One of the most frightening security threats to the United States is a terrorist nuclear attack in which the device is smuggled into the United States by sea. In addition to the thousands of lost lives and the physical damage that such an attack would cause, the ensuing disruption to
Download Audio as MP3 vital American maritime trade would have immediate and significant economic consequences in the United States and the rest of the world.
Panelists at this AEI conference will discuss the key challenges to addressing the nuclear threat both inside and outside our borders and will assess policies currently in place to address this threat.
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Laura Holgate, Nuclear Threat Initiative
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Clark Ervin, Aspen Institute
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Mike Barrett, Counterpoint Assessments, Manhattan Institute
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Colonel Randall J. Larsen, Institute for Homeland Security
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Veronique de Rugy, AEI
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Protecting Ports: Rethinking Border SecurityOne of the most frightening security threats to the United States is a terrorist nuclear attack in which the device is smuggled into the United States by sea. In addition to the thousands of lost lives and the physical damage that such an attack would cause, the ensuing disruption to vital American maritime trade would have immediate and significant economic consequences in the United States and the rest of the world. Panelists at this December 5, 2006, AEI conference discussed the key challenges to addressing the nuclear threat both inside and outside our borders and assessed policies currently in place to address this threat.
The consequences of an attack on a port are so great that they justify increased expenditures and attention from the U.S. government. There is a general agreement that nuclear weapons can come through cargo at seaports since we only inspect approximately 6 percent of incoming shipments. Current automated inspection methods are based on shipping routes and package material, both of which are easily manipulated. There is a higher likelihood of finding harmful materials, including drugs and weapons, in a random inspection than in an automated one.
The two programs implemented by the Department of Homeland Security, the Container Security Initiative (CSI) and the Custom Trade Partnership (CTP) against terrorism are not sufficient. In theory, CSI is good because it allows us to have our inspectors at foreign ports for examination prior to a shipment’s arrival in the United States, but 80 percent of the time foreign inspectors refuse to inspect cargo we have deemed high risk. A company can easily obtain a CTP by simply submitting paperwork, and cargo originating at a CTP authorized company is never inspected. Another unfortunate aspect of inspection is that our radiation equipment cannot distinguish between harmful and harmless radiation.
Terrorists are waiting to commit an even more spectacular attack than 9/11. We need to pay more attention to port security in order to protect ourselves from such an attack. A better pattern might be Hong Kong’s, where a 100 percent inspection regime is functioning without impeding commerce.
Counterpoint Assessments, Manhattan Institute
There are three challenges to transportation security. The first is globalization, because free markets depend on efficient, long supply chains. Increased port security has the potential to diminish efficiency. The second is complacency: there is still an abundance of internal and external enemies. Third is the “it’s not my job” attitude of the government, since 90 percent of port activity is privately owned and the government is not good at securing it.
An approach to port security must be systematic rather than asset-based. If the government tightens security at one port, cargo will simply go to a nearby port. The solution requires the involvement of the private sector.
There are four groups in the private sector that must be part of the improvement. Investors should reward ports for having higher security; there should be incentives for a company to be prepared for tomorrow. A secure firm should work with supply-chain partners that meet the same secure standards. Customers should frequent companies that put screening and tracking programs in place. Finally, insurance companies should give discounts to companies providing good security. The solution involves a combination of international standards and incentives for ports that are more secure.
Nuclear Threat Initiative
There are nuclear weapon resources in poorly guarded research facilities susceptible to terrorists. Nuclear material can be obtained unnoticed, easily transported, and used to weaponize an effective device. Once a terrorist organization were to prepare a weapon, it would not likely use commercial methods for shipping.
Preventing access to nuclear material is the only solution because all other steps are easier for terrorists and harder for us. The United States must keep material from moving by ensuring that all weapons and materials are secured to the highest standards.
We need to work with other nations to secure current facilities and safely remove old materials. Creating an international network to share best practices will heighten nuclear safety. This will involve moving the issue to the top of both domestic and international agendas. Protecting fissile material is affordable and achievable, but demands political will and a sense of urgency.
Colonel Randall J. Larsen
Institute for Homeland Security
Ninety percent of our defense transportation system is in the private sector. There are two issues concerning domestic ports: ports as a target and ports as a conduit.
Focusing on our ports as a target is the wrong concern. Terrorists will not take that route. The focus needs to be on ports as a conduit for terrorist devices and on implementing mechanisms to prevent terrorists from getting nuclear weaponry. There are at least 120 chemical facilities within the United States that could provide materials to build weapons.
Regarding funds for protection against nuclear attack, 70 percent should go for preventing nuclear material from getting into terrorists’ hands, 20 percent for building our pursuit and recapture capabilities, and 10 percent for preparation, including seaports and radiological detectors.
AEI intern Jenna Lally prepared this summary.