The Departments of Homeland Security and Energy held a joint press conference today announcing plans to initiate a set of pilot projects in six foreign ports to test new ways to enhance the scanning of outbound cargo containers. This announcement responds to a requirement in the SAFE Port Act for DHS to carry out a set of pilot projects labelled the “Pilot Integrated Scanning System” to test the feasibility of integrated scanning systems akin to Hong Kong’s Integrated Container Inspection System (ICIS).
The pilots will take place in ports in Honduras, Oman, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, and the United Kingdom, and the project is expected to cost $60 million in FY 2007. Several news reports in the last hour have noted that Dubai Ports World controls several of the ports involved in the pilots, a fact that I don’t find surprising or troubling, given their global market share and their recent leadership on security issues, exemplified by the fact that earlier this year they became the first company to comply with new ISO supply chain security standards (ISO 28000.01).
The DHS press release labels this project as the first phase of the Secure Freight Initiative, a term of art that originated in Sec. Chertoff’s Second-Stage Review speech in July 2005 and which DHS has subsequently struggled to define. This vision for the Secure Freight Initiative is different from the original vision in that speech, in which Chertoff defined Secure Freight as an effort to “gather, fuse and assess more complete data from the global supply chain to develop a more accurate profile of the history of cargo in any given container.” This is, however, partially consistent with Dep. Sec. Jackson’s vision for Secure Freight as articulated in Congressional testimony in April 2006.
Overall, I think this is an important initiative, one that could help to redefine the cargo security paradigm within the next few years. It’s not a panacea, but if these pilots work then they will make a substantial improvement to global supply chain security.
Update (12/7): Here’s the transcript from the event earlier today.