Handle with care: How EAD became an additional tool to counter terrorism and dangerous goods

26.06.2018 - Nearly eight years ago, two bombs were discovered on separate cargo planes during routine stop-overs in the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates.

Each bomb contained up to 400 grammes of plastic explosives and a detonating mechanism and was set to explode over a city in the United States. If successful, the explosions would have caused mayhem and large numbers of casualties.

Alarmingly, both packages had already travelled on passenger and cargo planes before they were discovered due to an intelligence tip-off. The discoveries prompted a major security review on how to stop such acts of terrorism in the future. Perhaps UK journalist Simon Calder, writing in the British Independent newspaper, best expressed not only the concerns about the security risks but also indicated how authorities would in the future fight back against one of the greatest challenges when moving parcels around the world.

He said, “Yemen is not a natural provider of office supplies to organizations such as synagogues in the Chicago area. Therefore, you might fondly imagine that the staff in the parcels offices in the capital, Sana'a, might have checked the dispatches more closely before allowing them anywhere near an aircraft, cargo or passengers. But they didn't.”

Calder’s pithy comment pointed to the problem, but in suggesting that Yemen would probably not supply office supplies to the Chicago area, he also highlighted a partial solution: A risk assessment conducted prior to the air transport of parcels. Move forward almost a decade, and this narrow escape has helped quicken the pace of the introduction globally of Electronic Advance Data or EAD.

EAD works on a very simple premise. Data available for each parcel is subject to an automated risk assessment by customs or other authorities taking into account names, addresses, countries, and details of what is contained in the package. Such details are assessed against known information on terrorists, drug networks, and other groups trying to deliver or receive prohibited goods.     

Today 80 percent of all parcels subject to EAD originate from just nine countries. The top 20 countries are responsible for nearly 90 percent of this volume. EAD is viewed as being so important in the logistics supply chain that the European Union wants a blanket introduction of EAD by 2021, and although not yet law, the United States intends to introduce the system by 2020.

Recognizing the scale of the problem, the Universal Postal Union (UPU) has worked closely with its partners, including the World Customs Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and the International Air Transport Association, to increase security and develop the processes necessary to facilitate risk assessments. UPU has also proposed the development of a cloud solution for EAD with each parcel having its own unique identifier, with scans and updates throughout each stage of the postal supply chain.   

Raising awareness and ensuring staff is properly trained is another area where UPU helps. The UN Specialized Agency for postal operations hosts workshops for designated operators around the world on security and dangerous goods. This is especially important for the illicit movement of synthetic opioids, which are a direct threat to people and the supply chain. The synthetic opioid carfentanil, for instance, is 100 times more toxic than fentanyl. Even accidental exposure can result in grave risks.

UPU`s Security Manager, Tripp Brinkley said, “The Post cannot be allowed to serve as a tool, or a target, for criminals and terrorists. We have a duty to maintain trust and protect the public, and this duty is the starting point for all our work in support of postal operators.”

On 10 October, UPU’s World Postal Business Forum will hold a high-level panel session on Data Driven Solutions for Dangerous and Prohibited Goods on the margins of this year’s Post-Expo to be held in Hamburg, 9-11 October.

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  1. Dirk at 19.01.2016
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