Port securityPort of L.A. heist raises questions about port security

Published 1 December 2010

The Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex uses the latest — together with the simplest — technology in trying to prevent weapons of mass destruction from being smuggled through the port. Among these means used: a $3 million high-tech screening ship, a radiation-detecting helicopter and a badge-carrying black Labrador retriever that can sniff out chemical and biological weapons; all these security measures, and more, could not prevent an old-fashion heist of cargo containers from the port; the damage to the companies involved aside, the ease with which garden variety robbers could enter the port, over-power security guards, and leave with three large trailers raises questions about what more sophisticated terrorist might be able to do

Six months ago we wrote: “If you want to see some of the latest tactical tools aiming to prevent weapons of mass destruction from infiltrating a critical infrastructure, you should pay a visit to the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex, where 40 percent of all U.S. imports enter the country” (“The Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex uses a variety of means to detect WMD.” 10 March 2010 HSNW).

Perhaps we should have been more measured in our praise for the port’s security measures.

It began with a man posing as a lost driver asking for directions from a security guard outside a cargo depot in Wilmington. Within seconds, the guard on duty Sunday night discovered it was a ruse, detectives said. As he stepped outside the cargo depot to give directions, two other men overpowered him and hit him in the face. They warned him they were armed and prepared to use their weapons.

A small fleet of big rigs pulled into the yard and with military precision began hauling three loaded trailers away from the depot near the Port of Los Angeles.

“It appeared they were looking for specific trailers,” said Los Angeles Police Lt. John Pasquariello.

The Los Angeles Times quotes investigators say the crime known as a “terminal robbery” is typically done by organized gangs and is one of the ways cargo thieves make off with merchandise valued at more than $10 billion annually nationwide. The Los Angeles area has long been an epicenter of cargo crime with the LAPD, L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol all operating special teams of investigators to combat it.

In Sunday night’s heist at 1000 Farragut Ave., the assailants hustled the security guard and another employee into an office, where they bound and gagged them. With the employees secured, several big rigs began hooking up trailers.

Detectives said the thieves stole a white Freightliner with a Tennessee license plate of T716959, a blue ’90s Peterbilt with a Maine license plate 2332123, and a green ’90s Peterbilt with a Tennessee license plate of T950491.

They did not disclose the contents of the trailers.

Eventually the security guard and employee, of them a woman, were discovered and taken to a Long Beach hospital with minor to moderate injuries.

Detectives said they are also looking for a big rig and two other trailers stolen earlier that day about 6 p.m. Thieves got away with a white Mack tractor with a California license plate number of 9E35712 and two additional trailers with Tennessee plates T771784 and U054162. It is unclear if the thefts were related to the robbery.

The LAPD asks anyone with information regarding this case is asked to call Commercial Crimes Division, Cargo Hijack Unit at (213) 485-2507.