Bonner tells trade to back DHS security strategy
The import-export industry shares some blame for last year's law mandating every ocean container be scanned overseas by 2012, but still has a chance to get Congress to reverse course if it decisively gets behind Department of Homeland Security efforts to upgrade cargo security programs, Robert Bonner said Tuesday.
The former U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner, in a keynote address to the American Association of Exporters and Importers' winter conference in Newport Beach, Calif., expressed worry that parts of the trade community have become complacent about the terrorist threat and the need to take steps to protect global supply chains.
Bonner spoke in public for the first time since announcing this month that he has left the Gibson Dunn law firm to become a homeland security consultant and principal with the Sentinel HS Group, headed by former aide Brian Goebel.
Pervasive opposition to new security measures that could enhance the strategy of analyzing shipping data to target container inspections led Congress to perceive that the trade is unwilling to take more steps to prevent smuggling of mass destruction weapons or components, he said.
Robert Bonner, former commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, addresses AAEI.
'I'm suggesting a smarter approach. Figure out which strategy makes more sense and start supporting it, rather than resisting everything,' he elaborated in a follow-up interview.
Bonner was the father of the nation's post-9/11 cargo security strategy, which is based on risk management principles such as collection of advance electronic shipping data prior to departure, analyzing the data for anomalies, and focusing inspection resources on less known, high-risk companies and shipments. Congress lacked confidence that DHS was making progress improving programs such as the Container Security Initiative, the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism and the Automated Targeting System, so it directed comprehensive rather than selective inspection of containers using large-scale automated machines.
Bonner said the programs he ushered in need to be carried to the next level. Potential improvements include tightening C-TPAT's trusted shipper program by expelling companies that don't meet their security commitments, increasing inspections at CSI ports so that all high-risk containers get checked and collecting more data to make the advanced targeting system more robust.
CBP already removes companies from C-TPAT for lax follow-through on corporate security programs, but is only on schedule to conduct on-site validations every three years. The agency stations teams of officers at 58 foreign ports to help identify potential high-risk boxes for inspection, but many foreign governments only act on a fraction of scanning requests.
A recent source of criticism from international shippers is the proposed 10+2 rulemaking that would require importers and carriers to provide more details about the origin, contents, destination and onboard status of containers. Importers say the business impact of the rule has not been well thought through. Bonner said the new data elements would help CBP targeting officers by providing better information than is currently available from the manifest data that carriers submit to the agency.
But if industry doesn't support some improvements it will end up with the worst of all worlds — an extra security filing designed to improve targeted inspections combined with a 100-percent inspection regime that involves potential delays associated with scanning nearly 12 million containers per year — Bonner said.
He said the trade community can debate the best way to implement '10+2,' but ought to support the overall concept.
Calling the scan-all rule 'a sledgehammer' approach to dealing with a complex global trading environment, Bonner urged industry groups such as AAEI to begin lobbying for the alternative strategy.
'Let's get it changed now, and not wait for five years,' he said.
'You need to get going (otherwise) it becomes accepted policy and then people take their eye off the ball on risk management,' he told American Shipper.
Industry universally despises the idea of 100-percent scanning on the grounds that technology and port infrastructure are not suited in most places to routinely image and take radiation readings of every container without causing significant disruption to cargo flows.
But one trade specialist for a large multinational, willing to challenge industry orthodoxy, said the concept of non-intrusive inspections for all inbound containers ought to be explored. CBP is conducting a pilot in seven foreign ports to gauge whether it is able to conduct the dual detection exercises along with camera-based capture of truck and chassis identification numbers to link the vehicle with the X-rays and radiation reads.
At Port Qasim in Pakistan, one of the test beds for the Secure Freight Initiative, the inspection data is married with export data rather than collecting additional information from the importer, according to Pakistani customs officials.
The trade expert is no fan of the scan-all approach, but said it should be compared with the risk management approach to see which is better at stopping a terrorist and reducing supply chain delays.
'Maybe one day delay is better than two to three days with 10+2,' the trade professional said on the sidelines of the conference. Many companies believe that they will need to hold up shipments until they can gather the 10 pieces of information for the security filing.
Verifying the cargo contents with drive-by X-rays and radiation portal monitors may be less onerous once the technology and processes are perfected, some believe. A big key to the security measure will be development of automated software that can analyze the images faster and more accurately than humans.
The trade compliance expert made the case for keeping an open mind about the integrated 100 percent cargo inspection system by drawing an analogy to passenger screening checks in the airport environment.
'What would I rather do? Get my luggage and myself scanned, or 24 hours before I get to the airport have to give them information about what hotel or address I stayed at, what's in my bags, who drove me to the airport? That gets to be troublesome.
'We shouldn't ignore the issue. Don't fight the scanning at all costs, but examine it,' the industry official said. ' Eric Kulisch