By Jeffrey J. Milstein, Moran Office of Maritime and Port Security (MOMPS)
There are many different types of possible terrorists, but the simplest definition for the successful “terrorist” is: one supported by an organization capable of significant funding, providing training and with the foresight to plot scenarios dedicated to causing mass casualties and impact. That being said, if someone is dedicated enough to give their life for a cause, they want one hundred percent confirmation of a target or as close to that as possible. Every terrorist wants to be the next Bin Laden and not to be some fool who showed up at the wrong spot and blew himself up. Because of this, a terrorist may spend as many as five to ten years planning for an attack. However, if they arrive on site for a dry run before the big day and find the attack might not be successful, then it’s back to square one and on to planning for the next identified weak target.
People often forget that what makes a threat is not just the idea; it’s the possibility of a proven vector of threat (i.e. method, path or tool that utilizes the threat to perpetrate an attack). Anyone can come up with the good idea, just look at the thriller section in Netflix and you will see that. What makes a threat vector realistic is the idea itself and the probability of success. If the probability of success is high and can be proven, the idea holds water and we have a problem. For example, anyone screaming “Nuclear attack!” needs to take into consideration that nuclear weapons are not so easy to obtain and smuggle, and they’re even harder to make, maintain and ensure they work. Furthermore, there needs to be validity as to where purported weapons of mass destruction have come from. For example, even though a Nuke would cause ninety billion dollars in destruction the probability of this type of attack is so low that it creates a vector value below the benchmark needed to consider it a daily threat. However, something that could be made much easier like a dirty bomb, which could still cause considerable destruction, is more of a realistic threat once divided by the probability.
So, with this said, why aren’t most gaps or weaknesses identified as a threat vector?
The real answer is there isn’t enough time in the day to tackle the unbelievable quantity of gaps and weakness we face in our ports, and then check them against the chances of probability or possibility. The truly dedicated, overworked men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) are the most underfunded branch of the U.S. Military and can’t do the job on their own. In a perfect world, the best way to test probability of a possible threat is via covert operations as Richard Marcinko did in 1984 with the establishment of the Naval Security Coordination Team OP-06D, or more commonly known as “Red Cell”. Lack of funding however, and an embarrassing lack of understanding from our legislators and regulators of how the maritime industry operates means these types of operations are rarely conducted, and when they are, they’re usually in a vacuum. Because of this, Congress opts to try and tackle the low-hanging fruit and the topics that will generate the most publicity. More often than not, they do not consist of things that we need the most protection from, just those things that might not kill a bill before Congress or in some cases need to be attached to something to make it more “interesting” in order to help to get support and be passed.
A perfect example of this is the “Security and Accountability for Every Port Act of 2006 or more commonly known as the “Safe Port Act,” which was an act of Congress in which an online gambling measure was added at the last moment. You may be asking yourself, what does internet gambling have to do with port security for the entire nation? -It doesn’t. It was added because the bill could not get enough support and was going to be killed on the floor until this measure was added.
Fortunately the bill passed, however it’s an embarrassing example that a bill that includes things like the creation of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC), establishment of interagency operational centers for port security, the Port Security Grant Program (PSGP), Container Security Initiative (CSI), requirements for foreign port assessments, the Customs Trade Partnership against Terrorism (CT-PAT) and possibly the most important the creation of a new agency within the DHS called the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) wasn’t important enough for Congress until someone decided that they wanted to stop internet gambling.
In a time of great economic uncertainty, it may be controversial to point out that a profitable industry is affecting their own sustainability by blatantly overfishing our oceans while at the same time exposing us to great risk, but everyone has a right to know. The fishing industries, both recreational and commercial, not only pose one of the greatest threats to the maritime industry, but they provide the single most realistic proven threat vector to our nation and citizens. Before we get too far into this, let’s start with a brief history on port security, terrorism, piracy and how it relates to the U.S. maritime industry.
The first possible example of a maritime attack that impacted the US was on September 13, 1814 when the British fleet staged an attack on the Port of Baltimore (they identified this as the most strategic attack point in the country). However, they were stopped at Fort McHenry by a much smaller weaker force that used the Port as a defensive position and created their own security protocols to protect it, thus providing the first real example of Port Security in our nation’s history. Unfortunately, this is indicative of how we will address future maritime security issues: reactively, not proactively.
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