Remarks at the World Customs Organization

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Administrator John S. Pistole
Thursday, March 24, 2011
As Prepared for Delivery

Good morning. It is a privilege to be here today.

I’d like to begin by thanking Secretary General Mikuriya and the World Customs Organization for their great fellowship and dedication to international security. It’s an honor to be with you today, and I thank you for your commitment to these important issues.

We come together today with a shared dedication to protecting a freedom on which we all depend – the freedom of movement and worldwide commerce.

As you are no doubt aware, terrorists attacked that freedom last October when they tried to conceal and ship explosive devices on a cargo plane that was set to transit several Arab and European nations, ultimately bound for the U.S.

Thankfully, our global security network acted quickly on specific intelligence and thwarted that plot before it could be executed.

But as we all know, the type of specific, actionable intelligence we had in that situation is rare. But, unfortunately, the threat to aviation is real and relentless.

As the enemy seeks a weak link in the system, our need for global, interconnected aviation security is apparent.

That is why we in the United States, and those of us responsible for aviation security around the world, have made this a priority.

Earlier this year, Secretary Napolitano of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Secretary General of the WCO announced a critical new collaboration to strengthen the security and resiliency of the global supply chain across the air, land, and sea environments. The initiative will enlist fellow nations, international bodies and the private sector. Our focus throughout 2011 will be on working collaboratively to outline new measures that will make the global supply chain stronger, smarter, and more able to recover from the shocks of potential disruptions.

This initiative is critical. The modern global supply chain is a powerful engine of global commerce and prosperity, allowing for the quick and efficient transportation of goods across the world.

Even now there are groups and individuals plotting to use our transportation system to take innocent lives and disrupt commerce. It is vital that as an international community with shared values and mutual interests, that we act together to strengthen security measures throughout the world.

One of the principle interests of this “Secure Supply Chain” Initiative is to leverage the expertise, interest, and resources of the major international organizations responsible for different components of supply chains. This of course includes the WCO as well as other key groups such the International Civil Aviation Organization, the International Maritime Organization, and the Universal Postal Union. There is strong support from each of these organizations to continue and enhance our collaboration on this effort.

It is this initiative that brings me here to the WCO in Brussels, because to achieve this new kind of collaboration we believe it is necessary for us all to cooperate even more widely than we do now.

In recent weeks and months, Secretary Napolitano has met with the Secretaries General from WCO, ICAO, and IMO. As recently as last week she spoke with Secretary General Mikuriya about his trip to attend aviation security meetings hosted by ICAO in Montreal. In addition, I met with Director General Edouard Dayan of the UPU yesterday to discuss our ongoing efforts to ensure the security of air cargo and mail as it moves throughout the global supply chain.

Clearly good work is currently underway within each of these organizations; our hope is to build on this strong foundation and cooperatively advance a common agenda that will strengthen the security and resilience of the global supply chain system.

We know that the global supply chain is inherently intermodal; encompassing goods, conveyances, facilities, and hubs within the air, land, and sea environments. It involves a range of government authorities with both traditional customs and security missions as well as an array of private sector stakeholders who own and operate the vast majority of the system. We must work to better integrate these organizations and stakeholders to ensure that a coordinated and collaborative approach to strengthening all components of the global supply chain.

As Secretary Napolitano discussed earlier this year, three main efforts must be in place to strengthen the global supply chain.

The first is to prevent potential exploitation by terrorists or adversaries trying to cause disruptions that could not only cost lives, but also damage economic prosperity worldwide. This strengthening of the system must be done with a continued commitment to efficiency, so that the cure does not become worse than the disease.

The second is to protect the infrastructures---like supporting transportation hubs, conveyances, or critical nodes---that constitute the global supply chain from an attack or disruption.
These infrastructures are global assets and warrant international efforts to protect them.

