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August 30, 2006

Iran

Wedge Formation: Iran Exploiting Cracks

By Steve Schippert | August 30, 2006

Since Iran announced their nuanced ‘multifaceted response’ on August 22 to the P5+1 nuclear proposal and the UN Security Council’s cessation demands, and with the UNSC’s August 31 deadline for the cessation of Iran’s enrichment activities approaching, the Tehran regime has been successfully exploiting cracks in the presumed unity among the Security Council’s ‘Permanent 5’ and other Western nations.

That Iran's 'multifaceted response' flat out called the UN Security Council resolution "illegal" is, of course, not to be misinterpreted simply as a "No." After all, lead Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani offered a “new formula” and declared that Iran “is prepared as of Aug. 23rd to enter serious negotiations.”

Yet, just one day prior, Iran had refused UN inspectors at the Natanz enrichment facility, apparently too busy preparing for the coming “serious negotiations.”

It is precisely this use of ‘multifaceted’ nuance that is a concern, enabling Iran to exploit what appear more like deep chasms rather than cracks in ‘Western’ unity. And it has worked beautifully.

Following Iran’s announcement last week, Russia without delay offered to extend talks with its nuclear client, which would effectively nullify the meaning of the agreed-to UNSC deadline of August 31. "It is very important to understand the nuances and grasp constructive elements, if in fact they exist, and work out how to work further with Tehran on the basis of known proposals of the six countries," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said following Iran’s ‘multifaceted response.’

And with that Russia had taken the bait. For Larijani sought to cement the wedge between Washington and Moscow by saying in his original August 22nd statement on Iran’s response, "Despite other parties' breach of commitments, the Islamic Republic of Iran has proposed a constructive course."

At an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers that followed, EU foreign policy head Javier Solana resolved to extend talks with Iran to "work to understand properly." This again was precisely Iran’s expectation.

Despite the diplomatically nuanced Iranian response, Iran's answer to calls for cessation of enrichment activities remains resoundingly “No.” Ali Larijani said plainly, "The road that we have taken is irreversible. Iran intends to produce the nuclear fuel that it is going to use." Given Iran's determination that the entire resolution is 'illegal', this should surprise no one.

Days after the emergency EU ministers’ meeting that made the determination to extend talks (and therefore any UN ‘deadline’), the French and German foreign ministers again expressed a renewed desire to keep open the 'possibility of dialogue' with Iran. While the foreign ministers “agreed that the 'resolve and unity of the international community' were key elements with the next phase of the conflict,” the continued calls for more talks – ongoing for over three years now – fly in the face of the unity that resolved to set the firm deadline of August 31 for Iran to cease enrichment.

Reminding the world of their threat and potential to shut down the Strait of Hormuz oil shipping channels, Iran test fired a new submarine-to-surface missile as it extended its 'Blow of Zolfaghar' military exercises into the Persian Gulf.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov declared that, just days ahead of the Security Council’s approaching deadline, "talk about sanctions is premature." Not sanctions days from the so-called UNSC deadline, but mere “talk about sanctions.”

Sensing yet another wedge forming, the United States in turn announced that it would seek sanctions outside an indecisive UN Security Council if it comes to that. American Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said, “You don't need Security Council authority to impose sanctions, just as we have [in the past].”

In a clear attempt to exploit an opportunity to further pry America from other members of the Security Council, Iranian spokesman Gholamhossein Elham said in response, "These remarks are an obvious insult to the Security Council. These remarks are just bullying and baseless remarks and show that they [the US] are not competent to be a member of the Security Council."

The US Treasury Department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Stuart Levey, said of Iran, "They are the central banker of terror. It is a country that has terrorism as a line item in its budget."

Remaining defiant, Ahmadinejad demanded that UN secretary-general Kofi Annan “move within the framework of international regulations.” It should apparently be disregarded that much of Iran’s nuclear hardware and technology has been gained through the illicit AQ Kahn global nuclear proliferation network distinctly not “within the framework of international regulations” nor, specifically, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Ironically (and repeatedly), Iran threatens to withdraw from the NPT. This threat is about as meaningful as Pete Rose threatening to no longer abide by Major League Baseball’s gambling by-laws.

