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The day a nuke hit our port

Editor’s note: Information from the following jaw-dropping column was first featured in the current issue of Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin, the premium, online intelligence newsletter published by the founder of WND. Annual subscriptions have been reduced to just $99 and include a free copy of Farah’s latest book, “Taking America Back.” Monthly trial subscriptions are just $9.95 for credit card users.

Robert Pfriender

With all the recent debate and political posturing about foreign ownership of our ports by a United Arab Emirates government-controlled company, the critical issue in port security has been completely sidestepped. It is completely meaningless who is running our ports under the current circumstances – although it certainly should be an American company that controls any of our vital national interests such as ports and other maritime assets, communications, energy, food production and all industries critical to our economy, security or military readiness and capabilities. Free trade is a great and noble concept, but our national freedom, security and cherished democracy are much more important and should never be cast aside for financial or perceived political gains.

The real concern that our politicians should be discussing is that if a weapon of mass destruction, or WMD, arrives at one of our mainland ports, it will already be much too late for any possible security measure to have any positive effect, regardless of who is in charge at the port.

The officials at the Department of Homeland Security are fond of showing us video clips meant to reinforce the idea that they are doing a great job of securing our ports. We see cargo containers being “inspected” by dutiful-looking customs agents holding handheld Geiger counters or being driven aboard tractor trailers through sophisticated “Radiation Portal Monitors” and advanced gamma x-ray machines, trained dogs sniffing about for contraband and shiny new Coast Guard patrol boats making radical turns in the harbor with ominous 50-caliber machine guns mounted on them. Somehow this is supposed to make us feel better and secure, but all of these images are at best in the same ridiculous category as the Terror Alert color codes. They have very limited practical effects. And our worst enemies understand this.


In recent days, we have been treated to Sens. Schumer and Clinton proclaiming that they are stronger supporters of port security than President Bush and demanding that the ports remain in American hands. And across our nation similar statements have been made by the officials we need to trust will keep us safe from a nuclear holocaust.

Now, for the harsh, honest reality:

We are not safe. We are not even close to being safe. And, despite all the grandiose political pronouncements, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars spent and the consolidation of many federal departments into the gargantuan Department of Homeland Security, we are no safer from a terror attack with a weapon of mass destruction today than we were on Sept. 11, 2001.

Despite the enormous risks faced by America in accepting un-inspected cargo containers in our ports, currently there are no practical means available to protect America from attack with weapons of mass destruction that may be easily concealed in the nearly 9 million cargo shipping containers that are not inspected before entering the United States each year.

The United States has 361 ports located on 95,000 miles of coastline. The containers arrive on over 7,500 ships during their more than 50,000 port calls. This is the most dangerous security threat faced by the United States from terrorists or rouge nations who could easily deliver one or even worse, many nuclear, biological or chemical weapons into the country utilizing what can be best characterized as “Intercontinental Stealth Container Missiles,” or ISCM, the “poor man’s ICBM.”

A 12 kiloton nuclear device (small by today’s standards and similar in size to that used on Japan) detonated at the Brooklyn Red Hook Container Terminal would likely kill 2 million people or more as the radioactive fallout rained downwind on the completely unprotected citizens of Long Island.

Such an event, which is unfortunately entirely plausible at the current time, would change the nature of our free society in profoundly negative ways and would likely ruin the national economy, aside from the great human tragedy of immeasurable proportions.

The officials of Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, choose to rely on a program they call the “Container Security Initiative,” or CSI, which is a virtual (as opposed to a reliable physical) “inspection” of containers. In reality, less than 4 percent (and by some accounts as few as 2 percent) of containers are likely targeted for this “inspection,” which is really only a screening, with less than 1 percent of the 4 percent of containers which are screened being actually physically inspected.

Further, these “inspections” are often carried out by foreigners at foreign ports, and CBP can only rely upon the honesty and integrity of these foreign inspectors. Worse, there are only a few dozen ports enrolled in this program out of thousands of ports worldwide. Appallingly, none of these ports are located in countries which are the most serious threats to our national security.

