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American Shipper

CBP to seek approval for Secure Freight program office

CBP to seek approval for Secure Freight program office

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is poised to create a program office for the Secure Freight Initiative that will be managed by its Customs and Border Protection division rather than by a central team at the departmental level, according to government and industry sources close to the program.

   Secure Freight is an ambitious effort to gain accurate intelligence and data about each incoming shipment so that terrorists attempting to smuggle weapons of mass destruction, components or people in a container to attack the United States or the maritime trade network can be better detected.

   Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson originally articulated a vision of using third-party data brokers to synthesize data on commercial transactions that DHS could mine for potential threats. But the department in early December launched the initiative as a pilot program to test the feasibility of capturing non-intrusive images and radiation reads of every container passing through all or some gates in a handful of foreign ports. The information will be electronically transmitted to CBP analysts who will compare it to manifest and other shipment information before giving a green light to load the container on a vessel.

   DHS had previously suggested that a CBP-led Secure Freight program was in the offing. A public summary released when the program was unveiled stated that a director directly reporting to CBP Commissioner Ralph Basham would head a Secure Freight program office.

   CBP has essentially formulated an internal reorganization plan that formalizes the duties of the CSI staff and the Office of Information Technology that are in charge of implementing Secure Freight in addition to their regular duties. The plan pulls together advance data, electronic cargo manifests, customs entry data and automated inspection scanning capabilities to provide a single view for analysts at CBP's National Targeting Center who determine if a shipment should undergo closer inspection.

   Al Gina, who leads the Container Security Initiative program for partnering with overseas customs agencies who conduct outbound cargo security inspections, has been placed in charge of the Secure Freight office, according to a copy of the program's organizational chart obtained by Shipper's Newswire.

   Todd Horton, until recently chief of evaluations and assessments for CSI and Secure Freight, will direct the international container scanning efforts to be conducted at seven ports this year. Rich DiNucci, who has been the CBP point man for working with industry on the '10+2' initiative to identify which pieces of new commercial data to collect from importers and ocean carriers, will be director of security filing. And Troy Riley, who has been leading the Advance Trade Data Initiative studying how to connect commercial and government systems so they can share non-regulated data, will be director of technical applications.

   The program office will receive support from other CBP offices, including the offices of International Trade, International Affairs, Training and Development, Policy and Planning, and Finance. The plan calls for the office to be augmented by contractors based on skill sets the agency needs.

   The fact that CBP is reaching back within CBP for human relations, public relations and other support functions instead of creating a standalone organization suggests that resources to manage Secure Freight are limited, but also is a reflection of DHS efforts to reduce redundant bureaucracies.

   In a brief telephone interview, Gina said Jackson must still endorse CBP's plan for assigning personnel to the Secure Freight program management office.

   Gina will continue to lead CSI, an indication that DHS views Secure Freight as an extension of CSI.

   The multiprong effort is a response to complaints from the public and politicians that the United States is vulnerable to a 'poor man's' nuclear bomb because only 6 percent of ocean cargo that enters the country is inspected by physical or technical means. CBP has been working for at least three years on developing ways to get more commercial data from shippers and logistics firms well before arrival at the port. Accurate data is the key to the department's strategy of managing risk by exception rather than by 100-percent inspection, but the current system is flawed because it is largely based on unreliable and often generic information on the carrier's manifest.

   The Secure Freight Initiative had stagnated since Jackson unveiled the concept in late 2005 because of the complexity of the data integration project and importer opposition to sharing confidential business data that might wind up in the hands of competitors or other governments.

   CBP officials lobbied Jackson on several occasions during the past year and recently got the go-ahead to take ownership of the program by convincing him that they could at least get Secure Freight started by packaging the overseas scanning pilot mandated by Congress in the SAFE Port Act and CBP's ongoing advance data efforts so he could deliver on his promise of an integrated, data-based cargo security system, a knowledgeable industry source said. CBP edged out competing proposals from the Transportation Security Administration and the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, the source said.

   The CBP approach is a first step towards the ultimate vision of Secure Freight that relies on private sector data clearinghouses to winnow useful supply chain information for security screening that can be pulled as needed by the United States. Jackson has suggested that other trading partners, working under the auspices of the World Customs Organization to develop common international standards for securing cargo and facilitating its movement across borders, could also be authorized to tap into these private sector databases.

   Bringing ATDI into the process allows CBP to normalize trade data and push it into the Automated Commercial Environment and Automated Targeting System. ACE is being developed as the communications pipeline for exchanging trade and security data to replace existing programs that monitor, control and expedite processing of commercial imports and exports.

   CBP has invested billions of dollars and thousands of man-hours developing ACE, and many industry officials were skeptical that Jackson was proposing Secure Freight as a way to replace ACE for capturing security-related information. Companies worried that they would have to invest more money to configure their systems to comply with the needs of a second entity.

   Handing CBP the reins to Secure Freight at least temporarily forestalls a private sector component until DHS can rate whether a '10+2' regulation combined with image data of each container can accomplish the goals of Secure Freight.

   Meanwhile, in related news, Science Applications International Corp. earlier this month said it received a contract from the DHS to install three high-energy, drive-through container-scanning systems at unnamed foreign ports participating in the Secure Freight Initiative. The San Diego-based systems integrator said the X-ray-based systems penetrate deeper than its gamma ray machines used by CBP for inspections, and can scan up to 150 containers per hour under optimal conditions without harming the driver.

   For more information about the metamorphosis of Secure Freight see the cover story in the February edition of American Shipper.

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