But rest assured Kofi Annan himself is expected to pay a personal visit to Tehran on Saturday, presumably bringing to bear the full weight of the United Nations’ ‘demands’ upon the recalcitrant Iranian regime. At the end of the day, between shutter clicks and press conferences, Jesse Jackson's public relations tour / negotiations with Syrian President Bahsar Assad and Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal will shamefully have netted more tangible results than will Annan’s public parade through Tehran.

To pry apart what unity may remain, Iran issued an ultimatum Tuesday to the Japanese on developing an Iranian oilfield within 17 days or face losing the contract to either of Iran's Security Council protectorates - Russia or China - further seeking to pressure the resource dependent US ally to either break with American wishes or resume their energy deals with the state sponsor of terrorism. The implications here are significant as once again economic interests are plied to weaken international criticism of Iran and drive a wedge between resource-dependent Japan and the US, while also courting Japanese rival China in a game of energy brinksmanship.

Given the likelihood that Iran's 17-day deadline for Japan will be firmly held, it is ironic that the body of nations that oppose Iran are likely to witness a determination and conviction in opposition from the theocratic regime that will prove to far exceed the level of resolve those aligned nations are likely to muster for themselves.

Iran requires no deftly managed, delicate consensus in order to be effective. Also unlike the West and the various United Nations gatherings, Iran is not conflict averse.

Whether measured by hurling Hizballah violently at Israel as a global diversion from an original July 12 deadline or by heaving mounds of ‘multifaceted’ and nuanced paper at the process-obsessed United Nations, Iran is winning.

Iran is winning neither because they are more in the right nor because they have more effective arrows in their quiver. They are winning because they are not afraid to use them.

It is simply a matter of will. The West lacks the will to engage Iran in the coordinated war that has been declared upon us all.

We flounder at our own peril as Ahmadinejad’s Iran races towards attaining nuclear weapons in the quest to “pave the way for the reappearance of the 12th Imam.”

There are just no palatable options left. This must be recognized.

Iran's resolve - whether driven by religious fervor, jihadist anti-Western ideologies or political gamesmanship - is to be doubted at great risk. So long as the world shows a lack of willingness to sacrifice and stand firm against Iran, Iran will firmly stand against the World.

And our foes in the War against the jihadi will surely note our weakness.

August 9, 2006

United States of America

Insecurity at our Border Crossings

By Guest Contributor, Jay Fraser | August 9, 2006

Agents of the Customs and Border Patrol recently permitted entry to the United States undercover investigators presenting falsified identity documents. In what may become a widening debate on the steps the U.S. government has taken to prevent a new act of terrorism, the Government Accountability Office published the testimony of Gregory D. Kutz, Managing Director Forensic Audits and Special Investigations before the Senate Committee on Finance link text. Kutz' testimony highlighted serious breaches at both the Northern and Southern borders.

In his statement, Kutz discussed how the GAO had run exercises in 2003 and 2004 in which they had successfully entered the U.S. through Canada and Mexico using counterfeit identification at land border crossings. In 2006 follow-up investigation he said:

We created a fictitious driver's license and birth certificate with the same name that we used in the tests conducted for the work we did in 2003. We also created another fictitious license and birth certificate. To create all these documents, we used commercial software that is available to the public. As agreed with your offices, we chose to test a nonrepresentative selection of nine land crossings at both the northern and southern borders, including one in California, one in Texas, two in Arizona, one in Michigan, two in New York, one in Idaho, and one in Washington. We conducted our work from February 2006 through June 2006 in accordance with the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency Quality Standards for Investigations.

Agents successfully entered the United States using fictitious driver's licenses and other bogus documentation through nine land ports of entry on the northern and southern borders. CBP officers never questioned the authenticity of the counterfeit documents presented at any of the nine crossings. On three occasions--in California, Texas, and Arizona--agents crossed the border on foot. At two of these locations--Texas and Arizona--CBP allowed the agents entry into the United States without asking for or inspecting any identification documents.