CSI is perhaps best characterized as a dangerous program, as it offers something much worse than poor security, namely a false sense of security that leaves us even more vulnerable to a catastrophic attack.

I’ve included some interesting General Accountability Office report links at the end of this article regarding port security and critiques of the CSI program. The GAO is the oversight branch of Congress tasked with looking at the effectiveness of all types of government programs in an honest and non-partisan way.

Not rocket science

A quick look at the GAO report abstracts will provide a very clear picture that the Container Security Initiative has been a dismal and total failure in providing any credible measure of security or defense of our country from a weapon of mass destruction entering through our ports.

These reports do not even address the most fundamental failure of CSI, which is that even if CSI or one of those diligent customs agents can determine that a container has a nuke onboard, there is essentially nothing anyone can do at that late point to a prevent disaster of such magnitude it’s hard to even imagine.

Apparently, the collective wisdom of the American public is much more accurate in its assessment that the country needs much better port security immediately. It is absolutely absurd for the White House to provide an opportunity to any foreign-owned entity to participate in any capacity with the operation of a vital national security asset like our seaports before implementing a security protocol that assures all containers have been inspected before they land on our shores.

Somehow, all the official brainstorming and even that collective wisdom of the public does not even begin to consider that we must stop a WMD from ever entering our ports. We have been so conditioned by politicians telling us we need higher fences, more police carrying bigger weapons, patrol boats that can turn on a dime in our harbors, more Geiger counters, pat-down checks of grandmothers at the airport and now the latest, no foreign owners of our ports, that we fail to see the real threat.

Think about this simple concept for a moment: If the nuke never gets into our ports, then it can’t explode there. If a nuke does come into our port, it is already much too late. Got it? It’s not rocket science, just simple, common-sense.


OK, so what is the solution, you may ask? Fortunately, it is very simple. We need to make sure the nuke never, ever arrives in our mainland port.

We need to implement an immediate crash program of building offshore cargo container security inspection ports. And, we need to require that each and every cargo container is physically inspected at those security ports before it ever reaches within 10 miles of our shores. If it explodes, it will be out in the ocean, not in one of our cities.

Our government cannot get this wrong, not even once. The stakes are just too high; the tragic results would be absolutely irreversible and unprecedented in human history. And we now all know how simple the solution is. No more excuses. If the politicians are serious about national security, now is the time to support full inspection.

‘CSI is just ludicrous’

Can you imagine the tragic consequences of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, implementing a program similar to Customs and Border Protection’s CSI whereby NORAD essentially guesses which incoming Intercontinental Ballistic Missile may have several multi-megaton nuclear warheads onboard, and then only as they arrive (just prior to impact) on our country NORAD were to decide if the missile should be inspected by a customs agent waving his handheld radiation detector as the missile zooms by? It would be absurd.

NORAD’S motto is “Deter, Detect, Defend.” Something that CBP could learn a lot from. Interestingly, prior to 9-11, NORAD viewed its mission as protecting our airspace from threats coming across the Canadian and Mexican borders or from across the oceans. They quickly realized that the new threat environment included all sorts of terror attacks, and much to their credit they have quickly adapted their tactics to deal with those threats. Not so with Customs and Border Protection. They apparently view their primary core mission as being more toward encouraging commerce and international investment in our country than protecting national security.

Each and every container that arrives on our shores must be assumed to be carrying a nuclear warhead until we have irrefutable proof that it does, in fact, not. And until that proof (which must be physically verified, not by a virtual guessing game of “Risk Management” or statistical analysis such as CSI), it must never be allowed near our shore. Never, ever – it’s that simple.

CSI is just ludicrous. Customs and Border Protection has no idea at all if a container has a nuke onboard, even if it were one of the few containers that is subject to its ridiculous, very amateur screening practice. If a warhead is here, it is much, much too late. All the claims about CBP knowing what is in a container because it gets the manifest 24 hours in advance of the container’s arrival are just plain nonsense since it’s extremely easy to alter the manifest or simply lie about the contents on the manifest.

