Homeland Security Special Report: The cargo challenge

Government executives face major challenges as they try to mitigate homeland security threats

One of the things we’ve learned from the 2001 terrorist attacks is that we are in a conflict that tests the imagination. The terrorists that day demonstrated all too well their ability to conceive of and carry out horrific acts. On our side, government officials now have the mind-taxing job of trying to anticipate where and how the next attacks might occur — and doing what they can to prevent them.

Homeland security experts have been warning for years that a likely next target of terrorists is this country’s vast and vulnerable freight transportation system. The risks are many — from nuclear materials that could be smuggled via cargo containers that enter the country’s ports each day to railroad tanker cars filled with poisonous chemicals that sometimes sit unattended on tracks located in the downtown areas of hundreds of U.S. towns and cities.

Managing those risks will not be easy or inexpensive, which largely explains why relatively little headway has been made so far. As the stories on the following pages describe, government executives face major challenges as they try to mitigate homeland security threats. Those challenges are compounded because most of the country’s critical infrastructure — transportation networks, chemical plants and nuclear power facilities — is privately owned and operated by companies for whom homeland security is not their primary responsibility.

Security experts expect that information technology will figure prominently in helping federal officials meet the country’s homeland security challenges. The good news is that most of what is needed is available. The bad news is that picking the right technology is merely the first step.


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