Data program for port security to be launched

NEW YORK -- The Homeland Security Department in "very few weeks" will issue a request to industry for a proposal to create a pilot program for a data warehouse aimed at boosting cargo security, an agency official said Tuesday.

"Our enemies are always looking for ways to exploit us," Jayson Ahern, deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said at the Maritime Security Conference and Expo here. He added that increased transparency in the supply chain can reduce risk.

The Global Trade Exchange, or the GTX, would fuse together a range of nontraditional cargo-movement information. It is one element of the three-part Secure Freight Initiative, which also calls for international container scanning and the collection of advanced data about cargo heading for U.S. ports.

The scanning initiative, known as the International Container Security project, calls for scanning technology to be deployed at seven overseas ports to determine its capability.

The third element of SFI is known as the Security Filing Project. It calls for the implementation of advanced electronic filing requirements to give U.S. port officials more information about cargo movement before vessels are loaded overseas.

The White House Office of Management and Budget is reviewing a draft rule that would require importers or cargo owners to file 10 more data elements with the U.S. customs agency 24 hours before loading vessels overseas, and two more data streams to be filed by ocean carriers at least 48 hours before arriving in the United States.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff earlier this month compared GTX with logging on to Amazon.com, where the online retailer asks for information to determine how to better serve its customers. He said the concept provides "better security at lower cost to the shipper and at less inconvenience."

Several technologies are in the works to enhance SFI, including the Advanced Spectroscopic Portal radiation-detection technology to enable faster and more accurate identification of radiological isotopes in containers. The monitor, currently being field tested in Southampton, Britain, can determine if the isotopes are dangerous or naturally occurring.

That device could increase efficiency and rule out "nuisance alarms" caused by, for instance, a truck-driving chemotherapy patient, Ahern said.

Asa Hutchison, the former Homeland Security undersecretary for border and transportation security, also addressed the conference and said increasing the role of the private sector in third-party verification of cargo overseas is key to keeping commerce flowing.

He cited a 2007 cargo security law, which would develop protocols and standards for hazardous cargo and includes a provision that foreign ports be allowed to use third-party verifiers.

Adm. Thad Allen, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, said a satellite prototype for long-range ship tracking will be tested "shortly." He said industry has made progress in complying with maritime security rules since the September 2001 terrorist attacks, but "I don't believe ... we've arrived at the time of a universally agreed upon maritime security structure around the world."

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