The path towards 100 percent scanning of cargo containers has
hit yet another stumbling block. A new Government Accountability
Office (GAO) report found that blanket scanning is not only bad for
trade but hinders the ability of the international community to
improve supply chain security worldwide.
This report is not the first round of bad news for 100 percent
scanning, and indications are that it will not be the last.
Congress must recognize the disastrous consequences of 100 percent
scanning and begin examining alternatives that would maintain
economic viability while protecting Americans.
GAO Says No
The 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 requires foreign seaports to
scan 100 percent of the cargo entering the United States by 2012.
This legislation was enacted in the face of clear indications that
100 percent scanning would not work. In fact, Congress ordered a
test, called the Secure Freight Initiative, that later determined
blanket screening was wildly unrealistic and unfeasible. But
Congress passed the legislation before the test even occurred.
Congress marches blind, undeterred by logic, steadfast toward
Currently, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) uses two means by
which to screen and scan cargo containers set for the U.S. The
first is the Container Security Initiative (CBP) which places
agents at foreign seaports to ensure that high-risk cargo is
scanned prior to departing for the U.S. The second is the
Customs-Trade Partnership against Terrorism, which works to develop
voluntary partnerships among the international community, including
private companies that negotiate for benefits (such as reduced
cargo inspection) in exchange for providing cargo information for
screening and improving internal security practices.
The report took a holistic view of efforts by CBP to work with
the international community to develop a framework for supply chain
security. The report's conclusion was that while CBP is making
valiant efforts toward development of international supply chain
standards, the 100 percent scanning initiative has emerged as a
glaring roadblock. Furthermore, U.S. dedication to blanket scanning
seriously compromises the following:
- Trade. The report cited concerns by the
international community that 100 percent scanning could seriously
affect the flow of commerce, especially with developing countries.
Over 11 million ocean going containers are shipped to the U.S.
annually. Serious disruptions in the flow into the U.S. could
produce enormous backups, rippling throughout world commerce.
Besides the simple logistical problems, our trading partners
consider the unilateral move toward 100 percent scanning as trade
protectionism. Retaliatory measures have been considered, and the
U.S. should be concerned;
- Security. The report highlighted concerns that
blanket scanning actually provides less security because of the
rate of error associated with attempting to scan the massive amount
of cargo headed to the U.S. everyday. The issue is one of quantity
over quality-the more cargo scanned, the less attention given to
each piece of cargo-opening the door to serious security breaches;
- U.S. International Posture.
Currently, CBP is a leader in the development of international
standards. The new mandate, however, runs counter to prior
multilateral efforts on the supply chain security issue. If the
international community views the mandate as backpedaling by CBP,
countries may begin to look for new leadership with less
Alternatives exist, and some CBP efforts glitter in the darkness
of 100 percent scanning. The report cited international praise for
the Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade
(SAFE Framework), which allows the U.S. to partner with countries
we trust, eliminating the need for CBP agents at member country
seaports. The SAFE Framework gives a thumbs-up to member countries
that follow the right steps with regards to container security.
Congress should continue to look for programs modeled after this
approach that accomplish U.S. security goals while furthering the
U.S. image internationally.
Prior to choosing the next path, Congress should establish an
independent, bipartisan commission to look at the mandate of 100
percent scanning. This commission must examine the tangible
threats-recognizing that the widely touted "nuke in a box" scenario
is more Hollywood than reality-and produce sound alternatives to
100 percent screening.
Finally, future alternatives cannot ignore the trade
consequences of 100 percent scanning. Congress should separately
and comprehensively address this issue. As the economies of Russia
and China continue to expand exponentially, the U.S. can ill afford
to mire its ability to participate in trade markets.
Recognizing the Real Consequences of 100 Percent
Homeland security is directly affected by our ability to
cooperate with our friends and allies abroad, because terrorism
does not limit itself to geographic boundaries. Our economic
vitality is similarly couched in our ability to work with different
nations to improve the flow of commerce. Allowing poor legislation
to interfere with this work is a disservice to the international
community and jeopardizes the security and economic prosperity of
McNeill is Policy Analyst for 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 Foundation.