27 November 2001
The number one priority of the U.S. Customs Service is to keep terrorists and the tools of terror out of the United States without choking off trade at the nation's borders, Commissioner Robert Bonner says.
Speaking at the November 27 trade symposium "Agenda 2001" in Washington, Bonner said that "there is a real and current threat" that terrorist organizations will try to smuggle terrorist weapons in commercial cargo, including weapons of mass destruction.
He said that this threat requires an active defense of U.S. borders by interrupting, intercepting and preventing any such attempts.
"In this war, security at our borders -- security of goods and the means of transporting them -- is as important as a ballistic missile defense system," Bonner said.
But the U.S. customs commissioner emphasized that his agency should strive to achieve this goal without interrupting or delaying the flow of goods across U.S. borders. To reduce the cost and burden of shipping goods into the United States, he told representatives of importers and shippers, his agency needs to form a partnership with the trade community.
Bonner said their mutual goal must be to enhance security throughout the supply chain by pushing the boundary of security as far away as possible from the border entry point.
He said the customs-trade partnership should focus on developing and promptly implementing new industry security standards modeled on the "ISO 9000" quality standard for countering terrorism.
He said that companies meeting new security standards will be given access to the "fast lane" at border crossings, seaports and other points of entry.
But Bonner also said his agency must introduce changes by removing the infrastructure impediments that slow the movement of goods and by working with Congress to streamline customs laws and regulations.
Following is the text of Bonner's remarks as prepared for delivery:
On behalf of the United States Customs Service, let me welcome all of you to this second Customs Trade Symposium. It is a privilege for me to host this summit with the trade community.
One of the first things I did after being sworn in as the Commissioner of Customs on September 24 was to ask my staff to put together this Symposium.
I view this gathering as vitally important to our country and I am glad that all of you are here.
The theme for the Symposium this year is "Meeting New Challenges Together." I am sure that, since September 11, it is clear to everyone here what those new challenges are.
America is at war. It is the most unconventional war in our nation's history. It is a war that is taking place on many fronts. And because of that our defenses must extend to our borders and beyond.
As the guardian of our nation's borders, the United States Customs Service has a major role to play in this great struggle. We are a vital link in the chain of homeland security.
Our responsibility is to detect and reduce the risk that terrorists or the implements of terror will be introduced into the United States. But we cannot carry out our mission of protecting America without your help.
Working together, in partnership, Customs and the trade community need to combine our knowledge and expertise to keep the weapons of terror out of the United States. And we must devise ways to do this without choking off the flow of trade, so important to the U.S. and the world economy.
That is why, today, I am calling for a new partnership between Customs and the Trade Community against terrorism. I want to build the foundation for this partnership with you at this Symposium.
We are gradually coming to terms with life in a world turned upside down by the terrorist attacks of September 11. Each of us still carries his or her own images of that dark day, and we will for a long time to come.
Forever imprinted in my mind will be the sight of the U.S. Customhouse at 6 World Trade Center, smashed and destroyed beyond recognition by falling debris from the twin towers.
I toured that area during my first visit to the field as Customs Commissioner, the day after I was sworn in. I met with our employees there, all eight hundred of whom, thank God, escaped unharmed.
Ultimately, the loss of our building was nothing in comparison to the thousands of innocent people murdered on that day.
I want to thank all of you in the trade community who helped Customs to restore our operations in New York. You supported the efforts of our people there, who ensured that Customs was back up and running in New York within a few hours of the attacks.
With even greater determination, our employees succeeded in permanently relocating our New York Customs Office within just three weeks.
At the same time, U.S. Customs was busy refocusing the efforts of the entire agency to meet the threat at hand.
Let me tell you about what Customs has done to respond to the attacks of September 11 and the continuing terrorist threat to our country.
On the morning of September 11, immediately after the attacks, at 10:05 a.m., Customs went to its highest level of security short of actually closing the borders -- a Level 1 alert.
That alert, which is still in place and will be in place for the foreseeable future, calls for sustained, intensive anti-terrorist operations across the country, to include heightened levels of inspection and scrutiny of people and goods crossing our borders.
To strengthen security at our northern borders, U.S. Customs redeployed personnel to previously unmanned border crossings. Before September 11th, one-half of those crossings and ports of entry went unattended from eight to sixteen hours per day. During those times, they were secured with nothing more than an orange cone placed on the highway.
That changed immediately. We ordered every port of entry to be staffed with at least two armed inspectors, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Over 100 additional Customs inspectors were detailed temporarily to northern border posts -- and still are -- to ensure that this level of security applies even to our most remote and low-volume ports of entry.
Moreover, nearly all Customs inspectors have been working far more overtime than normal. They have been working 12 to 16 hour shifts, 6 to 7 days a week, for the past two and a half months.
Let me say how deeply impressed I have been by the response of our people across the country to this crisis. Despite the demands of extended shifts and a vastly increased workload, our employees have carried out their duties with quiet determination. Many have even volunteered to go to remote border locations to serve and protect their country.
We will remain at the Level 1 state of alert for the foreseeable future. With America engaged in a prolonged struggle against terrorism, this is not only U.S. Customs' top priority -- it is our responsibility to the nation.
But we pledge to continue to work with our partners in the trade community to devise solutions that meet the needs of business and our national security.
The importance of that partnership was clearly evident in the days right after September 11. As U.S. Customs shifted into its highest security posture, we experienced extraordinarily lengthy delays at the northern border, especially at Detroit, Port Huron and Buffalo. The wait times at these ports of entry quickly swelled to 10 to 12 hours.
