This column was originally published on RealMoney on March 2 at 12:32 p.m. EST. It's being republished as a bonus for TheStreet.com readers.Port security is all over the news nowadays, and the issue has been providing plenty of material for the late-night monologues. While everyone's focused on the proposed takeover of six U.S. ports by a United Arab Emirates company, a bigger issue is how well we're monitoring the activity at our ports right now. At the least, it's brought port security into the limelight, and that's good news for American Science & Engineering ( ASEI). But this company is much more than merely a port security play. American Science's sophisticated X-ray inspection products are used to protect high-risk government personnel and facilities. The Secret Service uses them, for example, to screen visitors who are entering the White House or boarding Air Force One. And the company's ParcelSearch Inspection Systems are used in high-security federal facilities to scan parcels, baggage and mail for potential threats. But American Science's gear is more widely used for the inspection and clearance of cargo, trucks and cars at seaports, borders and airports. And that brings us to the issue of the day, port security. According to the U.S. Customs Service, around 90% of global trade is transported by cargo containers. Each year, nearly 6 million sea containers enter U.S. ports, and although data and information are screened for potential threats, only 6% of cargo containers are physically inspected. The renewed focus on port security certainly bodes well for American Science's CargoSearch family of X-ray scanning systems. Last fall, the company released its newest cargo- and vehicle-inspection system, the OmniView. It combines backscatter imaging technology with high-energy transmission X-rays to detect contraband or threatening materials such as explosives, and it can penetrate up to 14 inches of steel. In December, the U.S. Department of Defense placed the first order for an OmniView System. Then, Wednesday morning, American Science announced that it was awarded a $45 million OmniView contract by an unidentified Middle Eastern country. (Ironic, isn't it, that while we're debating the merits of a Dubai-based firm, an unspecified Arab country is loading up on the latest made-in-the-U.S.A. port security gear?)
Port and Border SecurityAnother homeland-defense issue currently in the spotlight is border security, both in Iraq and here. "Our nation needs orderly and secure borders," President Bush declared during the recent State of Union address. "To meet this goal, we must have stronger ... border protection." One way that the government is improving border security is by increasing its use of technology at the borders. Sure enough, the following week the president proposed spending over $10 billion on border protection. American Science's premier product is the Z Backscatter Van, a mobile X-ray screening system built into a delivery van. It utilizes the company's Z Backscatter X-ray technology to produce picture-perfect images of the contents of a vehicle or cargo container, highlighting organic materials such as plastic explosives or other anomalies. One way the military is using the Z Backscatter Van in Iraq is to detect insurgents attempting to cross the border. "