A decade later, post-9/11 security measures still ineffective

Posted on Feb 1, 2011

A decade later, post-9/11 security measures still ineffective

National security experts agree that the millions of unscreened shipments entering U.S. ports are vulnerable for terrorist activity. But implementing screening efforts have been a debacle.

In the wake of the alarming recognition of our nation’s vulnerability—and a horrified post-9/11 American public—Congress frenzied throughout the last decade to ensure more superior homeland security. The result was the umbrella legislation for various smaller bills known as the 9/11 Commission Act, passed in 2007. The bill was Congress’ attempt to patch the large security pothole that allows volatile materials and individuals to enter and move about the U.S., as well as to heighten emergency response effectiveness.

A panoramic view shows shipping containers lined up at a port. Security experts believe that the standard containers are vulnerable to terrorist activity. Still, screening processes have not been implemented.

Much of the bill appeals to the most basic of homeland security logic: Why wouldn’t the vast amounts of cargo travelling about the U.S. be screened in a similar fashion as are travelling passengers and luggage? One can only imagine the gleaming prospect for terrorist activity, should the opportunity present itself for an individual to rather unanimously board unscreened packages via American aircraft or vessel. Congress worked to defeat this menace with a plethora of solid verbal, written, and even monetary commitments to homeland security over the past decade.

But without significant change to security procedures, Public Law 110-53 was created, a 286-page act made to implement the 9/11 Act itself and actually put into action the security recommendations put forth by the National Commission on Terrorists Attacks Upon the United States. A step in the right direction resulted from PL 110-53: Requirements were set forth upon the TSA to screen all airborne cargo prior to when it is loaded for travel in U.S. territory, requirements of which finally went into effect on August 1, 2010.

Now more than six months later,security experts begin to weigh in on the decade-long efforts put forth by the TSA and Congress, as it becomes possibleto determine the results of screening requirements, and if the nation is any safer today than it was on September 11, 2001. And regrettably, the answer is—no.

Even if the airborne cargo screening is effective, the monstrous majority of shipments roaming about the U.S. remain unchecked for explosives and radioactivity: Ninety-five percent of imports arrive via sea, and are not subject the TSA screening mandates. The 40-foot marine containers that have become the standard for maritime import are especially susceptible to terrorist exploitation due to their sheer volume and familiarity (i.e., each container is identical, despite what’s inside). Experts agree that explosives, weapons, and nuclear or radioactive materials could be smuggled into shipping containers—to be found on U.S. ships, trains, and winding down our highways on 18 wheelers—could be smuggled in containers free of screening.

This is not to say that Congress has turned its back on the issue. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff wrote, in PL 110-53, “A container that was loaded on a vessel in a foreign port shall not enter the United States (either directly or via foreign port) unless the container was scanned by nonintrusive imaging equipment and radiation detection equipment at a foreign port before it was loaded on a vessel.”

The key to homeland security initiatives is effective implementation, without which legislation and finances remain wholly futile. Evidently, meeting the current security necessities has been a battle.

What did Congress promise the American people following 9/11? See the 9/11 Commission Bill summary here.

In a related US News & World Report article from August 17, 2010, columnist Chris Battle discusses how and why Congress made empty promises regarding national security. Read article HERE.

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