GAO report points out gaps in port security program

One of the greatest fears in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks has to do with port security, and in a port town such as Charleston, that's a big deal. A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found many problems with the nation's post-9/11 port security efforts.

ABC News 4 went behind the scenes to see how things work with port security here, including a look at Project SeaHawk. Check out the video here.

A New York Times blogger also reported on the recent GAO report:

Today’s reminder is from the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress that studied one important part of port security known as the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT). In exchange for lighter — and faster — scrutiny at U.S. ports, the federal incentive program requires companies shipping cargo from overseas to follow a list of security precautions. About 8,000 companies participate.

Unfortunately, those protocols are not being faithfully followed abroad, opening the door to terrorists, the study concluded.


As The A.P. noted, this is hardly the first piece of criticism for the program, which is operated by the Customs and Border Protection division of the Homeland Security Department. In 2005, the G.A.O. found several faults highlighted today, particularly the lack of following up with members of the program.

So what can be done to resolve the issue? Well, according to the Associated Press, "Customs officials in the report agreed they could do more to follow up on suggested security improvements but noted that employees often use their expert discretion in assessing the potential danger before certifying a company."

A Post and Courier article from February also spoke of this dependence on workers, as much as machines, to detect port security threats. The story included a quote by Owen Doherty, director of the Office of Security at the U.S. Maritime Administration:

A major security breach at a port could damage the entire supply chain, from the trucking industry and railroads to retailers and food suppliers. On the front lines facing an attack often are workers for private shipping and freight companies working day to day with U.S.-bound cargo.

"Think of all the eyes and ears in the maritime community," Doherty said.

"That’s a great enabler of our first line of defense."

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