- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The marine shipping industry will be devastated if foreign countries do not increase cargo screenings to protect against a “dirty bomb” terrorist attack, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is telling Asian officials this week.

During a trip to Japan on Monday and China yesterday, Mr. Chertoff urged cooperation to strengthen the shipping industry and to protect the United States against a nuclear attack.

“I think we all know that if a container were used to bring a dirty bomb or something similar into the United States, in addition to the obviously catastrophic consequences in America, it would be absolutely devastating to marine shipping,” Mr. Chertoff said during a press conference yesterday.

“We can only really build our own security if we build it in partnership with other countries,” Mr. Chertoff said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has reported 662 known attempts to smuggle nuclear or radiological material across borders around the world.

Mr. Chertoff said it would be a “mortal blow” if Asian ports failed to use nuclear radiation detection equipment on ships bound for the United States. Hong Kong ports are experimenting with technology for such a program.

On his first trip to Asia, the homeland security chief is examining cutting-edge technology used to secure foreign ports, including a visit to one of the largest ports of the world, Singapore.

“We’re looking to build a stronger partnership overseas, particularly in port and container security,” said Homeland Security spokesman Brian Doyle. “It will make us and them more secure.”

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers criticized the department for failing to block nuclear-weapon smuggling in a sting set up by the Government Accountability Office.

Witnesses told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs permanent subcommittee on investigations yesterday that enough nuclear material entered the country as part of the investigation to make two dirty bombs.

“The radiation detectors correctly alarmed,” said Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican and panel chairman. “This is the good news.”

“The bad news, however, is that officers were fooled by fraudulent documents and didn’t have the mechanisms to verify the documents. These are documents my 20-year-old son could easily develop with a simple Internet search. We cannot allow this potentially deadly material to transmit our borders with ease,” Mr. Coleman said.

The forged documents showed the nuclear shipment was approved by federal officials.

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the panel’s ranking Democrat, said Homeland Security officials have made significant improvements to detect such materials at land- and seaports, but said the GAO report shows “much more can and should be done.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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