(Sept. 13, 2006) -- As we write this, the U.S. Senate is debating a story making national news in which the words "Long Beach" come up constantly. The issue is the Senate version of the "SAFE Port" Act that includes some industry-backed half-measures on inspecting incoming cargo containers.
Currently, 80 year old grandmothers trying to get on an airplane must remove their shoes to ensure they're not carrying explosives...while most cargo containers -- which a Rand report says can feasibly contain a nuclear bomb sufficient to destroy our city and inflict a trillion dollars in damage beyond -- are bureaucratically escorted through the Port of Long Beach basically based on paperwork and assumptions about their risk
Five years ago, terrorists exploited federally-approved, industry-applauded non-security at airports operated by Port authorities in Boston and NYC-NJ area. Today, we are inviting the next 9/11 with federally-approved, industry-applauded, half measures at our seaports.
This is a scandal of national magnitude, a direct threat to the entire country, an immediate threat to the nation's second largest metropolitan area (LA-OC)...and a possible death sentence (immediate or slow) to people at ground zero in the City of Long Beach.
Yet the new Mayor of California's fifth largest city, who has the City Charter authority to speak on his own on issues of citywide importance, and City Councilmembers who have the power to decide city policy, have been silent.
That silence is effectively helping an industry/national port-authority backed version of the Senate bill pass with less than 100% inspections.
As reported in March 2006 by LBReport.com, the Port of LB hosted a meeting with key House members who drafted their version of the "SAFE Port" Act effectively to industry standards. Port officials, and the PoLB's lobbyist E. Del Smith were visible...but elected officials, including LB Councilmembers were effectively kept away, not invited to attend. A Port of LB rep tells us this was an oversight...but we don't believe this. Assemblywoman Betty Karnette (D., LB) was told by a DC Capitol Hill GOP staffer that she wasn't welcome.
In May, as reported by LBReport.com, the industry-crafted bill hit the House floor...and Democrats forced a vote on an amendment to require the 100% inspection of cargo containers. It stunned Republicans and produced a 202-222 near party-line vote to require the 100% inspection of cargo containers. Nearly all Dems voted for it; Repubs voted against it.
When the bill arrived in the Senate, Republicans included some provisions to begin screening nearly all containers for radiation at 22 major portions by the end of 2007. This is better than nothing...but it's not a done deal; if it passes, it still must survive a House-Senate conference committee (where it could be watered down).
Meanwhile, Democrats are seeking to inspect -- scan, not just "screen" for risk -- 100% of incoming cargo containers. Senator Charles Schumer (D., NY) has offered amendments to the SAFE Port Act, summarized below in a release by his office:
Mr. SCHUMER. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. SCHUMER. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to lay aside the pending amendment, and I call up my amendment, which I believe is at the desk, No. 4930....
...Mr. President, I rise to talk about one of the most critical gaps in our homeland security, and that is port security. This week, everyone in my home State of New York--certainly there but also everywhere in America--is asking if we are safer since 9/11. I have to say, if you look at port security, the answer is an unfortunate no.
In this week of remembering the attacks on 9/11, I am pleased that the critical issue of port security is under consideration by the Senate. I think the Port Security Act of 2006 is a good start. I commend my colleagues, and particularly my friend from Washington State, who worked so long and hard on this issue. But I also want to be sure the legislation we pass provides real teeth and resources for port security.
The United States is the leading maritime trading Nation in the world. At any given moment our seaports are full of container ships, warships, cruise ships, and oil tankers. Every one of these ships is an opportunity for terrorists to strike at our industry, our infrastructure, and our lives. We know these enemies will wait patiently and plan carefully in order to create maximum panic and damage.
Our greatest risk is that a terrorist could easily smuggle a nuclear weapon through our ports, God forbid, and bring it into the United States. Once it gets out of the port, it will be gone, and we would not know about it until it is too late.
Yet, unfortunately, our vulnerable seaports have long been neglected by the administration. Programs to screen for nuclear materials are delayed and delayed and delayed. I have been pushing amendments such as this for years and, frankly, the administration, in lockstep with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, generally talks the talk, but they do not walk the walk. They do not say we should not do research to guard against nuclear weapons being smuggled into our country, but then when
it comes time to allocate resources to get it done, when the need is $500 million, they might allocate $50 million or $35 million. That is what has happened in years past. That is a disgrace. That is letting our guard down.
Mr. President, we need to fight the war on terror overseas, no question about that. But as any high school basketball coach will tell you, to win a game--in this case, a war on terror--you need both a good offense and a good defense. We have woefully neglected the defense. An example is the spending by this administration, DHS, and by the Senate and this Congress on port security.
