Report Examines Law Mandating Scans of All U.S.-Bound Cargo Containers by 2012

In the high-stakes strategy of homeland security, Congress is demanding that by 2012, cargo containers bound for the United States receive 100-percent scanning prior to loading. Will this move ensure 100-percent cargo security for the nation? What are the potential disruptions to container terminals and other international trade business operations? Is this measure even feasible?

Senior Editor R.G. Edmonson takes an in-depth look at the controversies surrounding this mandate in the June 23 cover story in The Journal of Commerce.

The Journal, founded in 1827, is published by Commonwealth Business Media Inc., a subsidiary of United Business Media plc.

Edmonson reports that two weeks ago, at a hearing arranged by New Jersey Democrat Sen. Frank Lautenberg, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee subcommittee on maritime transportation, administration witnesses were called to account for why they couldn't meet the 2012 deadline.

Congress' own watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office, and the Deputy Customs Commissioner raised issues of risk management, technological inadequacy, manpower shortages and potential diplomatic and sovereignty problems. But Congress reaffirmed its will to implement 100-percent scanning in four years while government witnesses defended their position that the deadline was unrealistic.

Edmonson also examines the outcome of the World Customs Organization conference on the same subject, held two days before Lautenberg's hearing. The conference brought together government and international trade leaders and scanning technology manufacturers. There, a panel of terminal operators offered a novel suggestion: The threat of a nuclear or radiological weapon secreted in a container could be mitigated by the latest generation of radiation monitors.

Edmonson explains that the outdated Radiation Portal Monitors could detect radioactivity, but were unable to make a distinction between an atom bomb and a sack of cat litter. The Advanced Spectroscopic Portal, a device created by the U.S. government and its industry partners to replace the RPM, actually identifies individual isotopes and has software that alerts and operator when radiation is coming from a dangerous source. The ASP has shown that it can isolate a threat without disrupting the flow of traffic at terminal gates.

Edmonson's story goes into greater detail on pilot project results from the SAFE Port Act of 2006 and the Advanced Spectroscopic Portal, the possibility of mandatory cargo container scanning worldwide and the potential for private sector involvement.

For information on a full-access subscription to the print and electronic versions of The Journal of Commerce, call 888-215-6084 (8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. ET) or email

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