JUNE 17, 2008
Nearly seven years after the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history, a vital and costly security program to protect the nation’s vulnerable seaports is still not operating properly.
Established by Congress, the $70 million measure known as the Transportation Worker Identification Credential is supposed to ensure that individuals who pose a threat don’t gain unescorted access to secure areas of the nation’s maritime transportation system.
The measure requires all of the nation’s port workers—about 1.2 million—to obtain a background check, fingerprints and a special tamper-resistant identification card. The tamper-proof ID cards are to be issued by 12 state-of-the-art machines that ensure potential terrorists don’t gain access to sensitive security areas of U.S. seaports.
But after numerous delays, the system is far from being fully implemented even as the seventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks approaches. Only four machines operate correctly and only about a quarter of the nation’s port workers have obtained the special identification cards so far. Homeland Security officials have said the delay is justified because this is one of the world’s most advanced, interoperable biometric-enabled programs and it takes time to get it going.
One year after that explanation was offered however, the problems persist and the country’s seaports remain vulnerable to terrorists. Since most of the machines are broken, it takes up to 10 days to produce an ID card when it’s supposed to take just one. This will inevitably cause a huge delay in the program’s full implementation.
It seems that port security isn’t such a big priority for the government. A few months ago congressional investigators exposed how a separate Homeland Security program also intended to protect entry ports has instead created security gaps that could easily be exploited by terrorists to smuggle weapons of mass destruction in cargo containers.
Like the flawed ID card measure, the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism was established after the 9/11 attacks. It was created to deter potential terrorist strikes via cargo passing through the nation’s 326 airports, seaports and designated land borders but instead allows reduced scrutiny for about 8,000 “trusted” importers and air, sea and land carriers.
The reason is that the so-called trusted companies are not following the strict security guidelines, creating serious gaps that could easily be exploited by violent extremists. A Government Accountability Office report published in May details the program’s serious gaps that clearly put the nation at risk.
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