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Commentaries and editorials

Ports Get Short Shrift

by Editors
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - September 21, 2004

It's hard -- even impolite -- to look a gift horse in the mouth. But when it comes to the security of our ports, it may be absolutely necessary.

It's unlikely that Port of Seattle Chief Executive Mic Dinsmore intended to offend with his critical opinion piece published in The Washington Post the same day Homeland Security officials were in town to pass out outsized checks for local security enhancements. But if officials were offended, so be it. Dinsmore is right.

While the federal government "may have overreacted" on aviation security, Dinsmore wrote, "when it comes to maritime security, we haven't done nearly enough."

It's chilling to note that of the 3.2 million containers that come through the ports of Seattle and Tacoma each year at least 3 million arrive without screening or verification of their contents. Dinsmore doesn't exaggerate to worry that it "would require only one rogue container to bring commerce to its knees."

Homeland Security's Suzanne Mencer referred to such needed security measures as scanning and tracking containers as "a marathon, not a sprint" as she passed out $5.3 million in local security enhancement money. If terrorists continue to target this country, maritime ports remain perhaps our most vulnerable target and we don't have time for a marathon.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has been a leading advocate for Operation Safe Commerce, a project to track containers from origin to destination. But, Murray says, the administration has been pushing to "privatize" the project by putting the onus on the shipping industry to support the necessary technological transition. Such an attempt to shift the national security obligation from the government to the industry offers a stark contrast to the massive bailouts to the airline industry and echoes Dinsmore's concern about an imbalance in expenditures that comes up dangerously short on marine security.

Ports Get Short Shrift
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 21, 2004

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