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CBP National Targeting Center

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Working Together
Catching Smugglers, Terrorists and Lawbreakers Works Better Through Partnership
By Paul Koscak, Photos by Glenn Fawcett

Since 2001, CBP’s National Targeting Center in Sterling, Virginia, has worked nonstop to catch travelers and detect cargo that threaten our country’s security. At the same time, the center is working just as hard to build a network of partner nations committed to fighting global threats. Increased targeting by all partners increases security for all is the concept. 

That principle also supports the United Nations Security Council’s Resolution 2178 requiring member nations to fight international terrorists and criminals by strengthening laws to prosecute them and requiring airlines to provide passenger lists. The resolution also calls for member nations to share information that can alert any partner nation, including the U.S., to an identified threat.

But effective passenger vetting hinges on the quality of a nation’s risk assessment system. Some nations don’t even have automated systems and manually comb through the data. At times, the enormous flow of cargo and passengers can overwhelm available resources.

To overcome these limitations, CBP offers its automated targeting system-global or ATS-G software along with technical assistance, to potential partners. ATS-G is similar to the software used at the Office of Field Operations’s (OFO) National Targeting Center and evolved from decades of experience designing and operating passenger and cargo targeting systems. The software can vastly improve how travelers flying in and out of a country are vetted.

ATS-G rapidly compares passenger and cargo manifests against data bases and other records for clues that could reveal a high-risk traveler, such as a foreign terrorist.

The package includes a free software license, free installation tailored to a partner’s needs as well as technical support and training. “We follow up two or three times per year to ensure the system is running and provide training on how to target,” said Jerry Kaplan, ATS-G assistant director.

Use of ATS-G by foreign partners also supports the tenets of resolution 2178. ATS-G is part of a larger program of technology assistance, law enforcement and border security relationships.

New Zealand is one partner using ATS-G. Tony Davis, manager of New Zealand’s Integrated Targeting and Operations Centre, said the software is user friendly, allowing the center to switch from screening flights—one at a time—to vetting passengers hundreds at a time. “ATS-G is fantastic and it’s our primary targeting tool,” he said. “CBP support has been excellent.”

Sharing information with the U.S. and other countries, creates a bond that builds relationships, added Craig Chitty, manager of operations at the center. “It’s very advantageous because it builds trust,” he said.

Other nations have noticed and frequently contact the center to learn more about the software. “I’m a salesman for ATS-G,” Chitty remarked. “We get approached by international organizations on the phone or by visits.”

CBP Officer Zule Baker reviewing passenger manifest data at the National Targeting Center.
Working Together

Another option

Gaining partners can be challenging. Political or legal roadblocks regarding sovereignty prevent some nations from freely collaborating with the U.S. or other nations, explained NTC Director Troy Miller. For those countries, CBP created the global travel assessment system or GTAS. GTAS permits foreign countries to independently perform vetting activities without the collaboration involved with ATS-G.

Launched in 2016, GTAS is free and designed for rapid use. The software is easily downloaded from a special CBP website and ready to use. It can also improve an existing vetting system because the coding allows nations to customize the software or just download the portions that meet their needs.

GTAS is comparable to ATS-G because GTAS also automatically evaluates passenger manifests in real time to identify suspicious travelers or crewmembers who may pose a national security risk, justifying a closer assessment. Using GTAS, governments can screen suspects before they enter or leave that nation.

“GTAS also gives them [nations] the ability to comply with the U.N. resolution,” Miller said.

Since the software is new, CBP is working through the World Customs Organization in Brussels, a group that promotes trade and supply chain security, to spread the word. With 182 members— mostly developing countries—the WCO can benefit from GTAS.

In July, Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan sent a letter to the organization outlining the details and benefits of the software. As an added advantage, he said, “CBP is willing to provide installation instructions, administration guides and user manuals, as well as technical and subject matter expertise on an ongoing basis…” One nation has already signed up for GTAS, so the outreach is beginning to pay off.

CBP pursues partnerships and promotes ATS-G and GTAS through international forums and events, many of which the U.N. and the European Union take part. When international partners are better able to identify possible high risk travelers, they close gaps in terrorist and criminal activities so governments can work together to detect, deter and defeat these threats.

In an interconnected world, it is more important than ever that countries conduct these risk assessments, and CBP is helping advance global security through ATS-G, GTAS, and the expertise of the NTC.

A CBP officer conducts global observations of air traffic and trade activities at the National Targeting Center in Sterling, Virginia.
Working Together