Getting back to that customs agent walking around a container already in our port with a Geiger counter. What if he does find a weapon inside, what will he do? Perhaps the container has tamper switches on it that once it is offloaded automatically arm the nuclear device; perhaps it has a GPS-enabled fuse that will automatically detonate the bomb on delivery to the port; perhaps there is simply a radical suicide bomber inside the container holding the button. These are all possible and unfortunately very likely scenarios. Bottom line, that customs agent cannot do anything once a weapon has arrived.

But the officials in charge of our port security, and ultimately who are responsible for preventing the potential mass murder of millions of our citizens and the devastation of our country along with the likely demise of free, democratic societies throughout the world by a smuggled nuke, have a much different, if, in fact, removed-from-reality, opinion.

CBP Assistant Commissioner Jason Ahern was recently quoted as saying, “It is very difficult for someone to introduce something that causes a national security risk to this country,” referring to his perceived effectiveness of the CSI program in preventing a nuclear device from entering the country through a cargo container. Mr. Ahern is the primary official in charge of CSI at CBP.

As the man most responsible for preventing a nuclear holocaust in one of our ports, perhaps Mr. Ahern should spend more of his time reading those GAO reports. CSI is by the most lenient measures simply a complete farce and a total failure that CBP has wasted huge sums of taxpayer money on and valuable time and effort implementing.

A single nuclear device detonated in one of our major seaports would instantly devastate the very fabric of our cherished free society and would bring consequences that may be unimaginable to the America public (especially Mr. Ahern and his superiors, apparently) at the current time.

One only needs to view a few photos and survivor accounts of the devastation that occurred at Nagasaki and Hiroshima and then realize that this would pale in comparison to what would be the result if a similar, or likely larger (or several) weapon(s) were used on heavily populated Manhattan, Long Island, Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Las Vegas or any of our country’s other major cities (and perhaps several of these cities at the same time).

According to CBP’s website, “an important part of the CBP mission remains the facilitation of legitimate trade. CBP has undertaken a number of initiatives, such as the use of non-intrusive inspectional technology, to increase its ability to examine cargo effectively without slowing the flow of trade, which plays a significant part in the U.S. economy.” Perhaps this is the fundamental problem with CBP. We recently heard from the Bush Commerce Department that it is of vital importance to encourage investment in our ports by foreigners. The same “business at all costs” attitude seems to be driving CBP’s policies rather than protecting national security first and foremost as is practiced by NORAD.

Despite all the obviously inherent deficiencies in CSI, Mr. Ahern and the administration continue to tout its use and steadfastly refuse to implement a real security protocol that will prevent the destruction of America. It’s time to toss CSI in the trash where it belongs, as it is nothing more than a virtual-reality shell game. Perhaps its time for CBP to step aside and place port security with NORAD.

The grim reality of nuclear terror

A study conducted by Lachlan Forrow, M.D., director of Ethics Support Services at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, Boston; Ira Helfland, M.D., head of Emergency Medicine at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Northampton, Mass.; and Jaya Tiwari, research director for the Center for Global Security and Health, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Washington, D.C., examines the consequences of a single 12.5 kiloton nuclear weapon being smuggled undetected into the port of New York in a cargo shipping container and then being detonated.

The report soberly states that “the blast and thermal effects of such an explosion would kill 52,000 people immediately, and direct radiation would cause 44,000 cases of radiation sickness, of which 10,000 would be fatal. … Radiation from fallout would kill another 200,000 people and cause several hundred thousand additional cases of radiation sickness.”

The study continues: “The authorities’ ability to aid survivors would be very limited, about 1,000 hospital beds would be destroyed by the blast, and 8,700 more would be in areas with radiation exposures high enough to cause radiation sickness. The remaining local medical facilities would quickly be overwhelmed, and even with advance preparation outside help would be delayed.”

This is a very credible study, with calculations prepared by utilizing accurate computer models created by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The estimates are actually quite conservative being based on the average daytime population, considering the dire results if the incident occurred during peak work hours or worse, on a major holiday such as New Year’s Eve. In such a case, the casualties could easily be several times greater.

In reality, the study neglects to account for significant subsequent deaths that undoubtedly would result from the deadly radioactive fallout, which in the case of a nuclear explosion in New York City or the Red Hook Terminal Container Terminal located in Brooklyn would quickly travel the prevailing west to east winds over nearby Long Island.

