Trade Security at Sea: Setting National Priorities for Safeguarding America's Economic Lifeline

Report Homeland Security

Trade Security at Sea: Setting National Priorities for Safeguarding America's Economic Lifeline

April 27, 2006 26 min read Download Report

Authors: James Carafano and Martin Andersen

In 2003, The Heritage Foundation established the Maritime Security Working Group to examine the maritime security challenges facing the United States. The working group-composed of members of aca­deme, the private sector, research institutions, and government-released a special report detailing threats and gaps in U.S. maritime security and expressing the need for an overarching strategic approach to addressing these shortfalls. In December 2005, the Administration released its National Strat­egy for Maritime Security. The strategy and its sup­porting interagency plans reflected many of the Maritime Security Working Group's findings.

This report addresses thenext steps that should be taken.

The most important task in maritime security is to safeguard the flow of global maritime commerce. In this follow-up report, the working group addresses the three most significant enablers to establishing the maritime security regime that the nation needs to pro­tect trade at sea:

  • Expanding the capabilities of the U.S. Coast Guard,
  • Improving the sharing and usage of commercial information, and
  • Enhancing international cooperation.

This paper summarizes the conclusions of the Mar­itime Security Working Group's first report and offers findings and recommendations for ensuring that the maritime component of the global supply chain is safe, resilient, and prosperous.

Implementing these measures will require concerted and integrated effort from Congress and the Administration, particularly the Depart­ments of Homeland Security, State, Defense, and Transportation.

Making the Seas Safer

In 2003, the Maritime Security Working Group released a special report, "Making the Seas Safer: A National Agenda for Maritime Security and Coun­terterrorism."[1] The report explained:

  • Why maritime security is so vital to the United States,
  • The principal and emerging threats that need to be addressed, and
  • Gaps in U.S. security and the need for compre­hensive strategic solutions to address them.

Together these facts make the case for establish­ing clear and unambiguous priorities for improving maritime security.

The Importance of Maritime Security.The importance of the maritime domain cannot be overestimated. Almost one-third of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) is derived from trade, and most of America's overseas trade is transported by ship. According to the American Association of Port Authorities, $1.3 billion worth of U.S. goods moves in and out of U.S. ports every day. In addi­tion, many major urban centers (more than half of the U.S. population) and significant critical infra­structure are in proximity to U.S. ports or are acces­sible by waterways.

Maritime security also has a critical defense dimension. The vast majority of U.S. military forces and supplies sent overseas transit through U.S. ports. For example, in fiscal year (FY) 2003, the U.S. Military Traffic Management Command (now called the Strategic Distribution and Deployment Command) shipped more than 1.6 million tons of cargo in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. America cannot be prosperous or safe without access to the sea.

During the next 20 years, maritime commerce will likely become an even larger and more impor­tant component of the global economy. The main elements of this transformation will probably include continued growth in the seaborne ship­ment of energy products, further adoption of con­tainerized shipping, and the continued rise of megaports as commercial hubs for transshipment and deliveries.

Barring substantial and unanticipated reductions in the cost of air transport, this trend will persist for the next few decades. Over 10 million containers, which account for 90 percent of goods transported across the seas, entered the United States in 2005. The number of containers entering the U.S. by sea could double by 2010.

Seaborne transport will remain critical to defense as well. Despite the anticipated develop­ment of a new generation of long-range global strike aircraft and rapidly deployable future Army combat forces, it is highly unlikely that the U.S. military will be able to sustain a major campaign in the foreseeable future without the capacity to trans­port significant assets from the continental United States by ship.

Long-Term Threats. The long-term maritime security threats to the United States are:

