For all the concern about safety at the nation's airports, counterterrorism officials and other experts say the nation's ports may now present an even greater threat. Since Sept. 11, they have received far less security funding than airports, yet they continue to process far more cargo — more than 9.5 million containers a year.Enhancing port security is a difficult, but manageable task. It takes organization, commitment, and money. Instead, the administration provides false assurances and stop gaps.
During this fall's presidential campaign, Democrat Sen. John F. Kerry repeatedly warned about the safety of the nation's ports, telling voters that only 5% of all incoming cargo was inspected.
Homeland Security officials denied Kerry's charge. They said they screen 100% of containers as part of a new "layered" system of defense that begins overseas, where foreign shippers must provide full cargo and crew manifests 24 hours before loading any ship bound for the U.S.
But after these manifests are examined, mountains of shipping intelligence are sifted and ships are tracked as they cross oceans, only about 6% of the containers arriving at U.S. ports are classified as high risk and examined using X-ray machines, officials said. Locally, about 6% of the containers scanned by X-ray are further inspected by hand.