The Department of Justice inspector general released a report earlier in the month on the FBI’s role in maritime security. The report drew attention earlier in the month in the New York Times, and received renewed attention over the weekend following an AP report focused on the extent to which the report suggests that Washington state ferries are at risk of a terror attack.
The report discusses a number of important issues related to maritime security, including:
- Challenges associated with cooperation between the US Coast Guard and the FBI on maritime security, due to unclear and overlapping jurisdiction.
- The role of the FBI in responding to a threat situation, in particular in cases where a radiological source has been detected.
- The implementation of the Maritime Operational Threat Response (MOTR) plan, one of the eight supporting plans to the National Strategy for Maritime Security (and one of two that has not been publicly released).
- The lack of a comprehensive FBI threat and risk assessment for maritime security, which leads to an overemphasis on certain threat scenarios (e.g. attacks by scuba divers and combat swimmers) and the underemphasis of other scenarios.
- Difficulties with maritime-related threat reporting in the FBI’s Guardian system.
On this last point, the report notes:
In September 2004, to facilitate the accurate, complete, and timely reporting on the status of terrorist threats, the FBI launched a database called Guardian. Guardian is available on the FBI Intranet, and all field offices and legal attaches are required to enter into Guardian new terrorism threats and suspicious incidents originating in their territory and use it to track resolution. As of September 2005, the FBI had entered information in Guardian on 51,000 threats. However, because of Guardianâ€™s limited search capabilities, the system cannot readily be used to identify maritime or other sector-specific threats or to produce data for trend analyses.
At our request, the FBIâ€™s Threat Monitoring Unit (TMU) queried Guardian in an attempt to identify the number of maritime-related incidents within the database, but the system was unable to conduct such a search. Instead, Guardian could be queried on the number of times certain words occurred in the system. Even this search was not simple because maritime-related terms, such as â€œport,â€ are a subset of other words that occur frequently in Guardian. For example, â€œreportâ€ and â€œairportâ€ both include â€œport,â€ so the search for port had to be modified to exclude these words.
This search query situation needs to be fixed. And clearly there are a number of things that the FBI needs to do to improve its effectiveness in the maritime security domain. Hopefully it will take these recommendations seriously and address each of the concerns described in the IG report.