A different theory for 100 percent container scanning

A look at the chief problems with the current model for 100 percent container screening


By now most of us have read more than we need to about the issue of 100% scanning, but this is one more attempt to shed more light than heat on the subject, and how this political issue can be addressed to satisfy almost all of us. Understanding the purpose of 100% scanning is probably the best place to start, and understanding that there is a problem will follow.

Why Scan All Containers?

The common sense answer is to find out if there are any weapons of mass destruction (WMD) contained in an inbound container set to detonate in the United States. Conceptually, it simply makes sense to do so. The other reasoning is that Congress legislated it and the president signed the legislation. The requirements to scan containers were contained in the SAFE Port Act signed into law in October 2006, and the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 (9/11 Commission Act of 2007), signed into law in August 2007. The SAFE Port Act says this about scanning at U.S. seaports:

"SCANNING CONTAINERS.-Subject to section 1318 of title 19, United States Code, not later than December 31, 2007, all containers entering the United States through the 22 ports through which the greatest volume of containers enter the United States by vessel shall be scanned for radiation. To the extent practicable, the Secretary shall deploy next generation radiation detection technology." (Section 121).

Additionally, the Act says that scanning must detect "shielded and unshielded nuclear and radiological material" (Section 231).

The new 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 goes further by amending the SAFE Port Act to say:

"IN GENERAL.-A container that was loaded on a vessel in a foreign port shall not enter the United States (either directly or via a foreign port) unless the container was scanned by nonintrusive imaging equipment and radiation detection equipment at a foreign port before it was loaded on a vessel also mandate scanning." (Section 1701)

Now the Problems

Problem One

There are four basic problems. The first is that we, as a nation, cannot or should not mandate another nation to provide the means for or perform the scanning of containers in their ports inbound to the United States. There is a clear question of sovereignty and a foreign nation's right to decide what steps to take within its sovereign territory. The EU's Taxation Commissioner, Laszio Kovacs said 100% scanning would not only not improve security but cost EU exporters. Further, even introducing U.S. legislation of this type puts the resource burden of protecting the United States on it trading partners (International Herald Tribune, Aug. 2, 2007). The UE commission is already examining whether these U.S. laws breach World Trade Organization (WTO) and World Customs Organization (WCO) rules (FT.com Europe, August 2007). Even Ralph Basham, the U.S. Commissioner of Customs of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said on July 11, 2007, in a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, that 100% scanning is "fundamentally flawed" and "just does not make sense" because it would impede the flow of commerce. Supporting commissioner Basham's position are Christopher Koch, president of the World Shipping Council (WSC), and Janet F. Kavinoky, Director of Transportation Infrastructure for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (Florida Shipper, August 27, 2007).

The WSC detailed their objections as follows:

1. Failure to define who is to perform container scanning;
2. Failure to define who is to purchase, operate and maintain the technology;
3. Failure to address health and safety issues;
4. Failure to seek or obtain necessary cooperation of other governments;
5. Failure to "practice what you preach"-no reciprocity;
6. Failure to define the scanning requirement; and
7. Failure to address scanning analysis responsibility (American Shipper, September 2007)

Problem Two

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