Pistole: cargo security must not slow the flow

The air freight industry has a collective responsibility to maintain the highest standards of security. But this is “not mutually exclusive” with the free movement of goods, insists John Pistole, administrator for the US Transportation Security Administration.
In a keynote speech at the Air Cargo Forum in Seoul, Pistole said passenger security had moved from a one-size-fits-all to a risk-based approach “based on the notion that the vast majority of people have to intent to cause harm; they just want to get from A to B.”
Applying this philsophy to cargo was “all fine and good in the abstract” but the threat from the ISIS jihadists that they aimed to attack commercial aircraft underlined the urgency of securing the supply chain while ensuring the flow of commerce, Pistole said.
He outlined the three-tier approach the TSA was adopting to “buy down risk”. First, under the National Cargo Security Program, set up in the wake of the Yemeni cartridge bomb plot four years ago to assess foreign cargo screening procedures, he said 37 countries were now judged compatible with US standards, so shipments did not have to be re-screened in transit.
Second, 900 sniffer dogs had been trained under the National Explosives Detection Canine Security Program. However, the dogs had a wide range of tasks including passenger baggage and airport perimeter check. Pistole admitted when questioned by Brandon Fried, executive director of the US Airforwarders Association, that the canine resource was insufficient to provide support at the 1,100 certified off-airport cargo screening facilities across the US.
Third, US Customs’ Air Cargo Advance Screening (ACAS) initiative had produced encouraging results. Pistole pointed out that it was intelligence rather than screening that helped the authorities intercept the Yemen shipment on route to Chicago.
“Any advanced information helps inform us whether cargo is safe to go through the system,” he said. “Where is it coming from, who is the sender? Let’s facilitate the low-risk cargo as we’re doing with passengers.”
Doug Brittin, secretary general of the International Air Cargo Association, said 170 million air freight shipments had passed safely into the US in the pilot phase of ACAS with no offloads required.
This was over a three and a half year period and only provided a snapshot, since just 10 to 12 carriers and seven or eight forwarders were participating in the pilot, and not at all stations, Brittin explained.
Some shipments – though the TSA had not revealed what proportion – had been pulled out for additional screening, or opened up, where the initial data provided on the house waybill had flagged up a potential problem.
But Brittin was clear that ACAS, set to go live early next year, had proved its worth. “The more we move into that fast lane, the better,” he said.
The sticking point is interoperability. Efforts are continuing to harmonise ACAS with the Canada’s PACT and the EU’s air cargo security programmes.
“There can’t be separate sets of data just because the US and the EU want to look at things in a different way. Otherwise a transhipment from South America via the US to Europe would not be practicable,” Brittin said.

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