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

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
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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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