Successfully combating maritime terrorism within a U.S. port requires a coordinated effort among federal, state, local, and private-sector security forces. To coordinate the multi-force effort required involves extensive joint planning, well ahead of time, between and among the numerous stakeholders involved. In accordance with guidelines mandated in the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) of 2002, it is the responsibility of the Coast Guard’s Captains of the Port (COTPs), serving as Federal Maritime Security Coordinators, to facilitate such planning.

The same Act also requires the preparation and implementation of specific facility and vessel security plans, as well as broadly based Area Maritime Security Plans, as the principal instruments to be used in developing a comprehensive, multi-force/multi-layer security blueprint to upgrade the safety of U.S. ports. All such plans not only must be approved by the Coast Guard but also have to be updated regularly, according to the MTSA. As the next updates come due, the service’s COTPs are employing proven planning processes to ensure that the newest versions of the plans effectively reduce the risks posed to specific ports by the threat of maritime terrorism.

Before any plans for combating maritime terrorism can be written, much less implemented, however, a painstaking analysis must first be carried out. Planners must complete a comprehensive systems analysis of their facilities, vessels, and/or infrastructure facilities identifying critical nodes (i.e., persons, places, or things) related to or significantly involved in public safety, port operations, economics, and environmental protection. At the port level, the primary goal is to identify various “centers of gravity” in and/or affecting the specific port for which an area security plan is being written. Most if not quite all centers of gravity are high-consequence nodes the destruction of which would result in both a significant loss of life and a crippling of the port’s ability to function.

Critical linkages such as transportation systems that support the critical nodes also must be identified. This part of the analysis requires full participation from all stakeholders in the entire port community to develop a comprehensive understanding of what is, in even a best-case scenario, an extremely complex system.

A View from the Viper’s Nest

A particularly challenging element of the systems-analysis process is the need to develop it not only from the perspective of the numerous stakeholders involved, but also from the perspective of a potential terrorist. This is another way of saying that what seems to be important from a government (federal, state, or local) or private-sector perspective may not be nearly as important from a terrorist’s point of view. COTP planners and port stakeholders must therefore try to understand terrorist goals and objectives, particularly the results that terrorists are seeking to achieve through an attack on a U.S. port. Obviously, developing the terrorists’ perspective will (or should) help identify the most likely terrorist targets within or in the vicinity of a specific port.

The next step in the analysis should be to assess various vulnerabilities associated with the centers of gravity that have been identified. This separate “vulnerability assessment” should be based on the best information currently available on terrorist methods and capabilities, both at the present time and for the foreseeable future – i.e., the period before the next planning update is scheduled. The primary goal in this step of the planning cycle is to identify the most plausible attack scenarios likely to be encountered. Planners should use this information to determine not only the most probable methods of attack but also the potential consequences of a successful attack.

After planners have identified the local centers of gravity – i.e., the specific targets most likely to be attacked, and how (and perhaps when) an attack is likely to be carried out – the next step is to determine how best to protect the port. The security actions required can take many forms, of course, carried out at many levels. At the facility level, for example, owners/operators might modify their operational processes to reduce the potential consequences of an attack, institute security measures to protect critical infrastructure, and both develop and implement a broad spectrum of similar measures.

At the port level, local, state, and federal law-enforcement and security agencies can carry out coordinated direct-security operations to defeat attacks and to minimize adverse consequences after an attack has been launched. Of undoubtedly greater importance, though, they can initiate a broad spectrum of defensive policies and operations designed to prevent terrorists from mounting an attack in the first place.

Prevention Is the First Priority; Recovery Comes Next

To conduct effective preventive operations, however, planners first have to identify the critical capabilities that terrorists must possess to carry out a successful attack. To conduct a suicide-boat attack, to cite but one plausible example, a terrorist group probably would need not only trained people and relatively fast and maneuverable boats, but also a dependable fuel supply, explosives, a safe base of operations, intelligence information, and other tangible assets of various types. Local security forces seeking to prevent a terrorist attack, therefore, would have to conduct operations designed to keep a terrorist group from assembling and/or exercising these critical capabilities and assets.

This is, in fact, the essence of maritime domain awareness – i.e., the deployment of trained personnel, equipment, and sensors in such ways that any attempt by terrorists to organize an attack would be detected ahead of time, and defeated before it could start. Stopping attacks before they can be organized, rather than “defeating” an attack after it has been launched, must therefore be the principal focus of port security forces.

As the next phase of facility, vessel, and/or port-level security plans are developed, the Coast Guard’s Captains of the Port are pursuing an all-inclusive approach to ensure full participation from all port-security stakeholders. The COTPs and other planners must ensure they have a comprehensive understanding of their port – not only as a system, but also both its centers of gravity and its vulnerabilities. They then would have to develop an expert understanding of the enemy: his goals, capabilities, and methods of operation. Armed with this information, they will be able to develop and disseminate a unified plan for defeating attacks – or, more importantly, preventing terrorist attacks from being launched. The keys are a close and continuing partnership between and among the numerous agencies and stakeholders involved, and detailed in-depth knowledge of not only the port itself but also its potential enemies.

The views expressed herein are those of the authors and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the USCG Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Christopher Doane

Christopher Doane and Dr. Joseph DiRenzo III are retired Coast Guard officers and visiting fellows at the Joint Forces Staff College. Both of them have written extensively on maritime security issues. Any opinions expressed in the preceding article represent their own views and are not necessarily the official views of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Joseph DiRenzo III

Dr. Joseph DiRenzo III is a retired Coast Guard officer. He's visiting fellows at the Joint Forces Staff College. He has written extensively on maritime security issues. Any opinions expressed in the preceding article represent their own views and are not necessarily the official views of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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