. Although the bill was enacted in December, the Administration has not provided adequate funding to implement the bill's mandates and thus is hampering congressional efforts to protect our seaports from attack.

The United States Coast Guard estimates that the private sector costs for compliance with the bill's port security requirements will be $4.4 billion, with annual costs of $500 million. Since the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Administration has only provided the following funding for port security: $93 million for port security grants in the fiscal year 2001 supplemental appropriations bill; $105 million for port security grants in the fiscal year 2002 supplemental appropriations bill; and $150 million for port security grants in the fiscal year 2003 omnibus appropriations bill. Furthermore, the Administration's fiscal year 2004 budget provides only $200 million for port security grants to the private sector.

Schumer said a provision he included in the Hollings bill to create the Port Security Research and Development Grant Program (PSRDG) is also suffering from a lack of funding. The program, which is currently funded at only $10 million in the FY03 Omnibus, aims to develop super geiger counters that would allow port officials to screen cargo containers for radiation without impeding commercial activity. Schumer got the Senate to appropriate $50 million annually for the next three years but that number got slashed to $10 million in the final version of the bill.

Murray faulted the Administration for sitting on $28 million for a port security initiative she included in the 2002 Supplemental Appropriations Bill last July. Those funds were intended to establish a tracking program, called Operation Safe Cargo, for international cargo headed to the United States, ensuring that authorities are able to monitor goods from the moment they leave the factory to their arrival in the United States. These funds have not yet been released, leaving the program unimplemented.

(Marine Log is currently finalizing the program for an important conference on Port and Terminal Security that will be held in Washington, DC, June 17 & 18. Click herefor preliminary details).

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