By the end of this month, DHS will have provided $876 million in port security grants since 9/11. This is a fraction of what we have spent on aviation security, and it is far less than what is needed.
Maritime trade is booming. The Coast Guard estimates port owners will need $7.2 billion over the next 10 years to bring ports in line with Federal security requirements, and we need to give more funding and more attention to vulnerable seaports. If we ever needed convincing that this administration is asleep at the switch when it comes to port security, turn back the clock a few months to the fiasco over Dubai Ports World. That company, a government company from the United Arab Emirates, was
cleared to take over operations at more than 20 ports along our eastern and gulf coasts without any serious review.
It was hard to believe. And then when the President learned there wasn't serious review, he still said we don't need it. Now that shows a profound and very disturbing unawareness of what we need for port security.
The Dubai Ports World takeover almost snuck under the radar, after getting scanty review from the CFIUS committee. There is only one bit of good that came from this Dubai Ports World fiasco. It revealed how little we had done to protect our ports and focused the Nation, and hopefully this administration, on bolstering port security in the United States and around the world.
I am inclined to support the Port Security Improvement Act of 2006, but I am also very concerned that this bill does not go nearly far enough toward securing our seaports and shipping vessels, especially against the unspeakable danger of a nuclear weapon.
This is our great nightmare. God forbid--God forbid--a nuclear weapon is shipped into this country and exploded. Nothing could be worse.
So instead of doing little baby steps, instead of saying this is a 10- or 15-year project, why aren't we moving with alacrity to make ourselves safer against the greater danger we could face?
I know my colleague from Connecticut, who has just walked in, has been very active on this issue and has been very helpful to me when I have offered amendments in this regard.
We need to do much more to guard against nuclear weapons being smuggled into our country by sea, and we can't have any holes in our defenses. Today I am offering two amendments that will strengthen port security improvement in these key aspects.
The first amendment is the amendment that is pending, No. 4930. This amendment secures our ports by screening all cargo containers that reach our shores to make sure they do not contain a nuclear or radiological weapon.
More than 9 million cargo containers enter the country through our ports each year, and as we all know--it is sad, it is woeful--only 5 percent of these containers have been thoroughly screened by Customs agents. That is nothing short of an outrage. It would truly be a nightmare scenario if one of these unchecked containers had a nuclear weapon smuggled in by a terrorist group.
The latest I heard from some on the other side is: We can't guard against every single terrorist act. We don't have the resources or the focus to do it.
I disagree. But even if one believed in that philosophy, one would have to put nuclear weapons and the danger of them being smuggled into this country at the very top of the list of dangers. So even if one's view is we can't do everything, we certainly should do everything we can to prevent this nightmare scenario.
Terrorists, unfortunately, could detonate a nuclear bomb in a port or the bomb could be loaded on a truck or railcar and be sent anywhere in our country or terrorists could combine radioactive material with conventional explosives to make a so-called dirty bomb.
Any attack of this kind would cause unspeakable casualties, destruction, and panic. We know our enemies are ruthless and determined enough to plan this type of attack. Yet the administration has waited years and years, and I have been trying to importune them to take significant action on port security.
We know terrorists have tried to purchase nuclear materials on the black market, and we know that any shipping container could be used as a Trojan horse to smuggle deadly radioactive material into our country. But this country has not stepped up to the plate to fund port security at the levels that are necessary or to pass laws with real teeth.
This amendment will end this shocking state of affairs and make America safer by requiring that within 4 years, every container coming into the United States will pass an advanced nuclear detection system known as integrated scanning.
Integrated scanning is used now. I have visited--and so has my colleague; I visited, with my colleague from South Carolina, LINDSEY GRAHAM, Hong Kong about 6 months ago. It is an amazing system. The containers are not slowed down. They simply are required to drive through a portal with two detection devices, each on a side, that do two things: They first check for nuclear weapons and nuclear materials. The only good news is--they are terrible and dangerous--they emit gamma rays which pass
through just about anything but lead. Even if they are hidden in an engine block, the detection device works.
At the same time, because lead may cover them, there is a scanning device that will reveal large chunks of lead. Once these trucks go through the devices with these containers, we will know if they have nuclear weapons or nuclear radiation, nuclear materials or, alternatively, a significant enough amount of lead that could shield those, and we could then inspect the container.
An integrated scanning system works. I have seen it with my own eyes. I salute the firm of Hutchison Wampoa, the largest shipping company in the world, for on their own instituting this system in the Port of Hong Kong. They do the checks using nonintrusive imaging technology. Then it is checked with a tracking device, as well as, of course, the nuclear device. And if the checks don't match up, Customs inspectors know something is wrong and can stop the container.
