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Shipping Container Vulnerability

Everyday, 17,000 shipping containers enter the U.S. from around the globe; protecting them from a terrorist attack is of prime concern

On a daily basis, 17,000 shipping containers enter the U.S. from around the globe. According to the Brookings Institution, only about 2% are being inspected by Customs officials.

"A terrorist attack using a container to conceal a so-called dirty bomb...could probably stop global trade in its tracks," said Robert Bonner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner. If the U.S. were to inspect all 6 million to 7 million containers per year, the cost would skyrocket. A single inspection can cost up to $5,000, with direct human intervention.

Several technology and shipping companies are working together to find answers to shipping container vulnerability. These include:

-- A shoe-box-sized wireless sensor being developed by IBM and the Maersk shipping line. The Tamper-Resistant Embedded Controller (TREC) is lodged inside a shipping container and provides information on the container's position and condition.

-- Radiation detection devices and intruder systems that detect radiation and track tags on containers.

-- A combination of radiology and neutron inspection in one system. Rapiscan Security Products, Hawthorne, CA, offers a system that provides a 2D transmission picture of the inspected cargo or vehicle.

-- Nuclear Resonance Fluorescence Imaging (NRFI) - "an active interrogation technology that allows the identification and discrimination of practically any material in highly packed and loaded containers of large size," said Robert Ledoux, CEO, Passport Systems. 

(According to