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Experts worry trucks from Mexico may be at risk for attack

COATZACOALCOS, Mexico—It's not just oil terminals and tankers in Mexico that create security concerns for the United States. Since Sept. 11, U.S. security experts have worried that Mexico could be used to smuggle weapons or bombs into the United States.

Mexican seaports often are used to transship cargo, meaning that containers from a third country are unloaded there, then placed on another ship bound for the United States or transferred to rail cars and trucks to cross the 2,000-mile-long land border. As many as 9,000 trucks cross from Mexico into the United States daily through a single border crossing point, at Laredo, Texas.

An internal document from a major U.S. trucking company, which McClatchy obtained, highlights those risks.

It details how inspectors didn't detect that a seal on a container that was hauled from Mexico's state of Puebla to the U.S. Midwest had been broken until the container reached Dolton, Ill.

The driver of a truck that was collecting the shipment in Dolton found the problem when he spotted a 3-inch by 3-inch hole in the top of the container. Inside, he found a backpack, unopened sardines, clothing, a Texas prison ID card and a jug of urine. The assumption is that one or more people had broken the seal, opened the container and caught a ride inside. The hole may have been carved for ventilation.

McClatchy isn't revealing the name of the trucking company, to protect the identity of the person who provided the document.

"They don't know whether they were guys who want to cut your lawn or terrorists," said James Giermanski, a cargo-security expert at Belmont Abbey College outside Charlotte, N.C. "It crossed from Mexico through the United States."

Mexican customs brokers process all shipments bound for the United States. Under the process, a container is sealed when it begins its journey and the seal is not to be broken until the container arrives at its destination. The loads often pass through multiple points, however, where they're dropped off and picked up again on their northward journeys.

Customs brokers know only the origination points and the end points; tracking where they stopped in between is often difficult.

"It's a sieve for security, and that's just the land borders," Giermanski said. "Imagine the seaports."


(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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