Combating Terrorism:

Actions Needed to Improve Force Protection for DOD Deployments through Domestic Seaports

GAO-03-15: Published: Oct 22, 2002. Publicly Released: Nov 21, 2002.

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The October 12, 2000, attack against the Navy destroyer U.S.S. Cole in the port of Aden illustrated the danger of unconventional threats to U.S. ships in seaports. The September 11, 2001, attacks further heightened the need for a significant change in conventional antiterrorist thinking, particularly regarding threats to the U.S. homeland. The new security paradigm assumes that all U.S. forces, be they abroad or at home, are vulnerable to attack, and that even those infrastructures traditionally considered of little interest to terrorists, such as commercial seaports in the continental United States, are now commonly recognized as highly vulnerable to potential terrorist attack. Of the more than 300 seaports in the United States, the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Transportation have designated 17 as "strategic," because in the event of a large-scale military deployment, DOD would need to transport more than 95 percent of all equipment and supplies needed for military operations by sea. If the strategic ports were attacked, not only could massive civilian casualties be sustained, but DOD could also lose precious cargo and time and be forced to rely heavily on its overburdened airlift capabilities. The security environment at strategic seaports remains uncertain because comprehensive assessments of threats, vulnerabilities, and critical port infrastructure and functions have not been completed, and no effective mechanism exists to coordinate and disseminate threat information at the seaports. GAO identified two significant weaknesses in DOD's force protection process for deployments through domestic seaports. First, DOD lacks a central authority responsible for overseeing force protection measures of DOD organizations that move forces from domestic installations through U.S. seaports. Second, during some phases of a deployment, DOD transfers custody of its military equipment to non-DOD entities, including foreign-owned ships crewed by non-U.S. citizens.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation and indicated that as it became organized, USNORTHCOM would assume responsibility for coordinating such DOD homeland security-related issues as working with the U.S. Transportation Command to examine security for deployments through strategic seaports (e.g., continued vulnerability assessments for all designated strategic ports). In December 2003, USNORTHCOM published its Strategic Action Plan, which formally outlines the command's responsibility for force protection/anti-terrorism throughout its area of responsibility. This includes responsibility for adhering to a risk management methodology outlined in GAO's seaports report.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's oversight and execution of force protection for deployments to and through domestic strategic seaports, the Secretary of Defense should designate a single authority (such as the recently established U.S. Northern Command) to coordinate and execute force protection planning for deployments of units from installations in the United States through seaports and until ships enter the destination areas of operation (this responsibility would be similar to that of the overseas unified combatant commands for their respective areas of operation).

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Transportation (the cognizant executive department at the time) agreed with this recommendation. GAO has reported that area maritime security committees have improved information sharing among port security stakeholders on potential threats. Interagency operational centers have also been established at several locations to further improve information sharing on threats and vulnerabilities in the maritime domain. See GAO-05-394, Maritime Security: New Structures Have Improved Information Sharing, but Security Clearance Processing Requires Further Attention.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should identify and direct the appropriate transportation agency to develop a mechanism at the port level to compile, coordinate, analyze, and disseminate threat information on a real-time basis to all relevant organizations. It should also include in its assessment process nontraditional threats such as natural emergencies and information technology attacks.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Transportation (the cognizant executive department at the time) agreed with this recommendation. Area maritime security committees with a wide range of federal, state, and local members, have improved information sharing among port security stakeholders on potential threats. Some issues that could impede information sharing remain to be addressed, such as appropriate security clearances for non-federal committee members.

    Recommendation: To improve the information available to develop effective seaport security measures, the Secretary of Transportation should identify and direct the appropriate transportation agency to develop a mechanism at the port level to compile, coordinate, analyze, and disseminate threat information on a real-time basis to all relevant organizations. Whether established as a new entity or as a modification of an existing coordinating body, this mechanism should include representatives from a broad range of federal, state, and local agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Transportation (the cognizant executive department at the time) agreed with this recommendation. Area maritime security committees have improved information sharing among port security stakeholders on potential threats. Interagency operational centers have also been established at several locations to further improve information sharing on threats and vulnerabilities in the maritime domain.

    Recommendation: To improve the information available to develop effective seaport security measures, the Secretary of Transportation should identify and direct the appropriate transportation agency to develop a mechanism at the port level to compile, coordinate, analyze, and disseminate threat information on a real-time basis to all relevant organizations. Such a mechanism might be similar to DOD's threat working groups but with broader membership or be part of an existing coordinating body (such as the proposed port security committees or the joint terrorism task forces).

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation and has taken a number of actions related to this effort, including (1) USTRANSCOM's coordination of force protection threat intelligence concerning equipment transported by non-DOD carriers with the FBI, Coast Guard, Army, Navy, military intelligence units, and various state and local law enforcement agencies (2) a plan to use augmentation teams to provide security guidance and support using private port security companies, (3) a draft agreement between USNORTHCOM and the U.S. Coast Guard concerning port security, (4) implementation of a Commercial Security Escort Vehicle (CSEV) program to enhance security for contracted DOD commercial trucking, (5) DOD-Transportation Department exploration of new technologies to enhance security, and (6) DOD and service efforts to provide security for DOD-chartered vessels carrying DOD cargos.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's oversight and execution of force protection for deployments to and through domestic strategic seaports, the Secretary of Defense should direct the single coordinating authority (once established), along with the U.S. Transportation Command, to develop and implement measures to maintain greater security over equipment transported by non-DOD carriers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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