June 18, 2002

I DON’T USUALLY RELY ON DEBKA, but an item today is kind of interesting, and has some plausibility. It says that U.S. security forces are playing cat-and-mouse with Al Qaeda around shipping containers and facilities in many ports within and without the United States — and suggests that chemical or biological weapons smuggling may be involved.

Container, oil and bulk ports are especially vulnerable. Some of the stowaways arrive complete with arms or explosives, the nature of which – conventional, radioactive, chemical or biological – the US authorities are at great pains to keep dark. However, shipping sources told us witnesses had seen suspect containers appearing to be quarantined after their al Qaeda infiltrators were killed, suggesting the suspected presence of toxic substances.

The threat applies equally to the international container traffic that carries much of the world’s lifeblood. Experts have opined that a “dirty bomb” exploding in a container at sea would stop the world’s container traffic cold until a credible security system for sea-going containers was in place.

How much of this story is true I can’t say, and some parts of it seem questionable — Debka is an anonymous news source, and I don’t like those, and they specialize in reporting on things that they say are being kept quiet, making them difficult to check. But it’s certainly true that the current flag-of-convenience system is likely to collapse under the threat of terrorism.

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