Archive for June, 2012

Border Breach – Again!

June 19, 2012

Tales from the Nuclear Age

Copyright © 2012 by Charles Glassmire

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Jun. 18, 2012

Border Breach – Again!

“Fool me twice and shame on me…”

           The crate now rested in a New York Port Authority warehouse at Pier number 1 across the river from Manhattan. The Port Authority Police assigned to guard the warehouse did not inquire about the container, and there were no radiation detectors evident at the facility. When ABC News personnel arrived to claim the shipment, the container was still sealed, indicating it had not been opened for inspection.(1)  Experts later testified the contents of the pipe could not have been distinguished from weapons grade radioactive material without opening it for detailed examination.

          When the story hit national TV news, Customs loudly disclaimed the situation. The Customs Commissioner said they screened the item and found nothing dangerous. “We ran it for radiation detection and we also did a large-scale X-ray…Nothing appeared that would indicate there was a potential for a nuclear device to be in the container…” When asked later why a large round metal object in a shipment of Turkish horse carts didn’t arouse any suspicion, he responded “Well, look I’m not gonna get into it…We have the X-ray pictures”. (1)  He refused to produce the images when requested by ABC News.

          Now it is a year later (2003) and near the anniversary of Sept. 11, ABC News decides to try a second time. This time the port of entry is chosen at the opposite end of the country – the Port of Long Beach. This is the second largest port handler of shipping containers into the United States. To justify entry on the west coast, Jakarta, Indonesia is chosen as the point of origin in the Pacific Rim – Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation in the world.

          The very same capped pipe with 15 pounds of depleted Uranium is chosen. This material is safe to ship but is radioactive and suitable for use in a dirty bomb. It is placed in an elaborately decorated teak trunk, deposited at a Jakarta furniture store and is then loaded along with other furniture into a shipping container.

          In late July 2003, the shipment is ready for pickup, destination Long Beach California. “It took us only a few days to find a shipper willing to send a container to America with almost no questions asked”,(2)  said David Scott, an ABC producer. The shipper chosen is Maersk Logistics, a hugh company with headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark. “We did not tell the company about the depleted Uranium, and they never asked”, said Scott.(2)

           Maersk later stated their company regulations don’t mandate container inspection unless at the port. They provide “door to door service” and rely on official inspectors to find any problems.  

          Later “…In a statement, Maersk said the ABCNEWS findings had caused it to investigate and review its procedures overseas. “Any important deviations from normal procedure will be rectified immediately,” the statement said. Furthermore, “Security procedures”  will be reviewed again in order to evaluate whether any adjustments should be made.”(2)

          The container is shipped off to the U.S. without further examination. On August 23rd the shipping container is offloaded to the Port of Long Beach(3) . Since the origin was listed as Jakarta, the container is set aside for screening by agents of Homeland Security. Curiously, the X-ray scanners and radiation detectors do not detect anything suspicious in the container.(2)

          After the story broke in September, Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Asa Hutchinson told ABC “The system first passed the test because we did target this shipment”.(2)  Other officials said the detectors saw nothing unusual in the shipment. Subsequently, experts testified if the contents had been weapons grade Uranium, providing an additional 1/8th inch lead shielding around the inside of the pipe  would produce a radiation signature similar to depleted Uranium.

          Tom Cochran, a nuclear physicist from a private organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council, had provided the original sample of depleted Uranium to ABC for use in the test. He said “If they can’t detect that, then they can’t detect the real thing … the only way to know whether this is the real thing or depleted Uranium is to actually open the container and take a look …”(2)  

          In what seems like deja vue, when ABC personnel arrived to reclaim the shipment as it was released from the port, the same metal seal placed on the trunk in Jakarta was still intact, indicating the container could not have been opened.

          Graham Allison, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense told ABCNEWS, “the test that you put to them, which looks to me to be a fair test, they fail.” California Senator Dianne Feinstein, concerned about this urgent matter, said “I think this is a case in point which established the soft underbelly of national security and homeland defense in the United States.”

          But Homeland Security officials scoffed at the ABC test, saying the depleted Uranium was harmless. However they seemed to not be aware that the Uranium had passed through their detectors.

          The first sign of trouble came from a truck driver who had received the shipment to be transported inland! He became concerned that something was missed during the port inspection. The truck driver called Maersk, and they, in turn, alerted the FBI …

(to be continued)

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(1)  “Customs fails to Detect Depleted Uranium”, ABC News, page 1 to 3, Sept. 11, 2002.

(2)  http:/abcnews.go.com/sections/wnt/Primetime/sept11_uranium030910.html.

(3)  Some references seem to cite “Los Angeles” as the port of entry.