In his concluding comments, Kutz said, "This vulnerability potentially allows terrorists or others involved in criminal activity to pass freely into the United States from Canada or Mexico with little or no chance of being detected. It will be critical that the new initiative requiring travelers within the Western Hemisphere to present passports or other accepted documents to enter the United States address the vulnerabilities shown by our work."

On its own, this situation is distressing. It is clear that despite all of the attention paid to border security, and despite previous GAO investigations, that border agents simply are not paying attention to the identity documents being presented to them. When looked at in the light of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requiring that travelers coming into the United States to show a passport or other form of secure identification, its even more distressing. [The originally stipulated date of implementation was January 1, 2008, but a recent Senate bill extended the deadline to June 1, 2009.]

Additionally, as detailed in a recent article in Fleet Owner, "Federal ID Cards Blank", it is clear that another "secure ID card" initiative, this one the Transport Worker Identity Card or TWIC, is behind schedule, and wrought with cost overruns.

The tamper-proof biometric card program, mandated by The Maritime Transportation and Security of Act of 2002, is several years behind schedule because of high personnel turnover at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), lack of presidential interest and bureaucratic sluggishness. Although initially anticipated in 2004, proposed rules are not likely to be published until later this year, with implementation in 2007 at the earliest.

Finally, what needs to be considered is the Real ID Act of 2005 that many people see as the beginning of the creation of a National Identification Card. One of the problems is that the Act envisioned a uniform drivers license as serving the purpose. Despite the cost we all pay to get one, drivers' licenses are a cost center for the states.

Many of the states see compliance with the requirements of the Act to be costly, and some are resisting the mandate. As discussed in the article:

Two states have considered resolutions calling for the law to be repealed, the New York City Council passed a resolution opposing it and New Hampshire is considering opting out entirely.
"It's absolutely absurd," said Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, chairman of the National Governors Association, which takes a stand on issues only when it has a broad consensus. "The time frame is unrealistic; the lack of funding is inexcusable."

Another concern, Mr. Huckabee, a Republican, said, is "whether this is a role that you really want to turn over to an entry-level, front-line, desk person at the D.M.V."

"If we're at a point that we need a national ID card, then let's do that," Mr. Huckabee said. "But let's not act like we're addressing this at a federal level and then blame the states if they mess it up. There's not a governor in America that wants that responsibility."

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) sets the standards for the states' drivers' licenses.

In the aftermath of September 11th many people believe that there is a need for secure identification documents. Whether that comes in the form of a drivers' license, or the TWIC, or the federal government's Uniform ID Card program is less important than whether those people tasked with interrogating the card when presented will recognize a real one or a counterfeit one. The extensions for implementation of the ID card programs suggest that bureaucracy is affecting our security. Beyond that, the question arises as to whether the technologies deployed in these cards will in fact provide the promised "bullet-proof" security.

August 4, 2006

Lebanon

Lead, Follow or Get Out of The Way

By Steve Schippert | August 4, 2006

It was posited in a recent commentary that, contrary to popular opinion, Hizballah Is On The Ropes. That is because they are. Yet, if there were one thing that could have been made clearer in that commentary, it would be to stress that Hizballah "on the ropes" does not mean they are near destruction or elimination. Hizballah is still the fiercest Arab fighting force in the region and still empowered by an intense fanatical ideology.

But make no mistake, Hizballah is indeed on the ropes and hoping the bell rings soon.

For those who may believe otherwise, even after the context provided in the previous commentary, consider today's events. Hizballah political leader, Hassan Nasrallah, pressed for a ceasefire and negotiations, couched as it was in yet another bold threat to Israel and amid further branding of Israel as the aggressors.

While they are presently being reduced in both stature and war-making capacity -- through in-place bombings and un-replenished consumption -- it should not be lost that Hizballah will not be ‘destroyed’ by this effort alone as Hizballah is representative of a movement, an ideology, an idea.

They are, however, in the process of being boxed into two sets of offensive capability as Israel seeks to neutralize their threat to Israeli population centers.