And the third is making sure that the global supply chain is resilient – that if a disruption does occur, the system can absorb the blow and have the flexibility to recover quickly. This will minimize the ripple effect of a downed logistics system--- consequences of which would far exceed the initial event.
Through enhanced collaboration between WCO and other bodies such as ICAO, UPU, and IMO, best practices, expertise, and innovative ideas will contribute to the development of global guidelines that are applicable to all modes of the supply chain.
Protecting the Global Supply Chain against Exploitation

All stakeholders across the globe with missions, roles, or responsibilities within the global supply chain must work together to safeguard this critical logistics system from terrorists or other criminals seeking to exploit it through the introduction of dangerous materials, illicit goods, or unsafe products.

Achieving that objective does not require risk elimination, but rather the global implementation of security measures that reduce the chances of bad actors or dangerous shipments “hiding in plain sight” within the vast flows of legitimate commerce, and increase the likelihood that they will be spotted by intelligence or law enforcement authorities.

The use of advanced information technology systems and software is essential to strengthening the technical capabilities to carry out effective risk management practices. Therefore, we must continue to be open and creative to innovative ideas that enhance our collective capacity to identify attempts to exploit the global supply chain. The WCO Capacity Building Directorate has done commendable work in this regard and is an excellent forum for building and implementing such technological capacity.

I also would like to applaud the recent creation of the WCO Technical Experts Group on Air Cargo Security to address these emerging threats, and the WCO’s ongoing cooperation with ICAO and IATA. The WCO Policy Commission’s recent Communiqué on Air Cargo Security suggests a proactive way ahead for the international community.

And additionally, I praise the efforts of the WCO SAFE Working Group to update and strengthen the SAFE Framework of Standards to ensure that all modes of transportation, including air, remain secure from these changing terrorist tactics. I understand that one key effort being undertaken by that group, which will meet next week, is seeking an international standard timeframe for the delivery of advanced information on air cargo, to ensure that Customs – and transport Administrations such as TSA – have an adequate amount of time to perform risk management. I believe such work will add substantial value to international security.

Last year, we took a large step forward through the adoption of Project Global Shield by DHS, WCO, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and Interpol. Through this initiative, 60 nations are now sharing information to ensure that when potentially dangerous chemical enter a country, they are used safely and legally. This collaborative effort has led to the interception of many suspicious shipments and provided intelligence on the smuggling of precursor chemicals. This year, we will continue expanding this important program to other nations throughout the world and begin to transform Global Shield from a program to a part of the normal cooperation among customs administrations around the world to combat this global threat of illicit shipment of dangerous chemicals.

Securing the Infrastructure of the Global Supply Chain

The second piece of the initiative is collectively safeguarding the global supply chain against the dangers of terrorists, criminals, or other adversaries attacking it to trigger large-scale disruptions that could significantly impact the critical infrastructures and prosperity of not only the United States, but the world.

In order for the global supply chain to function properly and efficiently, it must be secure against these dangerous threats. To achieve this common goal, we must cooperatively implement intelligence driven, risk-based security measures that do not unduly hinder the free movement of legitimate cargo.

For example, through the support of our international counterparts, great progress was made on air cargo security last year. The U.S. joined 190 countries in October of 2010 to officially adopt the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Declaration on Aviation Security. The Declaration document forges an historic new foundation for aviation security and enhances the protection of aviation systems from terrorist threats.

Through the Declaration, the Assembly recognizes the need to strengthen aviation security worldwide. It also urges Member States to take steps to enhance international cooperation to counter threats to civil aviation. These steps include developing and implementing strengthened and harmonized measures and best practices for air cargo security. Several key enhancements have also been incorporated through the adoption of Amendment 12 to Annex 17, to the Convention on International Civil Aviation. Because Annex 17 identifies the Standards and Recommended Practices for the security of international air transportation, these improvements will help the global effort against terrorism.

Our recent improvements were put to the test by last October’s thwarted plot to send explosive filled cargo across Europe to the United States. As this threat unfolded, the international community took immediate steps to enhance our procedures for air cargo flights and we continue to develop measures that are supported by current intelligence and specifically address risk.

While these enhanced standards and more recent efforts help to counter the new and emerging threats of today, we must remain vigilant and continue to modify these and other security standards to account for future threats.

