X-raying all shipping containers
In 2009, a goal was set that by now, all containers used to ship items into the United States would be able to be screened. The goal was to be able to find anything hidden within the containers, such as weapons, bombs, or other destructive materials that could harm America's citizens. Unfortunately, that goal has yet to be realized, and may never be if things keep going the same way they are now.
Why X-raying is So Important
It would be incredibly easy for a terrorist cell to put a few simple pieces of necessary equipment in a couple different shipping containers and get them into the United States over a relatively short period of time, if they really wanted to. Since only 4% of shipping containers are currently x-rayed, the likeliness is that the items would be missed. That means that all these cells would need to do is gather the items once they are within the US borders, and put together whatever type of weapon they planned to use. The same goes with something like a dirty bomb. It would not take a bomb of immense size to take out a major harbor around the United States, and that harbor's destruction would have a ripple effect around the country, and around the world. There would be lives lost in the harbor, the environment in and around the harbor with the water spreading the problem, the leftover radiation, and that's just the initial impact.
The problem is, since a mere 4% of containers are considered suspicious enough to x-ray, it is not only plausible that something could be missed, but also more possible now than ever before. That is why the goal was to be at 100% compliance by now. This would help keep everyone safer, both inside and outside of the United States. However, with a country that is doing everything it can to increase potential jobs and money to stay afloat, the cost of this process could end up as the largest deterrent to its success.
The Problems with X-raying Every Container
The world is under a consistent thread of terrorism, so something that sounds as simple as running each of these containers through an x-ray machine should be plausible, right? Well, not exactly. It would slow down shipping on every front, from nearly every country in the world, and cost a lot more money to implement than most parts of the United States can afford. It would likely delay shipping so much that some countries may have to weigh whether trade with the United States was worth it or not, especially those countries that have not shown any type of terroristic actions. The overall cost of the delays, equipment, and manpower required to do this is well beyond the means of many harbor budgets.
Alternative Options to X-rays
There are a few different alternatives that are being considered, and currently tried, in a few different locations. Some of the ports and harbors around the United States that would be the biggest potential targets are using portable scanners to try and scan more of the containers that have come into the United States. The problem here is that the containers have already reached US soil, but if parts of a larger weapon are enclosed, these would be caught before getting into the wrong hands. Another option is a drive-thru scanner, which has the same basic capability as the portable scanner. Some ports are also using scanners that only look for radiation. This has the potential to stop a dirty bomb from leaving the port, but they are not always successful at detecting items that are covered in layers of lead.
No matter which type of scan is used, the problem remains that not all containers are being scanned in the first place. If the United States wants to minimize any type of impact from shipping containers in the fight against terrorism, they need to figure out the most cost-effective methods to having each and every container scanned. The best way to keep American's safe from this type of attack is to include other countries that trade with the United States; however, this is not always a feasible option for certain countries, and could hinder the efforts that the United States is trying to make