  • Internal threats from rogue actors. The great­est vulnerability to maritime infrastructure may be internal threats (e.g., employees who have an intimate knowledge of operations and facil­ities and access to transportation and port assets).
  • Threats from the domestic (land) side. Many experts view ports as more vulnerable to attacks launched against the land-side distribu­tion network, destroying the economic viability of the port.
  • The growth of maritime criminal activity. Piracy, human trafficking, and drug smuggling will continue, and terrorists could mimic or partner with these criminal enterprises.
  • The lack of visibility in noncommercial mari­time activity. Currently, the United States lacks sufficient means to monitor maritime activity. Terrorists could capitalize on this weakness by laying mines, launching other types of under­water attacks, using private craft to smuggle small payloads to locations outside ports, or using small craft to launch attacks.
  • Biological and environmental threats. The danger from infectious diseases and other envi­ronmental threats carried by seaborne traffic will increase with greater maritime commerce.
  • Anti-access strategies. An enemy might attack vulnerable targets on U.S. territory as a means to coerce, deter, or defeat the United States.
  • Stand-off attacks from the sea. State and non-state groups could soon be capable of mounting short-range ballistic missile and cruise missile attacks-possibly employing weapons of mass destruction-from U.S. waters.

Wasting Scarce Resources. Efforts that waste scarce security resources on less credible challenges could prove to be just as dangerous as the realistic threats. Since September 11, 2001, some analysts have hyped the possibility of spectacular maritime attacks using nuclear weapons stowed in shipping containers or liquid natural gas tankers blown up in U.S. harbors. The Maritime Security Working Group found these scenarios less plausible or felt that post-9/11 security regimes made them less likely.

Qualifying threats is important. The U.S. simply cannot "child-proof" the entire supply chain, elim­inating every conceivable vulnerability and oppor­tunity to attack U.S. interests. Overly fixating on specific threat scenarios can lead to inefficient and ineffective use of resources. One such example is the misguided call by some Members of Congress to inspect every container bound for the United States because one could possibly be used to smug­gle a nuclear weapon or a "dirty" bomb (radiologi­cal dispersion device) into the country.

Misguided Port Grants and Inspections. To counter the "nuke-in-a-box" threat, some propose spending billions of dollars on container and port security. This argument fails on five counts:

  1. The nuke-in-a-box is an unlikely terrorist tac­tic. If an enemy wanted to smuggle a bomb into the United States, an oil or chemical tanker, roll-on/roll-off car carrier, grain or other bulk vessel, or even private watercraft would be a more logical and secure way to transport it, either directly to the target (e.g., a port) or indi­rectly by landing it in Mexico, Canada, or the Caribbean and then moving it across a remote section of the U.S. border. Indeed, logic sug­gests (and most experts believe) that a port is more likely to be attacked from land than from sea, especially given the lack of visibility into the domestic trade network, the lack of protec­tion on the landward side, and the ease of con­structing explosive devices with domestic resources. Terrorists are more likely to con­struct smaller items (e.g., biological agents) domestically and then to deliver them through FedEx.
  2. While nuclear smuggling is possible, so are dozens of other attack scenarios. Overinvesting in countering one tactic when terrorists could easily employ another is dangerously myopic.
  3. Spending billions of dollars and deploying thousands of personnel to search every con­tainer and harden every port is an extremely inefficient and expensive way to stop terrorists from using cargo containers, especially when they would probably use other means.
  4. There is no apparent viable business case for many of the proposed solutions for "hardening" shipping containers, conducting 100 percent physical container inspections, or requiring expensive tracking or monitoring devices. These measures would provide only minimal utility at the cost of billions of dollars in new duties, taxes, and operating costs.
  5. Such efforts would divert resources from solu­tions that would measurably strengthen mari­time security, including watching the back door of American ports through which trucks, trains, and barges travel daily.

As a matter of common sense, the United States should not attempt to make every cargo container and port into a miniature Fort Knox. Securing trade requires an approach that is more comprehensive and effective than just putting up fences and gates, posting guards at ports, deploying radiation detec­tors at every entry, and inspecting all cargo contain­ers as they enter the country-approaches that would waste security resources by inspecting things that are unlikely security risks and create isolated, easily bypassed chokepoints to address specific (and unlikely) threats.

The better answer to the nuke-in-a-box scenario as well as the much more credible threats is to increase U.S. efforts to interdict potential dangers before they reach the ports and use the best and broadest possible intelligence available, generated from a combination of commercial information and intelligence. In that regard, security measures should focus on building capabilities that will address a broad range of dangers rather than fixat­ing on a few Tom Clancy-like scenarios.

Closing the real gaps in the U.S. maritime security regime is a good place to start. This means focusing the government on stopping terrorists and criminals and focusing the private sector on sensible, reason­able, transparent, and uniform actions that will enhance the security of the global supply chain.

