[Paleopsych] Technology Review: Cargo security: Point of impact: where technology collides with business and personal lives
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Wed Jan 19 15:40:12 UTC 2005
Cargo security: Point of impact: where technology collides with business
and personal lives
by Lok, Corie
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW: How vulnerable is the cargo shipping system to
STEPHEN FLYNN: The system was designed with virtually no security
built into it. Is there an opportunity to put a weapon of mass destruction
into the system? Yes. Anybody on the planet who has between $ 3,000 and $
5,000 can get a 40-foot [12-meter] box dropped off at their home or backed
up to their workplace. They can load it with up to 32 tons [29 metric
tons] of material, close the doors, put a 50-cent lead seal on it, and
it'll be off to the races.
TR: There's no inspection of the containers?
FLYNN: The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection only inspects those
containers it has determined to be "high risk." The figure that's in use
today is that 4 percent of all containers are somehow physically
inspected. There aren 't really firm standards set for inspection. It
could be the inspectors simply looked at the documentation. It could mean
that they looked at the seal to see that the seal hadn't been tampered
with, or they looked at the exterior of the box to check that the thing
hadn't been breached. It could mean that they physically opened the back
door, and everything looked fine in the dark, and they closed it back up.
It could mean that they ran a non-intrusive scanner to x-ray the interior.
Or it could mean that they opened up the box and took everything out and
looked it over. Since a container can hold up to 32 tons of material,
unladening or "unstuffing" the box is very rare.
TR: That doesn't sound very secure.
FLYNN: It shouldn't. But the real question here is, how can we be
confident the other 96 percent are low risk? The targeting system used by
U.S. government agencies to trigger an inspection relies heavily on the
cargo manifest. The manifest is supplied by the transportation provider,
such as a shipping company, but it's essentially secondhand information.
The manifest says, "This is what my customer tells me that I'm shipping,
and I'm going to take his word for it." The transportation provider
doesn't do any verification of its own.
TR: What would happen if terrorists did blow up a container?
FLYNN: If you had even one container go off, or if it's
at-Qaeda-style, you have three, then it immediately will raise the
question in America's mind: if this one box could go off, which was
presumed to be legitimate, what about all the other boxes? And the answer
right now would be we really don't know. So the political imperative will
be that you will shut the system down until you can sort it out.
Within about three weeks, you'll shut down the global trade system,
because you've got 90 percent of general merchandise, virtually everything
that goes into retailing, everything that goes into the manufacturing
sector, moving in these ubiquitous 40-by-8-foot [12-by-2.4-meter] boxes.
And it doesn't have to be a weapon of mass destruction. It can be just a
reasonably high-end conventional explosive, like a major truck bomb.
TR: What effect would shutting down the system have?
FLYNN: It means global recession. Probably global depression. The
person on the street may think, "I'll just go to WalMart and get what I
need." Well, WalMart, within two weeks, will have nothing on the shelves.
Because there are no warehouses: their warehouse is in the transportation
and distribution system. So it's a tremendous vulnerability that has
cascading effects, not just for the bottom line, but for the daily lives
of Americans. A good example is the West Coast longshoremen lockout of the
fall of 2002. It's estimated this 10-day event cost the U.S. economy over
$ 20 billion.
TR: Are there technologies out there that could improve security?
FLYNN: The good news is that there are, and they're off the shelf, or
near off the shelf. One key thing is the need to track the containers that
move through the system. The technology for this is a combination of
Global Positioning System and radio frequency identification [RFID]
technologies. We don't need to have real-time data about where every box
is. We need to capture a record of where the boxes have been, and then at
key points we interrogate the box to find out, "Where have you been, what
have you been up to?" That can get downloaded through RFID. Then that
information gets relayed to somebody who decides, "Oh, there's information
here that arouses my concern. Before this box is allowed into this loading
port, I want it set aside so we can check on it. All the other boxes can
keep going" But there may be some places where, because there's
particularly high risk of other things happening, such as cargo theft, you
want real-time GPS tracking.
TR: What about checking to make sure the boxes haven't been tampered
FLYNN: The kinds of things we're looking at are sensors built into the
box that can pick up things like light, or change in barometric pressure,
or change in temperature, which would only come from somebody breaching
the wall of the container or opening the door. And then there are other
sensors out there for dealing with very important issues like radiation.
All these sensors are important, because you can literally punch your way
through the boxes. It takes next to nothing to breach a container.
TR: How do you integrate the tracking and sensor technologies?
FLYNN: When the sensor goes off, the location of the box should be
logged, and then I want that information stored until the box gets to a
point where I can act on it, like a loading port. There, it goes through
an RFID interrogator that says, "A box is coming in, here's the box's
data, and whoops, the sensor went off." We can find out just where that
was. And then the terminal operator can say, "l don't want that box in
here. Let's shift it off over to this--hopefully safer--area here, and
then we'll go through and do an inspection."
TR: How much will all this technology cost?
FLYNN: Equipment that monitors the position and integrity of the cargo
would likely cost from $ 100 to $ 200 per box. Built-in sensors that could
detect chemical and radiological materials would add another $ 50.
Affordable and dependable sensors for biological agents are probably still
a couple of years away but will come in about that price as well. A
container has a typical life span of 10 years and is used up to five times
per year, so even if the final installation and maintenance price tag came
in at $ 500, and the sensors were replaced every five years, the cost of
the "smart box" technologies could be as low as $ 10 to $ 20 per use. To
put that figure into context, transpacific freight rates have fluctuated
by more than $ 1,000 per container over the past 18 months with no
measurable impact on world trade.
TR: Couldn't the bad guys find a way around these technologies?
FLYNN: The bad guys who are sophisticated will compromise your
system--block your sensor, jam the signal, they'll do all those things.
But security works when you build layers. Each layer itself doesn't have
to be perfect. But collectively they create a pretty powerful deterrent.
And it'll get you to the point where these guys say, "This is not a system
that I want to mess with," versus the one we have right now, which is
practically an open invitation for terrorists to do their worst.
POSITION: Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security
Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
ISSUE: Container security. The cargo shipping system moves tens of
millions of containers around the world each year by train, truck, and
ship, with next to no security. What can technology do to make the system
less vulnerable to terrorist attacks?
PERSONAL POINT OF IMPACT: Using security expertise garnered as a U.S.
Coast Guard commander, helped initiate Operation Safe Commerce, a $ 58
million federal pilot project to test container security technologies at
the Port of New York and New Jersey, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long
Beach, and the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma
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