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Homeland Security


Container Security Initiative (CSI)

Seven million cargo containers arrive at US ports every year. These containers represent an important component of our economy, providing consumers with an enormous array of choices. In Massachusetts, the port of Boston--which became an international cargo port in 1630 and is the oldest continually active major port in the Western Hemisphere--handles 1.3 million tons of general cargo and 12.8 million tons of bulk fuel cargos every year. Clearly, such global commerce is critical to the economic health of our country.

At the same, however, cargo containers represent tempting targets for terrorists. Arms control expert Graham Allison has said that ``more likely than not'', there will be terrorist attack using a nuclear bomb in our country. He has described the detonation of a nuclear explosive device in a cargo container in one of our ports as a nightmare scenario for our country. Steven Flynn, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former officer in the Coast Guard, wrote in his book America the Vulnerable about ``catastrophic consequences of terror in a box'' delivered by a cargo ship to one of our ports. [Page 84].

To balance the need to participate in the global economy and the security concerns associated with the millions of cargo containers entering US ports every year, the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Security division developed the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT). Under C-TPAT, shippers commit to improving the security of their cargo shipments, and in return, they receive a range of benefits from our government.

Specifically, if shippers provide information about their operations to Customs and Border Protection, their goods are less likely to be inspected at the border. They basically receive an ``E-Z Pass'' from our government, sort of like drivers who speed right through toll booths without having to stop.

The problem is that Customs and Border Protection grants these special benefits without verifying that the security information provided by the shippers--is reliable, accurate and effective. According to the GAO, Customs and Border Protection has conducted validations at the facilities of only 11 percent of all the C-TPAT members. [''Key Cargo Security Programs Can be Improved,'' May 26, 2005]

The C-TPAT program is a ``STAND PAT'' program. It takes a complacent posture towards port security by giving companies the benefit of speedy approval at the border without checking to make sure that promised security measures actually are in place at their facilities.

Customs and Border Program also has a related program, called ``FAST'', which stands for Free and Secure Trade program. The FAST program requires that trucking companies subject their drivers to background checks and participate in the C-TPAT program. Again, the problem is that the truckers get waved through the FAST lane, but the trucking companies' facilities are rarely, if ever, inspected to validate that the security policies they've promised to implement are fact or fiction.

In post-9/11 America the Container Security Initiative (CSI) is based on an idea that makes sense: extend our zone of security outward so that American borders are the last line of defense, not the first. Through CSI, which was announced by Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Robert C. Bonner in January 2002, maritime containers that pose a risk for terrorism are identified and examined at foreign ports before they are shipped to the United States. In so doing, Commissioner Bonner hopes to prevent terrorist threats from being carried out.

CSI consists of four core elements:

  1. Using intelligence and automated information to identify and target containers that pose a risk for terrorism;
  2. pre-screening those containers that pose a risk at the port of departure before they arrive at U.S. ports;
  3. using detection technology to quickly pre-screen containers that pose a risk; and;
  4. using smarter, tamper-evident containers.

Under the CSI program, the screening of containers that pose a risk for terrorism is accomplished by teams of CBP officials deployed to work in concert with their host nation counterparts.

Containerized shipping is a critical component of global trade because about 90 percent of the world's trade is transported in cargo containers. In the United States, almost half of incoming trade (by value) arrives by containers onboard ships. Nearly nine million cargo containers arrive on ships and are offloaded at U.S. seaports each year.

Early on, CSI focused on implementing the program at the top 20 foreign ports which ship approximately two thirds of the volume of containers to the U.S. Governments from these 20 foreign ports have already agreed to implement CSI.

As CSI has evolved, CBP hopes to expand the program to additional ports based on volume, location and strategic concerns. Strong support from countries on the European, Asian and African continents ensure that CSI will continue to expand to ports in those areas.

Also a reciprocal program, CSI offers its participant countries the opportunity to send their customs officers to major U.S. ports to target ocean-going, containerized cargo to be exported to their countries. Likewise, CBP shares information on a bilateral basis with its CSI partners.

As part of reciprocal CSI agreements with Japan and Canada, those countries currently station their customs personnel in U.S. ports as part of the CSI program.

Requirements for CSI Expansion

In order to be eligible for CSI expansion a port must demonstrate the capability of six required standards.

  1. The Customs Administration must be able to inspect cargo originating, transiting, exiting, or being transshipped through a country. Non-intrusive inspectional (NII) equipment (including gamma or X-ray imaging capabilities) and radiation detection equipment must be available and utilized for conducting such inspections. This equipment is necessary in order to meet the objective of quickly screening containers without disrupting the flow of legitimate trade.
  2. The seaport must have regular, direct, and substantial container traffic to ports in the United States.
  3. Commit to establishing a risk management system to identify potentially high-risk containers, and automating that system. This system should include a mechanism for validating threat assessments and targeting decisions and identifying best practices.
  4. Commit to sharing critical data, intelligence, and risk management information with the United States Customs and Border Protection in order to do collaborative targeting, and developing an automated mechanism for these exchanges.
  5. Conduct a thorough port assessment to ascertain vulnerable links in a port's infrastructure and commit to resolving those vulnerabilities.
  6. Commit to maintaining integrity programs to prevent lapses in employee integrity and to identify and combat breaches in integrity.

Currently Operational Ports (April 2005)

In the North America:

  • Montreal.
  • Vancouver & Halifax.
  • Canada.

In Europe:

  • Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
  • Bremerhaven & Hamburg, Germany.
  • Antwerp and Zeebrugge, Belgium.
  • Le Havre and Marseille, France.
  • Gothenburg, Sweden.
  • La Spezia, Genoa, Naples, Gioia Tauro, and Livorno, Italy.
  • Felixstowe, Liverpool, Thamesport, Tilbury, and Southampton, United Kingdom (U.K.).
  • Piraeus, Greece.
  • Algeciras, Spain.

In Asia and the East:

  • Singapore.
  • Yokohama, Tokyo, Nagoya and Kobe, Japan.
  • Hong Kong.
  • Pusan, South Korea.
  • Port Klang and Tanjung Pelepas, Malaysia.
  • Laem Chabang, Thailand.

In Africa:

  • Durban, South Africa.



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