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Obama administration cancels DHS nuclear detection program

by: jim kouri | published: 08 02, 2011

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The Obama administration canceled a $1.2 billion program to install nuclear material detectors at U.S. ports of entry, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

According to Tuesday's DHS statement to the U.S. Congress, the equipment is unreliable as far as its "technical glitches" that included false positives or false alarms.

Even so, the Homeland Security Department plans to give a go-ahead for implementing a small-scale version of the original plan using handheld radiation detectors.

"The idea is to detect radiation and identify the kind of material producing it," said security consultant and anti-terrorism expert Nick Gloss.

"The Homeland Security Department spent $230 million over five years to develop the equipment and I dare say they will not tell lawmakers that they have nothing to show for it," said Gloss.

Following several "Red Team" undercover operations that revealed undercover operatives were able to sneak radioactive material into the United States across both north and south borders and through other entry points, the DHS and the White House have been under pressure to correct the security vulnerabilities regarding weapons of mass destruction.

At a cost of $822,000 for each of the faulty devices, the original plan was to install them at 1,400 sites where shipped materials enter the United States.

The Homeland Security Department rushed to complete the technology using poorly designed tests that made it difficult to “draw reliable conclusions” about whether the equipment worked properly, the National Academy of Sciences reported. A more recent Government Accountability Office report said projected costs of the equipment have risen significantly.

In addition, without better performance tests, the Homeland Security Department lacks “the input it needs to determine whether ASP is ready to progress toward production and deployment,” the GAO report said.

The Advanced Spectroscopic Portal program was the Obama administration's response to intelligence reports indicating that terrorists may attempt to enter the U.S. with nuclear weapons or radiological material used to create so-called dirty bombs into the United States in cargo containers. Dirty bombs are conventional explosives packaged with radiological material.

At the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, only about 2 percent of the cargo entering the United States was inspected by Customs and Border Protection. Congress set a goal in 2006 of inspecting 100 percent of the incoming cargo for nuclear material.

“The threat of a nuclear or radiological weapon being used against New York City is also among the foremost concerns of Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly,” said Richard Daddario, the New York City Police Department’s deputy commissioner for counterterrorism.

He described the police department’s Securing the Cities Program for using equipment and training personnel to respond to risks of a nuclear attack.

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