Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Don't Be So Proud Of This Technological Terror You've Created

The New York Times reports on the “Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism” in “U.S. Effort to Secure Foreign Ports Is Faulted:”

The Department of Homeland Security’s effort to extend its antiterrorism campaign overseas by enlisting help from importers and foreign ports has been so flawed that the program may have made it easier at times to smuggle unconventional weapons into the United States, Congressional officials say.

Until last month, importers enrolled in the Customs incentives program – known as the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism – were automatically designated as a lower risk. Containers shipped by them are inspected once every 306 times, instead of once every 47 times, Customs officials said, permitting faster movement of goods to warehouses owned by Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowe’s and other companies.

About 9,000 applications from importers have been submitted so far. But of the 5,000 that have been accepted, Customs officials have only verified that 597 companies were taking the required measures. Those include such steps as putting up fencing around manufacturing plants and watching over loaded containers as they move from the factory to the ship, Mr. Owen said.

We have long had a government culture in which confidence is valued over evidence. (Can you say “Its a slam-dunk?”) But when you combine this with security, a perceived need for secrecy around security measures, and a lack of respect for those who question or doubt (“Not a team player”), we end up with the United States being less secure than we could or should be.

When you then add in shiny bits of technology that are designed to solve our problems, people abdicate their responsibility to that technology. (“The computer says you haven’t paid your bill.” “The scanner didn’t find anything.”)

This is a crisis of leadership. The people who have managed these programs, who have made these decisions, and and who have failed to learn the lessons of history about how these programs fail, must be held accountable.

Meanwhile, Congress is holding hearings on…steroid abuse.