Seaports need more safeguards against bio/chem weapons

DHS IG recommends more guidance, suggests new tech might be needed

U.S. Customs and Border Protection should consider taking additional steps to counter biological and chemical threats in maritime cargo, according to the Homeland Security Department's inspector general.

The IG recommends that the agency update its guidance for inspecting sea cargo containers for biological and chemical threats, and assess the benefits of deploying new detection devices in a maritime environment, according to a redacted version of a report released Nov. 2.

CBP is responsible for examining cargo containers entering the country. During a performance audit conducted between November 2008 and March, the IG’s office observed different operating procedures at several ports that were visited, the report states.

As a result, the IG recommended that CBP develop and issue guidance to help ensure its officers use consistent examination processes for all potential threats. The agency agreed with the recommendation and said it was making updates.

Meanwhile, CBP officials said new technologies are being developed and tested to help officers rapidly identify such threats during inspections, according to the report. However, CBP hasn’t formally identified the pathways through which biological and chemical threats are most likely to enter the country, the IG said.

CBP officials must determine which entryways should get the most attention and resources for developing detection technology for biological and chemical threats, according to the IG, who recommended CBP conduct a formal risk assessment to ensure resources get to the right places.

CBP partially concurred with this recommendation, saying it was participating in two DHS programs that focus on biological and chemical threats. The agency said that involvement and knowledge gained from experts at DHS and intelligence agencies would allow it to identify the entryways that pose the greatest risk.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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