Federal cargo inspection system found wanting
A system used by the Homeland Security Department to help inspectors identify high-risk cargo coming into U.S. seaports needs improvement in order to better screen for weapons of mass destruction, according to a new report.
In a summary report released this week, the Homeland Security Department's inspector general found deficiencies in an inspection system used by the Customs and Border Protection Bureau.
Called the Automated Targeting System, it is used by CBP inspectors at domestic and foreign ports to help identify high-risk cargo containers for inspection. About 9 million containers arrive annually at U.S. seaports, making it impossible to physically inspect each of them without hampering the flow of commerce.
The full report is classified. But, according to Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who lead the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the report concluded that the container information supplied to ATS was insufficient and CBP has failed to improve the system.
The lawmakers said the report shows that DHS still knows far too little about the contents of cargo containers.
"Customs and Border Protection has touted its targeting system as key to its approach to container security, but much more remains to be done to improve the way we examine containers coming to our ports," the senators wrote in a press release. "While CBP had to roll out this system quickly following the 9/11 attacks, it must strive to continually enhance the capabilities. We urge DHS to address the deficiencies identified in the IG report as quickly as possible."
Physical controls over containers selected for examination also need to be improved, the IG report stated. The report made several recommendations, all of which CBP agreed need to be addressed.
"The overseas segment of the supply chain is the most problematic since it includes all initial handling and movement of the containers from the loading of the container to placing the container onboard a U.S.-bound vessel, and is outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. government," the report added. "Improved security over this segment of the supply chain requires leveraging the authority of foreign governments through diplomacy."