- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Department of Homeland Security needs to step up its installation of radiation equipment at the nation’s land and sea ports, as less than 40 percent of the equipment has been deployed, according to a government report being released today.

“The deployment of portal monitors has fallen behind schedule,” states the report by the Government Accountability Office.

Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican and chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs permanent subcommittee on investigations, said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must “dramatically step up” its deployment “to keep pace with the danger we are facing” there.

The subcommittee will discuss the findings at a hearing today and also will address a second GAO report that highlights problems surrounding the movement of nuclear material through ports.

In December, the GAO set up a sting operation in which teams posing as employees of fictitious private companies successfully transported nuclear material to make a dirty bomb across both the southern and northern border.

At both sites, customs officials followed protocol, radiation-detection equipment found the material, and the cars were inspected further. But both teams were allowed to enter the United States after they presented counterfeit paperwork from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

According to the GAO report, one of the key problems is that suppliers of radioactive materials aren’t required to determine whether buyers have a legitimate use for it and don’t have to ask for a valid NRC document if the buyer is purchasing a small amount.

Customs officials were cooperative after they were briefed about the incidents, but NRC officials were hesitant, saying their “concern threshold” is higher than GAO’s, the report stated.

The GAO and Mr. Coleman disputed that. “This operation demonstrated that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is stuck in a pre-9/11 mind-set in a post-9/11 world and must modernize its procedures,” Mr. Coleman said.

In an effort to stop terrorists from smuggling bomb-making materials, DHS is deploying radiation-detection monitors to the nation’s northern and southern land ports of entry, seaports, international mail facilities, international airports and rail crossings.

As of December, 740 of 2,405 radiation portal monitors had been deployed.

The security of seaports in particular has come into sharp focus lately, after a Dubai-owned company caused an uproar by purchasing terminal operations at several key U.S. seaports. That deal has since been scuttled.

A House Homeland Security subcommittee will likely vote on a measure that would invest more money in ports security and make several changes to ports-security programs. Similar Senate legislation will likely have a hearing next week, aides said.

And the Senate Banking Committee will debate and vote later this week on legislation to reform the interagency panel that approves sales such as the Dubai deal.

The panel itself also has studied these issues and plans to release its own findings later this week at a second hearing.

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