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Air Cargo: Caution – Reactionaries at Work

Reports are that the air cargo industry is nervous about regulatory or legislative responses to the recent terrorist attempt to send package bombs to the United States on cargo aircraft. It should be. Reactionaries in Washington don’t rest.

Almost a month before the thwarted plot pushed air cargo back to the front of the news cycle, the “Air Cargo Security Act of 2010″ (HR 6275) was introduced. The bill establishes “federal air cargo screening centers” operated by TSA at every airport in the United States.

Last week’s package bomb attempt provides an opportunity for policy makers to take seriously the bill’s provisions. Recent quotes from legislators suggest that the bill’s provisions, as with current mandates, should be enforced globally for cargo-only aircraft. Federalizing the security of the supply chain serves as blunt instrument, a reactionary’s tool of choice, to the problem.

Current Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection efforts to secure cargo on air cargo-only aircraft have made great strides. But TSA is struggling to crack the code on how to physically screen cargo around the world. It is an impossible task.

The current mandate to screen 100 percent of all cargo on passenger aircraft preempts a risk-based approach. Expanding that mandate to cargo-only aircraft, as suggested, further dilutes efforts to implement a risk-based security system by focusing resources and attention on accomplishing the mandate – a simple number – instead of building a layered security system and resilient supply chain.

What will be overlooked during the on-going analysis of this event are the mechanisms of the system that did work properly to thwart the plot. Most security experts will readily admit intelligence is the best counterterrorism tool we have. In reaction to last week’s attempt, many pundits have implied that the plot may have succeeded if only for the Saudi intelligence apparatus.

This characterization dismisses one of the most important tools we possess in fighting terrorism – intelligence. It also disregards the importance of the cooperation with foreign governments and allies. No matter how many mandates we place on the global supply chain or demands on foreign governments, we won’t have a robust security system without partnerships that encourage information sharing.

Jeff Sural serves as counsel in the Legislative & Public Policy Group at Alston & Bird, LLP. He will focus his practice on homeland security and transportation matters on Capitol Hill and in federal government agencies. Read More
  • Cargo Queen 218

    Yes, it is highly reactive to federalize the supply chain but that is how this government agency works. To be proactive is obviously the correct path but the agency has difficulty getting to that place. So no more shipping Xerox copiers from Saudi Arabia to Chicago, whew that otta take care of the problem. You are right, they should be worried because it is going to be a burden to have everything 100% screened, but what would have been the burden to those families whose loved ones would have died had that bomb gone off mid air or at the synagogues in Chicago . The TSA needs to be able to have control of what goes in or flies around our country. They need to ensure public safety by implementing proatve policies to catch these situations before it’s too late. Thanks to the Saudi Intelligence Appparatus Partnerships for sharing the information that stopped another national catastrophe. Hopefully, Intelligence here in the US will learn a lesson about the importance of being proactive rather than reactive.

  • Peter Boyce

    The problem for many is that once governments impose prescriptive, inflexible security requirements utilising a one-size-fits-all set of specifications we face the real challenge of trying to avoid the “fix and forget” syndrome.

    The more business itself embraces their responsibilities for the security within their arena and the more of these “secure traders” are working together not only for the security benefits but also the supply chain resilience, the better for all concerned.

    Governments however are reluctant to consider the premise that industrial security can and does contribute to national security.

    When is a secure business not a secure trader?

    Is a business that is professionally validated as;

    • accurately identifying, analysing and evaluating all their security risk,

    • managing those risk,

    • monitoring the performance of their security program,

    • proactively adaptive to changes in the security environment

    • maintaining optimum security programs for business advantage, and

    • consistently seeking to improve their security and business benefits

    any less secure than the business that;

    • adopts a list of government specified security measures – needed or not, thereafter applying a fix & forget approach until next licence/approval application cycle.

    The answer to global supply chain security rests in the hands of the majority of businesses operators within the global production, storage and movement of goods and products – the SME/SMB.

    SME/SMB should be encouraged to participate as “secure traders” based on managing the security issues applicable to their sites.

    Risk based security of businesses is achievable within any supply chain.

    SME/SMB should not be burdened with extensive set–lists of “security requirement” – both relevant and not applicable.

    There are international risk-based standards for managing the security of business operations and the potential security implications of both upstream and downstream business partners. Internationsl Standards (ISO) and the World Customs Organisation are two excellent places to start, particularly for the hundreds of thousands of businesses that want to be secure traders but do not want to be dictated to by government regulators.