that President George W. Bush will sign a port-security law that doesn't address what security experts and U.S. lawmakers fear the most: terrorists placing a nuclear or ``dirty'' bomb in a shipping container and detonating it upon arrival in the U.S.
The law, passed by Congress on Sept. 29 with bipartisan support, requires incoming cargo at the 22 largest U.S. ports to be scanned upon arrival by the end of next year.
Industry officials say the only protection against an in-port attack before scanning is to check containers while they're still overseas -- a massive undertaking, given that 12 million containers are shipped to the U.S. every year from 704 ports in 147 countries.
The Bush administration is caught between competing pressures -- to improve homeland security on one hand, and on the other to avoid imposing standards that would tie up trading routes on which companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Nike Inc. and Lowe's Cos. rely.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated in March that an incident closing the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach for a year would reduce U.S. gross domestic product by $70 billion, or 0.5 percent.
While the measure Congress passed
requires U.S. officials to establish pilot projects within a year to scan all U.S.-bound cargo in three foreign ports, the Homeland Security Department hasn't announced the design of the programs, or what companies will help implement them.
A Long Slog
With the backing of shippers and port-authority lobbyists, congressional Republicans defeated the requirement on the grounds that the Hong Kong system needs to be more thoroughly tested before it's expanded. It's an assessment some security experts agree with.