Isn't it a shame that China and Hong Kong have better port security than we have in the United States? Integrated scanning for nuclear weapons is a model of what it means to make a true commitment to port security.
We don't need to study this any more. My amendment sets firm deadlines for containers entering the United States to meet this mark. If it is working in Hong Kong, there is no reason why America shouldn't hold other ports that handle
our commerce to the same high standard of safety.
There are some critics who say this is an unrealistic deadline; let's study it some more. It is working. It is there. It has been working for a year without flaws. Why do we have to study it when the danger is so great and the technology is there?
The Department of Homeland Security has wasted enough time securing our ports. It is time for Congress to hold DHS accountable and time for us to demand real security at our seaports.
Under this pending amendment, by October 2008, integrated scanning must be used to check all containers that arrive on U.S. shores from foreign ports participating in what is known as CSI, the Container Security Initiative.
There are 40 ports in the CSI in 22 countries. U.S. Customs agents, under the program, work directly to inspect containers bound for America.
But it is not enough to extend integrated scanning only to the ports in the voluntary CSI program. So my amendment also sets a deadline of October 2010 for every single container entering the United States to pass an integrated scan.
We have waited long enough for port security to receive the attention it deserves. While the Department of Homeland Security drags its feet, it is time to put our safety first by voting for a measure that will actually stop nuclear weapons before they ever get near the United States.
This does not cost the taxpayers a plug nickel. We simply require the shipping companies to do it. When Senator Graham and I visited Hong Kong--and Senator Coleman, who has been very interested in this issue, will confirm it--they told us it costs about $8 to scan a container; whereas, the cost of shipping that container from Hong Kong to the west coast is $2,000. That is .2 percent.
Shipping companies will have to put these scanners in. They will then have to pass along the costs to their customers. But I doubt the U.S. consumer would see any increase, the amount is so small and competition in the shipping industry is so large.
I support this amendment and urge bipartisan support so we can once and for all say we are keeping our world safe.
AMENDMENT NO. 4938
I have another amendment which I am not going to ask to call up at the desk right now because we don't have anyone on the other side, and they haven't seen it yet. I don't think there will be any objection to calling it up, but I am going to talk about it now, and then we can get unanimous consent to call it up. It is amendment No. 4938. Let's talk about that.
This is the Apollo project amendment. Here is what it does.
Forty-four years ago today, John Kennedy vowed to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. That was a bold and visionary promise. NASA succeeded with time to spare because it was backed by the full extent of American resources and ingenuity. John Kennedy called for us to do it, and we went forward and did it. It was a bold and visionary promise.
Now it is time for Congress to make the same bold commitment to homeland security. Too often since 9/11 we have said this has to be done; here is $5 million when the job takes $100 million. As a result, 5 years after the attacks on our country, we are still far behind where we need to be. We must stop shortchanging port security.
This amendment dedicates $500 million over the next 2 years in competitive grants to public and private researchers who have innovative and realistic ideas for nuclear detection devices that will keep us ahead of our enemies. The funding is sorely needed.
We have to develop better portal monitoring devices. We need devices that can be positioned on cranes. We need devices that can be placed under water. In all of these areas, we need devices accurate and effective enough to keep commerce moving smoothly.
The model Hong Kong uses will work for big ports, but it may not work for small ports. In all these areas, we need the devices to be accurate enough and effective enough not only to detect radiation but to not have so many false positives that they interfere with commerce.
So many times in the past, this Congress has authorized appropriations for port security. They are simply hollow promises and do not go anywhere. This amendment is different. It makes a meaningful and long-term commitment of a worthy goal of keeping our seaports safe. Funding for the grant process will come from a port-related user fee that will be a dedicated source of revenue. It is only fair to ask those who will benefit most from port security improvements to contribute to this task.
We have spent $18 billion on aviation security in the past 5 years. Mr. President, $500 million is not too much to devote against the horrifying threat of a nuclear attack on our soil. The first amendment doesn't cost us any money. This amendment does. I imagine that is why there is a temporary holdup on the other side to offering it.
The bottom line is the leaders of the 9/11 Commission called a nuclear weapon being smuggled into this country ``the most urgent threat to the American people.'' Congress has done far too little for far too long in this area. We are running a marathon against a ruthless enemy. We haven't taken any more than a few halting steps. We can no longer afford to fail in securing our ports.
I ask my colleagues to support both amendments, when we have a chance to vote on them, to strengthen this important bill.