What Needs to Be Done. The Maritime Security Working Group identified three broad capabilities that are needed:

  • Maritime domain awareness. Given the broad reaches of the global commons and the equally broad range of threats to the sea-based com­merce, trade, information, and energy system, nothing is more important than developing a high degree of maritime domain awareness (MDA). MDA means having the capacity to know what is going on and to give the right information to the right asset at the right time and place to address security, safety, economic, and environmental concerns.
  • Systems of systems. Maritime commerce is not owned or controlled by any one entity, nor are the local, state, and federal government agen­cies that provide security unified in their polic­ing of the domain. Integrating disparate capabilities, building a "system of systems" to oversee and respond to maritime threats, is essential.
  • International security regimes. Most of the commercial firms that dominate maritime trade are transnational companies. Protecting mari­time commerce and ensuring freedom of the seas require international cooperation including glo­bal security standards, joint enforcement, intelli­gence cooperation, and information sharing. That requires formal security regimes. It cannot be done on an ad hoc basis.

Finally, the working group argued that the United States needs an overarching strategy to inte­grate its efforts in these key areas.

Setting Priorities

In December 2005, the Administration released its National Strategy for Maritime Security.[2] The strategy and its supporting interagency plans reflected many of the groups' findings.[3]

Yet much more work needs to be done. Address­ing all the threats and vulnerabilities in the maritime domain is a daunting task. The Administration's strategy does not sufficiently prioritize the efforts that need to be made. The purpose of this second report is to identify the greatest vulnerability and the critical actions that will best address the weaknesses in the nation's current maritime security regime.

Safeguarding Trade First

Material progress in the 21st century is inti­mately tied to a system of international commerce and information that traverses the great oceans of the world-a vast global commons. It is the foun­dation of the world in which we live. The most important task in maritime security is to safeguard the relatively unimpeded flow of global maritime commerce. Ensuring the continuity of commerce and, in the event of a disruption, the rapid recovery of this capability should have the highest priority.

The maritime space for mutual enterprise is an enormous and complex economic domain made up of fishing grounds; telecommunications infra­structure; oil and gas extraction, refining, and dis­tribution; and other global sea-based commerce centered on some 30 to 40 deep-draft megaports with extensive intermodal connections. These glo­bal trading hubs serve merchant ships carrying containers and other goods between the regions that produce them and those that consume or use them, including products such as oil and gas; raw materials; grain; break-bulk commodities (e.g., automobiles and palletized cargo); and other man­ufactures. This transnational and diffuse trading system is owned by the myriad stakeholders involved in such commerce.

No nation benefits more from this global maritime trading system than the United States. On an average day, nearly 700 ships larger than 300 gross tons and carrying goods and passengers approach the U.S. from foreign and domestic ports. In addition, an untold number of vessels penetrate the U.S. Exclu­sive Economic Zone bound for non-U.S. ports and are therefore not required to report to the United States. Expanding the problem to a global perspec­tive, at any given time, there may be 120,000 mari­time targets of potential security interest.

Ports can also be tempting targets for terrorists. As points of entry and exit, they are critical nodes that could affect terrorist travel and movement of mate­rial support and weapons from foreign points. They are also prime targets for terrorist strikes. The eco­nomic, physical, and psychological damage from a significant terrorist attack that targets maritime com­merce or exploits America's vulnerability to sea strikes is difficult to estimate. The 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington caused losses of over $100 billion to the U.S economy alone. Given the nation's overwhelming dependence on ocean-going commerce, a similar sudden attack in the maritime domain might exceed these costs.

U.S. ports should not be the only concern. The bulk of U.S. imports are shipped from a handful of foreign megaports. Disruptions in Singapore, Rot­terdam, or Hong Kong could have an equally dra­matic impact on the United States. Ports present a wide range of targets, depending on their size and location, and U.S. strategy should recognize this. While most of the funding to date has gone to a handful of large intermodal ports, smaller ports may be even more vulnerable to the smuggling of dangerous goods and people.

