- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 30, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Congress approved a major ports security bill early yesterday, providing new barriers to prevent terrorists from slipping a nuclear, chemical or biological device into one of the 11 million shipping containers entering the nation every year.

Passage of the bill was the last act of the House as lawmakers left for a five-week election campaign during which candidates will be trying to prove to voters their commitment to keeping America safe in the war on terrorism. The Senate passed it by a voice vote, sending it to the president for his signature.

Containers, now largely uninspected, “have the potential to be the Trojan horse of the 21st century,” said Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. She said the legislation would be a “major leap ahead” in strengthening national security.

Democrats favored the bill, but said it failed to address rail and mass transit, other areas considered highly vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

“The terrorist attacks on rail and transit systems in Spain, London and Mumbai (Bombay) should be enough evidence to convince the Republican-led Congress that U.S. rails are dangerously vulnerable,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat.

The bill approves $400 million a year over five years for risk-based grants for training and exercises at ports. It requires the nation’s 22 largest ports, which handle 98 percent of all cargo entering the country, to install radiation detectors by the end of next year.

Pilot programs would be established at three foreign ports to test technology for nonintrusive cargo inspections. Currently only one foreign port, Hong Kong, scans all U.S.-bound cargo for nuclear materials.

Background checks and credentials will be required for workers at the nation’s 361 ports, and the Homeland Security Department would set up protocols for resuming operations after an attack or incident. It is feared that a terrorist attack, such as a nuclear device set off by remote control, could cripple the entire economy as well as cause massive casualties.

The bill would authorize $3.4 billion over five years for ports security. The House vote was 409-2, with only Reps. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, and Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, opposing.

Congress made port security a priority after a fight in February over a buyout that put a Dubai company in control of some operations at six American ports. The outcry led the Dubai company, DP World, to promise it would sell the U.S. operations to an American company. The sale is pending.

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