A Review of the Small Vessel Security Content of GAO-11-140R Questions for the Record October 22, 2010
In this series on questions posed to the Government Accountability Office, the questions concerning small vessel security addressed the following issues:
• Are transponders a viable solution to the SVS threat?
• How do transponders compare to the “block watch” solution?
• Is it cost-effective to try to track small vessels?
The discussion began with a review of actions in place to mitigate the SV threat, which includes: the development of the Small Vessel Security Strategy, community outreach efforts through the America’s Waterway Watch (AWW) program and Operation Focused Lens, individual port-level vessel tracking efforts with radars and cameras, individual port-scale nuclear detection pilot projects, establishment of security zones in U.S. ports and waterways, escorts of possible targets of waterborne improvised explosive devices, and use of aircraft and other technology by USCG and CBP in international waters.
Concerning the use of transponders, the document states that “ the expansion of vessel tracking to all small vessels—through transponders or other methods—may be of limited utility because of the large number of small vessels, the difficulty identifying threatening actions, the challenges associated with getting resources on scene in time to prevent an attack once it has been identified, and the limitations of certain equipment.” Even if all small vessels are identified and tracked, the problem is determining intent and then initiating response in a timely fashion. The document states that risk-based decision-making is a more feasible approach to mitigating the threat.
The GAO supports a “blended” approach, advocating a risk-based decision-making mitigation approach supported by intelligence-gathering efforts at the port level, such as AWW and Operation Focused Lens. Risk-based decision-making will allow limited resources to be focused an areas of greatest risk.
The document also addresses the seriousness of the SV threat, stating, “The primary consequence of a terrorist incident (as well as other transportation security incidents) arising from the use of a small vessel could be devastating for the U.S. economy if it damaged critical infrastructure or resulted in closure of a port.“
One additional source for intelligence gathering and threat mitigation that is not addressed in the document (because it is not raised in the questions posed by the Senators) is the Area Maritime Security Committee.
§ 103.310 Responsibilities of the Area Maritime Security (AMS) Committee.
(a) The AMS Committee shall:
(1) Identify critical port infrastructure and operations;
(2) Identify risks (threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences);
(3) Determine mitigation strategies and implementation methods;
(4) Develop and describe the process to continually evaluate overall port security by considering consequences and vulnerabilities, how they may change over time, and what additional mitigation strategies can be applied; and
(5) Provide advice to, and assist the COTP in, developing the AMS Plan.
(b) The AMS Committee shall also serve as a link for communicating threats and changes in MARSEC Levels, and disseminating appropriate security information to port stakeholders.
The plan that is the result of the collaboration between the USCG and the AMSC is founded on a risk-based assessment that includes a threat assessment that identifies and evaluates each potential threat on the basis of various factors, including capability and intention, and a consequence and vulnerability assessment for each target/scenario combination. Small vessel security threat mitigation becomes an AMSP responsibility because the plan should include measures to prevent the introduction of dangerous substances and devices into designated restricted areas within the port as well as measures to prevent unauthorized access to designated restricted areas within the port. Many ports have considered exercise scenarios in which small vessels have posed big problems that resulted in the introduction of dangerous substances and devices and an alarming time at MARSEC 3.