I was very pleased to see the immediate efforts between Customs and the trade to devise solutions to reduce those delays, without compromising our Level One security.
These initiatives included assigning additional Customs inspectors to these entry points and opening more lanes for longer hours, and with the assistance of Governor Engler of Michigan, detailing national guardsmen to assist Customs in prescreening, and with secondary inspections.
We also posted -- for the first time -- wait times at the border on our Customs website, to assist with logistics. And we still do, for the ports of entry on the Canadian and Mexican borders. As a result of those efforts, by September 17 -- within six days of the attacks -- wait times were reduced to pre-September 11 levels. And that is where we are today, despite increased security.
This represents a prototype for the partnership that I am proposing; a partnership that will be required in order to balance trade facilitation with increased security -- and to defend against terrorists who seek to target America.
It is a daunting challenge, but one that we must address together.
Whatever our priorities were before September 11, I can tell you that the number one priority of the U.S. Customs Service now is to do everything we reasonably and responsibly can to keep terrorists and the implements of terror out of the United States.
Let me be clear: there is a real and current threat that terrorist organizations, including the Al Qaeda, will seek to introduce terrorist weapons into the United States. And one of the ways they may seek to do this is via commercial cargo. And I'm not just talking about explosives, but weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological, and even, God forbid, nuclear weapons.
While all indications are that the current campaign in Afghanistan is going well, we must not be lulled into a false sense of security.
Terrorist networks and their supporters will live on well past the fall of the Taliban or even the death of Osama Bin Laden. They have cells around the globe. They will continue to target us until we and our allies destroy their organizations and infrastructure, root and branch, including their financial wherewithal to conduct terrorist operations.
Preventing biological, chemical, or nuclear attack on America requires a serious, comprehensive defense -- not just for months, but more likely for years to come -- and certainly, for the foreseeable future.
The response requires an active defense of our borders. No effort should be spared to interrupt, intercept, and prevent attempted shipments of terrorist weapons into our country.
In this war, security at our borders -- security of goods and the means of transporting them -- is as important as a ballistic missile defense system. But we must not choke off trade in the process of ratcheting up security.
The goal -- my goal -- is to work with you to increase security, but at the same time to work to reduce the cost and burden of shipping goods into the U.S. This is the challenge -- it is my challenge and it is yours. Together, we must seize the opportunity to achieve these goals.
Where does a partnership against terrorism begin? It begins by asking ourselves: how can we reduce -- substantially reduce -- the terrorist threat to our country. It begins by removing from the vast haystack of trade the legitimate, secure commerce that we don't need to be as concerned about.
Reducing the haystack will increase security against terrorist attack, but at the same time move us to a system that processes goods faster, more efficiently, and at less cost to business.
So, while our overall strategy of risk management has not changed in the wake of September 11, what has changed dramatically is our definition of risk.
Before the attacks that day, our main focus was on trade compliance. Since September 11, our overriding priority is trade security.
That means we will be more focused on where your product originated; the physical security and integrity of your plants or those of your suppliers; the background of personnel; the means by which you transport goods; who you have chosen to bring those goods into the country; those companies' overall security; and the routes your shipments travel.
We must reaffirm the importance of knowing your customer, and consider the overall "air-tightness" of your supply chain, from factory floor, to loading dock, to transportation to our border. Every single link in that chain must be made more secure against the terrorist threat.
Of course, this is nothing new for most of you. Good internal security practices are part of doing business for any successful company.
Now, however, I suggest that your security efforts must serve a greater purpose than that of protecting your own inventory. They must be employed to protect our country from terrorist attack.
Our mutual goal must be to enhance security in all of the activities involved in the supply chain -- that is, to expand the perimeter of security away from the border entry point.
How do we propose to partner with the trade to do that?
I believe the key elements of The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism should include:
Developing with you and promptly implementing a new industry security standard, an "ISO 9000," if you will, for countering terrorism.
The panel discussions that will follow today should focus on this security standard and its elements. It seems to me that they need to include:
There are undoubtedly other ideas that you will have.
Certainly, in developing security standards, we should look to existing models such as the Business Anti-Smuggling Coalition, or "BASC," the Carrier Initiative Program, and the Americas Counter Smuggling Initiative, all of which have been successful in our efforts to deter narcotics smuggling.
We have trained, experienced people ready to work with you to do the same for counter-terrorism.
Let me briefly describe other Customs initiatives to defend against the terrorist threat, in addition to partnering with the trade:
I believe we should also recognize that compliant companies and importers who adopt internal security standards should have the benefit of being low-risk companies.
Accordingly, Customs will develop appropriate audit tools that assess adherence to anti-terrorist security measures, not just to trade compliance.
We will also assign Account Managers to active members of our Customs Trade Partnership against Terrorism.
Those companies that adopt or have a program that meets security standards will be given the "fast lane" through border crossings, and through seaports and other ports of entry.
At the same time, we realize from our side that we must address and remove the infrastructure issues that slow this process down. We're going to work with you on that.
I also want to move to account-based processing as quickly as we technically can for those companies that join with us in this effort. We are going to reward those partners who adopt strong internal security controls designed to defeat terrorist access.
I am looking to a "new era" of trade processing at U.S. Customs.
While the security of America and its borders is paramount, efforts to modernize the Customs Service are among my highest priorities. My vision for the future of U.S. Customs incorporates the new tools and technologies needed to reform the way Customs does business.