Keeping American Ports Secure: Good News on the Homeland Security Front

Posted: Sep 14, 2006 12:00 AM
Keeping American Ports Secure:  Good News on the Homeland Security Front

The people I represent in the Fifth District of New Jersey remember all too well the events of September 11, 2001. Living in the shadows of the former World Trade Center as well as three major airports, the second busiest port in the nation, and a number of national landmarks like the Statue of Liberty - the threat of another terror attack looms large. Ensuring that our government is doing its best to prevent terror attacks and prepare should the worst occur is more than just an important part of my work here in Washington; it's a critical matter of life and death for my neighbors and fellow New Jerseyans.

Last Wednesday, I toured Newark Seaport with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to assess current procedures and technologies used to detect and prevent threats. While there is still much to do to make our port security airtight, what I saw on this tour was encouraging. Terrorists consistently alter their techniques and targets to keep America guessing where and when we might be most vulnerable. We must remain one step ahead of them, and the funding we have allocated toward port security has been put to good use to keep us in that position.

When we awoke to the very real dangers of the contemporary world on September 11th, 2001, we were shocked to discover the dangers hidden in our unsecured trade infrastructure. Today, we have a layered approach to port security that has significantly increased our safety - an approach that is improving daily with the development of new tools and methods to ensure that our trade is safe, yet efficient.

One-hundred percent of containers shipped to the U.S. receive a risk assessment. Each container must have a detailed manifest that accurately depicts what is being shipped. We know who is sending and receiving each container, we have detailed data on their shipping habits, and we can prioritize our inspection efforts.

The threat of weapons of mass destruction has led to the effort to "push our borders out," even to the manufacturers who build products for U.S. consumption. We now have CBP officers at 44 ports around the world - up from zero in 2001. By the end of this year, CBP will be at 50 ports worldwide, representing 90% of all trade bound for the U.S. These officers work with host countries to inspect containers before they are even loaded. Radiation detectors at these ports ensure that each truck entering the port is scanned for the most dangerous of weapons.

Terrorists seek to exploit the weakest links and find the easiest ways to gain access to our nation. Our allies and trading partners have recognized the great risk to worldwide trade posed by terrorists and are volunteering for the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism. This effort allows us to work with shippers and manufacturers to secure all aspects of trade from the factory to railcars and trucks to the ports. By strengthening security before shipping even reaches stateside ports, we make our ports dramatically safer.

After the attacks on September 11th, the Federal government invested millions into new technologies to enhance port security. Scanning equipment that was unheard of five years ago is now installed and working in our ports. The latest scanning technology cannot only detect radiation, but also the type of radiation present and even view inside the container with a single sweep. A process that used to take three separate steps, now takes one, giving agents the resources and time to scan even more containers.

Furthermore, in New Jersey, researchers at Rutgers University have established a multi-disciplinary Port Security Laboratory and research program. They are utilizing Homeland Security funds to develop still better detection devices and track containers and ships. Private companies, such as SI International, that have been engaged in some of the greatest advances in military technology are turning to homeland security technology and coming up with even better innovations. I applaud all of these bright minds for their efforts to make America safer. It makes me sleep better to know that American ingenuity is hard at work to protect us through our ports.

While we have come a long way in port security, we will not idle. Earlier this year, I supported additional funds for port security -- $1.2 billion more, in fact. And, I was pleased to support the Security and Accountability for Every Port Act to continue to improve safety at our ports. We must continue to invest in our nations' safety and must never forget that homeland security interests always take precedence over trade interests. We must ensure that our Homeland Security officials have the resources to prevent terrorists from using our global trade system to take the lives of Americans.

Congressman Scott Garrett represents the 5th Congressional District of New Jersey