Canadian Defence Minister Peter Mackay says the greatest threat facing North America is international terrorists smuggling a nuclear weapon onto the continent through a busy container port.
At an Ottawa conference of transportation security experts on Wednesday, Mackay raised the spectre of radicals detonating a crude radioactive dispersal device or a conventional nuclear bomb after smuggling it in one of the millions of cargo containers arriving annually on foreign ships.
“The greatest threat to North America right now is on the water,” he told the audience. “This is an area where, God forbid, if someone with ill intent decided to send a dirty bomb or some kind of a nuclear device into our country, this is an area where we are vulnerable.
“With the number of movements of containers coming into this country today, this is an area we have to be completely and extremely vigilant and rigorous in terms of security.”
His assessment of the maritime threat is the bluntest yet from a government minister and echoes concerns high-ranking U.S. officials have expressed publicly for years: al-Qaida has nuclear ambitions, is working to develop the nuclear capabilities to match, and just one of the containers arriving annually on North America’s shores could be a Trojan Horse harbouring the unthinkable.
Gary Gilbert, of the giant U.S. company Hutchinson Port Holdings, which operates 48 international ports handling 60-million containers annually, later suggested to delegates it may only be a matter of time before that happens.
“We have seen drugs come in, we have seen illegal aliens, we have seen weapons,” he said. “Why can’t it be a weapon of mass destruction?”
A nuclear device arriving undetected in a North American port could be shipped to virtually any point in the continent by rail or truck.
The U.S. is now ringing its major cities, and eventually much of the country, with radiation detectors.
Triggering a nuclear device within a major port would also cause devastation. The Port of Los Angles, for example, is the trans-shipment point for much of the state’s gasoline supply, as well as 3.3 million direct and indirect jobs.
The U.S. also has custom agents screening U.S. bound containers at certain foreign port.