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Gaps found in U.S. nuclear smuggling defenses

Posted By F. Michael Maloof On 02/19/2013 @ 9:35 pm In Front Page,U.S.,World | No Comments

WASHINGTON – The Department of Homeland Security has serious gaps in screening for radiation at 22 ports through which the largest volume of container cargo enters the United States, a new report reveals, because monitors which are “utilized infrequently or not utilized at all.”

DHS “component agencies do not fully coordinate or certainly manage the radiation portal monitor program to insure effective and efficient operations,” according to a report from the DHS Office of the Inspector General.

A component of DHS, the Customs and Border Protection, isn’t using all of the monitors and isn’t evaluating “changes in the screening environment at seaports to relocate radiation portal monitors as necessary,” the report said.

The report also revealed a serious lack of coordination of two agencies within DHS which are involved in radiation detection. Their lack of coordination also may be a symptom of a lack of monitoring of cargo containers at the vital entry ports.

In this regard, the OIG report said that the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office and the CBP do not “accurately track and monitor their inventory of radiation portal monitors. Given the radiation portal monitors’ limited life and the lack of funding for new monitors, CBP and DNDO should better coordinate to fully utilize, promptly relocate and properly maintain inventory to best use resources and to continue screening of all containerized cargo entering U.S. seaports.”

The radiation portal monitor detection system is a passive means to screen vehicles and containers for nuclear and radiological materials. They pass through the RPM sensor panels positioned on opposite sides of seaport terminal exit lanes.

Each of the panels contains tubes filled with helium-3 polyvinyl toluene plastic to detect radiation sources.

Each portal monitor has a lifespan of 10 years, although some of the radiation portal monitors could become obsolete by 2014, “with no useful RPMs at seaports by 2021,” the report said.

While the service life of the RPMs can be extended with proper technical maintenance, the DNDO hasn’t yet funded or deployed technologies to increase the service life of existing RPMs. Nor has DNDO decided on what new technologies can replace them.

DNDO in 2005 had begun to develop, test and deploy advanced screening technology through its Advanced Spectroscopic Portal Program. However, DHS in 2011 cancelled the program due to “operational and technical challenges,” the OIG report said.

The radiation portal monitors, however, aren’t the only problem, according to the OIG report.

There also is a problem with the scanners.

After 9/11 the government had put into effect a number of security fixes which “appear to be security measures, but in reality are smoke and mirrors, not really addressing real threats,” one former CBP official told the magazine, Homeland Security Today. “RPMs and container scanning devices – both are very costly and both have major shortfalls.”

In response to the OIG report, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, was critical of DHS.

“Unfortunately, this report shows that this critical port security technology which can potentially detect nuclear weapons or radioactive material entering the U.S. is not being managed as effectively as it must be,” he said. “With limited resources to scan the millions of containers entering the U.S. each year, we cannot afford to mismanage this critical technology resource.”

Bloomberg recently reported only 5 percent of incoming cargo is checked for nuclear threats:

In December, there was a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin that said the federal government also was cutting back on funding for nuclear and radiation detection equipment in overseas megaports.

The report said the National Nuclear Security Administration had completed only 42 of 100 planned megaport projects in 31 countries, spending some $850 million. However, NNSA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy, is about to sustain an 85-percent reduction in its fiscal year 2013 budget.

The cut prompted officials to shift their focus from providing new megaports with radiation detection equipment to sustaining the existing facilities. As a consequence, NNSA has suspended ongoing negotiations and canceled planned deployments of equipment in five countries.

According to its mission statement, the NNSA is responsible for the management and security of the country’s nuclear weapons, nuclear non-proliferation and naval reactor programs. It also responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and overseas.

The agency also is responsible for ensuring the safe and secure transportation of nuclear weapons and components and special nuclear materials to their destination.

And early in 2012, the G2 Bulletin reported the Government Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, was warning DHS was nowhere close to complying with a requirement that by last July all U.S.-bound cargo must be routinely scanned for nuclear and radiological materials and other components to make weapons of mass destruction.

According to Judicial Watch, DHS had spent hundreds of millions of dollars on questionable systems that couldn’t do the scanning.

In one case, DHS spent $200 million on 1,400 radiation portal monitors but had to stop using them since they didn’t do the job.

Ten years ago, the 9/11 Commission made a recommendation for 100 percent compliance by July 2012. The requirement was incorporated into the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007.


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