Terror scare tests Port of Miami response

Jan. 8, 2007
A miscommunication between port officials and three men in a cargo truck led to a terrorism scare at the Port of Miami yesterday

A miscommunication between port officials and three men in a cargo truck led to a terrorism scare at the Port of Miami yesterday, according to the Associated Press. Federal investigators and a bomb squad were called in, only to find that the container the truck was hauling matched the cargo manifest.

Port officials alerted law enforcement officials when a truck driver tried to slip two men past a security checkpoint after he indicated he was alone. A “language barrier” prevented port officials and the men in the truck from communicating effectively, AP reported.

Originally from Iraq and Lebanon, the truck driver and the two passengers were permanent U.S. residents residing in Michigan, AP reported. The driver was charged with resisting an officer without violence and the passengers were charged with trespassing; a judge dismissed all of the charges, AP reported.

“They’re not working at the port day-in and day-out, so they’re not in a position where they’d have a port ID card,” Zachary Mann, special agent and spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection told FleetOwner. “But it doesn’t mean they’re not allowed in the port. We cleared the cargo with our radiation isotope identification device and scanned it with our gamma radiation scanner device, and we found the goods to be as-manifested.”

One of the individuals did not have any form of ID, and the truck’s driver couldn’t produce proper paperwork during a routine inspection to enter the port, AP reported.

Although an on-going issue, so-called language barriers between truckers and port officials are not considered a serious security issue.

“I’m not aware of it being a major problem,” Mann said. “It’s not brought to our attention on a regular basis. We’re talking about domestic truckers entering the port. On the import side, [the container has] been expected and released and that’s why the trucker picks it up.”

According to Don Rondeau, senior director of homeland security for Alion Science and Technology, the incident illustrates a significant improvement in federal response to terrorist scares. Rondeau noted that the truck was pulled aside to a secure cargo area for inspection while the rest of the port continued to operate.

He recalled separate incidents in August 2005 when law enforcement officials warned trucking stakeholders there was a good possibility that fuel tankers would be used to conduct an attack around September 11 and another in October 2005 when I-95 in the Baltimore, MD area was effectively shut down when government officials closed key tunnels that were suspected to be targets of a truck bomb. Although both threats were of dubious credibility, the disruption wrought by the security measures turned out to be significant.

“In Miami they were able to segregate the incident from the rest of port operations,” Rondeau told FleetOwner. “That’s a shift of how we would’ve reacted to the incident years ago.”

To comment on this article, write to Terrence Nguyen at [email protected]

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