Sunday, January 06, 2008

RFID Technology can set off explosives in shipping containers using $20 worth of parts from Radio Shack.

Tracking chips may expose ports to attack

Report: U.S. has ignored warnings that radio technology can trigger bombs

Jan. 6, 2008

San Antonio Express-News/Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

MONTERREY, MEXICO — Technology that tracks the contents of shipping containers could make some major U.S. sea and land ports vulnerable to terrorist attack, according to a private study.

However, a test of how easily the tracking system could be used as a bomb trigger was ignored by the Department of Homeland Security, according to one of the companies involved in the study.

The report described a recent demonstration that showed radio frequency identification technology can set off explosives in shipping containers.

Radio frequency systems increasingly are in use at U.S. ports of entry, touted as a tool for making a post-9/11 world safer. They have been adopted by the U.S. Department of Defense and companies such as Wal-Mart for tracking shipments from suppliers.

Homeland Security and one of its agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, did not respond to questions Friday regarding the RFID experiment.

The test and DHS's silence regarding it have caught the attention of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security.

"It does raise questions, it does raise concerns," said Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.

Cuellar, who chairs the panel's subcommittee on emergency communications, preparedness and response, said his office would contact DHS officials "to provide us their side of the story."

The technology has many applications, including retail anti-theft systems and on vehicles that have pre-paid highway tolls or are pre-cleared to use faster border-crossing lanes.

Until Powers International, which specializes in trade security and logistics, began testing the theory a few months ago, it appears no one had examined the possibility that it could be used by terrorists.

When used on shipping containers, radio frequency identification technology is a two-part system: an electronic tag or seal on a container and a reader that sends a radio signal to prompt the tag to transmit information.

In the November test, a detonator tuned to pick up a cargo reader signal set off a small explosive charge placed in an empty container.

The detonator was built by a college student using parts bought at Radio Shack for about $20, said Powers International chairman Jim Giermanski.

Giermanski, author of the report, said in an interview: "What that really means is that all a terrorist needs is an undergraduate and a case of beer."

Anne Marie Kappel, vice president of the Washington-based World Shipping Council, said she was aware of the test but had not seen a report on the results.

"Powers International has been vocally opposed to RFID technology for some time," she noted.

The American Association of Port Authorities "doesn't currently have a statement regarding the veracity of the report," said Aaron Ellis, the association's communication director.

Ellis said Wade Battles, managing director of the Port of Houston Authority, "has recently talked about his port's concerns relating to the number of different RFID systems that are being developed."

Battles could not be reached Friday and a Port of Houston spokesman could not confirm if any such systems are currently in use at the port.

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE