“The Forgotten Threat,” by Captain Jim Howe, USCG (retired)

The US Naval Institute, October 2010 issue, is their “Homeland Security” Issue.  There is not as much “Homeland Security” as you might expect. (There is a Eurofighter Typhoon on the cover.) It does includes articles on dealing with the threat of cross border violence from Drug Cartels and bio-terrorism, but clearly the article with the most Coast Guard implications is “The Forgotten Threat,By Captain Jim Howe, U.S. Coast Guard (Retired), that talks about the threat presented by terrorist attacks using vessels of less than 300 tons.

It outlines the problem and raises a lot of questions, but “it’s complicated.” Basically the thrust is that we have failed to plan. He’s probably right.

“Disappointingly, the resulting “Small Vessel Security Strategy” issued in April 2008 was little more than a skeleton, listing fundamental principles, cataloging a number of existing programs, and containing almost no detail on how potential threats would be addressed. Independent oversight bodies panned the report: DHS’s own inspector general said the agency “has not provided a comprehensive strategy for addressing small vessel threats.”1 Even more troubling, the follow-on implementation plan—arguably the most important piece of the notional strategy—languishes. As this issue went to press it had yet to emerge from the federal bureaucracy. There is, then, no road map to address terrorists’ potential use of small vessels.”

Clearly the Coast Guard is the number one stake holder–should I say bag holder.

What do we do about this is? In the spirit of “completed staff work,” draft a plan and provide it to the Department (this clearly puts the ball in their court). Clearly we have already done some of this. Otherwise we could not have come up with performance criteria.

Yes, some potential targets are impossible to protect. Some responsibility should go to other military services, state and local authorities, and to the owners of shore side facilities. We need to lay out our position. No, it won’t have force until its chewed over by all the interested parties and signed, but looks like someone needs to get it started and there is no one who has more interest in getting these questions on the table than the Coast Guard. That we need to resolve these issues in order to plan our procurement and force allocation should be obvious.

If Captain Howe is wrong and we have planned this out, I hope someone will correct the mistaken impression.

I’d like the headline to read “Coast Guard Foils Terrorist Attack” instead of …

And why weren’t there more articles with a Coast Guard flavor? Maybe we need to think and write more about our role in the department.