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Debate Rages Over Port Security Technology

Bush administration critics worry that high-tech devices and strategies, such as biometrics, RFID, and radiation sensor technology being installed at ports could fall into the wrong hands.

Last April, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on the status of the Container Security Initiative (CSI), a program launched by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in January 2002 to target and inspect high-risk cargo from foreign seaports before they depart to the U.S. The GAO reported about 35 percent of the shipments from CSI ports were not targeted or subjected to inspections due to staffing issues. The report also noted that CPB has limited assurance that inspections conducted are effective at detecting and identifying terrorist weapons of mass destruction because minimum technical requirements for detection equipment do not exist.

Still, less than 5 percent of cargo entering the U.S. today is inspected. Yet, funding for port security has increased by 700 percent since 9/11, said Customs and Border Protection's Yoon. "In fiscal year 2005, DHS spent about $1.6 billion on port security," she said. "Now, if that's not a commitment to securing our ports I don't know what is."

No one disputes the government's plans to increase spending to tighten U.S. borders. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Feb. 6 released President BushSMQ-8217-SMQs fiscal year 2007 budget request for the Department of Homeland (DHS) Security. It represents $42.7 billion in funding, up 6 percent from the previous year.

The budget requests $139 million for the Container Security Initiative (CSI) to pre-screen inbound cargo at more than 40 foreign ports and $55 million for Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), an international partnership with more than 7,000 businesses. This projects aims to enhance the security of organizations throughout the cargo supply-chain. "CSI and C-TPAT are critical in the prevention and deterrence of weapons of mass destruction and other dangerous or illegal materials," according to the report.

The budget also calls for enhanced maritime and transportation security that includes $30.3 million to fund the Cargo Advanced Automated Radiography Systems (CAARS) development initiative. The budget reports the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office will execute a program developing advanced active-imaging radiography systems for cargo inspection at the nationSMQ-8217-SMQs ports.

The decision should improve imaging systems designed to identify concealed nuclear materials. The report states the technology will eliminate the need for operator interpretation of radiographic images, and reduce overall inspection time of five minutes to approximately thirty seconds.

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