U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Discusses Port Security

January 7, 2015 | Law & Public Safety

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson joined NJTV News’ Mary Alice Williams to have an in-depth conversation about the state of security in the U.S. today. This is the first of a series of interview segments addressing specific areas of security, beginning with port security. To watch the companion report, click here.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said that he is focusing on port security and he has visited a number of them. He also said that ports have a sophisticated way of screening contents.

“Well port security is a focus of mine,” Johnson said. “I’ve visited a number of ports myself. Port Newark is a big one. We have a pretty sophisticated way in which we screen just about all of it. We scan only a percentage of it based upon various risk assessments and determinations from manifests, from the source and so forth. We don’t physically open every signal container but we have a pretty sophisticated way of assessing what’s high risk, what’s medium risk and taking a closer look at the things we feel we need to do that.”

The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism was established to ensure port security. It expects about more than 8,000 companies to screen their cargo before it leaves their port. When asked if that’s a practical solution, Johnson said that to require that 100 percent of all cargo leaving foreign ports get scanned is a very large unfunded mandate. He said that there aren’t enough funds to do that and that there are huge logistical challenges.

“So what we try to do is bring a risk-based approach to incoming cargo where we scan the stuff that we feel there may be some risk to,” Johnson said. “Now what I have pledged to do and what I have said to those who are strong proponents of that law, is that we need to raise the percentage of that which we do scan. And so I’ve committed to do that and I’ve developed a plan with CBP [Customs and Border Patrol] to increase the percentage of what we scan.”

Johnson said that at the ports, all cargo is checked based on the source — where the cargo is coming from. He also said that Homeland Security looks at intelligence about what might be happening in the countries where the cargo comes from. Homeland Security considers a number of items to make a risk-based determination for what should receive a closer look, according to Johnson.

Johnson said that he believes technology is being developed to better look at containers.

“I’ve heard from a number of contractors who have told me that they’re developing the technology to do this and I want to take a closer look at it,” said Johnson.