FBI: U.S. seaports are vulnerable

| 1/29/2004

An FBI counterterrorism official told senators Jan. 27 that America's seaports are targets that have attracted interest from terrorists, The Associated Press reported.

“The intelligence we have certainly points to ports as a key vulnerability,'' said Gary M. Bald, inspector-deputy assistant director of the FBI's counterterrorism division. “I can't be more specific as to the threats of attacks. We have received information that indicates there is an interest.''

In a related development, a truck making its way to Israel’s Haifa port was stopped Jan. 28 when a suspicious bag was found containing what appeared to be some sort of triggering device. An anti-terror squad was called to the scene. The truck was on its way to the area set aside for toxic material deliveries at the port.

Meanwhile, Bald and officials from the Coast Guard and Customs Service said they've made progress in securing the nation's 361 ports, which receive about 6 million cargo containers from overseas each year.

Robert Jacksta, executive director of border security and facilitation for the Customs Service, said 5.4 percent of cargo containers entering the nation's ports in the 2003 fiscal year were inspected. He said that was nearly double the percentage from 2002.

Sens. Jon Kyl, R-AZ, and Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, who convened the hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security, said more must be done.

“The ports are the soft underbelly of our nation's security,” Feinstein said.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard still is assessing how many ships, ports, ferry terminals and fuel-chemical tank farms failed to meet a Dec. 31 deadline for submitting security plans, said the agency's director of port security, Rear Adm. Larry Hereth.