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Securing the Global Supply Chain

Release Date: January 6, 2011

Brussels, Belgium
European Policy Center
(Remarks as Prepared)

Introduction: Three Parts to Securing the Global Supply Chain

Thanks to everyone for coming today. I want to thank the European Policy Center for hosting me, and its chief economist, Fabian Zuleeg for moderating today. I also want to thank Kunio Mikuriya Secretary General of the World Customs Organization, for being here.

I am glad to be in Brussels again. I appear before you on the final stop of a trip that has taken me to Ireland, Afghanistan, Qatar and Israel. You might think that's a lot of foreign travel for the United States Secretary of Homeland Security. But the threats that we face today are ones that have little regard for borders, and, accordingly, international cooperation is critical to the security of people everywhere.

In today's world, the very nature of travel, trade, and commerce means that one vulnerability or gap anywhere across the globe has the ability to affect economic activity thousands of miles away. A consumer here in Brussels can go online and buy a gift that is assembled in Mexico, from parts that were manufactured in China, flown across the Atlantic; and inspected at a port in the U.K. before finally arriving by rail and truck at its final destination here in Brussels. This complex supply chain that consumers and businesses in the US and around the world rely on every day illustrates our interconnected nature – and our vulnerability to those who may seek to disrupt global commerce.

That vulnerability to those who would leverage our interconnectedness to do us harm was demonstrated by an attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day 2009. The attack was launched by a Nigerian man who had been educated in Britain, was in contact with terrorists in Yemen, had bought a plane ticket in Ghana, boarded in Nigeria, switched flights in Amsterdam, and was in Canadian airspace when he attempted to blow up an American commercial jet that carried people from at least 17 countries.

The world responded quickly and deliberately to address security gaps revealed by this attack. Throughout 2010, the Department of Homeland Security worked with the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO, and many other international partners on a global initiative to strengthen the international aviation system against evolving terrorist threats. I led a delegation that attended five regional aviation summits across five continents, each of which produced regional declarations to strengthen security. And in October, 190 countries adopted a historic Declaration on Aviation Security at the ICAO Triennial Assembly, forging a new foundation for a truly global aviation security system with new standards for technology, information sharing, and cooperation.

In those days immediately following the 2009 Christmas attempt, we also challenged ourselves to find potential gaps in the air cargo system. Working with the private sector and our international allies, we took concrete steps to address air cargo throughout 2010 — steps that helped thwart the plot to send cargo filled with explosives through Europe and the Middle East to the United States. This work on both passenger and cargo security in the aviation sector will continue in 2011.

But there is another complex system where vulnerabilities exist: the global supply chain that moves goods across the world. That system is a powerful engine of commerce, jobs, and prosperity. Yet a range of increasingly unpredictable and potentially catastrophic threats - from terrorist acts to natural disasters - presents substantial danger to this system.

Regardless of where a potential event might occur, the ripple effect of a significant disruption to this critical global system could potentially impact not just the United States, but the international community at large. The reality is that securing the global supply chain is integral to securing both the lives of people around the world, and maintaining the stability of the global economy.

With this in mind, our responsibility – the responsibility of governments and companies around the world — is to do all we can to keep the complex system from being exploited or disrupted by terrorists. Today, I am announcing that, in partnership with the World Customs Organization and others, we will lead an international effort to enlist other nations, international bodies, and the private sector to strengthen the security and resiliency of the global supply chain.

Together, we must make progress in three areas. The first is preventing terrorists from exploiting the supply chain to plan and execute attacks. The second is identifying and protecting the most critical elements of the supply chain system - like transportation hubs - from attack or disruption. And the third is bolstering the resiliency of the global supply chain – that if a terrorist attack or natural disaster does occur, the supply chain can recover quickly, and any disruption minimized.

Preventing Terrorist Attacks – Controlling Precursor Chemicals

Our first focus is to prevent terrorists from using the supply chain to illegally transport or gain access to materials such as the precursor chemicals that are used in improvised explosive devices, or other potentially dangerous materials that could be used in an attack.

Governments across the globe can and must work together more closely to track the movements of products and technologies that can be used to make weapons across international borders. This means improved international standards, expanding joint investigations and interdiction operations, and strengthening how we target and screen potentially dangerous shipments across the globe.

