Customs to eye high-risk containers, Bonner says

| Thursday, September 11, 2003

Recent reports suggest federal officials aren’t paying enough attention to the terrorist threat posed by containers unloaded each day from the nation’s 361 ports onto trucks to travel the nation’s highways.

Were it easy to accomplish, federal authorities would inspect each container from its starting point to its final destination.

However, that’s not realistic, said Robert C. Bonner, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“Quite frankly, it would be counterproductive and damaging to the U.S. economy to inspect 100 percent of the 7 million sea containers or the 11 million trucks that arrive in the United States every year,” Bonner said during testimony Sept. 9 before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation.

“We must use some kind of risk-management techniques to identify and screen the relatively few high-risk shipments out of the millions of virtually no-risk shipments,” Bonner said. “I am pushing to improve our ability to focus our efforts on the high-risk shipments. We are also working with the intelligence community and others to improve our targeting rules and systems.”

Bonner also said he wanted to increase inspection rates through the rapid deployment of radiation detection technology, as well as large-scale X-ray imaging systems. This kind of technology “has dramatically increased our ability to inspect high-risk containers, but it has done so in a way that does not interrupt the flow of legitimate commerce,” he added.

Meanwhile, Peter Guerrero, director of physical infrastructure issues for the General Accounting Office, said much more should be done to secure the nation’s entire transportation network.

Guerrero, whose agency is the investigative arm for Congress, testified it could cost hundreds of billions of dollars to secure the transportation network, which includes 3.9 million miles of roads, 600,000 bridges, 361 ports and more than 5,000 public-use airports.

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