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Smart Containers May Not Be So Smart

NCJ Number
Homeland Defense Journal Volume: 5 Issue: 11 Dated: November 2007 Pages: 26-28
Dr. Charles D. Massey
Date Published
November 2007
3 pages
The need for "smart containers" or "container security devices" in maritime shipping has yet to be shown, so efforts to mandate their use should be opposed until there is proof of their effectiveness in addressing vulnerabilities to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the supply chain of cargo containers.
Many experts and pro-technology advocates believe that the use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, e-seals, door sensors, and other technologies that define a "smart" container are the solution, or a key part of it, to countering the WMD threat. This is based on the assumption that the detectors reliably and efficiently perform the task for which they are intended. Testing requires that they prove the probability of detection, the nuisance and false alarm rate, its ability to be defeated, its operability and maintenance under the conditions in which it will be used, and the response and system costs. This article argues that there are too many ways for even an amateurish threat to bypass or overcome the sensors for them to deter a threat of WMD being placed in a maritime shipping container. There are better ways to enhance security in the maritime supply chain. Solutions to vulnerabilities in the cargo container supply chain should be determined by security analyses not technology vendors. Security measures must be tailored to an analysis of the maritime supply chain and its vulnerability to the WMD threat. Steps in the right direction include efforts to increase transparency in the supply chain through the use of information about the container (content, origin, shipper, and consignee) and then verification of the contents at secure container terminals using radiation detection and x-ray imaging systems.