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  4. Statement for the Record, Douglas A. Smith, Assistant Secretary, Private Sector, Office of Policy, on "Securing Air Commerce from the Threat of Terrorism"

Statement for the Record, Douglas A. Smith, Assistant Secretary, Private Sector, Office of Policy, before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Transportation Security, on "Securing Air Commerce from the Threat of Terrorism"

Release Date: March 9, 2011


I would like to thank Chairman Rogers, Ranking Member Jackson Lee, and the distinguished Members of the Subcommittee for the opportunity to provide testimony to discuss the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) efforts and activities to build genuine partnerships with relevant stakeholders to improve air cargo security. Further, I would like to thank the Subcommittee for its leadership role in promoting air cargo security for the American public.

In order to successfully advance the Department's core missions, we must utilize all available resources, including a robust engagement and partnership with the private sector. This is especially true for an issue as complex and as critical to the global economy as air cargo security. As the Assistant Secretary for the Office of the Private Sector (PSO), I serve as the Secretary's principal advisor on the Department's interaction with the private sector and coordinate the Department's engagement with private industry, academia, and the nonprofit community–both domestically and internationally–to foster an ongoing dialogue on how we can work together to best meet our collective security challenges.

Security threats to air cargo are not new, but recent events serve as an important reminder that we face an adversary who is patient, adaptive, and relentless in its pursuit to inflict physical harm and economic disruption wherever possible. There are a number of ways that public-private partnerships play an integral role in countering critical security and economic threats, including air cargo security. Before discussing the benefits of a robust public-private partnership, I want to stress the importance of avoiding the false choice between security and economic prosperity–they are not mutually exclusive ideas.

Security is a vital goal. But security cannot – and need not – come at the expense of undermining the systems that facilitate legitimate trade and commerce and enable the livelihoods and progress for so many of the world's citizens. The challenge–to chart a middle course that balances risk while facilitating the free flow of goods, people, and information–is not one that can be met solely by government or industry, but only through partnership. I am an unapologetic optimist who believes that by working together, we can secure both our country and our economy.

It is in this spirit that Secretary Napolitano and DHS senior leadership has approached air cargo security. The Department's effort to engage stakeholders demonstrates our commitment to this principle of collaboration. This is not to say that there will always be agreement on every issue; we recognize though, that only by working together will we find the best solutions to challenges.

The threats that we face today have little regard for borders. In today's globalized world, the very nature of travel, trade, and our interconnected economies means that vulnerabilities or gaps anywhere have the ability to affect the entire supply chain. DHS is committed to partnering with key stakeholders who have a role in ensuring a secure and efficient international air cargo system that can adapt to the evolving terrorist threat.

Progress in Air Cargo Security since 2010

It is clear that the threats we face in the aviation sector, including air cargo, are real and evolving, and we must confront them with strong and dynamic security measures including intelligence, technology, and screening processes to stay ahead of this constantly evolving threat.

One recent example that illustrates the evolving and global threat that we continue to face is the plot involving air cargo shipments filled with explosives being shipped through Europe and the Middle East to the United States. This failed attack in October 2010 made it clear that significant, collaborative improvements in the air cargo system were necessary to not only secure lives but also to ensure against disruptions to the system that could result in severe economic consequences.

In cooperation with the private sector and our international partners, we have taken significant steps to strengthen the security of international air cargo on all aircraft. This work on both passenger and cargo security in the aviation sector continues today. I would like to highlight some of the ongoing projects that DHS is working on, in concert with industry partners, to address the more complex challenges associated with the broader global supply chain.

Air Cargo Security Working Group

Following the October 2010 attempted attacks on the air cargo system, PSO arranged meetings for Secretary Napolitano with the key industry partners involved in the air cargo sector. Informed and encouraged by these initial discussions, the Secretary asked PSO to organize a process through which DHS could receive advice and input from all stakeholders on a frequent, ongoing basis. In January of this year, DHS hosted the kickoff meeting of what we are now referring to as the Air Cargo Security Working Group (ACSWG).

