GAO reports on how well the DHS Container Security Initiative (CSI) has contributed to strategic planning for supply chain security and strengthened overall container scanning operations.Â It raises problems with the CSI concept of operations, but there is a way to improve this — and its accruacy in targeting risky containers.
GAO praises CBP for following its earlier recommendations, but then drills into a core operational reality in the CSI program: limitations in evaluating inspections processes related to the accuracy and completeness of data collected. That data is essentially the main take for this program and its role in informing our targeting of high-risk cargo bound for the U.S. GAO goes on to suggest that if we donâ€™t exercise better control over this aspect of CSI, the security value of the program declines pretty quickly.
Click image to view a conops of the CSI targeting process.
The net net of all this is that CBP â€œpotentially lacks information to ensure that host government examinations can detect and identify weapons of mass destruction, which is important because containers are typically not reexamined in the United States if already examined at a CSI seaport.â€
Hold on here. The purpose of CSI is to bring added security through greater transparency in the maritime shipping domain. CSI does this by adding scrutiny to cargo traveling to the U.S., before it arrives in the U.S. (at the foreign CSI port). But if the scrutiny is conducted by host government authorities, that sure dials up the risk.
In a sense, this brings us back to the concern over balancing throughput and security. The last thing we want to do is clamp down on the maritime trade to assure 100% security if that is done at the total expense of economic flows. However, too light of a touch on the system and we wind up adding false scrutiny without adding any value.
Striking the right balance requires revisiting the way in which we look at the maritime domain. It is not only an avenue for sea-based cargo. It is one medium for five global flows: cargo, people, information, finances, and the conveyances themselves (ships in this case). Securing the U.S. by examining every piece of cargo is a sledgehammer approach that we should use if necessary, but a more surgical option would seek to knit together these five flows across the maritime domain, for example, to generate the kind of transparency and intelligence we seek with the container scanning conducted by foreign port authorities.
Treating the information about cargo as a source of risk targeting limits our ability to identify the actual threat and it favors indiscriminate scrutiny that slows throughput without adding any real security. Generating and combining information on cargo in the context of the other four flows would provide an exponentially more accurate understanding of the true risk. Granted, CSI does not operate in a vacuum, but maximizing transparency â€“ and therefore better informed risk targeting â€“ can be more productive with a comprehensive approach that views the domain in a different way.