The Litani River extends eastward from the Mediterranean Sea to the southeast corner of Lebanon where, like an elbow, it takes a 90-degree turn northward. All along the Litani River, bridges have been targeted creating a natural barrier. To the south lies the operational zone of what can be considered the ‘Katyusha Brigades,’ with Israel still within the Katyushas’ limited range. To the east is the Bekaa Valley, longtime home of the international campus of Terror University and home to Hizballah’s ‘capital,’ Baalbek.

In the south of Lebanon, the ‘Katyusha Brigades’ are maintaining the most visible sign of Hizballah’s strengths by relentlessly raining rockets down upon northern Israeli cities. Israel looks to sandwich them between forces on the Litani River and the Israeli border as at least 10,000 IDF troops, complete with artillery and air support, look to squeeze them as they move, clearing the area of rockets, launchers and terrorists.

This will be an ugly task and Israeli forces will likely be met with many of the same insurgency tactics employed in Iraq, such as waves of IED attacks on armor and troops. Enter into the equation the brutal close-quarters fighting already displayed by well-trained Hizballah terrorists and it becomes clear that the fight will neither be without cost by any measure nor easy, but one Israel will decidedly win if left unimpeded.

The latest spate of Katyusha rocket attacks into northern Israel should not be interpreted as a show of strength by Hizballah as much as it should be viewed as a state of ‘use it or lose it’ with the coming IDF advance impending.

But when the downpour of Katyusha rockets begins to abate into silence, then what?

This is when the sum effect of Israel’s unrelenting attacks on Hizballah’s established infrastructure throughout the other regions of Lebanon, especially the Bekaa Valley, will finally become visible to those currently focused on Katyushas and Beirut. With the Katyushas destroyed or pushed beyond their useful range - with the possible exception of their surviving ZelZal longer-range missiles and any other unknown assets - Hizballah will be reduced to fighting the Israeli troops who come their way specifically looking for that fight.

It is in the Bekaa Valley that Israel’s second box comes into play. Israel likely seeks to cut off that elbow by taking it on the ground, trapping the ‘Katyusha Brigades’ to the south and stranding much of the rest of Hizballah’s capabilities in the Bekaa Valley above it. It would then become a two-front theater. How – or rather, to what extent - Israel intends to punish Hizballah with any IDF ground assault in the southern Bekaa Valley remains to be seen. Quite possibly, it remains to be determined by the IDF and Israeli leadership as well.

Regardless of what they may or may not have decided, the external imposition of a cease-fire may determine that for them. Hizballah is obviously quite anxious for this to finally occur.

The irony should not be lost in that, while pressing for a ceasefire and negotiations, Nasrallah framed Israel’s assault on Hizballah as a “campaign against our cities, villages, civilians, and infrastructure.” For it is clearly Hizballah who has been targeting Israeli cities, villages and civilians with incessant rocket attacks upon them with warheads filled with anti-personnel projectiles. Unlike parts of Lebanon, with Hizballah intentionally and deeply embedded within the Shi’a civilian population, the only ‘personnel’ in those targeted Israeli villages are civilians. Note that it is not IDF artillery or other troop positions targeted by the 2,000+ Katyushas. Terrorism doesn’t work that way.

Hizballah has created a massive infrastructure of facilities, institutions, networks of tunnels, weapons stores and firing positions deeply seeded among, beneath and behind the civilian population. This choice, rather than the placement of that infrastructure in remote or isolated areas, as its Israeli enemy has, is precisely why attacking Hizballah’s war-making capabilities (infrastructure) results in civilian casualties and the destruction of private property.

While Israel showers the civilians of Lebanese towns with warning leaflets urging evacuation, Hizballah showers civilians of Israeli towns with ball bearings, nails and bolts, hoping for sudden and gruesome death and injury.

But Nasrallah may have dropped a form of leaflets of his own today by warning Israel not to bomb ‘Beirut proper,’ north of the Hizballah-dominated Shi’a suburbs of southern Beirut. He has increasingly spoke with the assumed authority of all Lebanese people and in so warning Israel, he may just have warned the citizens of Beirut proper: “Hizballah is coming to town.” The apparent swell in support for Hizballah may have been interpreted by Nasrallah as a green light to seek new refuge outside the current bounds of Hizballistan.

