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Network-Centric Security for Canada-U.S. Supply Chains

Type: Research Studies
Date Published: September 7, 2005
Research Topics:
Trade, Defence & Security
Desmond Morton writes that post - September 11 civilization faces a "war without fronts." All core economic and social infrastructures are potential targets. This paper asks how to protect one of those infrastructures-the supply chain-from asymmetric attack. Moreover, the supply chain, just like air transportation, can provide weapon delivery vehicles directly to populated areas and sensitive targets. This paper focuses where international cargo flows are among the world's largest in volume and economic significance: the Canada-U.S. border. Success here should offer lessons applicable worldwide.

In this new conflict, the logistics system poses a special attraction for terrorists. First, the large spaces within sea containers or truck vans can conceal, and then deliver for detonation at a targeted location, weapons commensurate with their great size.

Second, in addition to substantial loss of life and property at the targeted location, such an attack would present governments with only two alternatives, each of which is unthinkable: Governments could stop cargo flows for the days, weeks, or longer required to ascertain the attacks' source. Or governments could avoid economic disruption by letting cargoes continue to move but at the price of further risks to life and property that we have no way of measuring.

For the next stage of post-September 11 supply chain security, Canada and the United States can better protect their mutual freight flows against terrorist penetration by engaging the logistics system on its own operational terms, thereby keeping it moving while also making it safe. A network-centric approach would match real-time data flows with cargo that is constantly moving through numerous hands and dispersed geographically across the globe.

Today's stop-and-search protocol relies on interruption of logistics movements to secure them from terror. Therefore, we should augment (not replace) manual searches and machine scans at ports and border checkpoints, which are today's main source of direct observation of freight flows. Using wireless devices, electronic seals, sensors, and logistics software already available, a network-centric protocol would report on cargoes for possible asymmetric interference in real time, at multiple times, and at any location chosen.

To that end, this paper offers a network-centric security protocol to augment the existing one and then outlines how Canada and the United States can bring this about.

At its core, this network-centric approach to supply chain security makes terrorist penetration materially more difficult by rendering the supply chain visible-remotely and in real time-to those who can protect against such penetration.
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