Saturday, March 11, 2006

A Postscript On The Ports Deal

Norm Coleman, chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, dramatizes the threat container traffic poses the US, and has some suggestions on how to address it.

WSJ (subscription, my ellipsis):
Shortly after 9 a.m. on a beautiful sunny spring day, an improvised nuclear device explodes on the National Mall in Washington. Within seconds, the Capitol and the White House are flattened and a plume of radiation spreads to the surrounding suburbs. Intelligence sources quickly determine that this weapon was smuggled through a U.S. port in a maritime container. Unfortunately, this horrific scenario is not just a plot for the television show "24" -- it is the paramount security challenge facing our nation.

Our goal should be to screen 100% of the maritime containers entering the United States of America; as of today we inspect a dismal 5%. (So) I have introduced legislation directing the Secretary of Homeland Security to provide a plan within 90 days on how to implement 100% screening of maritime containers.

We have found that, although the administration will claim the 5% inspection rate is adequate, both the General Accounting Office and the Homeland Security Inspector General have concluded that our targeting system -- which identifies the containers to inspect -- is seriously inadequate.

We provided only $1.6 billion in funding for port security in 2005, a mere one-third of the aviation security budget. Port security, a first-tier homeland security vulnerability, is being funded as a second-tier priority.

Airline pilots are no longer instructed to comply with hijackers' demands, all cockpit doors are now armored, and sky marshals are in place. So airliners can now be bombed - killing hundreds - but not used as cruise missiles to kill thousands.

A nuclear weapon will kill tens of thousands, so cost-benefit suggests cutting the TSA back to a bomb sniffing organization and shifting the money to 100% container screening.

With 100% screening and America secure, it won't matter which nation runs US ports, so the free-traders (that includes me) will be happy.