In 2010, the international community made significant progress on this front through Project Global Shield, launched by DHS with the WCO, as well as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and Interpol. As part of Global Shield, since November, more than 60 participating countries have been sharing information with each other about the export of 14 precursor chemicals used in IEDs. This notification helps countries across the world ensure that chemicals entering their borders are being used in safe and legal ways. It also helps customs agencies detect whether any chemical shipments are missing. Global Shield has already been successful in both interdicting a number of suspicious shipments as well as providing investigative leads on the smuggling of precursor chemicals into Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In 2011, DHS, the WCO, Interpol, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and other countries will continue to work together to build on the success of Project Global Shield and expand this model to more countries across the world. We must continue to raise international screening standards by agreeing on and expanding upon risk-based targeting that customs agencies use to focus their resources on the most dangerous shipments.

We also have to continue to develop and deploy state-of-the-art technologies that can better track illicit goods such as precursor chemicals, and detect them when agents come into contact with them. And, we must work together to improve the capacities of countries around the world to ensure that well-developed, well-equipped customs agencies are able to do their jobs everywhere along the global supply chain.

As part of this effort, DHS will work with other U.S. government agencies like the State and Defense Departments to expand technical assistance and training to partner countries. Last week I was in Afghanistan, where I met with Afghan leadership on ways to build the capacity of civilian Afghan law enforcement to control dangerous precursor chemicals crossing their borders.

Over the past year, DHS has quintupled the number of U.S. customs and border agents in Afghanistan, providing training and assistance to local security officials. And over the next year, we will more than double that number. In all, we have hundreds of aviation and customs officers stationed around the world, working with host countries to secure the international supply chain.

These efforts extend to the U.S. side of the supply chain as well. At the Department of Homeland Security, there are a number of steps that we are pursuing domestically in 2011 to do our part.

First, pursuant to an Executive Order signed by President Obama, we are creating a first of its kind center to coordinate all U.S. government efforts regarding the issue of potentially dangerous exports. This will enhance information sharing among the many agencies that play a role and strengthen the targeting abilities and technology at the disposal of U.S. agencies.

We'll also work to establish the regulatory and statutory mechanisms needed to implement a government-wide statistical tracking system for export control enforcement activities. And we'll also work with institutions across America, ranging from hospitals and laboratories to and beauty supply companies – to prevent the diversion of chemicals for use by terrorists.

Securing the Infrastructure of the Global Supply Chain

While we work to make sure that precursor chemicals aren't illegally trafficked, we also need to strengthen the critical infrastructure of the global supply chain across all modes of transport — air, land, and sea — from attack or disruption.

Consider the consequences such an attack could have. Beyond the immediate impact of a potential attack on passengers, transportation workers and other innocent people, the longer-term consequences of a disabled supply chain could quickly snowball and impact economies around the world. One consequence, for example, could be that people across the world would find empty store shelves for food; serious shortages in needed medical supplies; or significant increases in the cost of energy.

Our focus must be on building the capacity of governments – including our own – to strengthen the security of the system as a whole, and to focus on the most critical hubs and elements of the supply chain's infrastructure. DHS, in conjunction with other U.S. government agencies, will work to assist our partners in getting the training and technology they need in order to secure the components that are integral to the global network.

We are also working with our private sector and international partners to acquire advance information before goods are loaded onto planes, container ships, or trucks- so we can identify and screen items based on risk and intelligence. Knowing what the package or shipment contains, where it came from and who has handled it prior to departure will enhance our ability to make sure that high-risk shipments can be detected and inspected before they are on their way.

Bolstering the Resiliency of the Supply Chain

In spite of these efforts, we know that nothing is ever 100 percent and that risks can always materialize. And so we must ensure the global supply chain can rebound quickly and ultimately, with as little permanent disruption as possible. Global trade can't grind to a halt as governments and industry figure out what to do. Trade needs to be up and running – with bolstered security, if needed – as soon as possible after any kind of event.

In 2011, we will strengthen global planning on trade resumption. We need to know ahead of time how to recover quickly from such a disruption, and how we can step up security without putting unnecessary burdens on the supply chain. To do this, DHS will seek to link our trade resumption planning across all modes of transportation, working together with the World Customs Organization, the International Maritime Organization, and the International Civil Aviation Organization.


In sum, by working together, the world can make great strides on all these fronts in 2011. Just as the nations of the world were able to achieve consensus on international aviation security, and make historic progress in securing a vital global system – so to can we make global supply chain security stronger, smarter and more resilient.

Thank you again for being here. I'm now happy to hand over the podium to Secretary General Mikuriya for his comments.


Last Updated: 09/20/2018
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