Garbage in, garbage out

THREAT: Canadian trash
Every day, Canadian garbage trucks brimming with refuse cross the border between the United States and Canada unencumbered on their way to Michigan landfills. This practice poses a legitimate national security hazard, according to a recent report compiled by the bipartisan Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. The report calls for a moratorium on such trash imports, claiming that terrorists could smuggle “weapons or nuclear material” in the densely compacted trash, which X-rays and other security measures cannot penetrate.

EXPERT: Stephen Flynn
A terrorism and border security expert at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of America the Vulnerable (2004).

ASSESSMENT: “In terms of general risk, radiation portal technology, which has been completely oversold, cannot effectively scan anything that’s shielded. Obviously, it’s an order of magnitude more difficult to see inside a thick garbage truck. So by definition, a garbage truck represents a guaranteed unknown; the technology can’t resolve the issue.

“But as a conduit for smuggling, it doesn’t rank high. If the overall goal is to create economic disruption, a terrorist won’t freeze the way we do business by blowing up a garbage truck with a dirty bomb. It would be a bad day for Canadian trash collectors. If a terrorist hopes to smuggle a dirty bomb from Canada into the United States by hiding it in garbage, the issue then becomes wading through mountains of trash unnoticed to dig it out.

“This particular story line features a healthy mix of local politics and serves as a perfect example of hitching your wagon to the threat of the moment. The bottom line: Detroiters don’t like Canadians dumping trash in their landfills.”

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