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Posted at 5:05 AM ET, 09/16/2010

Nuclear detectors a $4 billion bust, GAO says

By Jeff Stein

The Department of Homeland Security spent billions of dollars on machines to intercept nuclear terrorists that were too big for border inspection lanes, the Government Accountabiity Office reported Wednesday.

Why? “Because during the first year or more of the program,” the auditors said, the two DHS units involved -- the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office and Customs and Border Protection -- “had few discussions about operating requirements at ports of entry.”

“CBP officials said they made it clear to DNDO,” the report said, “that they did not want the [nuclear detecting] machines because they would not fit in primary inspections lanes and would slow down the flow of commerce through these lanes and cause significant delays.”

Software for the Cargo Advanced Automated Radiography Systems, CAARS, as they are called, also was not up to snuff, the GAO said. Or as the auditors put it, “a key part of the machine needed to identify shielded nuclear materials automatically … did not mature at a rapid enough pace to warrant acquisition and deployment.”

Moreover, DHS budget proposals also hid “the actual status of the program,” the GAO said.

“For example, the fiscal years 2010 and 2011 DHS budget justifications both cited that an ongoing CAARS testing campaign would lead to a cost-benefit analysis," the report said. "However, DNDO officials told GAO that when they cancelled the acquisition part of the program in 2007, they also decided not to conduct any associated cost benefit analysis.”

The leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, “slammed the department for not having a strategic plan to develop critical technology that could prevent a nuclear terrorist attack on the U.S.,” the Associated Press reported.

"We're not happy or satisfied with progress on the whole nuclear detection architecture," Lieberman said.

DHS’s nuclear detection program has been troubled for years, having spent more than $4 billion since 2003 with nothing to show for it.

DHS said it's working on it.

"We are mindful of getting something delivered that has a credible basis for the implementation plan that follows," Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute told the Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs committee, the AP reported.

By Jeff Stein  | September 16, 2010; 5:05 AM ET
Categories:  Financial/business, Homeland Security, Intelligence  | Tags:  Jane Holl Lute, Joseph Lieberman, Susan Collins  
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How does this square with US-funded efforts abroad to install radiation detection equipment at key trafficking points in the Caucausus and elsewhere? My understanding is that those programmes have been fairly effective, even if piecemeal.

Posted by: jbwood | September 16, 2010 6:14 AM | Report abuse

I'm withholding $4 billion of my income taxes because of this debacle. DHS is the Dept. of Hubris and Shame.

Posted by: foofoofoo | September 16, 2010 7:43 AM | Report abuse

This whole approach is just a travesty. Maybe our spineless "leaders" should discuss and consider whether it is even feasible to ensure detection along our entire border.

Just another completely stupid waste of taxpayer money. One wonders when our so-called "leaders" will get the message that we have trillion dollar deficits and serious, pressing domestic needs. Probably half of what is being done by our government for "counter-terrorism" serves no such purpose: e.g. the traffic Gestapo at airports couldn't possibly stop a car bomber. It's all PR and usual...and a huge waste of scarce money.

Posted by: Rigged | September 16, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

So what exactly happened to the $4billion?

Posted by: lostinthemiddle | September 16, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

There is nothing more important than preventing the detonation of a nuclear weapon in a major US city - and we can be sure that the terrorists will set one off as soon as they lay their hands on a weapon, of which there are many in unstable Pakistan.

We can't be too careful about this. A multilayered defense is needed, including not only workable detectors, but also nuclear forensics, faster progress on locking down nuclear materials, and a deterrence doctrine which says that the originating country will be held fully accountable for any harmful use of their nuclear materials, as if they had deliberately launched a strike themselves.

If there was ever a bipartisan issue, this is it. As for accountability and leadership, this is one not only for the President, but also for the congressional delegations of states with large cities. Schumer and Gillibrand - the senators from New York - should be leading the charge on this, as New York City would be the main target.

In New York, right next to Ground Zero, is Trinity Pl. I can never visit that area without remembering that the very first nuclear test was called Trinity. There is no more important priority than making sure that there will never be a second nuclear detonation with that name.

It makes me sick to think that hundreds of billions of dollars have gone into Iraq and Afghanistan, and that so little has been done to guard against what has been called the "ultimate preventable catastrophe".

Do whatever has to be done about this, but do it now!

And policy-makers, please keep this in mind for other related issues. For example, let's make sure that "peaceful" nuclear plants are not built across the Middle East, which actually has a super-abundance of solar power. An ounce of common sense would tell us to do whatever we can to accelerate solar technologies, as fast as we possibly can, to make sure that nuclear plants are not built across the Middle East, because if they are built, the terrorists will find some way of getting the nuclear materials they are seeking, and which they will not hesitate to use.

Posted by: John_D | September 16, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse






Read the latest from a veteran journalist and torture matrix victim: or

Posted by: scrivener50 | September 16, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

$4,000,000,000 with nothing to show for it?

OK, who in DHS is going to be held publically accountable for this travesty?

The simple answer is that no one will be held accountable, either publically or privately. Instead, the "leaders" and "managers" accountable for this waste will be allowed to continue to work for the feds until they retire, each probably getting $75,000-$100,000 in retirement for the rest of their lives. This while the chumps who pay taxes pick up the costs of yet another DHS failure.

The sad thing about this is that there were probably plenty of DHS employees (maybe even some contractors) who saw what was going on and who were told to sit down and shut up. Some may have even thought about going directly to congress but, without real whistle blower protection, chose not to.

Someone has made a ton of money and we are no safer than we were before $4 billion was spent. How much more of taxpapers hard earned money has been flushed down the toilet that we will never hear about?

Posted by: highexpectations | September 16, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Dog bites man.
New news:
Brain dead government drones waste MORE billions of tax dollars.
Yeah, let's put our health care in the hands of these dimwits.

Posted by: graywolf98 | September 16, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

A perennial favorite. See the documents in the "The Threat of Clandestine Nuclear Attack" section of

Posted by: TexLex | September 17, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Oh, and,

Posted by: TexLex | September 17, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

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