By Calvin Biesecker
Diverging from his predecessor, the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) says any device developed to monitor the security of a shipping container must be able to detect unauthorized intrusions anywhere on the container, not just through the doors, to be part of a layered defense strategy in securing the global supply chain.
"I'm not suggesting that you skip over a device that's going to secure the doors," Ralph Basham, commissioner of CBP, told reporters at the annual CBP Trade Symposium last week. "I'm saying that just because you have a device that secures the doors does not mean that the container is secure. It just means that the doors are secure and not the whole container. If technology is being developed it should be toward making sure the entire container is tamper proof."
Basham said his visits to ports, where he has seen "half the containers" with pieces welded on to them, have convinced him it's too easy to create an opening in a container to smuggle something and then close it back up without ever using the doors.
Basham, formerly chief of the U.S. Secret Service, became CBP Commissioner in June, succeeding Robert Bonner, who left CBP late last year.
Bonner advocated more of a two-track approach to container security devices.
He believed that technology was just about ready to reliably monitor whether doors on shipping containers were being opened when they weren't supposed to be during transit.
The concern with the unauthorized openings is that terrorists could place some sort of weapon of mass destruction (WMD) inside a container bound for the United States.
Bonner felt that the technology that could provide more comprehensive and real-time container security, such as whether someone was cutting a hole in the box i to hide a WMD, was still years from being ready.
Basham agrees that a device that provides comprehensive security isn't ready.
"At this point I have not been convinced that there is a device out there that is reliable and dependable enough to stake our confidence in it," he said.
"That is the challenge. Not just the doors on the container but the entire container," he said. "We have not reached, at least I'm not familiar with, any device out there that's meeting that requirement."
Several companies have been developing container security solutions, including General Electric [GE], IBM [IBM], L-3 Communications [LLL], Lockheed Martin [LMT] and SAIC [SAI].
Earlier this year the Science and Technology branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) awarded phase two development contracts to L-3 and SAIC that require the delivery of Advanced Container Security Devices shortly for testing.
Those devices would provide the enhanced security Basham would like to see, if they work.