The security week that was: 07/09/10 (Air cargo screening)

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But the more stories I hear about problematic cargo, the more I think that requiring 100 percent screening is a very good idea, because it takes out the human element of deciding whether or not to screen a parcel. Take, for example, the story of a cargo shipment of mostly depleted uranium that was sent aboard a passenger flight to Logan International Airport (Boston) in 2008. The shipping source for the uranium shipment was two Indian companies, and it was destined for a U.S. firm that was going to use the uranium for laboratory type testing devices. The catch, of course, is that uranium was not to be allowed aboard the airline's passenger jets as cargo. The shipment was listed as "undeclared", and cargo screening in India didn't detect the radiation (it's not clear whether radiation detection was used on the in-bound side of this shipping network). The shipment made it aboard a British Airways plane and found its way to the U.S. where it cleared Customs before the shipment was found to have included uranium. Depleted nuclear materials have long been a worrisome national security threat, largely for the possibility that they could be used in a dirty bomb which could then be shipped into the U.S.

What concerns me about this story is that clearly the prerogative to screen this cargo wasn't acted upon, even though it seems like an "undeclared" designation would put the cargo high on the list for screening. This was in 2008, so already our nation was implementing 50 percent screening and presumably they had options to screen any additional cargo that was suspect. It also raises the question about how we enforce screening in other nations on in-bound jets. The TSA has gone on the record to say that it should be able to meet the Aug. 1 deadline in terms of screening cargo shipments on domestic jets for explosives, but admits that it likely will not meet that deadline for the in-bound cargo. The story also raises a question about technology implementation, both at home and abroad, as to whether we'll even be able to successfully detect materials like low-level radiation. So while I was initially hesitant to believe in the practicality of 100 percent air cargo screening, I'm of the opinion now that it's something to which we really must commit. Sure, it is expensive; certainly it is difficult. Clearly there are technical challenges and also staffing issues. But if we don't close this known hole in air security, we shouldn't be surprised if it is exploited to the detriment of our nation.

If you're interested in this issue, here's some suggested reading material: 1) Testimony from GAO's Stephen Lord regarding GAO's take on the implementation of this mandate, 2) The official GAO report on 100 percent screening mandate (web article version or PDF version), 3) The inbound uranium story, and 4) House Homeland Security Subcommittee comments on 100 percent air cargo screening.

Remembering a friend
Mourning the passing of Tonja

We'd like to express our sorrow for the passing of Tonja Jenkins, the associate executive director for the Electronic Security Association. Tonja was a good friend and exceptional business partner to all of us here in the Cygnus Security Media group of publications and was vital to the efforts of the ESA and its support of the association's membership. The family is asking that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Jenkins Funeral Trust, P.O. Box 613305, Dallas, TX 75261-3305.

In other news:
Aviation security documentary reviewed, Vehicle barricade failure, Cruise ship security legislation

As I promised last week, we published Billie Vincent's review of the "Please Remove Your Shoes" documentary about aviation security. You can also watch the movie's trailer on SIW. … There is new cruise ship security legislation awaiting Obama's signature, as reported by SIW Assistant Editor Joel Griffin in his blog Industry Surveillance. … We presented the story of Diebold's entry into the fire detection and protection business. … A failure of a vehicle barrier to stay lowered led to the injury of a judge entering a court parking complex.