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    News in Depth/Perspective

    Where's LB, As Boston Port Area Congressman Cites Rand Study On LB Nuke Scenario To (Again) Call For 100% Inspection Of Incoming Cargo Containers?

    (August 19, 2006) -- Citing the recently released Rand Corporation study on the consequences of a nuclear weapon shipped by terrorists in a cargo container to the Port of Long Beach and detonated shortly after its arrival -- a scenario chosen because analysts consider it feasible -- Congressman Ed Markey (D., MA) called on Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to institute 100% inspection of all container ship cargo before it sets sail for U.S. ports.

    Congressman Markey. a senior Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, also called for implementing similar full screening of cargo sent by shippers on passenger planes.

    In a letter dated August 16 to Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff, Congressman Markey (who represents a suburb near Boston's port) wrote in pertinent part:

    ...I am particularly concerned about two glaring security weaknesses that could result in massive casualties and economic damage if exploited by terrorists:

    1. The failure to require all air cargo carried on passenger planes to be scanned for explosives before being loaded onboard; and

    2. The absence of a mandate to scan all U.S.-bound maritime cargo for explosives and nuclear material at the port of origin, not the port of destination, and to seal these containers in foreign ports so that they cannot be tampered with en route to our country.

    I am writing to urge the Department of Homeland Security to take two important steps to prevent the potential catastrophes inherent in a successful cargo-based attack by al Qaeda or another terrorist group:

    1. Issue an order immediately that requires air cargo shippers to enable the use of existing scanning technology by delivering their packages to the airport in "break-bulk" form (i.e., leaving them unpalletized such that they can fit through the machines used to scan checked luggage) if they want those packages to travel on a passenger plane -- otherwise, the shippers may send them by an all-cargo plane; and

    2. Issue an order immediately that requires maritime cargo shippers to ensure that all containers are scanned and sealed in the port of origin so that cargo containers that are as large as a house do not end up in the heart of our port cities before anyone attempts to scan them to determine whether or not they contain weapons of mass destruction.

    ...In my view, just as passengers are required to present themselves at security checkpoints in a manner suitable for scanning -- i.e., without liquids in their carry-on luggage, with their shoes off, with their laptops opened -- shippers likewise should be required to present their goods in a manner that can be effectively scanned using current technology. If passengers are forced to make adaptations to accommodate the available technology, so should shippers...The current double standard is as unfair as it is dangerous.

    Regarding maritime containerized cargo, Congressman Markey wrote:

    [T]he U.S. is dangerously vulnerable to a nuclear attack triggered by an improvised nuclear device shipped in one of the 11 million cargo containers that arrive at our ports every year. Alarmingly, only about 1% of all such containers are currently scanned for radiation prior to leaving foreign ports...

    As you know, the technology to conduct such scans not only exists, but was used as part of a demonstration project to scan all containers leaving the busy port of Hong Kong without impeding commerce. After you visited the port earlier this year, you said at a press conference that "I do think it's wise to use the kind of technology I saw in Hong Kong" to scan maritime cargo. Although it has been almost 5 months since your visit, the Department has yet to announce any requirement to use this sort of technology to ensure that cargo headed for the U.S. does not contain nuclear materials that could be used to hide or construct an improvised nuclear device or other weapon of mass destruction. I urge you to immediately order a timetable to mandate this scanning requirement so that within the year, no container arrives in an American port before it has been scanned and sealed.

    Cong. Markey criticized the Bush administration for focusing on scanning for radiation after cargo containers have arrived. "At that point, if there’s a bomb inside, it’s too late," he said, adding that for 99% of maritime cargo "the Bush Administration relies on paperwork checks."

    Cong. Markey also noted that six billion pounds of airborne cargo is sent annually by commercial shippers using passenger planes (i.e. cargo not owned by anyone on the plane)...and most is loaded without being scanned for liquid, plastic, or conventional explosives. "Our policy for cargo on passenger planes should be: if it isn't scanned, it should be banned," Markey said in the release.


    In May 2006, asked then-Mayoral candidate Bob Foster for his position on the 100% container inspection requirement. At that time, candidate Foster told us:

    Bob Foster: I think we should to the fullest extent possible inspect all cargo that we can. To the "fullest extent possible"?

    Bob Foster: Well, there are practical problems here too, you have to understand... [interrupts]: ...[T]he American Association of Port Authorities, in which the Port of Long Beach is a member, opposed that amendment [to the SAFE Port Act]. So now you're the Mayor. The Port is a member of this entity that opposes something legislatively. What do you do? What position do you take on that specific amendment? You said [inspect] "to the extent possible."

    Bob Foster: Well my first job as Mayor is to protect the people of this city, and if protecting the people of the city means we try to inspect all cargo, then that's the position I would take. It's that simple.

    [Adding after comments by runoff opponent Frank Colonna] ...Bill, you have to use every lever you can if the Port is not doing something that's in the public interest. I think you use appointment power, the budget power, every power you have to try and bring them to the right position, and you have to do that.

    As reported in May 2006, Congressman Markey had then co-authored a proposed amendment to the House version of the "SAFE Port Act" that would have required that all incoming cargo containers be inspected and sealed before entering the U.S. and scanned for radiation and density and, if appropriate, atomic elements.

    This security requirement was opposed by the "American Association of Port Authorities," an advocacy group in which the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are members. It was also opposed by the Bush administration.

    The amendment failed on a 202-222 vote...with all voting Dems + 6 Repubs supporting; Repubs and no Dems opposed. [Detailed coverage, including Congressional Record excerpts and the recorded vote, via, click here.]

    As also reported by, about two months before the House vote, the Port of LB hosted a visit by key members of Congress involved in drafting the SAFE Port Act (Dan Lungren (R., CA), Jane Harman (D., CA,) and Loretta Sanchez (D., CA). [Harman didn't attend citing the birth of a grandchild].

    The visit included meetings with non-elected officials of the Ports of LB & L.A. and industry-related interests...but didn't include any elected members of the LB City Council. ( separately learned and reported that then-Mayor Beverly O'Neill's office was informed of the Congressional visit). . also learned and reported that Port-area Assemblywoman Betty Karnette (D., LB), who'd authored legislation to levy a container fee opposed by industry interests), was specifically informed by Congressman Lungren's committee office that she wasn't welcome at the PoLB meetings with Congressmembers.

    Prior to release of the RAND report, members of LB's elected City Council (responsible for safeguarding the health and safety of the City, its residents, visitors and businesses) had not discussed supporting measures to require the 100% inspection of cargo containers arriving in the Port of Long Beach.

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