The Broader Port Security Problem

The New York Times has a good article today on how the question of whether a Dubai-controlled company is allowed to operate a few ports or not is really the least of our port security issues:

The administration’s core problem at the ports, most experts agree, is how long it has taken for the federal government to set and enforce new security standards — and to provide the technology to look inside millions of containers that flow through them.

Only 4 percent or 5 percent of those containers are inspected. There is virtually no standard for how containers are sealed, or for certifying the identities of thousands of drivers who enter and leave the ports to pick them up. If a nuclear weapon is put inside a container — the real fear here — “it will probably happen when some truck driver is paid off to take a long lunch, before he even gets near a terminal,” said Mr. Flynn, the ports security expert….

“I’m not worried about who is running the New York port,” a senior inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency said, insisting he could not be named because the agency’s work is considered confidential. “I’m worried about what arrives at the New York port.”

A while back Stephen Flynn, a former Coast Guard official who is now with the Council on Foreign Relations, had a longer piece in the Far Eastern Economic Review describing just how shaky port security is. Worth reading. And P.J. Crowley of the Center for American Progress did a short piece back in 2004 on how the administration just doesn’t take this stuff very seriously at all: “Rather than increasing federal assistance in the face of new security requirements, the Bush administration’s port security grant request is actually a huge reduction from the still inadequate total of $500 million allocated for port security in the first three years of the Bush administration.”