Janet Napolitano is taking her message about global supply chain security on the road — and across the oceans. The Department of Homeland Security secretary met in Europe recently with international groups that have stakes in the security puzzle, calling for a “global initiative to secure the global supply chain.”
“This is designed to deal with cargo from point of entering into the stream of commerce to point of receipt, and it involves air and maritime, as well. So we’re beginning that initiative now,” Napolitano told reporters in London on Jan. 28. “We’re looking to strengthen so-called trusted shipper programs. With appropriate safeguards, protocols and requirements, if an entity is a trusted shipper, then we may do fewer checks as opposed to other types of cargo.”
Shippers not in the program could get even closer scrutiny, she hinted.
Napolitano and security officials in most Western countries were jolted into action last October when al Qaeda agents in Yemen attempted to blow up cargo planes using explosives concealed in laser printers. Although security officials in Europe and the Middle East thwarted the attacks, the incident exposed the vulnerability of the air cargo system.
For now, a “trusted shipper” initiative appears to exist in name only. It shows the world the DHS is ready to join international efforts to knit together a global supply chain security system. A government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said U.S. intelligence agencies may have nudged Napolitano to “do something,” after the incidents last October. A global trusted shipper program sounds good at very high levels, the employee said, but practitioners know how complex the task will be.
Napolitano in January met the heads of the World Customs Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the International Air Transport Association and the International Maritime Organization. Each agency has a piece of supply chain security, and spokesmen said the secretary’s visit covered general matters. The DHS and the WCO, however, forged a partnership with the aviation organizations to strengthen air cargo security. In particular, customs officials said they would scrutinize the movement of chemicals that can be mixed into explosive material.
Napolitano, speaking at the European Policy Center in Brussels, called the supply chain a “complex system where vulnerabilities exist … a powerful engine of commerce, jobs and prosperity. Yet a range of increasingly unpredictable and potentially catastrophic threats — from terrorist acts to natural disasters — presents substantial danger to this system.”
The DHS turned down interview requests, saying it would let the secretary’s comments stand on their own. The department’s existing security programs also are not likely to be mixed into a new program. Programs such as the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, Container Security Initiative and “10+2” Importer Security Filing rule, although far from perfect, are credited with keeping terrorists from attacking the U.S. through the supply chain.
The air cargo industry once had a security program called known shipper that was used in the United States and Europe, but the program fell away under requirements for greater direct screening. The TSA later created the Certified Cargo Screening Program to meet a law calling for 100 percent of domestic air cargo to be screened. That program authorizes airlines, air forwarders and shippers to screen cargo. Enforcement began in January 2010, and the air cargo industry is calling it a success, with 564 forwarder-operated sites and 508 sites run by shippers approved to screen shipments.
Getting other countries on board with security has proved more elusive. Customs wants to align C-TPAT with trading partners’ security programs. The goal is mutual recognition — allowing goods to flow seamlessly across borders protected by matching security blankets — but the agency has had little success: The U.S. has agreements with only five nations that account for about 20 percent of U.S. trade since 2004. There is no agreement with the European Union.
TSA officials are ratcheting up the pressure to extend air cargo protocols overseas by saying the agency will complete foreign agreements by the end of the year. Until those agreements are finalized, the U.S. will continue to rely on security agreements with individual airlines.
“Responsibility of governments and companies around the world is to do all we can to keep the complex system from being exploited or disrupted by terrorists,” Napolitano said in London. “There is no set of cargo that should not be subject to some security examination. The question is how much and where.”
Contact R.G. Edmonson at email@example.com.