DHS Shifts Nuclear-Screening Focus to ‘High-Risk’ Cargo

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Cargo vessels wait to enter ports near New York City in 2012. Homeland Security officials said they are aiming to scan more cargo containers at "high risk" of containing weapon-usable atomic material before they reach U.S. shores.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
June 5, 2014, 10:58 a.m.

Home­land Se­cur­ity of­fi­cials said they are mov­ing to tight­en over­seas checks of U.S.-bound cargo con­tain­ers deemed likely to be hid­ing nuc­le­ar con­tra­band.

Fed­er­al au­thor­it­ies hope for­eign sea­ports will even­tu­ally scan all cargo they con­sider at “high risk” of con­tain­ing weapon-us­able nuc­le­ar or ra­di­olo­gic­al ma­ter­i­als, ac­cord­ing to Wed­nes­day testi­mony by Kev­in McAleen­an, act­ing deputy com­mis­sion­er for Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion.

About 15 per­cent still is not checked be­fore reach­ing U.S. shores, McAleen­an said at a hear­ing of the Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity and Gov­ern­ment­al Af­fairs Com­mit­tee.

“We’re cur­rently … as­sess­ing how the threats have changed” in an ef­fort to close the screen­ing gap, he told com­mit­tee law­makers.

“Are [there] cer­tain stra­tegic­ally im­port­ant ports that we can add cap­ab­il­ity? Can we work with ad­di­tion­al coun­tries to en­cour­age them to take some meas­ures be­fore [ships are loaded]?”

McAleen­an dis­cussed the fo­cus on “high-risk” cargo about a month after Home­land Se­cur­ity Sec­ret­ary Jeh John­son told law­makers his de­part­ment would not meet a Ju­ly dead­line set by Con­gress for all U.S.-bound ship­ping con­tain­ers to un­der­go screen­ing at for­eign ports for smuggled nuc­le­ar and ra­di­olo­gic­al ma­ter­i­als. Of­fi­cials pre­vi­ously post­poned the stat­utory screen­ing dead­line by two years.

The man­date is “highly im­prob­able, hugely ex­pens­ive [and] not the best use of tax­pay­er re­sources to meet this coun­try’s port se­cur­ity and home­land se­cur­ity needs,” John­son was quoted as say­ing in a May 5 let­ter to Sen­at­or Tom Carp­er (D-Del.), the Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity pan­el’s chair­man.

John­son wrote that his de­part­ment would fo­cus its ef­forts on in­creas­ing “the per­cent­age of high-risk cargo scanned by pri­or­it­iz­ing dip­lo­mat­ic en­gage­ment with host gov­ern­ments to in­crease their sup­port of cur­rent [Con­tain­er Se­cur­ity Ini­ti­at­ive] op­er­a­tions.”

The de­part­ment would also “dis­cuss po­ten­tial ex­pan­sion of the ini­ti­at­ive to ad­di­tion­al key ports to en­sure that such de­ploy­ments align with high-risk cargo,” he wrote.

Cor­rec­tion: This art­icle was mod­i­fied to cor­rect the first name of Sen­at­or Tom Carp­er.

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