Port Security Director Testifies At Nuclear Smuggling Risks Hearing
The threat of terrorist smuggling at U.S. ports appears to be increasing. Mechanisms to prevent cyber terrorism and illegal nuclear materials from being trafficked through ports must be intensified. Port Security Grant funds continue to help address these threats, but they must be directed to ports and not diluted out to other law enforcement entities that focus on lower-risk endeavors. And, increasingly, U.S. ports need more Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel, not fewer, to counter these risks.
These are the take aways that the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) hoped to instill when Maryland Port Administration Security Director Dave Espie testified last week on behalf of the association.
Espie explained to a joint hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, and the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, that maritime nuclear smuggling “could ultimately impact the safety and security of the United States if not addressed in a cohesive and expedited manner.”
Espie, a retired FBI agent and former National Security Agency Special Agent, explained the need for sound diplomatic relationships with nations that cooperate with the U.S. to secure their own nuclear materials, and the need for them to assist in countering ambitions of nuclear countries intent on inflicting harm with their fissionable materials. He also encouraged members of Congress to continue funding ports and to give those ports authority to distribute grant funds to other policing agencies that will use the money for its intended purpose.
Finally, he asked that CBP assign more than one percent of its new hires to seaports, which was the approximate staffing ratio of CBP new hires to ports in fiscal year 2015.
“Our nation’s strategy to prevent maritime nuclear smuggling must utilize a holistic approach,” Espie testified.
He went on to say that this should incorporate diplomatic engagement, utilization of intelligence community assets such as human, cyber, and technical, focus on port security protocols, increasing Port Security Grant funding to ensure ports are brought up to and remain in federal compliance, and investing in federal agencies like CBP to ensure current and future legislative mandates are properly executed.
The House Ports Opportunity, Renewal, Trade, and Security (PORTS) Caucus had earlier sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, urging him to allocate more resources to address CBP staffing shortages at U.S. seaports. Led by Representatives J. Randy Forbes (R-VA) and Kathy Castor (D-FL), and PORTS Caucus co-chairs Ted Poe (R-TX) and Janice Hahn (D-CA), the letter was signed by 47 Members of Congress.
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