million shipping containers arrive in the United States each year,
but only a few are ever inspected as they move to their destination
on trucks, ships and trains, according to a recent report by 60
segment featured Stephen Flynn, a former Coast Guard Commander and
senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has spent
the last two and a half years studying security at U.S. seaports.
to Flynn, nobody can say with any confidence what's in those 6 million
containers. He said information provided by shippers is often unreliable.
It's not unusual for the contents of a container to be labeled "freight
with 16,000 containers coming into U.S. ports every day, fewer than
2 percent are opened and inspected by the U.S. Customs Service.
is physically impossible to check every container without essentially
stopping global commerce," said Flynn.
most alarming part, Flynn says, is that it wouldn't be difficult
for a terrorist to track a container with a global positioning system
and detonate a weapon hidden inside – even a weapon of mass destruction.
Terrorists have already used shipping containers to smuggle themselves
into the country, he noted.
Qaeda linked to shipping businesses
the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Adm. James Loy, told 60
Minutes there's evidence that terrorists linked to Osama bin
Laden are directly involved in the shipping business.
are pretty certain that there's some traceability to al Qaeda. And
believe me, we are very, very interested in those vessels,"
Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner was asked what the impact would
be if a bomb were to go off in one of these containers.
would be devastating," he said. "If that should happen,
the system will stop. It's like commercial aviation after Sept.
11. The system will stop. We're not going to allow another container
to offload in the United States if something like that happens."
aim at increasing security
improve the chances of intercepting a weapon of mass destruction,
customs has issued 4,000 radiation detectors to its agents. The
device sends out an alarm if it gets within several hundred feet
of nuclear material.
containers go through a giant X-ray machine called "Vacis,"
which can see through the steel walls of containers and outline
any differences in density within the shipment – which customs calls
addition, customs has started getting information in advance as
to what's in the containers. But that’s just paperwork.
make matters worse, Flynn said, the federal government invests no
money in seaports to provide security.
some ports, it's just a rent-a-cop who may be paid minimum wage
who's basically checking who comes in and out,” Flynn said. “Most
ports, the best you get is a chain link fence with maybe some barbed
now before Congress would change that. The Seaport Security Act
would mandate background checks and comprehensive security plans
– and give authorities the power to turn away any ship that doesn't
give detailed and timely information on crew and cargo.