DHS to toughen maritime security

The Homeland Security Department plans to heighten border security by requiring trucks, trains, planes and ships to electronically transmit their cargo manifests to border officials before arriving in or departing from the United States.

Until now, cargo manifests from planes and ships heading to the country were voluntarily sent in exchange for faster passage through the customs maze. By this fall, DHS plans to begin running the data through an automatic targeting system to detect shipments that pose a potential terrorist risk.

"Advance cargo information is essential to not only preventing instruments of terrorism from being shipped into this country, but also to speed the flow of legitimate cargo across our borders," DHS Secretary Tom Ridge said in a statement July 22.

The amount of time a company would have to submit its cargo list would vary by transportation mode. The proposed rule, which has a 30-day comment period, is one of a number of steps DHS is taking to better control access to the United States without disrupting the global supply chain.

In another effort to toughen secu- rity, six new interim maritime rules went into effect July 1 that require shippers to close their security gaps, Coast Guard Commandant Thomas Collins told the House Transportation Committee July 22. One rule requires that vessels install electronic systems that automatically transmit identification information.

In total, the new rules could cost the industry $7 billion during the next 10 years.

Collins said he understands the significance of the security regulations' cost to the maritime industry. But, he said, a terrorist incident against our maritime transportation system would have a substantial, negative impact on global shipping, international trade and the world economy.

The new rules are "something the business community can live with," said George Weise, a former commissioner of the Customs Service who is now vice president of global trade compliance at Vastera Inc., a technology solutions company that handles compliance issues.

He said DHS took into account what the trade community needed when putting together the rules, which were mandated by Congress and must go into effect Nov. 1.

Despite these moves, the Bush administration is under increasing criticism from Democrats and other groups who say it is not doing or spending enough to protect security at home. A liberal think tank gave the administration a D for its attempts to improve homeland security since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In a report card that it released July 23, the Progressive Policy Institute said the administration has not taken advantage of existing technology designed to share intelligence, track foreigners, secure ports and improve aviation security. "We have failed as a nation to fully mobilize our resources," said Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas), ranking member of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

Meanwhile, a presidential advisory board of industry and government officials met last week to develop recommendations for protecting the nation's critical infrastructure, which includes the Internet and energy, banking and telecommunications systems. Gen. John Gordon, a presidential homeland security adviser, said cyberattacks might soon become a threat as great as weapons of mass destruction. "It's serious. It's real. It's upon us," Gordon told a meeting of the National Infrastructure Advisory Council in Washington, D.C., July 22. "What we really see in this open world is the testing of cyberweapons every day."

The council is expected to develop guidelines about cyberattacks by October. Those disclosure guidelines must reflect national security interests and warn the public about potential attacks, said Robert Liscouski, assistant secretary for infrastructure protection at DHS and a member of the council.

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Room for improvement

The Progressive Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, issued a report card on the Bush administration's homeland security efforts, giving it an overall grade of D.

Here are some highlights from the report:

* Improving intelligence gathering and analysis — D

* Integrating terrorist watch lists — F

* Controlling the nation's borders — D

* Enhancing aviation security — C-

* Nuclear power plant security — A

* Protecting against bioterror attacks — C

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