Intermodal Special - CBP official says agency has plans to plug gaps

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CBP official says agency has plans to plug gaps
By Peter A. Buxbaum, AJOT
The Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Customs and Border Protection is investing millions in high-tech gamma ray Rail Vehicle and Cargo Inspections Systems (VACIS) screening devices for rail cargo at the Canadian and Mexican borders. But even with these deployments, and despite CBP’s goal of screening 100% of inbound rail cargo, as much as 10% of rail shipments entering the United States from Canada will go unscreened for the foreseeable future, according to a CBP official.
Speaking at a rail security seminar in Washington on Sept. 15, Robert Michaud, program manager at CBP’s Interdiction and Security Division, said that the agency’s eventual goal is to screen all rail cars entering the United States from either direction. But at this point, only eight of 26 northern border rail crossings and seven of eight southern border rail crossings are covered by the 15 gamma-ray detection systems for freight trains that CBP has installed.
CBP’s systems screen rail cars as the train passes though the systems’ detectors at a speed of between five and seven miles per hour. Inspectors examine the images generated by the detection systems for anomalies that could indicate the presence of contraband or stowaways.
Michaud expects an eighth system will be installed at the remaining Mexican border crossing next year. On the northern border, four more are expected to be installed in 2005. “With those twelve systems, we will be screening 90% of the rail traffic from Canada,” Michaud said. But Michaud acknowledged that 14 smaller rail crossings between the United States and Canada, representing 10% of incoming rail traffic volume, will not be covered until 2006 at the earliest.
“Layered approach”
CBP’s rail cargo screening program is part of what Michaud describes as a “layered approach” to cargo and border security, that includes risk management, detection technologies, and programs that extend the country‚s borders. “Those layers are interdependent,” Michaud explained.
Risk management programs include training efforts and inspection targeting programs managed through the National Targeting Center in Northern Virginia. Border extension programs include CBP’s Container Security Initiative and the public-private Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT). “These programs have provided significant capabilities to detect terrorists and interdict contraband before they reach our borders,” Michaud claimed.
C-TPAT provides incentives for shippers, carriers, and receivers, to secure their supply chains and transportation systems in exchange for expedited treatment of shipment by Customs. The program is slated to receive $15.2 million from the federal government for fiscal year 2005, which starts next week, over and above this year’s funding. Earlier this year, CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner announced that the C-TPAT program would become more stringent, mandating that participants adopt CBP-defined best practices.
CBP’s technology programs were necessitated by its dual mission of border security and facilitating the flow of commerce, according to Michaud. The volume of rail traffic entering the United States has increased to 2.5 million rail cars annually, he said, making physical inspections of all rail cars a virtual impossibility. “When the terrorists struck on 9-11,” Michaud, said, “we didn’t have a system to secure our borders while facilitating trade. As a result, the aftermath of 9-11 saw waiting lines for border crossings increase from 30 minutes to 16 hours. That caused havoc with just-in-time deliveries and manufacturing schedules.”
Michaud said it was that conundrum that led CBP to change its enforcement strategy to include the deployment of non-intrusive inspection (NII) equipment, such as the Rail VACIS system, developed by the San Diego-based Science Applications International Corporation, at the southern and northern border rail crossings in order to secure the rails from terrorists and drug smu

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Peter Buxbaum has been writing about international trade and transportation, as well as security, defense, technology, and foreign policy, for over 20 years. Besides contributing to the AJOT, Buxbaum's work has appeared in such leading publications as [em]Fortune, Forbes, Chief Executive, Computerworld, and Jane's Defence Weekly[/em]. He was educated at Columbia University.