A container ship is searched for narcotics as it arrived in Houston in March 2015. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Kendrick)

Building Better Port Security Through Global Training to Spot Illicit Cargo

Port control units trained under a U.S.-backed initiative to boost interdiction of illegal good in shipping containers intercepted 45.5 tons of cocaine in Latin America and the Caribbean last year, the UN said in a recently released annual summary report.

The United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime Container Control Programme and the World Customs Organization offer training “to build capacity in countries seeking to improve risk management, supply chain security and trade facilitation in sea, land and airports in order to prevent the crossborder movement of illicit goods.” Four dozen countries participate with operational CCP programs while another seven have initiated CCP activities. The United States and the European Union are among the program’s international donors.

UN Security Council Resolution 1540 “establishes legally binding obligations to develop and enforce appropriate legal and regulatory measures against the proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons and their means of delivery.” Thus, CCP has developed advanced, three-phase training programs focusing on cross-border transport and the “control of imports, exports and transit of commodities subject to licensing or authorization, namely strategic trade controls on weapons of mass destruction, dual-use goods, and CBRNE materials.”

The program reported that after initiating Strategic Trade and Export Control Training (STEC training) in the third quarter of 2016 they “saw immediate positive seizure results,” and as a result “will increase … focus on this training module in the coming years.” STEC training is focused on several regions “at high risk for trafficking in strategic materials and dual-use goods,” including in Latin America, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Southeastern Europe.

This specialized training is conducted by the UN with the sponsorship of the Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) Program at the U.S. State Department.

To tackle the “complex and dangerous activity, often transnational and organized in nature” of illegal fishing, CCP and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) joined forces to strengthen customs agencies to better detect and prevent fisheries crime. Their FishNET training program launched in March 2017 with the first specialized three-day course in Chittagong, Bangladesh, centered on “international and national frameworks, methods, monitoring, control and surveillance.”

READ: Illegal Fishing a ‘Widespread,’ ‘Organized Security Threat’

Another concern in cargo security has been intercepting looted and trafficked cultural property, with the UNODC calling it “an urgent issue in recent years,” especially due to ISIS and al-Qaeda getting in on the illicit trade in stolen artifacts to “provide crucial income” to fund their nefarious activities.

In response, CCP is developing specialized training including “advanced cultural property identification training, which will provide specialized knowledge for region-specific types of cultural property and methods to detect shipments containing such goods, as well as study tours to benchmark ports.” Training in Jordan is planned this year and may later extend into Latin America and Southeast Asia.

The UN report noted that air cargo is “at high risk of exploitation by organized criminal groups and terrorist organizations that exploit weak, ineffective and inconsistent border controls at airports,” as evidenced by the 2010 printer bombs that originated as air freight in Yemen and went through several airports before being discovered in Britain. CCP-Air was developed to apply methodology used for land and seaport cargo screening training to air freight and “prevent the misuse of the international air transport system by establishing inter-agency units at airports” while contributing “to terrorism prevention through supporting civil aviation implementation of flight safety procedures in the screening of cargo.”

As far as seizure levels from trained units, the UNODC says that by the third quarter of last year CCP port control units had seized more than 200 tons of cocaine since the program’s inception and throughout 2017 “also made significant seizures of drugs, precursor chemicals, IPR goods and protected wildlife” including more than 1.5 tons of cannabis in a trio of Southeastern Europe seizures and 12 tons of ammonium nitrate, typically used to make explosive devices, in Afghanistan.

Units in Latin America and the Caribbean also participated in the two-week international “Sports Bag” operation that netted more than 7 tons of cocaine.

“Across all regions and countries PCU seizures have included a wide range of controlled goods, including IPR goods, illegal timber, falsified medicines, cigarettes and alcohol, incorrectly declared and under-valuated goods,” said the UN report. “For the first time, after specialized training on fisheries crime was delivered, two illegal fishing-related seizures have been made in Ghana and Maldives.”

Last September, the CCP also launched its “Chemical check-I” operation with Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to prevent trafficking of chemicals and associated substances through international supply chains. The op focused on “proper verification and identification of all chemicals/substances entering Afghanistan, either directly or transiting through other countries towards Afghanistan, as well as cargo that could potentially be re-exported to Afghanistan” and “interception of smuggled consignments of substances.”

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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