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May 26, 2005

Senate panel finds problems with cargo security

Port and cargo security is in the spotlight again.

Hearings are scheduled for today by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

Yesterday, the committee, which is led by Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), in conjunction with Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT), and Representative John Dingell (D-MI), released two critical Government Accountability Office reports detailing problems with key homeland security cargo security programs.

"Ensuring the security of our global supply chain is critical to homeland security since maritime trade accounts for over 25 percent of the U.S. G.D.P. and many experts believe that terrorists are likely to exploit the inherent vulnerabilities of the global supply chain for their nefarious purposes," said Senator Coleman, yesterday.

The GAO reports and the Subcommittee's investigations examined two critical homeland security programs administered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection --the Container Security Initiative (CSI) and the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT)-- to confront the terrorist threat. These programs were developed by CBP following the attacks of September 11th in early 2002 to secure global maritime trade. In addition to the findings of the Subcommittee, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released two audits outlining several problems and areas for improvement.

You can access the GAO report dealing the Containership Security Initiative here: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05557.pdf</p>

You can access the GAO report dealing with C=TPAT here: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05404.pdf

The Subcommittee's oversight investigation specifically identified the following shortcomings:

  • CBP inspects .34 percent of containers overseas;
  • Only 17.5% of high-risk cargo is inspected overseas;
  • Equipment such as nuclear detection devices and non intrusive inspection machines used overseas are untested and of unknown quality;
  • Substantial benefits including fewer inspections are provided to certified C-TPAT importers without a thorough validation of their supply chain security; and
  • Of those validations that do occur, the process lacks any rigor or independence.
  • The Subcommittee has led a 20 month bipartisan and bicameral investigation into these programs, which included oversight trips to 7 CSI ports. "Rest assured, we will continue to conduct the necessary sustained oversight to strengthen these programs and ensure that they are not used as a Trojan Horse by those who want to destroy us," said Coleman.

    A subcommittee press release says that many terrorism experts believe that maritime container shipping may serve as an ideal platform to deliver Weapons of Mass Destruction to the United States. Two recent smuggling incidents demonstrate the inherent vulnerabilities in the global supply chain. On both January 15 and again on April 2 of this year upwards of 30 Chinese immigrants were found emerging from containers arriving at the Port of Los Angeles.

    The Subcommittee highlighted these incidents to demonstrate concern that smuggled immigrants could have included members of terrorist organizations-- and/or--that the container could have contained a Weapon of Mass Destruction.

    "The national security problem of containers entering the United States without adequate inspection is a real one," said Senator Levin. "A dramatic example of the container security problem is Customs' allowance of containers carrying trash into the United States--hundreds of which enter Michigan every day from Canada, which can be used to hide weapons or other contraband, and which can't be adequately screened using available technology--it just doesn't work. We have a long way to go before Customs solves the container security problem."

    "We know we need to focus on each link in the international supply chain because where there is a weakness, terrorists will try to exploit," said Senator Collins. "The Committee's investigations have taken a hard look at the C-TPAT validation process, and as a result, CBP has indicated that it is refocusing its resources on those in the supply chain that pose a more significant risk. We also need to ensure that the technology being used at CSI ports is as good as what we are using here in the United States."

    "The Commissioner of Customs has assured us repeatedly that they have in place a 'layer-in-depth' system to protect the nation from terrorists using shipping containers to smuggle WMDs into the U.S.," said Congressman John D. Dingell, Ranking Member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. "Yet each time we peel back a layer we find there is less than promised. These two GAO reports are the most recent in a series that have found crippling flaws in Customs' programs."

    The Subcommittee plans to hold a follow-up hearing on these programs in the early fall to assess the implementation of the reforms recommended by the GAO.

    The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) attempts to secure the flow of goods bound for the United States by developing voluntary partnerships with the trade community. C-TPAT members--primarily importers--commit to improving the security of their supply chain and provide CBP with their supply chain security profiles for review. In exchange for this commitment, CBP provides C-TPAT members benefits to include upwards of 7 times fewer inspection of their cargo at U.S. borders.

    The Container Security Initiative (CSI) was implemented to enable their agency to target high-risk containers for inspection at overseas ports prior to their departure for U.S. ports. Currently operating in 36 foreign ports, this program is based on the concept of "pushing our borders out."

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