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2012 deadline to scan all port cargo won't be met

2012 deadline to scan all port cargo won't be met

Los Angeles: The Homeland Security Department says it will not meet a 2012 deadline set by Congress to scan the contents of every cargo container headed to U.S. ports. Instead, it plans to gather more information about who made the goods in the containers and who packed them. Under that proposal, only a small fraction of the 11 million containers shipped to the U.S. each year -- those from unknown companies and countries known to harbor terrorists -- would be flagged to be scanned for nuclear or radiological materials.
"It's called Risk Management 101," Secretary Michael Chertoff said. "I'm not terribly concerned someone's going to build a nuclear bomb in England" and load it into a container headed for a U.S. port. "But I might be more concerned about South Asia."
Chertoff says there are countless obstacles to the 100% scanning mandate passed by Congress in 2006. Among them: Some countries don't want U.S. Customs officers operating scanning equipment in their ports; scans could slow trade; the program would be costly.
Chertoff is taking criticism from the shipping industry, which opposes both Congress' 100% requirement and his plan to collect more information from shippers.
"Two wrongs don't make a right," says Frank Vargo of the National Association of Manufacturers. He says Chertoff's plan will slow trade and could cost the industry as much as $20 billion a year. "It will result in a two-day -- maybe a five-day -- delay before that container (is cleared) and can be loaded onto a ship."
Security experts agree that 100% scanning would be very difficult to achieve. "It's not practical, and there's no threat that justifies it," said James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
P.J. Crowley of the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress says 100% scanning isn't feasible by 2012 but is a worthy goal for the next decade. "You want to have 100% confidence you know what's inside the box," he says. "You can't just do that by reviewing cargo data."  [23/10/08]



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