The stakes are high. A significant breakdown in the maritime transport system would send shock­waves throughout the world economy. In fact, in a worst-case scenario, a large attack could cause the entire global trading system to halt as governments scramble to recover. Drastic and inefficient solu­tions could be imposed, such as completely clos­ing some ports and requiring duplicative and lengthy cargo checks in both originating and receiving ports.

Trade Security at Sea

The three most significant enablers to establish­ing the maritime security regime to protect trade at sea are:

  • Expanding the capabilities of the U.S. Coast Guard,
  • Improving the sharing and usage of commer­cial information, and
  • Enhancing international cooperation.

Enabler #1: Fully Funding the Coast Guard

Given the multitude of threats and vulnerabili­ties in the maritime domain, strengthening the assets that address the greatest number of threats and vulnerabilities makes the most sense. The mis­sions of the U.S. Coast Guard touch on virtually every aspect of maritime operations. Ensuring that the Coast Guard has the resources to perform all of its missions should be the highest priority.


The Coast Guard lacks adequate resources. The operational requirements for Coast Guard assets have increased significantly since 9/11. At the same time, tasks requirements have grown to include significant roles in counterterrorism and other homeland security missions.

The strains are showing. Readiness rates of older Coast Guard ships have declined since FY 2000. Equally troubling, the Coast Guard's Integrated Deepwater System-the plan to recapitalize its aging and increasingly worn-down fleet of cutters, patrol boats, and maritime aircraft-has encoun­tered stiff resistance from Congress and the Office of Management and Budget. Indeed, under the cur­rent plan, it will take 25 years to complete the recapitalization of U.S. Coast Guard assets.

Efforts to expand maritime domain awareness are inadequate. Most traffic on the global com­mons is effectively invisible, given current capabil­ities. This makes detecting, identifying, tracking, and investigating without prior warnings or indica­tions unlikely, if not impossible, in most circum­stances. Most national assets are not focused on, accessible to, or configured favorably for maritime surveillance. The National Strategy for Maritime Security sets specific objectives for achieving improved MDA, but it does not explicitly identify which service or agency should coordinate national MDA efforts.

Maritime response and law enforcement capa­bilities are insufficient. The National Strategy for Maritime Security requires a system that will inte­grate and align all federal maritime security programs and initiatives into a comprehensive, cohesive, national effort of scalable layered security. However, the strategy does not explicitly indicate the best fed­eral agency to integrate all maritime security pro­grams and initiatives to achieve this layered defense. It instead relies on the principle of "mutual depart­mental cooperation" (i.e., the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security-more narrowly the Customs and Border Protection, which continues to act as a "Lone Ranger" bureaucratically). After four years, this hortatory device has proven insufficient to overcome bureaucratic and depart­mental inertia and squabbling.

Furthermore, the Coast Guard, which should be the lead agency in both military and law enforce­ment responses to maritime security issues, has not developed the law enforcement capacities to address current and emerging threats. Coast Guard personnel normally do only one or two tours in law enforcement assignments before mandatory return to assignments in their primary career field.

The Coast Guard's international role remains undervalued, underutilized, and underresourced. The Coast Guard serves as the lead maritime ser­vice in managing programs designed to increase the security of goods shipped to the United States from overseas. For example, through bilateral and mul­tilateral engagements instituted under its new International Port Security (IPS) Program, it is con­tinuing to internationalize the implementation and evaluation process under the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code. During the past year, the Coast Guard continued to foster part­nerships and build new regional cooperative rela­tionships through international forums such as the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation group, and the Organization of American States. It also played a strong leadership role through the International Maritime Organization and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. In addition, the Coast Guard plays an important role in training paramilitary maritime police forces to combat terrorists and pirates on the high seas.[4]

While the Coast Guard's international missions are expansive, they are underutilized and underre­sourced. The International Port Security Program, the only foreign port/country audit done to deter­mine whether security measures are ISPS compliant, has not been aggressively implemented.With only a handful of trained professionals to conduct these audits, the Coast Guard's program lacks credibility.