In fact, in a report that describes the likely aftermath of a slightly larger weapon of 20 kilotons, Cham Dallas, director of the Center for Mass Destruction Defense estimates that at least 1.6 million New Yorkers could be killed or injured from such an incident in New York. Mr. Dallas also said the flash from the blast would permanently blind all onlookers, followed by a fireball that would burn everything in its path. He has given similar testimony to a closed hearing before the House Subcommittee on the Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attack, which is part of the Homeland Security Committee. Such a weapon would fit into a corner of a 20-foot cargo container and would be easily concealed. Enough weapons-grade material for a nuclear bomb would fit in a soda can.

For anyone who believes that CBP can find a nuclear weapon concealed in a cargo container, consider this. A while back, ABC News did an interesting experiment. They took 15 pounds of depleted uranium, shielded by a steel pipe with a lead lining, and placed it in a suitcase. The suitcase traveled from a European country and 25 days later it arrived in the United States.

Although it was depleted uranium and not weapons-grade highly enriched uranium, or HEU, it would be virtually indistinguishable from the weapons-grade material. Several well-regarded experts confirm that it would be a perfect fake. It traveled from Austria to Hungary, on to Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, a typical route that smuggled nuclear materials from the former Soviet Union would likely travel.

In Turkey, the suitcase was placed in a wooden chest clearly labeled “Depleted Uranium” and placed with other items being shipped in a cargo container. It arrived in New York at the port in Staten Island some 19 days thereafter. This port is equipped with “state of the art” radiological detection equipment, according to CBP.

Apparently, the container was targeted for screening by CSI. However, it passed through without arousing any further suspicion and the potentially destructive cargo sailed through undetected. Later, it went to a warehouse area near the Brooklyn Bridge and again the “weapon” was not detected by customs officers on the site.

So, even with CSI, we now understand how easy it would be to bring the weapon in under the current system. With a large, completely unprotected population approaching 3 million people having no suitable fallout shelters, estimates of over 2 million dying from fallout exposure on Long Island may not be unrealistic.

Additional casualties would likely result as most of Long Island’s food, medications and other vital supplies come through Manhattan, and once that transportation route is severed, chaos in the supply chain would result for an extended period of time, possibly even years.

If a follow-on attack of a biological weapon such as smallpox occurred, or if multiple nuclear weapons were detonated, the consequences of the initial destruction on the health-care system would be unimaginable, and the resulting deaths would likely be in the millions, with many millions more seriously injured.

According to the United States General Accountability Office, “in a 2002 simulation of a terrorist attack involving cargo containers (sponsored by Booz Hamilton and the Conference Board), every seaport in the United States was shut down, resulting in a simulated loss of $58 billion in revenue to the U.S. economy, including spoilage, loss of sales, and manufacturing slowdowns and halts in production.” Comparing that figure to what we now understand the costs of the attack on 9-11 to actually be in excess of $120 billion, one can easily surmise that a nuclear attack involving cargo containers would vastly exceed that original estimate.

Other experts have calculated that the resulting economic losses would be more likely in excess of $1 trillion. A single incident would result in the crippling of the international trade and shipping industries, and would cause serious worldwide shortages of materials, supplies, resources, food, medicines and the many other essential items shipped by container. One could only imagine the dire consequences if several weapons were delivered simultaneously. American society as we know it could easily be at tremendous, irreparable risk.

Containerized shipping is a critical component of global trade because most of the international trade moves or is transported in cargo containers. Approximately 90 percent of all world’s cargo moves by container. Almost half of incoming trade (by value) arrives by containers on board container ships in the United States. Almost 9 million cargo containers arrive and are offloaded at 361 U.S. seaports each year.

Each of those containers is a potential stealth weapon that is not currently detected by NORAD, the Air Force, the Navy, the Coast Guard or by Customs and Border Protection’s Container Security Initiative, which has primary responsibility to “inspect” containers.

Enormous risk

The scope of the problem we face is enormous. Over the next ten years, a total of more than 88 million of these potential stealth weapons will be facing our country with no legitimate defense being offered by any current program.