But, where Hizballah goes, Israel is likely to follow – as evidenced by the bold air assault on Baalbek. Nasrallah and his puppet masters know this and may likely seek to extract greater support through their sacrificing of swaths of the civilian population in ‘Beirut proper,’ banking on the likelihood that they, like the rest of the world, will easily recognize the source of the bombs without due pause to recognize their cause.

This may be the preferred front chosen by Hizballah in hopes of drawing enough international outcry to result in an immediate ceasefire before Israel can properly clamp the vice on their “two boxes” and effectively reduce Hizballah to an operational capacity that leaves northern Israel well beyond Hizballah’s reach.

Yes, Hizballah is on the ropes. The victorious do not sue for ceasefire and negotiation.

The unfortunate truth is that there can be no negotiation with terrorists who ultimately seek to destroy a nation, a people and, eventually, an entire civilization. Yes, the fight is hard. Yes, the fight is ugly. But this is not a reason refuse to engage in a war inspired and begun by aggressors who seek your death and destruction.

That Hizballah chooses not to finish the fight they have wrought is no reason impose a false sense of peace that would allow a battered terrorist organization to replenish resources and once again plot against Israel.

For Israel to accept an immediate ceasefire and withdraw is to cede victory to terrorists and sentence their civilian population to further unprovoked slaughter. This is unacceptable.

The ‘international community’ should reconsider rewarding Nasrallah with precisely what he desires: An immediate ceasefire and negotiations, through which Hizballah can reconstitute, re-arm and, eventually, re-deploy better equipped in pursuit of the destruction of Israel. For, as it stands, his terrorist organization is persistently being slammed with the aerial destruction of its complex infrastructure used to manage the machine and is essentially cut off from Syrian (and thus Iranian) aid. Hizballah’s tools of war are being expended and destroyed with little if any re-supply.

The Hizballah terror machine increasingly starves for resources as the tables have turned on Nasrallah’s pronounced desire for a war of attrition with the IDF. The Peacemakers must be unobstructed while they seek to do the difficult work of neutralizing Hizballah. Who else is willing or able? The UN Peacekeepers?

The world needs to get out of the IDF’s way and allow them to loose the dogs in pursuit of Hizballah.

Now, please.

August 1, 2006

Lebanon

Hizballah Is On The Ropes

By Steve Schippert | August 1, 2006

Amid the relentless images of the dead extracted from a building in Qana, amid the fiery anger those images generated – from Lebanon to Europe and from Egypt to Indonesia - and amid deafening global cries for an immediate ceasefire, a curiously contradictory picture is emerging from the battlefields of Hizballistan: Hizballah is on the ropes, running short of resources and desperate for a ceasefire for its very survival.

While the world has held itself aghast at ‘Israeli aggression,’ Israel has been relentless in pursuit of what has been described as the fiercest Arab fighting force in the region. Undeterred by global outcry as over two thousand rockets and missiles have rained down upon Israeli cities with relatively little note, Israel has made good on their Prime Minister’s declaration of “Enough.”

Israel is providing a lesson on fighting the war on terror.

The mighty Hizballah, rightfully feared as the most lethally armed terrorist organization on the planet, is now on the ropes. Only their lifeline from Syria sustains them in the midst of devastating strikes from the Israeli Air Force. From the hundreds of rocket launchers in southern Lebanon to weapons depots and infrastructure all the way up the Bekaa Valley in Baalbek, Hizballah’s operational headquarters city, the IAF has exacted a heavy toll from Hizballah since the attack in Israel in which Hizballah terrorists killed eight IDF soldiers and abducted the two surviving.

In fact, in a radio interview with John Batchelor, retired Air Force General Tom McInerney detailed a debriefing with a senior IDF official in which he detailed that Israel believes their airstrikes have eliminated 70% of the long-range Iranian ZelZal missile systems in Hizballah hands. McInerney noted that over 1000 Hizballah infrastructure targets have been struck by Israeli air power up and down the Bekaa Valley (once called the most heavily defended air corridor on the planet) and throughout Southern Lebanon, including weapons storage facilities, command and control centers, vehicle repair facilities and 18 Hizballah financial centers which serve in the place of banks.

