DHS resists 100 percent cargo screening mandate

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Though he acknowledged that 1,781 high-risk cargo shipments went unscanned in fiscal 2011, Kevin McAleenan, the acting assistant commissioner of Customs and Border Protection's Office of Field Operations, downplayed the danger that cargo presents in a Feb. 7 hearing of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on border and maritime security.

McAleenan said that of the cargo that CBP considered high-risk, it screened 96 percent and did not encounter any explosive devices or terrorist weapons.

The other 4 percent went unscanned because, due to logistical issues, CBP's security partners are sometimes unable to screen cargo on time before it ships, he said.

Meanwhile, several members of the subcommittee urged the Homeland Security Department to comply with a 2007 law requiring that 100 percent of all cargo bound for the United States be scanned by July 2012. At the hearing, David Heyman, DHS's assistant secretary in the Office of Policy, testified that DHS currently scans only about 5 percent of inbound cargo.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in July 2011 that DHS would not achieve the goal by the deadline and might not at all in the foreseeable future.

At the hearing, Heyman noted that ports were not designed for security screenings and would handle an abundance of them poorly. He added that "if you've seen one port, you've seen one port," since they differ so much in their designs and procedures. Plus, not all foreign countries cooperate with screening requests, Heyman noted.

To achieve 100 percent screening, the government would need to spend $16.8 billion on equipment, and the delays that screenings entail would cost private businesses and consumers additional money, McAleenan noted at the hearing.

Asked if DHS had given up on the goal, Heyman would only say that "we are continuing to operate under the law."

For more:
- go to the hearing webpage (prepared testimonies and webcast available)

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