We have written a couple of times about security. We generally like to elevate the discourse to include aspects of protecting people, product, plant, and property in about that priority sequence. Of course, 9/11 introduced tactics that could impact e) all of the above. So, we occasionally turn to post-9/11 efforts.
The question of the day is whether those things that were comforting and logical on the surface—things like C-TPAT and TWIC—are as comforting when the covers get pulled back.
A voice crying in the wilderness
Dr. Jim Giermanski, chairman of Powers Global Holdings Inc., writes extensively on the subject of supply chain security. We have known Jim for nearly 15 years and have found him to be thoughtful, insightful, and persuasive—and always watching the right ball while the rest of us are being distracted by Lady Gaga's latest shenanigans. In recent days, Dr. Giermanski has become increasingly vocal on supply chain security exposures, including holes big enough to drive a truck through, so to speak. We are inclined to listen, especially when he talks about systemic deficiencies further weakened by bureaucratic lip service and double-speak (no mean feat when engaged in simultaneously).
The black swan
For those of you visualizing Natalie Portman in skimpy ballet attire, we're sorry to disappoint. This ominous bird rises from the book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
Professor Taleb's work concentrated on the potential for collapse of the global financial system (and the "warnings imbeciles chose to ignore"). Jim Giermanski translates the scenario to a likelihood that simply taking out one U.S. port with a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) would accomplish the same thing, given the supremely fragile interrelationships in the global supply system. His well-reasoned argument was presented in two parts in the Aug. 3 and Aug. 8 editions of The Maritime Executive magazine's MarEx Newsletter. Part 1 documented the importance of port trade and the rippling consequential effects of a successful terrorist attack on one port, while Part 2 examined the state of U.S. supply chain security.
In the second article, Giermanski offered his assessment of various federal security initiatives, most of which come up short in his eyes. Take the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), for example. C-TPAT gets high marks for its potential to discover and prevent WMD entry. The program's obvious weakness is that it is purely voluntary, with membership effectively limited to those organizations that already want to be secure. That is, those who we wouldn't worry about anyway. We have previously noted that there are some pressures from supply chain partners to get others in the chain to sign up as a condition of doing business, but these, again, are generally substantive and secure operations already.
The 2002 Container Security Initiative (CSI) is another matter. Mandatory, it is aimed at all shipments from foreign ports to the United States. While terms such as FAK (freight of all kinds) and STC (said to contain) are no longer permitted on shipping manifests, the representation of specific contents of sealed and locked containers is, essentially, hearsay, totally dependent on the shipper or its agent for honesty and accuracy. The presence of CBP (Customs and Border Protection) inspectors in foreign ports at CSI request amounts to merely so much window dressing.
The Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program, Giermanski observes, has been characterized as a "joke" by some insiders. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is responsible for program execution, but although the initiative was authorized back in 2002, the first cards weren't issued until 2007. Because of the ease with which cards may be exchanged and systems bypassed, the effort has not, in the opinion of many, improved port or maritime security.
Giermanski has further opined that the "10+2" program might be useful, if it were not, like CSI, dependent on shippers' representations.
Enter high-tech solutions
Positing that scanning solutions have already failed in foreign ports and that they have proved to be unreliable in domestic ports, Giermanski goes on to explain that the most likely WMD technologies for terrorists to employ will not be intercepted by passive and static current systems.
His conclusion? We remain amazingly vulnerable to the entry of mechanisms that would wipe out a major port, cripple our supply systems, and bring down the global economy. Would that, could that, actually happen? The point may be debated, but Giermanski's conclusions point to the worst case. And the best case, in our view, would be some level of devastation.
And yet, we, amidst the bureaucratic maneuvering, have yet to mandate the in-container application of demonstrably effective existing technology, container security devices (CSDs) that monitor movement, report contents, detect unauthorized entry, and more.
A final slap in the face
An ultimate irony, with potential consequences that are considerably beyond ironic, is that all of our efforts are focused on inbound cargo and containers. We pay no attention whatsoever to outbound containers. This is a remarkable oversight, given the rise of homegrown terrorism around the planet (which the Europeans recognize and act on) and the requirement that every single domestic passenger (outbound human cargo) is subjected to examination, often stringent and intrusive.
The beat goes on
In a subsequent think piece in the Sept. 26 MarEx Newsletter, Dr. Giermanski took a hard look at CBP's Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) program. CBP maintains that ACE will better protect us from attempts by terrorists to use the international supply chain as a means to attack the United States, or in a more benign application, to smuggle illegal cargo into the country.
His conclusion is that ACE, whatever it is claimed to be, is not a cargo security system and reveals nothing about real cargo to CBP.
Much of the rest of the world is beginning to understand the usefulness and importance of a chain-of-custody system from initial origin to ultimate destination. C-TPAT, to be fair, has source-to-destination intentions, but, as noted, remains voluntary. ACE, based on interviews, is reported to be full of gaps and inconsistencies, with differing interpretations of when and how discrepancies are handled and reported.
The ultimate questions center on whether the agencies charged with protecting us are: 1) capable; 2) influenced by transient political correctness; and/or 3) genuinely understand the execution processes involved in global supply chain operations.
Baiting the bear
So, Giermanski soldiers on, continuing to make his case and constantly digging deeper into areas of concern for supply chain security, and, consequently, national security. We could get into—and he has gotten into—border security issues and the related political sensitivities.
He has been brave enough to ask tough questions of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. Questions tough enough that we, wishing to stay off any no-fly list, might hesitate to pose. We, in turn, are positioning these issues and questions in front of you. Consumed as most of us are with the nitty-gritty of on-time complete shipments, pick/pack/ship productivity, and the cost of fuel, it is an imperative to consider the larger issues from time to time. Especially those that have the potential to bring us all down. Keep your eyes peeled for black feathers.