While sustaining these enormous losses, Hizballah is having difficulty re-supplying across the Syrian border. Convoys from Syria are struck by F-16's and drones once they are within Lebanese borders, often with the massive secondary explosions that indicate arms shipments. The Israelis believe that Bashar Assad is "directly involved" in the attempts to smuggle rockets, other arms and ammunition to Hizballah, and the release of the results of ‘defense establishment’ intelligence is Israel’s way of sending a message to the Syrian president.

In what is likely to be perceived as a potential escalation, Bashar Assad told the Syrian Army to raise its readiness and they have reportedly been sent from their barracks and posts to the field. But this is very unlikely any Syrian attempt to re-enter Lebanon to come to the aid of Hizballah, as the IDF can dispatch of the Syrian military forces with far greater ease than they can Hizballah. Syria wants nothing of Israel’s IDF/IAF war machine. That’s what Hizballah is for.

As Assad senses Israel’s growing frustration over the doomed yet constant shipments of arms into Hizballah, the move is most likely to get them spread out in a reflexive and defensive maneuver. To leave them in their barracks is to create a ‘target rich environment’ under each roof should Israel decide to send a less subtle message to Assad.

Sure, Assad may have sounded tough when he said, "The barbaric war of annihilation the Israeli aggression is waging on our people in Lebanon and Palestine is increasing in ferocity," but that’s what dictators and state sponsors of terrorism are supposed to say. What likely was in his mind as his message was typed for distribution was far more fearful than fearsome. As they are for Iran, Hizballah is Syria’s front-line Special Forces. Behind them, it gets mighty thin mighty fast.

Curiously, Israel also said that, according to their intelligence, Hizballah is not allowed to fire Iranian missiles without Iranian permission and that few have been fired. The most notable was the C-802 Silkworms that put an Israeli frigate out of commission and sunk an Egyptian transport ship. But, after the Hizballah-manned Lebanese Army ground radars were eliminated in short order, the C-802’s have been dormant.

Israel’s intelligence lets out what it wants to let out (fact or fiction) for specific design. So what is the design here? It’s simple. Israel is intent on putting it’s boot squarely on Hizballah’s throat, once and for all, and allowing both Iran and Syria to stay clear.

Hizballah is Iran’s ground force against Israel. Iran has no other offensive capabilities in the Levant aside from missiles launched from their own borders that will likely get shot out of the air. After Hizballah, they’re out of options at the moment. Israel knows this and is giving Iran a face-saving way to quietly back out. After all, Iran never ‘gave permission’ for Hizballah to fire their weapons. Israel is saying, “Take your 60 recently sent jihadists back and go home.” If Iran ignores this, there really is little they can do in any event, as the logistical conduit utilized from Syria is increasingly being collapsed under the weight of Israeli air power.

But Hizballah is also Syria's principle ground force against Israel. Syria's shallow army is the one force aside from Hizballah that can muster a fight within the battlespace. It would be a short fight at that. But in any event, for Syria, Israel hands a different message without a face-saving option. By declaring the Assad is 'directly invovled,' Israel is warning him, '“We know what you’re doing and we hold you personally responsible.”

Israel does not need to roll tanks on Damascus or even drop a few 2000-pounders on military installations. They simply need to convey that it’s just as easy to bank east from Baalbek as it is to bank west. Leave the option to Assad. He likes his palaces. He’ll make the right self-preserving choice.

And with that, the supply lines are cut off, leaving Hizballah alone with their pride and their banter, backing northward in a battered creep up the Bekaa Valley. It is an unpleasant feeling when your eyes are feeding your brain the images of where you’ve been rather than where you’re going…especially in a fight.

So, while the Iranians, the Syrians, the Lebanese, Hizballah and seemingly the entire world demands a ceasefire, Israel knows that a ceasefire is nothing more than a quiet pause for re-arming Hizballah. They’ll have none of it.

Israel’s inner security cabinet just authorized the ‘widening of the ground offensive.’ Take that in context with the above messages to all parties involved. While the IDF may not roll Merkavas all the way up to Baalbek, the Hizballah that emerges from a fight they could not finish will be denied southern Lebanese territory and a shell of its former self, requiring years - and much treasure - to reconsitute.

“Enough.”

Assad loves his palaces and Iran is trapped on the wrong side of the Persian Gulf.

The clock ticks for Hizballah.

United States of America

Ports To Get New Radiation Detectors

By Guest Contributor, Jay Fraser | August 1, 2006

The Department of Homeland Security, under a program called the Advanced Spectroscopic Portal Initiative, recently announced the award of contracts to three companies (Raytheon Company - Integrated Defense Systems, Thermo Electron Corporation, and Canberra Industries, Inc.) to install advanced radiation detector systems in some of our country's ports. The first test installation is slated to be in the Port of Staten Island. These contracts come after months of debate and argument over the issue of this country's previously (and very publicized) limited ability to inspect more than 5% (some say the percentage is actually closer to 1%) of all cargo containers entering the country. The fear is that dangerous contraband such as a radiological dirty bomb or a chemical-biological weapon might enter through the ports undetected.

Perhaps no one ever thought about this before September 11th, but today, nearly five years following those attacks, port security remains a topic of debate. If you go to any sea port or inland cargo storage facility, you will likely see hundreds if not thousands of cargo containers stacked one on top of the next, lined up for what might seem like football fields on end. Offshore you may see container ships bringing cargo into the port. Entering New York Harbor through the Verrazano Narrows, you might easily see a Hanjin container ship heavily laden with the huge boxes. What is in them? That is the concern of Homeland Security officials and local security professionals.

According to an article appearing in Fleet Owner, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expects these new radiological detectors to improve the level of inspection up to 90% of all containers by the end of the year, and to nearly 100% by next year. Additionally, the plan is to deploy these detectors at the entry points to major cities to inspect commercial vehicles, regardless of whether the cargo originated domestically or internationally. One of the questions this raises is whether the number of inspected containers can jump from less than 5% to over 90% simply by upgrading the equipment.

The new detection portals will replace the more than 840 radiation detection devices at borders, seaports, and international mail centers purchased by the U.S. since September 11th at a cost of $340 million. Unfortunately, these radiological detectors set off an alarm without identifying the exact isotopic source of the radiation and therefore have been plagued by high levels of false positives (even kitty litter set these devices off), causing major delays and disruptions at ports. Each of these new radiological detectors will cost about $500,000, approximately the price of seven of the old detection machines. DHS plans call for purchasing 1,400 of the new machines by 2011.

In a recent article by the Associated Press, GAO assistant director Jim Shafer noted that "the Governmental Accountability Office continues to analyze a Homeland Security cost-benefits plan justifying the expense."

While the new scanners may cut down on false positive rates, "these things are marginal gains" against "extremely high costs," Shafer said in an interview Friday.

Penrose Albright, who led Homeland Security's border nuclear detection program before leaving the agency a year ago, said the new scanners will "dramatically complicate the lives of people who want to smuggle materials."

But Albright noted that the detectors still won't be alerted to uranium or plutonium shielded by thick cases of lead. And installing them above speeding traffic on highways or bridges - as Homeland Security is considering in metropolitan New York - raises questions about how vehicles would then be stopped, he said.

Is it worth the billions of dollars for these new and improved radiation detectors? Yes, for two reasons: 1) there is enough unaccounted for radiological material, especially from the old Soviet Union, to produce a dirty bomb; and 2) while most if not all cargo containers originating overseas are inspected and sealed, there is a possibility that in transit a container could be opened, and a weapon introduced. Perhaps the likelihood of this happening is low. Is it worth taking the risk? Probably not, but clearly, others see this program as problematic.

For more details on the DHS program: Specifications of the Advanced Spectroscopic Portal (ASP) in this January 2005 DHS-ARPA report; see also the Web sites of Canberra Regional and Canberra - Homeland Security; Thermo Electron Corporation; and Raytheon.

Jay Fraser is a business executive and entrepreneur with a background in strategic planning, new business development, marketing and technology transfer and commercialization. He is a founder and President of a high-technology company involved in brand protection, product identification and document security.

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