Border Guards Flunk Security Test

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," March 28, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: The feds decided to put our border security to the test. They tried to smuggle radioactive material across the border — enough stuff to build two "dirty bombs." The results, scary. Jane Skinner has the story.

JANE SKINNER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: This won't help you sleep at night. One senator is calling it an alarming wake-up call. Investigators were allowed to enter through both Canada and Mexico, even though the substance they were carrying set off radiation alarms.

Sen. Norm Coleman is a member of the Homeland Security Committee. He's on top of this issue.

Senator, let's talk about specifically first how this happened. The alarms went off, the undercover investigators said, we have the radioactive material, but here are the documents to prove we're supposed to have it. The documents were phony. The agents didn't know that and let them pass through. It sounds like that wasn't even the problem you were looking at initially, right?

SEN. NORM COLEMAN, R-MINN.: The problem we were looking at is can we sneak this material into our country. We have a massive blind spot. Forty percent of the cargo containers that come into this country — 95 percent of our product comes in in cargo containers — only 40 percent of those are screened for radiation at all.

More are screened on the northern and southern borders. So, the good news was we tried to sneak stuff in and they found it. The bad news is that the agents used documents that my 20 year old could have made on his computer, and they fooled the folks who found the radioactive material. So it got in anyway.

But the good news is now, as Homeland Security says, within 15 — excuse me — within 30 days they say they will plug up that gap. We will certainly be on top of them. So, good news, bad news, in the end, a problem identified, at least in that area.

There are still massive, massive blind spots in the, you know, our system of protecting against nuclear weapons and dirty bombs. But that particular one, it wasn't the radiation monitors. They found the material. It was easily forged documents that allowed them to get it through.

SKINNER: All right. Well, and more of the bad news that this report talks about is the fact that there are so many border crossings, so many seaports that don't have any detection equipment at all. When will they? I mean, the target originally was September '09. Are we going to make that?

COLEMAN: Well, GAO, the Government Accountability Office, doesn't think so.

Homeland Security says that they're really going to push up their efforts. So, again, today right now, this is a situation of grave concern. Governor Kean, from the 9/11 Commission, said this is the most significant security issue facing this country.

Jane, there's also a larger issue here that was highlighted by this attempt to smuggle materials in. And that is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is supposed to kind of oversee a lot of this stuff, and Homeland Security, Defense, Energy. But they have got a big stake in this.

I'm not sure and, in fact, I don't think they recognize the seriousness of dirty bombs. You know, from their perspective, well, there wasn't a lot of material. It wasn't a nuclear bomb. It wasn't Hiroshima-like. But you drop a dirty bomb on Wall Street and it shuts it down. You drop it in the nation's capital and it shuts it down.

And so, the reality today is that it's easier to get material to build a dirty bomb, radiological weapons, than it is to get cold medicine to make methamphetamine. And that simply doesn't make any sense.

SKINNER: Senator, bottom line, what is taking so long? Does it just involve red tape? I mean, we saw the hoopla over the Dubai ports deal. It seemed like those kind of headlines would create a lot of political pressure to get a lot of this done. Is that working to create pressure?

COLEMAN: Well, the bottom line is, you know, its' a massive issue.

Again, I want to give some credit to Homeland Security. They have put in place these radiation monitors. They have put in place a container security initiative, so it pushes our line of defense out to countries, you know, outside, so we are not waiting until they get the material here.

On the other hand, they have got to move quicker. They are working hand in hand with these port operators. We have reached a point where they have got to tell them you're going to put these radiation monitors in there.

So, a little bureaucracy, whatever else it is, the good news is these hearings, these investigations have raised the level of concern. And, hopefully, we will move forward at a much more aggressive rate.

SKINNER: All right, we hope so.

Sen. Norm Coleman, Republican of Minnesota, thanks very much. John, back to you.

GIBSON: All right, Jane, thank you.

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