Incoming cargo boats are searched six times a day, seven days a week at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which handle 45 percent of the nation’s container cargo, the Los Angeles Times reports. Sea marshals board container vessels, oil tankers, cruise ships, even commuter boats as part of a Coast Guard program launched after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Counterterrorism officials and other experts say ports may now present an even greater threat. Since Sept. 11, they have received far less security funding than airports, yet they continue to process far more cargo – more than 9.5 million containers a year. Homeland Security say they screen all containers as part of a new “layered” system of defense that begins overseas, where foreign shippers must provide full cargo and crew manifests. Only about 6 percent of containers arriving at U.S. ports are classified as high risk and examined using X-ray machines.
Randy Parsons, the FBI’s chief counterterrorism official in Los Angeles and six surrounding counties, said, “If you look at where we are today, there has been notable improvement in terms of security at the ports. But it is just such an enormous target in terms of the volume of cargo and the numbers of employees and the crews and the ships moving in from foreign lands.” Another veteran counterterrorism agent as blunter. “If I was Al Qaeda and I was looking for a hit, that is exactly where I would look,” the agent said.