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IPFS News Link • Maritime and Ports

U.S. Ports Want More Action on Dirty Bomb Prevention


The threat of terrorist smuggling at U.S. ports appears to be increasing, says the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), who wants mechanisms to prevent cyber terrorism and illegal nuclear materials from being trafficked through ports intensified. 

Nuclear smuggling can involve small quantities of highly enriched uranium or plutonium that could be used to build an improvised nuclear device. Additionally, radiological materials, such as cesium-137, cobalt-60, and strontium-90, can be combined with conventional explosives to build a radiological dispersal device, often referred to as a dirty bomb.

According to a nuclear and radiological material trafficking database managed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), approximately 2,700 cases of illicit trafficking of such material have been confirmed as of December 31, 2014. These cases were reported by more than 100 countries that voluntarily contribute to IAEA's database. 

Many confirmed cases involving the illicit trafficking of nuclear materials, including weapons-usable material, have been traced to material that originated in countries of the former Soviet Union and had fallen outside of those governments' control.

Maryland Port Administration Security Director Dave Espie, a retired FBI agent and former National Security Agency Special Agent, will testify on July 7 on behalf of the AAPA at 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.

Espie says in his testimony that the threat of maritime terrorist smuggling appears to be increasing, possibly in correlation with the flight of Syrian refugees to Europe. Recently, a stowaway on a roll-on rolloff vessel destined for Baltimore was located by the ship's crew and taken into custody by Homeland Security Investigations. The stowaway admitted that he boarded the vessel while it was docked at a German port.

Approximately one week prior to this event, a shipping lines manager in Baltimore advised that his lines had experienced several stowaway attempts by Syrian nationals in Germany as well. Directors of port security in the United States are not routinely granted a security clearance with the federal government and hence, are not provided classified briefings regarding threats to their ports, says Espie.