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Issue 06, 2007 (15 March)
 Senate Defeats 100 Percent Scanning Amendment

On 1 March, the Senate defeated by a vote of 58-38 an amendment to a bill designed to further improve homeland security (S. 4) that would have required 100 percent scanning of all U.S.-bound cargo containers within three years for large foreign ports and within five years for all remaining ports. The amendment, offered by Sen. Charles Schumer (Democrat-New York) and co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez (New Jersey), Hillary Clinton (New York), Ted Kennedy (Massachusetts), Frank Lautenberg (New Jersey) and Joe Biden (Delaware), was similar to one defeated during last year's debate over the Security and Accountability for Every (SAFE) Port Act. Congress instead opted for a far less severe provision requiring the Department of Homeland Security to establish a pilot programme at three foreign seaports to test the practicality and effectiveness of systems designed to scan 100 percent of cargo. However, the 100 percent scanning amendment could resurface again when an eventual Senate port security bill is reconciled in conference with the port security legislation approved by the House earlier this year (H.R. 1), which would require 100 percent scanning of air cargo transported on passenger planes within three years and 100 percent scanning of U.S.-bound sea cargo within five years.

The Bush administration and business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Retail Industry Leaders Association are opposed to the cargo scanning provisions of the House bill and have argued that 100 percent scanning would impede the flow of global commerce. The American Apparel and Footwear Association recently argued that the 100 percent scanning amendment would create "an artificial deadline" without any certainty that the appropriate scanning technology will be developed and deployed in time to meet that deadline. According to AAFA, creating such an arbitrary requirement would divert resources away from activities aimed at enhancing port and cargo security.

Assistant CBP Commissioner for Field Operations Jay Ahern recently stated at a hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security that a 100 percent scanning requirement is unrealistic at this time but that the implementation of the Secure Freight Initiative will provide important information as to the feasibility of such a requirement in the future. The SFI is a combined effort by the DHS and the Department of Energy to build upon existing port security measures by enhancing the government's ability to scan containers for nuclear and radiological materials overseas. The initial phase of this programme will involve the deployment of a combination of existing technology and nuclear detection devices at six foreign ports: Port Qasim in Pakistan, Puerto CortÚs in Honduras, Southampton in the United Kingdom, Port Salalah in Oman, the Port of Singapore, and the Gamman Terminal at Port Busan in South Korea. In Port Qasim, Puerto CortÚs and Southampton, the deployed scanning equipment will capture data on all containers bound for the U.S. According to the DHS, this will fulfil the pilot programme requirements set out by Congress in the SAFE Port Act. The department will go a step further by partnering with the three additional ports, which represent some of the largest container ports in the world, but their size and complexity will require the initial deployment to be limited in scope.

Containers from these six ports will be scanned for radiation and information risk factors before they are allowed to depart for the U.S. Data will be transmitted to CBP officers working in overseas ports and to CBP's National Targeting Center. This data will be combined with other available risk assessment information, such as currently required manifest submissions, to improve risk analysis, targeting and scrutiny of high-risk containers. In the event of a detection alarm, both DHS personnel and host country officials will simultaneously receive an alert. All alarms from the radiation detection equipment for any container will be resolved locally, as is currently the case under the DOE's Megaports Initiative. For containers bound for the U.S., the two agencies will work with host governments to establish protocols that ensure a swift resolution for any alarm, which could include instructing carriers not to load the container until the risk is fully resolved.