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Sunday, January 29, 2023

HSTinDepth: CBP Container Division Screens for Threats Before They Reach Home Soil

In the first of two reports on maritime container security, Homeland Security Today interviewed Dan Stajcar, director of the Container Security Initiative Division at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to find out more about the program and its impact at home and overseas.

The CSI was announced in January 2002 and is part of CBP’s layered cargo enforcement strategy. Before 9/11 there was no CSI, no program that required inspection of high-risk containers before they left the ports of embarkation or trans-shipment. Under CSI, CBP assesses the risk of every maritime containerized cargo shipment before it is loaded on a vessel destined for the United States.

HSToday: Can you tell us a little about how CSI works on an international scale?

Dan Stajcar: CSI deploys teams of Customs and Border Protection Officers (CBPOs) to foreign seaports to work with host counterparts to target and inspect high-risk shipments before they are placed on vessels destined to the U.S. Currently, CSI is operational in 61 ports and 35 countries worldwide. Approximately 90 CBPOs are stationed in South America, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Caribbean, and the Middle East at seaports, and work side-by-side with foreign counterparts to share information, develop additional leads on threats related to cargo destined to the U.S. and elsewhere, identify, and examine high-risk shipments.

CSI teams overseas have all of the tools and databases as domestic CBP officers, but also have additional intelligence and information from their host counterparts that significantly enhances risk assessment, threat identification and decision-making capabilities.

As CSI has been in existence for more than 15 years, relationships with foreign counterparts have developed and information-sharing has greatly increased. This has enabled CSI to develop a network for information-sharing all over the world and is key to the success of the program.

The CSI teams’ work overseas is significantly enhanced by a cadre of CBP/CSI officers stationed at the National Targeting Center (NTC) in Virginia. This 7×24 operation is designed to respond to requests for additional investigative information by CSI officers overseas. The NTC also acts as a liaison between CSI ports worldwide and CBP domestic ports of entry, allowing for ease of communication between the two. Many of the NTC CSI officers have previously worked in a CSI port and possess outstanding skills and knowledge to better assist and enhance the work of the officers overseas. Several foreign customs administrations have liaison officers stationed at the NTC, thereby increasing information-sharing capabilities among many nations.

HSToday: What are some of the threats and vulnerabilities the program addresses and how has it evolved to counter the developing threats to national and international security?

Stajcar: In the beginning, CSI was strictly an anti-terrorism program, focusing mainly on detecting and deterring the use of a maritime container by a terrorist organization. Over the years, as CSI has developed relationships and gained the trust of foreign partners, CSI has expanded its scope to include other customs threats to include narcotics smuggling, money laundering, commercial fraud, transnational criminal organizations, precursor chemicals, and intellectual property rights violations. CSI has seen much success in the area of narcotics interdiction particularly in South America and Europe.  The most important benefit to the program is that once cargo is examined in a foreign location, it is not necessary for it to be examined once it arrives at a U.S. port, so it can enter commerce more quickly and easily.

HSToday: That sounds encouraging. Can you give us some examples of how international cooperation has already helped security and law enforcement?

Stajcar: A good example of this would be in one of the South American locations. The CSI team there has worked with the port authority and local law enforcement to develop a port targeting team that has seen much success in detecting and interdicting more than 35 tons of cocaine destined for the U.S. and Europe. This same team has also engaged in a broad effort and has been extremely successful in identifying counterfeit goods and unmanifested shipments that support and fund transnational criminal organizations.

Another example of outstanding cooperation with host counterparts is evidenced in the identification of stolen vehicles, particularly destined for the UK and Europe. Over the years, CSI teams and their hosts have been able to interdict stolen vehicles arriving in European ports and ensure their secure return to the U.S. During FY2017, collaborative targeting efforts between Container Security Initiative CBP officers and their foreign counterparts resulted in the detection and seizure of approximately 15,200 kilograms (16.75 tons) of cocaine, $41.5 million in undeclared merchandise, 18 stolen vehicles, $96,000 in undeclared currency, and 11 arrests.

In another CSI location, CSI officers partnered with other in-country U.S. law enforcement agencies and the Department of State to develop a Precursor Chemical Program to identify illegal trafficking and distribution of precursor chemicals. The project is aimed to coordinate the targeting, management, and disposal of controlled chemical substances used in the production of illicit narcotics.

