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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

U.S. Seaports Vulnerable to Chemical/Bio Weapons Smuggling

The Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security completed an investigation of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and their ability to detect chemical of biological weapons that might be smuggled into the country  by terrorists,via our nation's waterways. The news is not good:
CBP officials said that new devices are currently being developed and tested that could better enable officers to rapidly detect and identify biological and chemical threats during cargo inspections. However, CBP has not conducted a formal risk assessment to determine which pathways, including maritime cargo, pose the highest risk of biological and chemical weapons entering the nation. Conducting a formal risk assessment of the various pathways would help ensure that CBP allocates its detection technology development resources to threat pathways that pose the highest risk.In addition, CBP needs updated policies and procedures on how to conduct inspections for such threats.

--DHS Inspector General Report
 Scary isn't it? Eight+ years after 9/11 and our ports are still porous. I doubt if it will get fixed soon. After all,  according to our POTUS there are no terrorist threats, only potential man-made disasters:
Biological and Chemical Threats May Go Undetected' at Nation's Seaports, Report Says
By Fred Lucas, Staff Writer

 U.S. seaports could be vulnerable to terrorists smuggling chemical and biological weapons into the country, according to a report issued by the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security.

The report says that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is not fully prepared at this time to detect chemical and biological weapons being transported into the country by cargo ship.

The CBP says it is improving those capabilities. But the inspector general's report, entitled CBP's Ability to Detect Biological and Chemical Threats in Maritime Cargo Containers, states that the CBP does not even have a risk assessment in place to determine the most likely pathway that terrorists might use to smuggle chemical and biological weapons into the country. The report, made public last week, was heavily redacted.

Chemical and biological weapons are classified as weapons of mass destruction. Biological threats are disease-causing bacteria, such as anthrax and smallpox. Chemical threats can harm large groups of people through exposure to toxic chemicals, such as sarin and mustard gas.

In 2008, about 11 million ocean cargo containers arrived at U.S. seaports.

“Without updated policies to focus cargo inspections, biological and chemical threats may go undetected,” the report states.

The report addresses the strengths and weaknesses of the CBP’s ability to catch biological and chemical threats being carried in maritime cargo containers. The report was based on interviews with the agency’s employees and officials of relevant agencies, direct observations, and review of documents, wrote Richard L. Skinner, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security.

In response to the IG’s report, a memo from the CBP Office of Policy and Planning concurred with most of the recommendations.

The agency also said new devices are being developed and tested to identify biological and chemical threats. But the IG said that simply improving technology is not enough.

“CBP has not conducted a formal risk assessment to determine which pathways, including maritime cargo, pose the highest risk of biological and chemical weapons entering the nation,” the report says. “Conducting a formal risk assessment of these various pathways would help ensure that CBP allocates its detection technology development resources to threat pathways that pose the higher risk.”

Customs and Border Protection responded that it expects to be able to identify areas that pose the highest risk by Aug. 31, 2010.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV (D-W.V.), the chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said he wants to work with the Department of Homeland Security to remedy any problems.

“Tireless assessment of inspecting procedures at our ports, and the adaptation of those procedures to face 21st Century threats head on, is critically important to strengthen American national security,” Rockefeller said in a statement.

“To ensure our ports are secure, it is crucial we determine which pathways into America pose the highest risk of biological and chemical weapons release and use the most cutting-edge, proven technologies for interdiction,” Rockefeller said.

Neither spokesmen for Customs and Border Protection nor the Department of Homeland Security could be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Customs and Border Protection already has technology, such as X-ray machines, to detect nuclear or radiological material, the report says.

There were two recommendations in the report. The first called for a definitive risk assessment. The second called for the CBP to “issue guidance to help insure the Customs and Border Protection officers use consistent processes to examine cargo for all potential threats and are [redacted] for examination.”

On this point, the CBP responded, “the Office of Field Operations has initiated efforts to update the Anti-Terrorism Contraband Enforcement Team National Directive.” This was followed by several lines of redacted material.

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