This private-public working group includes domestic and international stakeholders from throughout the air cargo community. Participation in the initial meeting was extensive, with representatives from key stakeholders in the air cargo industry and several other federal partners. The ACSWG was established to ensure close coordination between private and public stakeholders to establish long-term policies, procedures, and programs that will further ensure the security, efficiency, and resilience of the air cargo system.

Because we wanted to get this dialogue started quickly, we chose to organize the ACSWG under the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP) Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council (CIPAC) process, which provides a unifying structure for the integration of a wide range of efforts for the enhanced protection and resilience of the nation's critical infrastructure and key resources into a single national program.

Serving as the organizational chair of the ACSWG, I work closely with Commissioner Bersin from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Administrator Pistole from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), who are jointly serving as Co-Chairs, to ensure that the expertise and experience of both agencies is best utilized.

Due to the range and complexity of the issues to be addressed, the ACSWG divided into four subgroups to focus on specific areas of cargo security. Each sub-group is chaired by a DHS official and co-chaired by an industry representative. The four subgroups are:

  1. Information Subgroup: The objective of this group is to examine opportunities to leverage resources and expertise and enhance intelligence and information-sharing among federal stakeholders and between the U.S. government and private sector partners. The group examines ways to ensure that timely and actionable information is available, communicated to the appropriate stakeholders, and can be acted upon to secure the goods transported by air.

  2. Technology and Capacity Building Subgroup: The objective of this group is to review technical standardization activities and develop technologies to fill capability gaps and ultimately build greater capacity.

  3. Global Cargo Programs Subgroup: The objective of this group is to review and explore opportunities for enhanced public-private coordination as DHS works to address statutory requirements for 100 percent screening of inbound air cargo.

  4. Global Mail Subgroup: The objective of this group is to review and examine refinements in current procedures specific to mail, identify potential vulnerabilities for mail moving globally on passenger and all-cargo aircraft, and to propose alternative processes and procedures to ensure the safety of mail on air cargo and passenger aircraft.

The input that DHS receives from these four sub-groups and from the full ACSWG will help inform the Department's policies, procedures, and programs to address security gaps in air cargo while maintaining a robust and efficient air cargo system.

International Mail

There are unique and complex issues associated with the transport of international mail within the air cargo system that are important to highlight. Immediately following the air cargo incident this past October, TSA issued emergency security procedures to air carriers regarding the transport of mail to the United States. TSA has continued its work with national and international stakeholders, including the United States Postal Service, to refine these security measures. Moreover, TSA and other DHS components continue to evaluate the threat and revise security procedures as necessary, while also monitoring the impact on commerce through continued dialogue with industry stakeholders.

It is through this continuing dialogue with industry that revised procedures were issued specifically to address international mail and facilitate the continued safe and secure transport of international mail to the United States. The ACSWG Global Mail subgroup represents an important part of that effort.

This ACSWG subgroup is currently drafting recommendations on private sector coordination regarding international mail. These recommendations will help improve information sharing and enhance targeting capabilities, while ensuring the efficient and secure movement of global mail. The ACSWG international mail subgroup will also make recommendations to develop state of the art technological solutions and help the Department meet legislative requirements. DHS looks forward to providing updates to Congress on the progress of these efforts as we move forward.


While DHS and others across both the public and private sectors will continue to identify and address vulnerabilities in the aviation system, we know that some level of risk will always exist. Therefore, it remains essential that we not only work collaboratively to mitigate risk and close security gaps but also to develop policies and processes to ensure the continuity of the system should a disruption occur.

Regardless of whether this disruption is caused by a terrorist attack or a natural event, the time to find the best possible answers to these questions is now–not reactively. As we continue to look beyond the horizon of addressing the near-term security gaps and work to create a more resilient supply chain, I look forward to an ongoing and robust dialogue with industry and other interested partners.

Again, I want to thank the distinguished Members of the Subcommittee for the opportunity to provide this testimony.

Last Updated: 03/08/2022
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