The National Fleet Policy is inadequate. The National Fleet Policy is a joint U.S. Navy-Coast Guard declaration that calls (1) for using each ser­vice's "multi-mission assets, personnel resources and shore Command and Control nodes to opti­mize our effectiveness across the full spectrum of naval and maritime missions" and (2) for the two services to "work together to plan, acquire and maintain forces that mutually support and comple­ment each service's roles and missions."[5]

The Navy and Coast Guard have failed to imple­ment the National Fleet Policy adequately. For exam­ple, one of the eight supporting plans for the National Security Strategy is the Maritime Opera­tional Threat Response Plan (MOTR). However, much work remains to be done to determine the optimal mix of National Fleet assets necessary to respond to the most likely threats and to decide which service or agency has the lead in determining maritime threat responses. Likewise, the National Fleet Policy has emphasized hardware issues (ships, planes, and sensors) and neglected equally impor­tant efforts to harmonize operational programs such as intelligence and information analysis, training, and international assistance programs.


Congress and the Administration should:

  • Aggressively fund and accelerate the Coast Guard's Integrated Deepwater System to complete it within 10 to 15 years. As docu­mented in the Coast Guard's 2003 report to Congress, acceleration is feasible and would generate numerous efficiencies in the program. Most important, a well-funded and accelerated program would retire aged assets earlier and introduce far more capable, newer (or con­verted) cutters and aircraft, now planned under the revised (post-9/11) Deepwater Implemen­tation Plan, more rapidly. Funding for Deepwa­ter should be increased to at least $1.5 billion per year, and related maritime security pro­grams that address awareness, prevention, pro­tection, response, and recovery should receive $500 million per year.
  • Establish a national MDA budget and make the Coast Guard the executive agent for MDA for maritime security. The Office of Manage­ment and Budget should identify all federal spending in the national MDA budget. The Commandant of the Coast Guard should sub­mit an annual assessment of all federal spend­ing and proposed expenditures on MDA to the President and the Secretaries of Defense, Homeland Security, and Transportation. The Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, and Transportation, with the Coast Guard and Navy as executive agents, should be responsi­ble for establishing the architecture for MDA with the Coast Guard as the lead agency.
  • Create special operations capabilities and a law enforcement/port security corps in the Coast Guard. More robust special capabilities are needed to respond to incidents at sea (such as hijackings) and to interdict threats (such as smuggled weapons materials). The Coast Guard should establish a special operations capability for maritime response, and these forces should be a component of the Defense Department's Special Operational Forces (SOF). Part of the Coast Guard SOF should be rotated under the command of Special Opera­tions Command (SOCOM) for global deploy­ment with U.S. Naval Special Forces. Other units would operate directly under the Coast Guard for deployment in U.S. waters. Addi­tionally, the Coast Guard needs to create a sep­arate career path for law enforcement and port security professionals and train sufficient per­sonnel to meet global needs.
  • Expand the International Port Security Pro­gram.Coast Guard assets that are used to audit foreign port compliance with the International Shipping and Port Security codes should be sig­nificantly expanded.
  • Put teeth in the National Fleet Policy.A letter of agreement by the Commandant of the Coast Guard and the Chief of Naval Operations is not adequate to ensure development of the right mix of capabilities for the 21st century. The National Fleet Program requires a more formal manage­ment structure by the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, an independent assess­ment of capabilities needs, and integrated over­sight by relevant congressional committees.

Enabler #2: Getting the Information

Trying to attend to everything in the world of maritime commerce makes no sense. The goal should be to focus most of the security assets on the most dangerous and suspicious people, activities, and things. This will require more and better infor­mation, better analysis, better interagency coordi­nation of related information, and better tactical and strategic use of information. This is the most important job, but it will not be an easy task.

Collection of data on the supply chain presents a Gordian knot involving myriad problems in focus, scope, and efficacy. Both government and the trade-driven commercial world need the right information to better assess the risks posed by glo­bal threats. International cooperation is required to ensure that the right kinds of partnerships are fos­tered across the vast distances of the supply chain to meet such diverse challenges as focusing resources on suspect cargo, containing the need to close seaports after incident or attack, and "reboot­ing" the infrastructure afterward.


