COLUMN: Bomb scare at Miami airport shows that measures for protecting Americans still have a long way to go

By U-Wire

The latest U.S. security scare came just last Sunday, when a package heading for a cruise ship at the Port of Miami tested positive for C4 explosives. There was just one problem: The imminent security threat, once disposed of by the bomb squad, turned out to be sprinkler parts.

While port officials took the necessary precautions, the mishap raises some important questions of just how safe our ports truly are.

Fighting terrorism at home and abroad surely includes authorities being able to distinguish between plastic explosives and landscaping equipment.

It’s a fact that false positives occur in explosives testing, but the machines in Miami returned false readings half a dozen times – truly appalling numbers for any security device.

Considering the money and effort put into improving border security, these inaccuracies are no less than an insult to the taxpaying public.

Here’s a scary thought: If these machines give false positives, they’re likely to give false negatives too, letting hazardous material pass through undetected.

At the very least, manufacturers of these devices should be held accountable for their product’s reliability, or lack thereof.

However, inaccuracy in detection is only one of the many problems facing port security today.

Most ports only have the resources to manually inspect 5 percent of shipping containers, leaving roughly 95 percent of the 6 million containers unchecked per year.

The most feasible solution is the installation of additional drive-through X-ray scanning equipment, which can inspect entire containers within minutes without the use of a time-consuming manual ground inspection. So far, however, only busy ports like New York and Los Angeles are given this special treatment.

While port officials have begged for more of these efficient machines, legislators have naturally been slow to act.

The major roadblock to these improvements, of course, has been funding.

While the Dubai Ports incident brought attention to the dire port security situation, the additional $200 million allocated to port security last year by Congress falls embarrassingly short.

Without more thorough scanning equipment, American ports will remain porous, the easiest means of sneaking in undetected dangerous materials, including but not limited to explosives and illegal drugs.

The Port of Miami’s security scare also exposed the problem of the miscommunication at security checkpoints.

For example, three Muslim men detained at the port failed not only to present proper identification but also gave misinformation regarding the number of people traveling in their truck.

The district judge has since dropped the charges against the three men, who all turned out to be legal citizens without any ties to terrorism.

However, this “miscommunication” unfortunately reveals that our security checkpoints are simply not as foolproof as we’d like to think.

The fact that port officials couldn’t properly interpret the situation is alarming, considering how unprotected our ports remain.

This wasn’t miscommunication, it was a mistake – the sort of mistake that can shut down a port and undermine normal security measures for hours at a time.

Port security is one of the many homeland security issues left in the shadow of hot button issues like airline security and domestic espionage programs.

However, the threat that inadequate port security poses to America is real.

We are far from finished securing our country, particularly when sprinkler parts are detected as bombs in a busy, modern port.