Info sharing, analysis boosts security

Transportation Security Administration

The federal government is making inroads in securing ports, highways and airports through better information analysis and sharing with industry and state and local governments, according to a senior U.S. Transportation Security Administration official.

Chet Lunner, assistant administrator with TSA's Office of Maritime and Land Security, said the agency last August launched the Transportation Security Coordination Center (TSCC), an information clearinghouse for state transportation authorities and the private industry

At its core, TSCC is an operations center, but components include a secure intelligence facility and a multipurpose room for seminars. It acts as a nerve center to analyze and disseminate information to appropriate authorities. There are also areas where industry representatives can stay round-the-clock if need be, said Lunner, who spoke at a University of Maryland-sponsored briefing on homeland security and intermodal freight transportation.

So far, several maritime and aviation industry representatives, federal air marshals, and state, local and regional authorities from the Washington, D.C. area are represented at the TSCC, but that's expected to increase. Lunner called TSCC the "physical manifestation" of public/private establishment, something industry's been requesting for a long time. But he that added much still needs to be done to share information among the various groups.

"Intelligence people are used to talking to intelligence people. Transportation people are used to talking to transportation people. We have to find ways to bridge those cultural fences to get people talking in a common language and to give them [intelligence] that is not only timely, but actionable," Lunner said.

There are a number of existing systems that law enforcement, highway officials and others are using and the task is to link them together — something TSA officials are attempting to do. One is called the Maritime Land Security eCOMM (MLS eCOMM), which is basically a Web-based and encrypted communications system so the Maritime and Land Office and its various stakeholders can talk with one another.

"It's not investing new algorithms, new processes or new databases, it's trying to get them all on the same language — to some common point where the dots are all the same kinds of dots and we can sort them out analyze them," Lunner added.

TSA officials also are exploring a system for sharing shipping information and documents so officials could trace cargo containers back to their points of origin or manufacturing sites in case of a problem. Lunner said such a system would be analogous to the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II), which attempts to verify the identity of every traveler by checking commercial databases.

Security improvements are part of an integrated strategy, he said, which includes Operation Safe Commerce, a program where industry, ports, local, state and federal representatives analyze current security procedures for cargo entering the country. It tries to use existing technology to monitor the movement and integrity of containers through the supply chain.

Lunner said TSA officials are constantly monitoring advances in technology and how they can be applied to security.

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