Some of the work being undertaken by the WCO provides a key opportunity for all stakeholders to work collaboratively toward the development of best practices, guidelines, and standards that can better secure not only air cargo, but all modes of transport within the global supply chain.

In the United States, DHS has initiated a pilot program in collaboration with our private sector and fellow nations to explore the feasibility and impact of obtaining information about cargo shipments earlier in the process. This information could allow us to analyze shipments and target screening requirements based on risk and intelligence. Although we have only initiated this effort with express cargo carriers in the past few months, we are highly encouraged with the results so far. In the very near future, we will expand the pilot to include passenger airlines and members of the global freight forwarding community.

We also continue to move forward with the concept of trusted shipper. In the United States, anyone shipping on passenger aircraft must be in the Known Shipper program. The program demonstrates a history of trustworthiness, where the United States has direct knowledge of the entity sending the shipment.

At the same time, I also look forward to continuing to work with sovereign nations and stakeholders to realize the potential of an international trusted shipper concept, which holds the potential to harmonize trusted shipper programs throughout the global community. It is an important risk management tool, and DHS is interested in working with our international friends to expand and harmonize this concept in the global cargo environment. For instance, the WCO’s concept of an Authorized Economic Operator, or AEO, has many similarities to the Known Shipper Program. The United States will begin exploring how internally we might coordinate or harmonize these efforts, and will look to the global community to do the same.

Many nations have similar programs in place through their National Country Security Programs. Sharing and accepting these programs could lead to enhanced security and increased convenience for the air cargo industry, while eliminating the need for air carriers to comply with multiple cargo security regulations. We strongly encourage discussions among national transportation security entities on programs and practices.

We also strongly encourage Customs administrations to work with, and share information with, their national transportation security entities. The cooperation of multiple agencies who share border security functions, known in the WCO as Coordinated Border Management (CBM), is an essential practice in the path forward to securing the supply chain from terrorist and other security threats.

The ongoing effort to update the SAFE Framework also presents an opportunity to emphasize the importance of communications and collaboration between customs authorities and other government agencies. Although we at DHS have our customs, enforcement, and transportation security entities residing within the same organization, it is still sometimes a challenge to share information and collaborate as much as we would like to. However, strengthening these communication mechanisms remains a key priority internally for DHS and we strongly support exploring opportunities to expand this concept internationally.

Bolstering the Resiliency of the Supply Chain

In spite of our robust and continued efforts, we know that risk will always exist. And we must be prepared to respond if an attack occurs.

The air cargo and broader global supply chain system must continue to function and be able to quickly recover from major disruptions, because the efficient and reliable functioning of the global supply chain is essential to the functioning of the global economy, which in turn is essential to global peace and prosperity. The system must be resilient.

Our global economy remains vulnerable to outside shocks, and the time to find the best possible answers to these questions is before —not after a major disruption. Strong international cooperation can make a disruption in the air cargo system and the broader global supply chain as durable as possible—regardless of what caused that disruption.

Path Forward

In closing, I would like to again extend my sincere gratitude to Secretary General Mikuriya, the WCO, and all of our security collaborators here today. The Secretary General has been a dedicated ally and a key figure in unifying air cargo security standards.

The tasks we encounter moving forward will not be easy, but they are necessary and will demonstrate our resolve to all who intend to harm innocent people throughout the world.

This undertaking requires not only the cooperation of the international organizations such as the WCO and individual Member States, but also the support of our friends in the private sector. Air carriers, freight forwarders, and shippers all play a critical role in security: a role they have accepted as a shared responsibility and embraced for the public good. The fact does not escape the international security community that our procedures could not be successful without the strong support of the air cargo industry.

We are fortunate to have strong working relationships throughout the globe, but we must remain vigilant and continue to work closely, sharing information to stay ahead of those who wish to do our nations and economies harm. The shared focus must be on building on the security system we have in place. I understand this is a monumental task, but we must never be satisfied with what we’ve done thus far. Terrorists tactics change, and our procedures must continue to be reviewed, analyzed and updated.

The work will not be easy, but through our work, our collaboration, and our dedication- we can continue to make our global supply chain more secure.