Container Security Silliness
By James Jay Carafano Posted in Foreign Affairs — Comments (0) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
LONDON -- The security alarm went off! Radiation detected! It happened today. I was there.
The inspector at the port of Southampton where a British-U.S. Customs team is testing the feasibility of scanning and screening 100% of all containers bound for American shores calmly flipped a switch. Nothing to worry about. Since they started the test in October, they have had more than 700 radiation alerts -- all of them real. This was for natural radiation found in China clay. All the others were similar.
I spent the day with British security officials at one of the country’s container ports -- in part to look at a process for inspecting shipping containers. The tests in Southampton and the half-dozen other ports around the world participating in the Secure Freight Initiative are worth doing. They will provide valuable information about what is and is not feasible in port screening -- and offer some idea of what it would cost to try to screen everything coming into the United States.
That said, it is ridiculous that Congress passed a law last year mandating 100% screening before the tests were even started.
To make matters worse, the tests won’t tell us how much safer we will be if we do spend all that money taking X-ray scans of every U.S.-bound container of chinaware and Nike sneakers. Likely as not, they never will find anything because most security experts agree there won’t be much there to find. The smuggling a “nuke-in-box” threat is fanciful. There are far better and more secure ways to smuggle nuclear weapons. (The best way to stop nuclear smuggling is to go after the terrorist groups). Anything else you could fit in a container you could fit in a truck bomb. If you wanted to sneak something on a ship there are far easier ways to do that too.
Even worse is that the U.S. government already has security agreements with foreign ports to scan 100% of “high risk” containers (ones where they suspect malicious activity or find discrepancies) before they come to U.S. ports -- and we already screen every container for radiation (it always turns out be clay, bananas, ceramic tiles or other goods with natural radiation -- or scrape steel contaminated with low levels of Cobalt-60). This system works pretty well and costs a fraction of what it will cost to scan everything.
While it might make a good bumper sticker to be for 100% screening, it makes poor dollars and sense. This money could be better spent going after terrorists.
All that 100% screening will accomplish is to make the price of everything we import higher.
[The Heritage Foundation’s James Jay Carafano will be blogging on RedState about his trip to London to study counterterrorism measures.]