To put this in perspective, during the height of the Cold War, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Soviet Union had about 10,000 deployed intercontinental strategic nuclear weapons (missile warheads and bombs) for potential use against the United States in 1986. And it cost them many billions of dollars to build them and maintain them. They now have a considerably lower number of warheads.

Terrorists can now accomplish the same destruction of our country for merely a few thousand dollars in shipping charges and know with certainty that their attack will be undetected and likely successful, even if sent from a CSI-participating port.

CSI’s mission to “inspect” containers at the port of origin is problematic, as there are many thousands of such ports worldwide, many of which are inaccessible to American-controlled inspections, and at CSI-participating ports post-inspection tampering remains likely, even with “intelligent tagging.”

CBP really has very little to show for all the years since Sept. 11, 2001. In that time, they have cobbled together a few dozen of the lowest risk ports for the CSI program.

The operational CSI ports include:


Obviously, reading from this list it is apparent that none of these ports would likely ever be considered as being at high-risk from terrorists. Not one port in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Argentina, Colombia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Cuba, and Pakistan, or any other potential enemies of America, has agreed to participate in CSI, nor are they likely to join in the future.

CBP is simply checking the lowest-risk cargo from countries that have the closest relations with America. It is unlikely that any terrorist organization, especially sophisticated ones like al-Qaida, would plan to ship a weapon of mass destruction into one of our extremely vulnerable cities from any CSI member port.

Then there is the matter of how CBP defines “inspections.” In reality, it only “screens” that 2-4 percent of containers. Using Custom’s own description, CSI consists of four core elements:


  1. Using intelligence and automated information to identify and target high-risk containers;


  2. Pre-screening those containers identified as high-risk, at the port of departure, before they arrive at U.S. ports;


  3. Using detection technology to quickly pre-screen high-risk containers; and


  4. Using smarter, tamper-evident containers.

Notice, nowhere does CBP mention physically inspecting the contents of a container, because this is an extremely rare action on its part. So, “inspection” is merely “screening,” with very few containers ever being opened, emptied and actually inspected in the true sense of the term. This can hardly be assuring and provides no benefit to our national security, just a false sense of security.

According to CBP, to be eligible for CSI:


How many of the truly dangerous countries, especially the ones supporting terrorism, could meet these standards or would ever want to? With thousands of ports worldwide, CBP is focusing its minimal efforts on only a few of the lowest-threat areas. Inspecting all of the ports worldwide would require enormous efforts and impractical staffing by tens of thousands of customs agents.

According to the GAO, Customs and Border Protection’s CSI “strategy neither incorporates all key elements of a risk management framework nor is it entirely consistent with recognized modeling practices.” Some of the deficiencies identified in the GAO report include:


CBP typically expects to deploy five officers to start to “inspect” (screen) even the largest of ports such as Singapore. How thorough an inspection could five officers possibly provide 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days per year, even if all five worked non-stop in a major port like Singapore?

The U.S. government plans to spend many billions of dollars on a limited missile defense system. Unfortunately, CBP is truly content with limited virtual screening of 2 percent of the containers entering our vulnerable ports. What about the other 6.8 million potential stealth container missiles targeted at our country?

Countries such as North Korea do not need to wait until they develop more sophisticated missiles with ranges sufficient to hit the United States. Taking into account the current very disturbing posture of North Korea, or Iran for that matter, it could easily place a 10-megaton (a size many magnitudes greater than the bombs used against Japan) nuclear warhead into a cargo container in an un-inspected port and ship it covertly into Manhattan without ever being detected until it kills millions of Americans. Many experts believe that such a pre-emptive strike against our country is likely under the current circumstances.

And, North Korea and Iran are not alone in this possible scenario; they are joined by several other countries that are known to be state supporters of terror and terrorists organizations.

Countries such as China may also have a motive to ship several nuclear warheads to our major cities for storage to be used against us later as a contingency, i.e., if we supported Taiwan militarily when China attempts to seize Taiwan by force. In fact, such a scenario is completely within the scope of China’s well-documented doctrine of “Unrestricted Warfare.”

