Safe in port; Combining labeling, intelligence and inspections.
COLUMN: IN OUR OPINION
While the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, may have receded from the headlines, Americans remain justifiably concerned about the nation's ports, where millions of shipping containers daily disgorge raw materials and consumer goods. Some fear that a terrorist organization could slip a nuclear weapon or dirty bomb into such a container.
The concern is real, but there's a right way and a wrong way to address port security.
The Department of Homeland Security recently noted it will be unable to comply with a 2012 deadline for screening all of the nearly 11 million containers entering the U.S. each year. Officials say doing so is practically impossible, would add costs and delays to our trade system and would improve security only marginally.
Insisting on placing U.S. inspectors in the ports of our trading partners around the world would invite them to do the same, leading to oceans of red tape before any vessel could put to sea.
Yet DHS is hardly standing still on the issue. Container security was among the first issues addressed after Sept. 11, and the government has continued to improve security through the SAFE Port Act and the Improving America's Security Act of 2007.
Rather than inspect everything, DHS is building a system of strict-er labeling and reporting requirements that give inspectors the ability to segregate cargo coming from trusted sources from that whose origin is suspect, and thus worth a physical inspection. Analysts agree that approach, in combination with intelligence gathering and other law enforcement techniques, offers the best return on security investments.
No approach to security can be foolproof, but neither are our resources unlimited. Information, labeling and selective inspections of cargo from suspect sources constitute the best approach to improving security
at our ports.