High-energy X-ray technology expands its global reach to US Customs



Douglas Stevenson, Director of Global Marketing, L-3 Communications Security & Detection Systems, Woburn, MA, USA


Beginning in January 2002, US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) initiated the Container Security Initiative (CSI) programme to identify and examine maritime containers which pose a risk for terrorism at foreign ports before they are shipped to the United States. CSI has become a centrepiece in the global counterterrorism effort, and is now operational in 36 major seaports in the world. CSI requires side-by-side teamwork of CBP officials and foreign port authorities to identify, target and screen high-risk cargo with the purpose of protecting containerised shipping from exploitation by terrorists and providing better security for the global trading system.

CBP is charged with not only protecting US borders through initiatives like CSI, but also facilitating the flow of commerce and travel. The dominant mode of transporting cargo is by container, with almost half of all goods and material coming into the United States arriving by containers on ships. Nearly nine million cargo containers arrive and are offloaded at US seaports each year. Containerised shipping poses a significant challenge to CBP in their effort to maintain the critical balance between the inspection of and the free flow of goods and people.

While second to shipping, with respect to the amount of goods and materials coming into the United States, rail and truck trafficcrossing the Canadian and Mexican borders also pose a security threat. The protection of land borders, and the ability to screen rail and truck traffic, is also extremely important to all nations’ intent on deterring terrorist activities and other illicit importation of contraband.

For CBP, and similar agencies protecting borders world-wide, the mission has expanded dramatically because of the increasing concern with security following the events of 9/11. For many years, law-enforcement agencies like CBP were looking primarily for contraband material at borders or looking to confirm shipping manifests. While these issues remain, concerns over terrorism have caused an evident shift in the way customs and law enforcement agencies conduct their operations. As agencies world-wide greatly expand the realms of what they search and what they are searching for, they are increasingly using more advanced cargo and vehicle screening systems that offer better capabilities to identify threats and other items of concern.

In April 2005, the US Department of Homeland Security, CBP issued a request for proposals to procure Large Scale Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) equipment. The requirement is for both low-energy and high-energy imaging systems in four configurations (fixed, mobile, rail and pallet). The imaging systems are to be used for the identification of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), explosives, conventional weapons, drugs, and other contraband concealed in steel-walled tankers, tractor trailers, towed vehicles, cargo containers, automobiles, pick-up trucks, buses, towed trailers, railcars and large pallets.

For the first time, this CBP solicitation includes systems capable of scanning and imaging both low-density and highdensity cargoes. By requiring both levels of capability, CBP has clearly stated that lower energy systems currently in use such as gamma-ray, are suitable only for low-density cargo and the search for general contraband, while higher energy X-ray systems offer a necessary capability to scan high-density cargo with the resolution needed to find more specific threats. High-energy X-ray technology is a proven cargo screening technology that has been used in border, port and aviation environments since the late 1980s. It presents a powerful NII solution that can significantly reduce or eliminate the expensive proposition of opening shipping containers for inspection. High-energy X-ray systems passively screen the contents, providing analysts with images that offer superior resolution that are easier to interpret.

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