The solution: True inspection

Something needs to change and change quickly before the reality of this problem becomes apparent to us in a tragic way that would make 9-11 look insignificant in comparison.

One possible solution is the development of the Offshore Super-Security Inspection Ports that has been proposed by a consortium that includes my company, Allied International Development, Ltd. These offshore ports would provide the highest level of threat protection from weapons of mass-destruction concealed in cargo shipping containers by facilitating comprehensive robotic inspection of all containers before they arrive on the United States mainland.

The ports would enable true inspection (as compared to the mere virtual screening of CSI) of the containers for all types of weapons of mass destruction. The Offshore Super-Security Inspection Ports would even have capabilities to quarantine chemical and biological materials detected. Various technologies to neutralize and prevent the detonation of any nuclear weapons that may be encountered are being explored.

These new, high-technology security inspection ports will feature a safe, deepwater, 25-mile offshore location providing an effective distance barrier to any nuclear, biological or chemical weapons incident that may occur during the inspection of the containers.

Most importantly, the Super-Security Inspection Ports will preclude any weapon of mass destruction concealed within an inbound cargo container from ever arriving on the U.S. mainland and the possibility that it could be utilized within the territory of the United States.

The design, development and construction of the Super-Security Inspection Ports will cost an average of $5.5 billion each. In comparison, the congressional General Accountability Office estimates that missile defense programs will cost the United States $53 billion between 2004 and 2009. The Offshore Super-Security Inspection Ports project will be privately financed and does not require any public funding.

The inspection procedure will not add significant time or unreasonable expense to the shipping process.

The ports would be operated by the federal government under contract from the consortium. It is anticipated that inspections would be conducted by the Department of Homeland Security and CBP or other designated agency, and that port security would be provided by the United States Coast Guard or other designated agency.

Access the GAO Reports here. Note the full reports are .pdf files:

“Summary of Challenges Faced in Targeting Oceangoing Cargo Containers for Inspection”

“Homeland Security: Key Cargo Security Programs Can Be Improved,” GAO-05-466T, May 26, 2005. GAO Abstract

“Risk Management: Further Refinements Needed to Assess Risks and Prioritize Protective Measures at Ports and Other Critical Infrastructure,” GAO-06-91, Dec. 15, 2005. GAO Abstract

“Combating Nuclear Smuggling: Efforts to Deploy Radiation Detection Equipment in the United States and in Other Countries,” GAO-05-840T, June 21, 2005. GAO Abstract

“Maritime Security: Enhancements Made, But Implementation and Sustainability Remain Key Challenges,” GAO-05-448T, May 17, 2005. GAO Abstract

“Container Security: A Flexible Staffing Model and Minimum Equipment Requirements Would Improve Overseas Targeting and Inspection Efforts,” GAO-05-557, April 26, 2005. GAO Abstract

“Homeland Security: Overview of Department of Homeland Security Management Challenges,” GAO-05-573T, April 20, 2005. GAO Abstract

“Preventing Nuclear Smuggling: DOE Has Made Limited Progress in Installing Radiation Detection Equipment at Highest Priority Foreign Seaports,” GAO-05-375, March 31, 2005. GAO Abstract

“Cargo Security: Partnership Program Grants Importers Reduced Scrutiny with Limited Assurance of Improved Security,” GAO-05-404, March 11, 2005. GAO Abstract

“Homeland Security: Process for Reporting Lessons Learned from Seaport Exercises Needs Further Attention,” GAO-05-170, Jan. 14, 2005 GAO Abstract

“Maritime Security: Better Planning Needed to Help Ensure an Effective Port Security Assessment Program,” GAO-04-1062, Sept. 30, 2004 GAO Abstract


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Robert Pfriender is the founder and president of Allied International Development, Ltd., a privately held real estate development and construction management firm located on Long Island, N.Y. He recently founded Allied Transgenic Energy, Ltd. with the intention of producing technologically advanced, economically competitive, environmentally friendly, “biologically synthesized” alternative liquid fuels as replacements for gasoline, diesel, aviation fuels and heating oil using a new proprietary process.