Today, Senator Collins and I are introducing an innovative, bipartisan plan to make America safer. Four years ago, terrorists used our own transportation infrastructure to attack our people and our economy. Four years later, we've made some progress, but we are still vulnerable.
Security experts both inside and outside our government have concluded that one of the biggest dangers is our cargo container system. The 9/11 Commission said that opportunities to hurt our nation are "as great or greater" in areas like maritime transportation as there are in aviation.
Every year, millions of containers move cargo from factories overseas to America's seaports. But too often, we don't know what's in these cargo containers. We don't know who's handled them. We don’t know if what's written on the manifest actually matches what's inside the container. And we don't know which containers need extra scrutiny.
Smuggling in Terrorists
What we do know, however, is disturbing. We know that for years, smugglers have tried to use cargo containers to smuggle people into the United States. We also know of at least one incident in which a suspected terrorist hid inside a cargo container. Four years ago, at a port in Italy, a suspected terrorist was found inside a cargo container bound from Egypt to Canada. According to press reports, he had a laptop computer, mobile and satellite phones, airport security passes, and a mechanic's certificate for four airports in the United States.
Containers as Weapons
We also know that terrorists could use a cargo container as a weapon itself. Terrorists could fill a container with a biological, chemical or nuclear weapon, wait until it reaches American shores, and then detonate it. If terrorists launched an attack on – or through – America's seaports, it would inflict two levels of damage.
Loss of Lives
First, we'd experience a significant American loss of lives. Since many ports are located in large cities, the human toll of an attack could be devastating. One study found that a nuclear device detonated at a major seaport could kill from 50,000 to 1 million people.
Second, an attack would inflict untold damage to our nation's economy. After September 11th, the government shut down commercial aviation. After a seaport attack, our ports would be closed as well. While the airports were shut for about 4 days, a similar shutdown of our ports could last up to 4 months, according to the former U.S. Maritime Administrator. One port security study found that a 12-day shutdown of America's ports would cost our economy $58 billion. U.S. companies -- who rely on "just-in-time" delivery -- would struggle without the inventory or supplies they need. One of the big problems is that today we don't have a system in place to resume trade after an incident. If an attack happened tomorrow, we'd have to invent a system on the spot.
Current Programs Are Inadequate
The vulnerability is clear and the possible damage is overwhelming, but today, our current cargo security efforts are falling short. Recent investigations by the Government Accountability Office have confirmed major weaknesses in existing programs. It's clear that we need a new, comprehensive plan to protect the American people and the American economy. That is what Senator Collins and I are offering.
Together, we have worked with security experts and stakeholders to develop an innovative new approach called the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act. Our bill reflects the need to make America safer while still keeping our cargo container system efficient.
How It Works
Here's how it works. First, we're going to raise cargo security standards for everyone. To do that...
- We empower the Department of Homeland Security to issue new rules and regulations.
- We provide the needed funding.
- We create one office to coordinate cargo security policy.
- We create Joint Operations Centers to help resume the flow of commerce after an incident or during a heightened national security threat level.
- We authorize and improve existing programs like the Port Security Grant Program, the Container Security Initiative and the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism.
Second, we create the GreenLane program. It's a voluntary, enhanced security system. It will allow our security services to better identify and respond to potential threats, and it will provide real incentives to importers to enhance their supply chain security measures. The GreenLane will use technology and information to track packages from factories overseas throughout the supply chain. We'll know what is in each container, who's handled it, if it's been tampered with and if it needs more scrutiny.
If importers agree to join the GreenLane program, they will receive certain benefits. For example, their bonding requirements will be reduced or eliminated. Instead of paying customs duties on every shipment, they could be billed monthly or quarterly. Their cargo will be subject to fewer searches and will be released faster upon entering the United States. They'll lose less cargo to theft, and they'll have the stability that comes from having one uniform standard to plan around.
The GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act will protect Americans by making our cargo and seaports more secure. Our bill will protect our people and our economy from attack. It provides layered security at every step of the supply chain while keeping it efficient. And finally it will push the borders out and reduce the haystack so we can focus our limited resources on suspect cargo. Our bill addresses the lessons learned from the 9/11 Commission and acts on the recommendations made by the GAO.
I want to thank the many security and industry leaders who've worked with us to shape an effective bill, and I want to thank Senator Collins for her partnership and leadership. We are standing together offering a real, bipartisan solution to a serious danger, and we welcome the support of everyone who cares about protecting our people and our economy.