Prevention of and Response to the Arrival of a Dirty Bomb at a U.S. Port
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation
Hearing on “The Prevention of and Response to the Arrival of a Dirty Bomb at a U.S. Port”
October 27, 2015
(Remarks as Prepared)
The Subcommittee is meeting today to discuss the scenario of a dirty bomb, or radiological dispersal device, in a United States port. The potential for how such a device could be brought in, measures that can be taken to deter, detect, and interdict the security threat, and ways to prevent an adversary from reaching its intended target within the United States.
The United States has an Exclusive Economic Zone spanning 3.5 million square miles, 95,000 miles of open shoreline, over 360 ports, and numerous small harbors across the country. Our maritime border is unique compared to our land or air borders due to its sheer size and the potential ease of moving large quantities of materials undetected. Interdiction efforts are about more than the seized contraband. Understanding the pathways used by the smugglers is a critical part of the process. Pathways used for drugs today could be used to bring in other contraband, including nuclear and radiological material. Knowledge of existing smuggling practices coupled with trends on how actions change due to law enforcement efforts can assist in disrupting future smuggling efforts.
After 9/11, security measures were enacted to better protect our homeland by expanding efforts to detect and deter threats overseas. These efforts include screening cargo manifests before containers are loaded onto a United States-bound ship, scanning shipping containers that have been determined to be high-risk, screening ship personnel data, knowing where a ship and its cargo have been before entering United States territory, and intercepting a vessel at sea and preventing its entry into a United States port.
We will hear from our witnesses today on how the federal government deploys a whole-of-government, layered approach including law enforcement, technology, and intelligence to detect, deter, and interdict potential threats. These internal measures are combined with treaties and agreements with foreign governments to conduct cooperative enforcement efforts at ports overseas.
In early October, the Associated Press reported on FBI and Eastern European authorities’ efforts over the last five years to successfully interrupt four attempts by criminal gangs, with suspected Russian ties, to sell radioactive material (cesium) to Middle Eastern extremists. The successful disruption of the sale was a positive result. However, the desire of our adversaries to obtain, at a minimum, materials for a dirty bomb, or even materials for a nuclear weapon are growing.
It is concerning that the administration’s whole-of-government approach does not appear to include foreign nuclear policy. For an administration that proclaims to be anti-nuclear proliferation, we are heading down a path where our adversaries will have greater access to nuclear material. While this hearing is about preventing, deterring, and interdicting threats from coming into our ports, it is important to be aware of how our foreign policies may conflict and potentially disrupt enforcement measures to keep our country safe.
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