Technology Key to Risk Managing Terrorist Threat

Australian government CIOs urged to start figuring out how to break down the silos through information management.

In the post 9/11 world, the US Department of Homeland Security has relied on technology and systems to develop some "pretty extraordinary and certainly revolutionary" initiatives to advance the "twin goals" of securing people while not restricting trade.

And former Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Robert Bonner says risk management has proved indispensable to the US strategic goal of preventing asymmetrical warfare - that is, preventing global terrorists from striking Americans at home.

Bonner, who "reported for duty," as Customs Commissioner the day before the September 11 attacks, said he reached two very important realizations during the week of 9/11. First, that as a principal border agency the priority mission of US Customs had to dramatically and immediately change from the interdiction of illegal drugs and regulation of trade to a national security mission: preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from getting into the United States. And second, that Customs had to find a way to increase security without choking off the flow of legitimate trade and travel, or shutting down the US economy in the process. Technology and integration had proved the key.

During a National Security Seminar at Old Parliament House last week hosted by Unisys and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute to discuss the potential for departmental cooperation in the creation of an Australian security "ecosystem", Bonner said post 9/11 technology and integrated systems were essential to everything the US Government did to achieve the "Twin Goals." For instance, with 10 million containers offloaded at US seaports last year it would be virtually impossible to mandate that CBP inspect every cargo container arriving at the nation's seaports, as some in Congress have called for. Now advance electronic information and risk management have made it unnecessary.

It is also unnecessary to physically inspect all 11 million commercial tractor trailer trucks arriving at US borders from Canada and Mexico thanks to advance electronic information and an Automated Targeting System which lets CBP select the cargo shipments and people that pose a potential terrorist threat, and inspect all of them.

"The automated target system (ATS) for cargo and for people is the key to reducing the haystack to a manageable size, whether the haystack be cargo shipments or people," Bonner says.

"Yet the automated targeting system can be improved even further with greater visibility into the supply chain. More visibility, more data translate into greater security and fewer inspections. The twin goals, again."

"With detection technology, we can and do inspect far more cargo shipments, far more rapidly than ever before."

And Bonner says the concept is just as applicable to the movement of oceangoing containers, and to the rapid processing of people arriving at ports of entry.

Bonner also praised Australia as having been in the vanguard of action on the global terrorist threat.

"The Australia government, for example, through APP, e-passports, RMAL and other initiatives, has been on the forefront of devising and implementing some of the best security programs in the world designed to prevent the entry of terrorists, terrorist weapons, and criminals. We have learned much and continue to learn much from you."

But he warned against the folly of underestimating al Qaeda's determination to strike again, or their patience.

"We cannot afford to become complacent," he says. "The time between the first World Trade Center attack and the second was eight years. But al Qaeda and its associated terrorist organizations are not only targeting the US, they are and have targeted Europe, Australia, and, indeed, the global economy. But more, they are attacking the forces of globalization that have the potential to lead to economic uplift, democratization and reform."

He says interoperability is essential to these efforts, and urged Australian government CIOs to start figuring out how to break down the silos through information management.

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