Dr. Stephen E. Flynn speaks at the American Security Project panel, "Nuclear Terrorism: What's at Stake?"
The threat of harmful nuclear material entering the United States through the nation’s ports is a very real one, but international cooperation and technological solutions can help better secure our waterways against that threat. That was the subject of a panel discussion titled “Nuclear Terrorism: What’s at Stake?” hosted by the American Security Project in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.
Dr. Stephen Flynn, a professor at Northeastern University and former president of the Center for National Policy, said that smuggling through shipping containers is already happening on a daily basis, which demonstrates the possibility of a nuclear device, planted by terrorists, to go undetected. “You name the contraband, and it is [already] flowing through the system, whether it's knockoff products on the low end, to the movement of large sums of cash, to narcotics, to every form of weapons short of nuclear weapons, in terms of what we’ve found there,” he said. “The bottom line is the system remains highly vulnerable for folks to move things because it’s essentially an honor system, and it’s an honor system of enormous size.”
The enormity of that so-called “honor system” has only grown over the years. In 2003, the world's ports moved 300 million TDU’s, the metric unit used for weighing containerized cargo. In 2006, 400 million TDU’s were moved; last year, that number was 580 million TDU’s.
Because of the large number of containers that go through ports, the system is set up to allow companies to earn trusted status and have their containers go through on an expedited basis. Flynn said he was convinced that if and when nuclear material enters the U.S. through a port, “it will come through a trusted shipper....” because those containers go through less scrutiny.