efforts that waste scarce resources by focusing on the least likely
maritime threats do not further homeland security. Since 9/11, some
analysts have raised concerns about terrorists smuggling a nuclear
weapon into the U.S. inside a shipping container or simply
detonating a liquid natural gas tanker in a U.S. harbor. Congress
should reject the proposed "solutions" to these concerns
of mandated 100 percent inspection of cargo and increased port
Qualifying threats is
important. The U.S. simply cannot "child proof" the entire supply
chain, eliminating every conceivable vulnerability and
opportunity to attack U.S. interests. Overly fixating on
specific threat scenarios can lead to an inefficient and
ineffective use of resources. One such example is the misguided
call by some Members of Congress to inspect every container bound
for the United States because one could possibly be used to
smuggle a nuclear weapon or a "dirty" bomb (radiological
dispersion device) into the country.
Misguided Port Grants
and Inspections. To counter the
nuke-in-a-box threat, some propose spending billions of dollars on
container and port security. This argument fails on five
The nuke-in-a-box is
an unlikely terrorist tactic. If an enemy wanted to smuggle a bomb
into the United States, an oil or chemical tanker, roll-on/
roll-off car carrier, grain or other bulk vessel, or even private
watercraft would be a more logical and secure way to transport it,
either directly to the target (e.g., a port) or indirectly by
landing it in Mexico, Canada, or the Caribbean and then moving
it across a remote section of the U.S. border. Indeed, logic
suggests (and most experts believe) that a port is more likely
to be attacked from land than from sea, especially given the lack
of visibility into the domestic trade network, the lack of
protection on the landward side, and the ease of constructing
explosive devices with domestic resources. Terrorists would likely
construct smaller items (e.g., biological agents) domestically and
then deliver them through FEDEX.
smuggling is possible, so are dozens of other attack scenarios.
Overinvesting in countering one tactic when terrorists could easily
employ another is dangerously myopic.
Spending billions of
dollars and deploying thousands of personnel to search every
container and harden every port is an extremely inefficient
and expensive way to stop terrorists from using cargo containers,
especially when they would probably use other means.
There is no apparent
viable business case for many of the proposed solutions for
"hardening" shipping containers, conducting 100 percent
physical container inspections, or requiring expensive tracking or
monitoring devices. These measures would provide only minimal
utility at the cost of billions of dollars in new duties, taxes,
and operating costs.
Such efforts would
distract resources from solutions that would measurably strengthen
maritime security, including watching the back door of American
ports through which trucks, trains, and barges travel
As a matter of common
sense, the United States should not attempt to make every cargo
container and port into a miniature Fort Knox. Securing trade
requires a more comprehensive and effective approach than just
putting up fences and gates, posting guards at ports, deploying
radiation detectors at every entry, and inspecting all cargo
containers as they enter the country. Such an approach would
waste security resources by inspecting things that are unlikely
security risks and create isolated, easily bypassed chokepoints to
address specific (and unlikely) threats.
Way. To safeguard the flow
of global maritime commerce, the United States needs to expand
Coast Guard capabilities, improve the sharing and use of
commercial information, and enhance international cooperation.
Specifically, Congress should:
Expand the Coast
Guard's International Port Assistance Program.
Focus on specific
shipments that indicate a reason for suspicion by cultivating
better information sharing between the public and private sectors.
This approach would allow more efficient allocation of resources
and effort by pinpointing suspect shipments rather than trying to
screen all containers, most of which pose no threat.
intelligence and compliance functions of Customs and Border
Protection and combine intelligence and data collection into a
single, focused authority at a high level elsewhere in the
Department of Homeland Security.
Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to sponsor joint
operations and intelligence fusion centers.
Aggressively fund and
implement the Coast Guard's Integrated Deepwater System to
accelerate completion to within 10 years to 15
Restructure U.S. assistance programs.
Congress should begin to address this issue by requiring the
Government Accountability Office to inventory and assess the
effectiveness of the various U.S. programs and their international
answer to the nuke-in-a-box scenario, as well as more likely
threats, is to increase efforts to interdict potential dangers
before they reach the ports and to use the best and broadest
possible intelligence generated from commercial and government
information. In this regard, security measures should focus on
building capabilities that address a broad range of dangers
rather than fixating on a few "Tom Clancy" scenarios.
Closing the real gaps
in U.S. maritime security means focusing the government on stopping
terrorists and criminals and focusing the private sector
on sensible, reasonable, transparent, and uniform action that will
enhance the security of the global supply chain. Much can be done
to improve maritime security without placing undue burdens on
Kochems is a Policy Analyst for National Security
and James Jay Carafano,
Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and
Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for
Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom
Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage