U.S.-Bound Cargo to Be Screened at Six Ports

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 8, 2006

U.S.-bound cargo will be scanned for nuclear and radiological material at six foreign ports starting in February under a pact with host governments announced by U.S. officials yesterday, including a port operated by an Arab-owned company that ignited a political storm in Congress.

The Homeland Security and Energy departments next year will begin scanning all U.S.-bound containers at Puerto Cortes, Honduras; Qasim, Pakistan; and Southampton, England, officials said.

Limited scanning will also be done at Salalah, Oman; Singapore; and Busan, Korea, on a trial basis. The program will cover more than 7 percent of 11 million containers annually shipped to the United States.

The Southampton facility is operated by Dubai Ports World, the United Arab Emirates company whose purchase of U.S. port operations was approved by the Bush administration, but which the company was pressured earlier this year to spin off by Congress because of security concerns over foreign ownership.

The company also has operations elsewhere at the Qasim and Busan port complexes, U.S. officials said.

In this case, Congress ordered the container-scanning program, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said.

"If you want to do security overseas," Chertoff said, "you got to work with foreign governments and foreign companies, because they own the ports."

Congress passed legislation in September ordering pilot scanning at three overseas ports. U.S. officials will decide what containers to load or inspect. The host nation -- in Southampton's case, Britain -- exercises authority to inspect.

Democrats have called for screening of 100 percent of cargo at its point of departure.

"I don't think it's possible, for example, to reasonably say 100 percent," Chertoff said, in announcing $60 million to phase in the Secure Freight Initiative. "But if we could do 30 percent at some point, and then 70 percent here in the United States, that would still be a significant step forward."

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