DHS critical of security at U.S. ports; hauler calls facilities a ‘terrorist’s paradise’

by DOROTHY COX/The Trucker Staff

September 28, 2016


The Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General’s Office in a new report recently declared that background checks of port workers by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) aren’t as effective as they should be.

That comes as no surprise to those who routinely go in and out of the nation’s ports.

Jim Stewart, a long-time port hauler and former Teamster recruiter said, “Any port is a terrorist’s paradise” and that “Homeland Security is a joke.”

The IGO said there isn’t sufficient oversight or guidance for TWIC (Transportation Worker Identification Credential) cards.

Again, no surprise. TWICs are still “flash cards” in the sense that there aren’t satisfactory card readers to check cardholders’ documentation adequately. Plus, “The ports have come out with their own cards,” said Stewart, who recently quit port hauling because of the low rates and health problems. He had worked in Virginia ports for years.

After September 2011, the cards were seen as necessary for maritime/port security for Longshoremen, port facility employees, truck drivers hauling in and out of the ports and others.

Mandated by the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, the TWIC system has historically been beset by red tape, delays, mismanagement and a host of other problems.

Stewart said there has been a “cottage industry” of people making fake TWICs for $100 each “for years.”  He said the rush to develop TWICs made them full of security holes or as Rep. John Mica, R.-Fla., called them, “at best no more useful than a library card.”

Angered by the government’s failure to fix the TWIC system, the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who served on the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and was at one time executive commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said, “hundreds of millions of tax dollars” were being spent “on a program that might actually make the ports less safe.”

Paul Dodge, who works in the Boston area and has been a port hauler for more than 30 years, said the TWICs “really don’t do a d**n thing. I’ve been asked to put a TWIC in the [documenting] machine maybe four times and . . . the machine didn’t work, anyway. They’re kind of a joke.”

He said about once or twice a month in Boston, local authorities, TSA inspectors, U.S. Customs officials and Coast Guard officials run a random truck inspection at the port. “Lately they’ve had TWIC machines” but because it’s so random and not widespread “I seldom get caught up in that,” he said.

Dodge added that the Massachusetts Port Authority has its own ID cards which are “more secure” than a TWIC card and that’s the one he normally uses.

 “Sure there are still fake TWICs,” Stewart said, “especially with illegals behind the wheel with no CDLs. If you can’t get the [legal] paperwork you pay someone to make it up.”

“If you want to get into a port, you can get into a port. They would like to say nobody gets past the gate but I’ve seen illegals” working on a construction job in the port “cut a hole in the gate and go back and forth to work.” This was at a marine terminal in Virginia. “Anybody could have followed the construction workers in,” he said.

But, he added, why try to get in a port in the first place?

“Once a drayage truck comes out of the port with poisonous chemicals, explosives, refrigerated food or whatever, they could just follow it to the trucking company’s drop yard or some other supposedly secure yard or just wait until they drop the load along the street,” he said, “then go hook up to it and drive away.”

Frequently, he noted, “Chemicals and hazardous materials are dropped at truck stops and parking lots” outside the ports along with “chickens, drugs and truck tires, anything people can sell. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened” he said of terrorists accessing ports and nearby areas to cause a large explosion, poison a big water supply or something of that nature. He said security “soft spots” are easy to see if someone hangs around the ports long enough.

Dodge said “once in awhile” he’s asked at the port gate if he has anyone with him in his truck and he says no and they take his word. “I could have six guys in my sleeper,” he said, adding that at the small ports the truckers are usually recognized on sight by port officials. However, “They really don’t check the trucks,” he said.

The DHS Inspector General’s Office has recommended TSA take a multitude of actions to fix ports’ security problems including designating an entity to coordinate and provide guidance for the program, conducting a comprehensive risk analysis and improving the credentialing process.

According to the recent DHS report, TSA has agreed with the recommendations and “has already started to implement corrective actions.”

That’s nothing new, either. The Government Accountability Office released reports in 2011 and 2013 that criticized weaknesses in the TSA’s background checks and at one point, U.S. Government Accountability Office officials said they were able to obtain authentic TWICs using fraudulent identification documentation.

However, port haulers who had spent $125 or more on legitimate TWICs haven’t always able to use them because of system glitches, as Dodge recounted.

In November 2011 TSA announced that an estimated 26,000 TWIC cards issued before April 5, 2011, wouldn’t work when inserted into a TWIC card reader. Each card contained a Federal Agency Smart Credential Number (FASC-N), which would uniquely identify each card in federal databases but in the faulty cards the FASC-N wasn’t fully encoded, causing the cards to be read as invalid.

“TSA has known for years that there were problems and I’m concerned that little has been done to address them,” Sen. Bill Nelson, D.-Fla., ranking member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told The Hill recently. “These weaknesses have opened up our ports to potential security threats, including the opportunity for an insider threat or someone with a serious criminal history to gain access to secure areas. These gaps must be closed immediately to secure our ports and maritime facilities.”

Meanwhile, cargo-laden Hanjin Shipping vessels that have been stranded off U.S. coastlines can’t do anything to help U.S. cargo security.

Hanjin, one of the largest container shipping companies in the world, filed for bankruptcy in South Korea at the end of August, stranding dozens of active ships in waters around the world.

Consequently, many cities and crews refused to allow Hanjin ships access, fearing that they would not be paid for their work. So far, about $14 billion worth of cargo as well as hundreds of workers and others aboard the ships have been impacted, and the saga has continued for weeks.

Stay tuned.