100% scanning – 50% dead
A bad idea only getting worse
As Congress was reviewing draft legislation to implement the recommendations of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, someone made a suggestion. The proposal would require, by 2012, each maritime shipping container bound for the United States to be scanned by non-intrusive detection devices in the foreign port prior to being loaded on a ship. Recognizing a politically popular concept immediately, the lawmakers were totally unconcerned that this proposal was exactly the opposite of what the 9/11 Commission had recommended; the Commission favored a risk-based approach to screening cargoes bound for the US. The Administration and the maritime industry strongly opposed the provision, but it passed with no meaningful dissent in Congress and was duly signed into law. The only compromise was inclusion of a provision allowing the Secretary of Homeland Security to defer implementation of the 100% scanning program for two-year periods by certifying that implementation was not currently achievable. This provision neatly shifted to the Administration the political burden of protecting the country from the “bomb in a box.” Congress did not want to have ownership of this hot potato because it knew as well as anyone that 100% scanning would not be a reality in the near future. The technology for fast, reasonably accurate scanning does not exist. The cost of the currently available equipment (which does not work well) is astronomical – initial purchase costs were recently estimated by DHS to be in the range of $17 billion. Congress has wisely declined to appropriate funds to implement the scanning concept on anything other than a pilot-program basis. To date, the pilot program has exhibited a singular lack of success. Our trading partners around the world are uniformly opposed to implementation of the requirement and have threatened to impose a reciprocal requirement on US-origin cargoes. Only one politician, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), has shown the courage to question the concept. In a recent press release, Senator Rockefeller stated that “a mandate of [such] global proportions was unquestionably well intended, yet premature.” It is hoped that others in Congress will heed this sage advice and end the charade of false security by repealing the ill-advised and impractical 100% scanning requirement.