Senators concerned about port security

| Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Sens. Susan Collins, R-ME, and Joe Lieberman, D-CT, have expressed concern about potential weaknesses in the Department of Homeland Security's port security programs and are seeking more information from the agency about what steps it is taking to improve those programs, Maritime Global Net reported.

In a letter to Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson, the senators raised questions about flaws in the system, which is supposed to target high-risk containers for inspection.

"Just one small lapse in security at our ports or at other points of entry can have disastrous consequences for our nation," Collins said. "While we have taken steps to protect our ports, it is clear that they are still 'ripe for exploitation,' as one security expert put it."

"The security of our nation's 361 ports is an Achilles' heel in the domestic war against terrorism," Lieberman said. "Because so few of the containers that come through these ports are inspected, it's far too easy for dangerous materials, weapons and people to slip into the country."

"Despite some progress made by DHS, our port security will be seriously undermined unless urgent improvements are made to the risk-analysis program," he added.

The senators maintain that Customs and Border Protection still relies on information solely from cargo manifests, which have been unreliable documents.

They stated, "The limited detail of these manifests is insufficient for identifying security problems and should be expanded significantly to include purchase-order data collected starting at the time of a purchase."

They also said that Customs and Border Protection lacks a comprehensive program to track containers through multiple shipment points starting prior to the point of loading. This gap could, the senators claim, allow terrorists to hide the true contents of a container by moving it through numerous ports, collection points and transportation modes.

"The agency should eliminate this vulnerability by expanding its program to collect data from all ports of call, as well as track containers from port of origin to port of destination,” the senators said.

The two politicians also say that Customs and Border Protection does not have a credible process in place to ensure "low-risk" containers are really low risk.

They stated: "Random checks should be instituted to provide a benchmark and assess the effectiveness of the new Automated Targeting System, which evaluates the risks of each container."

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