United States Department of Debate
Washington, D.C. 20500
September 6, 2005
To: President George W. Bush
From: Stephen Flynn
Subject: U.S. Port Security and the GWOT
We have a serious national security vulnerability within the broad framework of the Global War on Terror. This memorandum outlines that vulnerability succinctly, and proposes seven specific steps you can take immediately to remedy it.
The harbor shared by Los Angeles and its neighbor Long Beach is arguably America’s most important seaport. Its marine terminals handle more than 40 percent of all the ocean-borne containers shipped to the United States. Its refineries receive daily crude oil shipments and produce one-quarter of the gasoline, diesel and other petroleum products that are consumed west of the Rocky Mountains. It is a major port of call for the $25 billion ocean cruise industry. Just three bridges handle all the truck and train traffic to and from Terminal Island, where most of the port facilities are concentrated. In short, it is a tempting target for any adversary intent on bringing its battle to the U.S. homeland.
Yet no one in the Pentagon sees it as his job to protect Los Angeles and the nation’s other busiest commercial seaports from terrorist attacks. Oakland, Seattle, Newark, Charleston, Miami, Houston and New Orleans are America’s economic lifelines to the world, but the U.S. Department of Defense does not view them as national security priorities. These ports do not deploy the navy ships, troops, munitions and supplies needed for overseas combat operations. Lacking such “defense critical infrastructure”, DoD has decided that the responsibility for safeguarding them is not its job.
It is the Department of Homeland Security that should be assuring that there is credible security along America’s long-neglected waterfront. But the new Department lacks both the resources and the White House mandate to undertake this critical mission. This is because the Office of Management and Budget sees port security as primarily the responsibility of state and local governments and the private companies that operate marine facilities. The 2002 National Homeland Security Strategy sets forth principles to guide federal outlays for homeland security, maintaining that all levels of government must “work cooperatively to shoulder the cost of homeland security.” It also hands much of the tab for protecting critical infrastructure to the private sector. “The [federal] government should only address those activities that the market does not adequately provide–for example, national defense or border security. . . . For other aspects of homeland security, sufficient incentives exist in the private market to supply protection.”
So when it comes to port security, the buck stops somewhere outside Washington, DC. Since seaports in the United States are locally run operations where port authorities typically play the role of landlord, issuing long-term leases to private companies, it falls largely to those companies to provide for the security of the property they lease.
In the case of Los Angeles, this translates to the security for 7,500 acres of facilities that run along 49 miles of waterfront being provided for by minimum-wage private security guards and a tiny port police force of under 100 officers. The situation in Long Beach is even worse, with only 12 full-time police officers assigned to its 3,000 acres of facilities and a small cadre of private guards provided by the port authority and its tenants. The command and control equipment to support a new joint operations center for the few local, state and federal law enforcement authorities that are assigned to the port will not be in place until 2008. In the four years since September 11, 2001, the two cities have received only $40 million in federal grants to improve the port’s physical security measures. That amount is equivalent to what American taxpayers spend every day on domestic airport security, or every few hours on military operations and reconstruction in Iraq.
But the fallout from a terrorist attack on any one of the nation’s major commercial seaports would hardly be a local matter. For instance, should al-Qaeda or one of its imitator organizations succeed in sinking a large ship in the Long Beach channel, auto-dependent southern California will literally run out of gas within two weeks. This is because U.S petroleum refineries are operating at full throttle and their products are consumed almost as quickly as they are made. If crude oil shipments stop, so do the refineries.
The nation’s manufacturing and retailing sectors depend on “just-in-time” logistics. Their warehouses are the millions of 40-foot cargo containers that move around the planet on trucks, trains and ships. If that circulation is disrupted, assembly plants go idle and store shelves go bare almost immediately. When a labor-management dispute led to a 10-day lock out of longshoremen on the West Coast in October 2002, U.S. businesses quickly racked up billions of dollars in losses.
In light of these realities, U.S. Navy deployments are not in balance. While the Navy owns all the federal government’s marine salvage capabilities, it has no salvage ship stationed on the West Coast–the nearest is located in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. If the threat to shipping came from some relatively low-tech underwater mines, as happened in the Red Sea in 1984 and in the Persian Gulf in 1990, it would take the Navy up to 30 days to get one of its few minesweepers to the Pacific Coast. They would have to sail from their homeport of Corpus Christi and steam through the Panama Canal to complete the voyage.