The government is often asking for informa­tion from the wrong people. The best information typically comes from the parties that generate the data, are close to the source, or need it for critical decisions. Discussions about the burden of ensur­ing trade security have centered mostly on the mar­itime realm, particularly on the role of maritime carriers. However, carriers are only one of nearly 30 components in the supply chain. In a deregulated world, even though they are visible and regulated targets, they have little need to know detailed infor­mation about the freight that they carry on board. It is not the carriers' business to maintain the kind of information required for security purposes beyond securing their half of the logistics handoff at pickup and delivery, nor do they have business reasons to maintain the technical expertise to verify their car­goes with certainty.

While we have not ignored the responsibility of manufacturers and retailers to ensure the genera­tion of adequate knowledge about their overseas shipments and the dissemination of that informa­tion to the appropriate authorities, the government has been reluctant to regulate these parties in any meaningful way.

Transportation and logistics data tend to be complex and "dirty."Right now, much of the data that are available from parties to the supply chain are raw, not standardized, and unconnected-with a typical overseas trade involving 20-25 parties, 30-40 documents, 200-plus data elements, 90 per­cent repetitive data reentry, huge error rates, and highly heterogeneous sources and users of data using various means of communication. In other words, one never quite knows what one will get. Electronic systems vary in their utility, sophistica­tion, and penetration among the parties to a trade event. Much of the world (including much of the U.S.) still conducts much of its business with phones, faxes, and e-mail.

Data collection within the transportation net­work is very difficult. Not only are there myriad different electronic systems and formats, but there also are 500,000 variations of the tracking codes for international port, origin, cargo, and other data cat­egories for the more than 3,000 ports worldwide. Other systems are not even electronic. Yet another problem is "compliance friction," the predictable tensions that occur when a single agency is charged with both gathering anti-terrorism intelligence from supply-chain entities and enforcing compliance by these entities with regulations. In such a setting, the parties required to provide data, even if reassured that they will be protected from regulatory scrutiny, are unlikely ever to cooperate fully.

The leadership role played by the Department of Homeland Security and the maritime industry has been inadequate. Fundamental issues about how best to share information between the govern­ment and the private sector have not been addressed adequately. The effectiveness of the Infor­mation Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs), which are supposed to facilitate the flow of informa­tion between the private sector and the government, has been uneven. In the maritime domain, the ISAC is run by the Coast Guard, a federal agency. That is wrong because ISACs are supposed to represent sector leadership and commitment to establishing effective public-private partnerships. By abdicating responsibility for the ISAC, the private sector has demonstrated a serious lack of commitment.

Freight forwarders and other service providers could be a big part of the solution.Forwarders and other middlemen at the data and operational levels are in a critical control position in overseas supply-chain transactions, but they have not been formally engaged as a significant part of the secu­rity process. The middlemen handle the money, goods, and documents involved in a transaction as well as the classification of merchandise. However, historically, they have been at odds with U.S. agen­cies such as the former U.S. Customs Service and the Federal Maritime Commission, and these "compliance frictions" work against their fuller par­ticipation in the security process. Part of the prob­lem has also been that no business model has been proposed for purchasing the middlemen's data, a pool of market information that vastly outstrips government data in both quality and detail.


Congress and the President should:

  • Focus on shipments rather than containers, mandate some form of identifier across the supply chain, and get more and better infor­mation.Understanding the context in which a container or shipment of goods moves within the supply chain-where it has been, who touched it, who paid for it, where it is going, who was on the ship or truck with it-is more likely to iden­tify a real risk than is attempting to ascertain what is in every container. An average of 2.7 shipments is in each container, yet a shipment can also be 60 containers of identical goods shipped in one transaction by a single party.

    Tracking transactions associated with ship­ments across the supply chain from the initial order in the U.S. to loading it into the container and through all subsequent handoffs would benefit from a uniform process and unique party-based tracking code. The Food and Drug Administration already requires parties associ­ated with the manufacture of food and drugs shipped to the United States to have unique identifiers by which the process can be traced backward to origins. This is a program that could certainly be implemented globally across the supply chain, although it would require international agency agreements and pressure from the U.S. government.