The development of targeting methodologies, cargo examination processes and illicit chemical destruction techniques has further enhanced the ability to identify and investigate transnational criminal networks that continue to threaten the U.S and host countries’ economic stability and national security. Targeting efforts under this program have resulted in three seizures of illicit precursor chemicals.

HSToday: Can CSI aid security operations in areas other than the maritime cargo environment?

Stajcar: With the network of CSI officers and their host counterparts worldwide, CSI has seen successes in areas other than the maritime containerized cargo environment. For example, information from CSI to foreign law enforcement has resulted in the arrest of currency and narcotics smugglers in the air passenger environment. CSI teams have also been instrumental in the identification of crew members smuggling narcotics on vessels, narcotics in air cargo express consignments, individuals utilizing false immigration documents to enter certain countries (which has resulted in arrests and/or detentions) and the discovery of stolen and cloned cargo container seals.

HSToday: Does CSI provide training for customs officers overseas?

Stajcar: The CSI program has strengthened and enhanced customs operations in foreign countries by providing risk assessment/targeted training and assisting in the development of automated targeting systems, precursor chemical detection, non-intrusive inspection interpretation training, container and cargo examination techniques and methodologies, as well as outreach to the trade community.

Prior to their deployment on an overseas CSI assignment, CBP officers are required to complete a comprehensive training program to prepare them for living and working in a foreign environment. This training consists of intensive automated targeting systems training, non-intrusive inspection image interpretation training, radiation and improvised explosive device awareness, budget and fiscal responsibility, and counterintelligence awareness. CSI officers are also well-versed in CBP’s other worldwide programs and initiatives. This robust training ensures they are well equipped and prepared for a variety of challenges, experiences and circumstances they may encounter.

CSI has partnered with the Department of Energy’s International Nonproliferation Export Control Program to provide Dual Use Commodity Identification Training (CIT) in key CSI locations to include Italy, Spain, Portugal, and France. The training familiarizes enforcement officers with the materials, component, and equipment sought by weapons of mass destruction procurement programs. The training was designed to assist customs officers to recognize and interdict commodities that are utilized not only for legitimate purposes, but also in the development of weapons of mass effect. The course consists of a combination of lectures, hands-on exercises and targeting scenarios and includes presentations by DOE instructors, CSI team members, and host country participant instructors. To date, seven CIT sessions have been conducted, resulting in the training of nine CSI teams and approximately 300 foreign country officials. Two more of these sessions are planned for FY2019.

HSToday: Are there any innovations or developments to improve the program that are in the works or that you need?

Stajcar: CBP and CSI are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to better accomplish the mission, especially in the area of technology to better detect anomalies and illicit and dangerous goods. In most CSI locations, CBP has deployed handheld radiological isotope identification devices, which help officers discern different types of radioactive materials. Once radioactive materials have been discovered, officers send the information in real time to CBP’s Labs and Scientific Services for analysis and identification of the material. Additional devices like these that would identify other dangerous substances (such as fentanyl) would enhance the safety and security of all officers.

CSI will continue to explore opportunities to effect significant enforcement activities and enhance information sharing with host counterparts, secure global trade, and protect citizens and the economy. We will strive for innovative and effective technologies that support the CSI mission. CSI will look for ways to enhance and refine the training and preparedness for officers deploying to overseas locations.

Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism

The Customs Trade Partnership against Terrorism (CTPAT) is a program sponsored by CBP based on a pre-check for going through security by providing details of the goods being imported and thereby speeding up the process as containers are subject to less scrutiny. “However, with CTPAT your supply chain has to be stellar and you go through an audit every year,” Brandon Fried, executive director of the Airforwarders Association, told Joe Charlaff for HSToday.

HSToday asked Fried about the security issues containers pose. Improvised explosive devices are a great concern, but the notion of screening every container is difficult.

“You have to have a risk-based approach and that probably is the most effective, and is multi-layered,” he explained. “You are screening who the shippers are. There is a targeting center consisting of people looking at the various players and spotting trends: types of goods shipped, who is doing the shipping, who is doing the receiving, and they are looking for trends. It’s done with air cargo as well.”

In our second report on maritime cargo security, Homeland Security Today will look at the new technologies and initiatives being developed to fulfill the multi-layered requirement essential to securing cargo, vessels and ports.

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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