The limited exceptions to the general lack of port security rule are San Diego and Norfolk, Virginia, which are homeports for much of the Navy’s fleet. There the Defense Department has financed substantial security upgrades, including underwater detection of swimmers, a state-of-the-art closed circuit TV system, and a joint operations center.
This is crazy. We should have learned from the 9/11 attacks and the more recent July 2005 bombings of the London Underground that we cannot count on forever keeping the threat of catastrophic terrorism at arm’s length. There are limits to what our military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan can achieve, and our current intelligence capabilities are not yet up to snuff when it comes to this new adversary. It is reckless to rely on a strategy that depends so much on “taking the battle to the enemy.”
When it comes to protecting the critical infrastructure concentrated in our seaports, the firewall that the national security establishment has so diligently erected and preserved needs to be torn down. There are seven things that must be done right away.
First, over the next 18 months, the Department of Defense must work closely with the U.S. Coast Guard, now part of the Department of Homeland Security, and with local authorities in organizing and participating in exercises that involve simulated attacks on the nation’s largest commercial seaports. The aim of this training should not be to prevent every terrorist act; that is unrealistic. Instead, training should focus on identifying what is required to quickly restore the operations of the port in the aftermath of a successful attack. These exercises and planning efforts must be a joint DoD-DHS effort. The reality is that DHS responsibility is not yet matched by an adequate resource base, and only DoD has the physical assets needed to address this vulnerability.
Second, DoD needs to take the lead on funding and setting up joint operations centers in all of our major ports: to outfit them with advanced information and communications technology that supports surveillance and data sharing; and to provide the necessary training to the local, state and federal agency participants. The resources and skill sets to accomplish this are concentrated within the national security community. It would be too costly and time consuming to try to develop these capabilities without the support of the military. This should be completed by 2007.
Third, as Commander-in-Chief, you can order the Navy to reposition one of its two salvage ships in Norfolk to the West Coast and take the lead in drawing up commercial salvage contracts to support domestic harbor clearance. Over the next five years, the Navy should double its salvage fleet from four vessels to eight, and base two of them on the West Coast, two on the Gulf Coast, and two on the East Coast. The remaining two can be deployed overseas to support Navy operations.
Fourth, the Navy needs to construct and deploy two new minesweepers to the West Coast. In the interim, the existing fleet should be used to complete bottom surveys of all the major U.S. commercial seaports. This baseline information is indispensable in quickly spotting mines should an adversary deploy them. Without it, the centuries of junk at the bottom of most harbors has to be examined by divers to determine if it poses a risk. This examination could take many weeks or even months, and that is unacceptable.
Fifth, you must double to $1.5 billion annual funding for the Coast Guard so that it can replace its ancient fleet of vessels and aircraft, and bring its command and control capabilities into the 21st century. Many of its cutters, helicopters and planes are operating long beyond their anticipated service life and routinely experience major casualties. Under the current delivery schedule, it will be 25 years before the Coast Guard has the kind of assets it needs today to perform its mission. This, too, is unacceptable.
Sixth, you must persuade Congress to authorize the reallocation of all the duties and fees that are collected in seaports to go back into those ports to support security upgrades and infrastructure improvements. Currently, ports are the only transportation sector where the federal government is parasitic. That is, unlike airports and highways, the federal treasury takes more money away than it returns. According to the Coast Guard, seaports need to invest upwards of $5 billion to put in place minimal access control and physical security measures. Neither the ports nor the municipalities nor the states in which these ports are located have those kinds of resources.
Finally, you should order the Executive Branch of the U.S. government to develop a national port plan that takes into account long-term trade and security trends. Relying on a patchwork quilt of locally-based decisions for managing this critical infrastructure is just not acceptable.
As our dependence on global trade grows and the catastrophic terrorist threat persists, we must acknowledge that our commercial seaports are critical national security assets. As such, we must work to ensure that they possess adequate capacity, redundancy and resiliency to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
CC: OVP, NSA, SECDEF, SECSTATE, SECDHS, DCI.