Better intelligence needed to protect port

More cooperation of agencies is required, say Md., federal officials

April 20, 2004|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Acknowledging that new fences lining the port of Baltimore aren't enough to stop a terrorist's bomb from reaching the shores of Maryland, federal and state officials said yesterday that the emphasis in protecting the waterfront will shift to better intelligence work.

Various agencies will have to cooperate in an unprecedented fashion to thwart threats from chemical, biological or nuclear weapons before they sail into Baltimore or any of the nation's other 360 ports, said the officials, who briefed members of Congress yesterday at the port about their progress.

The Baltimore region has received about $14 million in state and federal money that went toward a patrol boat, fencing and new technology. An undetermined fourth round of dollars will available soon.

Some of the money will be used to implement security plans required of 50 public and privately owned terminals and vessels that operate in the port of Baltimore. All major terminals and vessels were required to turn in a plan to enhance security by December, which Coast Guard officials said they did, and to implement it by July.

The new technology will include a better tracking system to monitor cargo on each vessel coming into the port and X-ray machines to see inside containers that are flagged as suspicious.

On average, about 6 percent of containers are now inspected by U.S. Customs officials at ports nationwide. But Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, the Baltimore Democrat, said he believes Baltimore's average is higher, although the number varies depending on the perceived threats.

The burden will fall on government agencies to share information that could keep dangerous cargo from reaching port. The effort began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

A statewide assessment is under way to help officials determine what resources in terms of money and personnel will be needed at the port as well as the airports and the railways, said Dennis R. Schrader, director of the Governor's Office of Homeland Security.

The nation's airports have received about $3 billion in federal money, compared with about $424 million allocated to the ports.

Cardin said he was unsure of how much money the port would receive in the next round of federal financing, but said more needs to be done. Baltimore has a "Tier 1" security ranking, or the highest, because of its proximity to Washington.

Capt. Curt Springer, the Coast Guard's Baltimore commander, said cooperation and intelligence among government agencies must continue indefinitely. "It's a never-ending journey," he said.

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