ARLINGTON, VA – Cargo thieves are becoming more organized, more sophisticated, and are creating larger economic losses for business, according to speakers here at the 2009 National Cargo Theft Summit, an event sponsored in part by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).
As a result, the shippers, transport providers, law enforcement agencies, insurance companies, and other groups attending the summit are calling for more information sharing among industries and are pushing for the development of a national cargo theft strategy – a strategy desperately needed to help reduce the unseen but serious impact cargo crime is having on the U.S. economy and the world’s as well, according to Sheriff Ed Dean of Marion County, Florida.
“If you add up all the value of the millions of burglaries and armed robberies that occurred in 2008 – including bank robberies – the total losses only reach $3.4 billion," he said. "Cargo theft, by contrast, is a $10 billion to $25 billion annual problem – one with far reaching consequences for the supply chain and, ultimately, the consumer.”
Dean – who also co-chair's the new National Cargo Theft Task Force with Joe Wehrle, the NCIB’s president – said the public simply isn't aware of how massive a problem cargo theft is today. “It’s not just about the financial losses,” he explained. “When you are staging loads, getting ready to move goods to the consumer and they get stolen, that disrupts the entire supply chain. And it doesn’t matter about the product itself, because no matter what it is or what it is worth, someone on the other end is waiting for it.”
“We all know [cargo theft] is at least a national issue if not an international issue,” added NCIB’s Wehrle, a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General who is very blunt on the subject. “Some call our battle with cargo thieves a ‘protracted conflict’ – I call it a war,” he said. “They [cargo thieves] outnumber us; they are more flexible than us; and they take major advantage of our main weakness, which is not sharing information across law enforcement agencies and between companies.”
Wehrle noted that cargo thieves don’t recognize state borders or jurisdictions and don’t discriminate against one company or another. “They will steal from anyone, anytime, anywhere,” he said. “We also know that they really don’t care about the impact their actions have on the U.S. economy or the American people.”
That’s why Wehrle and others fighting the cargo theft battle want more assistance from the federal government, more federal funding for multi-jurisdictional cargo theft task forces, plus more coordinated information and intelligence sharing between private sector firms as well as law enforcement agencies.
“People have no idea we’re being taken to the cleaners by cargo theft, and this enterprise is where many hardened criminals are going,” Wehrle said. “Cargo theft is also providing the seed money for all kinds of nefarious activities, including funding terrorism. That’s why we need to break down all the barriers to win this battle. Americans deserve our best effort.”
Chuck Forsaith, corporate director of supply chain security for pharmaceutical drug maker Purdue Pharma Technologies Inc., pointed to the theft of medicines while in transit as an example of cargo theft’s growing impact, and not just because of the illicit "street value" of medicines such as his company’s main product, the painkiller oxycontin.
“They [cargo thieves] don't give a rat's ass about keeping products such as these safe during transit and storage, maintaining them at proper temperature or anything,” he said. “They are out to steal whatever they can sell as fast as they can with no regard to the safety of the products they are selling or the people they are selling it to.”
Forsaith added that maintaining temperature for drugs such as insulin for diabetics or copaxone for suffers of multiple sclerosis is absolutely critical. “For example, if copaxone gets heated above a certain temperature, injecting it will kill you,” he warned. “That’s why such drugs require the diligence of everyone that touches these products in the supply chain.”
Work is progressing on forging a more unified national response to cargo theft, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) poised to add a cargo theft category to its uniform crime reporting (UCR) system early next year, according to Kevin Perkins, the agency’s assistant director-criminal investigative division.
“This will give us more data to analyze in terms of defining the scope of the cargo theft problem," he said. “The key will also be to connect cargo crimes to higher priority matters such as drug cartels and terrorists.”
It also requires the development of stiffer penalties for cargo crimes, stressed Congressman Cliff Stearns (R-FL), who took the lead in the five-year effort to get cargo theft its own category in the FBI's UCR system. He noted that cargo theft is a rapidly growing problem in the U.S. simply due to what he calls a "target rich" freight environment in this country."It's also low risk with easy opportunity and the profits are often much more lucrative than selling illegal drugs," he emphasized. "We need to increase minimum penalties for cargo theft as just a start. This is a very, very important issue and we've got to keep the ball rolling."