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MONDAY, MARCH 13, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Port security means more than scuttling Arab deal

Arabs won't be managing U.S. ports because a public and congressional outcry stopped that proposal. But this does not mean the ports are secure.

In fact, ports and shipping are vulnerable in many ways to terrorists, according to a government study described during the weekend by The Associated Press.

The $75 million, three-year study by the Homeland Security Department is scheduled for completion this fall. But it already has given Americans plenty to worry about.

Out of millions of cargo containers that arrive here each year from Europe, Asia and the Middle East, roughly 20,000 are being studied with satellites and experimental monitors.

The study shows that someone could open containers and add or remove items during transit without detection. This could happen during weeks-long voyages aboard ships with foreign crews who haven't been screened carefully. Or it could happen in trucks, rail yards or ports.

One port in Turkey was described as "totally inadequate by U.S. standards," and some governments don't cooperate in tightening security because they think it's the United States' problem. But U.S. ports aren't necessarily more secure than foreign ones. Warehouses in Pakistan, Turkey and Brazil were found to be more secure than one in Maine.

U.S. inspectors decide which cargo containers to inspect based largely on shipping records. If terrorists had tampered with the containers and put weapons inside, the inspectors wouldn't know. Nuclear, biological or chemical weapons could enter the country this way.

Politicians of both parties have been sounding off about port security. They need to pay attention to these findings and insist that the Homeland Security Department follow up with realistic measures to make ports safer. It will take money and diplomacy.

As Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said, "There are huge holes in our security system that need to be filled."

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