    In many respects, the best way for the govern­ment to obtain better and more accurate data more quickly and easily is for it to state clearly what it needs, establish penalties for noncompli­ance, and let the private sector figure out how to do the job. To date, conversations have consisted largely of the government asking "What can you give me?" and the private sector replying, "What do you want?" Assigning the requirement for data brokering to trade middlemen could be an important step in pulling together more com­plete and useful transaction information.
  • Separate the intelligence and compliance functions of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and combine intelligence and data col­lection in a single, focused authority at a high level elsewhere in the DHS.One important obstacle to sharing information is the private sector's concern over "compliance friction." The CBP is responsible for information gathering and analysis and enforcing compliance with tax and trade laws. These vastly different responsibilities complicate the challenge of developing a candid partnership with the private sector. Intelligence functions should be performed by a separate agency within the DHS, and a firewall should be erected to separate it from compliance functions. Likewise, the maritime ISAC should be run by a private sector entity, not by the Coast Guard. In addition, the Maritime Sector Coordinating Council, a public-private group that is supposed to coordinate policy issues, should play a more active role in developing guidelines to ensure effective information sharing.
  • Build on the contingency plans and capabili­ties developed by the private sector. In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the Federal Aviation Administration halted all civil­ian aviation. In the aftermath of a maritime attack, similar concerns are likely to halt both U.S. and, to a significant degree, global mari­time traffic. In this event, mechanisms to rap­idly reestablish public confidence in the supply chain and resume the flow of commerce to minimize economic disruption will be vital. Sufficient information-sharing and tactical and analytical capabilities that close the gap between public-sector and private-sector needs and operational requirements must be devel­oped rapidly to guard against this contingency. The Maritime Transportation Security Act requires the government to establish programs to evaluate and certify secure systems of inter­modal transportation. It does not, however, direct that these programs be conceived or implemented by the federal government. To reduce risk and exploit the market's capacity to find innovative and effective solutions, the DHS should establish mechanisms that move the private sector to develop and share contingen­cies for voluntary measures that might be taken in the event of an incident to ensure the safe continuity of operations and to minimize the need to close ports or disrupt trade.
  • Require the Department of Defense and the DHS to sponsor joint operations and intelli­gence fusion centers. Having better data for risk assessments is not enough. The Department of Homeland Security and its partners need to improve their capability to act on the informa­tion.Congress should require that all U.S. sea­ports establish intelligence and information-sharing fusion centers (Joint Operations Centers) at either the port or regional level, similar to the pilot-project Seahawk at the port of Charleston and the joint harbor operations centers in Nor­folk and San Diego. These centers should be civilian-led and funded equitably and jointly by all of the public and private stakeholders at each port. Each of these centers would establish infor­mation-sharing capabilities with the appropriate federal security agency.
  • Require that freight forwarders and other middlemen who move goods be trained in supply-chain security measures and require each such company to have at least one indi­vidual with a commercial security clearance who could interact with the U.S. government during an incident. Licensing, background checks, standards of conduct, and auditing of freight forwarders will ensure better coopera­tion in getting data, more accurate data, and greater surety in their activities. These and other middlemen should be treated as skilled, trusted deputies in the security process.

Enabler #3: Enhancing International Cooperation

Almost nothing can be accomplished to make the seas safer without international support, stan­dardization, and joint effort.


Federal agencies have disparate programs to assist countries in enhancing their maritime security. Various federal agencies conduct port and security assistance programs overseas, and there is often little requirement that the programs be syn­chronized or integrated. The Department of Home­land Security provides inadequate leadership in international trade security affairs. Congress has yet to create an Under Secretary for Policy to lead in this area, and the department does not have effec­tive and integrated international operations.

In addition, the United States lacks an integrated, interagency approach to addressing regional issues, including many maritime security challenges. The Pentagon has a Unified Command Plan (UCP), which establishes regional military commands, but the current UCP, like previous ones, focuses prima­rily on planning military operations. As a result, cooperation between the Pentagon and other federal agencies and nongovernmental organizations on regional security operations has been inadequate.[6]

Much if not most of the data, information, and intelligence needed for MDA initiatives is owned by nongovernmental, non-U.S. entities. While many foreign countries have already taken stock of their own maritime security needs and, in some cases, have arrived at programs and procedures that are different from what the United States plans, continued U.S. leadership is necessary to coordi­nate efforts. Once plans are in place, they become hard to change.


James Carafano
James Carafano

Senior Counselor to the President and E.W. Richardson Fellow

Martin Andersen

Visiting Fellow