Combating Terrorism:

Improvements Needed in European Command's Antiterrorism Approach for In-Transit Forces at Seaports

GAO-03-731NI: Published: Sep 26, 2003. Publicly Released: Sep 26, 2003.

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The October 12, 2000, attack against the Navy destroyer USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen, illustrated the danger of unconventional threats to U.S. ships operating in seaports overseas. The attack also heightened recognition that in-transit forces--Department of Defense (DOD) units, personnel, and assets traveling through or conducting missions within an area of operations, including operations at seaports--are vulnerable to attack by determined terrorists. This report addresses the following questions: (1) To what extent is the U.S. European Command's approach to antiterrorism designed to cover in-transit forces at seaports in its area of responsibility? (2) Does an oversight mechanism exist to review and evaluate the antiterrorism approach for in-transit forces at seaports? (3) Do significant challenges exist in the implementation of antiterrorism measures at seaports in EUCOM?

The European Command's approach is designed to protect most in-transit forces at seaports; however, two potential gaps exist in the approach that may leave some vessels more vulnerable to hostile actions. The command's approach is based on individual ship in-port security plans that must be approved by the Navy prior to a ship's entering a port and on the use of more secure seaports--referred to as "core ports"--when increased security is necessary. However, GAO identified two gaps in this approach: (1) some vessels chartered by DOD to transport equipment have not been required to submit in-port security plans before port visits and (2) operational requirements preclude the exclusive use of core ports even when increased security is necessary. Therefore, when visiting non-core ports, vessels may be more vulnerable, especially those with limited self-defense capabilities. DOD and the European Command have begun taking steps to address these issues and improve protection for ships entering ports overseas, but one important initiative, an agreement clarifying antiterrorism responsibilities for chartered vessels, has not yet been approved. Oversight mechanisms similar to those DOD uses to evaluate antiterrorism measures at fixed installations do not exist to evaluate the European Command's overall approach or specific antiterrorism measures for in-transit forces; therefore, gaps or weaknesses may not be identified, placing in-transit forces at unnecessary risk. DOD has developed a robust antiterrorism program for military installations that includes periodic review of antiterrorism plans and implementation efforts at installations. In contrast, while the Joint Staff reviews the European Command's antiterrorism program to ensure that DOD standards have been incorporated in the command's policies and procedures, an in-depth review of the specific antiterrorism measures in place that could reveal weaknesses in the approach is not required or conducted. GAO identified two challenges in the implementation of antiterrorism measures at European Command seaports. First, variable host nation support affects DOD's ability to implement fully its desired antiterrorism measures. GAO is continuing its examination of host nation support in other geographic combatant commands. Second, weaknesses related to the crew-screening process for chartered vessels could jeopardize the safety and security of crews, vessels, and cargo, and the ports they visit. The crew-screening process is based on a review of crewmember personal-identity information, such as name and date of birth, which can be falsified. These vessels and their crews are provided routine access to DOD's more secure ports overseas, frequently docking near other DOD vessels and critical infrastructure. Domestically, the Coast Guard has recognized similar vulnerabilities and has implemented a process for monitoring vessels entering U.S. seaports to mitigate similar weaknesses.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to ensure that this review process be tested in the European Command's area of responsibility, modified as needed based on the test, and then applied to all in-transit forces in all locations, including other geographic combatant commands, as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, DOD has taken steps to improve its antiterrorism program assessment process. Specifically, the Joint Staff has incorporated changes to the Joint Staff Higher Headquarters Program Review Process to include requirements for analyses of existing vulnerability assessments to identify positive and negative trends, concerns, and implementation shortfalls, as well as the in-transit focus of the combatant commands prior to conducting an assessment. The updated process has been subsequently tested during higher headquarters reviews of the U.S. Southern Command and U.S. Northern Command and areas for improvement were tied to those found in the vulnerability assessment trend analyses and pertinent recommendations were made to each Command's staff. The guidelines reflecting greater emphasis on antiterrorism considerations for in-transit forces and logistics contracts were incorporated into the revised DOD Instruction 2000.16, published in September 2006.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to expand existing Joint Staff antiterrorism oversight policies and responsibilities to include periodic, in-depth reviews of in-transit antiterrorism plans, procedures, and implementation. These reviews, similar to those conducted for fixed installations, should focus not only on the combatant command's adherence to DOD's standards and guidance, but also on evaluating the effectiveness and implementation of the antiterrorism approach and specific measures to identify gaps and weaknesses and suggest improvements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, DOD has taken steps to improve its antiterrorism program assessment process. Specifically, the Joint Staff has incorporated changes to the Joint Staff Higher Headquarters Program Review Process to include requirements for analyses of existing vulnerability assessments to identify positive and negative trends, concerns, and implementation shortfalls, as well as the in-transit focus of the combatant commands prior to conducting an assessment. The updated process has been subsequently tested during higher headquarters reviews of the U.S. Southern Command and U.S. Northern Command and areas for improvement were tied to those found in the vulnerability assessment trend analyses and pertinent recommendations were made to each Command's staff. The guidelines reflecting greater emphasis on antiterrorism considerations for in-transit forces and logistics contracts were incorporated into the revised DOD Instruction 2000.16, published in September 2006.

    Recommendation: To improve the European Command's approach to antiterrorism for in-transit forces at seaports, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to expand MSC's crew-screening process to include additional personal-identifying characteristics such as fingerprints for all crewmembers and identify opportunities to utilize the international maritime community's seafarer identification initiatives to strengthen and improve MSC's process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD agreed that the Military Sealift Command's (MSC) crew-screening process for foreign-flagged and crewed vessels could be strengthened and has been monitoring the development and approval of international seafarer identification initiatives that include personal identifying characteristics. However, the International Labor Organization Seafarer's Identity Documents Convention (revised in 2003) has not been ratified by the U.S. Government, due to Department of Homeland Security concerns over the language within the convention. The Department of Defense does not have a role in the ratification process. Consequently, the MSC continues to rely on its existing crew-screening process for foreign-flagged and crewed vessels that does not include personal identifying characteristics.

    Recommendation: To improve the European Command's approach to antiterrorism for in-transit forces at seaports, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to establish a time frame for completing the memorandum of agreement delineating responsibilities for protection of Military Sealift Command (MSC) vessels operating within the European Command geographic area of responsibility.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's report, the Chief of Naval Operations directed the Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe to develop and sign a memorandum of agreement delineating responsibilities for the protection of Military Sealift Command vessels operating within the European Command's geographic area of responsibility by April 30, 2004.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense, through the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, should direct the Commander of the U.S. European Command, to develop a ship-boarding process to verify crewmember identity, inspect cargo, and control high-interest vessels entering critical ports overseas at selected seaports with strong host-nation relationships. Such a program could be patterned after the Coast Guard's sea marshal program. If successfully developed and implemented in the European Command's area of responsibility, the Chairman may wish to consider expanding the program to other geographic combatant commands.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Defense has closed this recommendation without implementing it. In responding to GAO's recommendation, the Department of Defense stated that host nations are responsible for the security and control of any vessel entering their ports and that the inspection of vessels and crew members in another country remains a sensitive sovereignty issue. Further, the Department noted that the U.S. Navy continues to engage its allies in enhancing port security standards and continues to conduct operational missions, related training, and exercises with host nation allies.

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