Thursday, April 08, 2004

Iraq Hawks Down
Is Fallujah Iraq's Mogadishu?

Pentagon officials view Wednesday's horror in Fallujah as the Iraq war's Mogadishu incident: a disaster that may be a turning point for American policy. We will not flee, as we did in Somalia, but Fallujah should teach even the administration's most die-hard optimists that the mission is deeper and muddier than they'd imagined, that the country they have conquered is far uglier and far less pliant than they hoped, and that a new course of policy is necessary if we want to sustain the occupation.

Many are wondering how President Bush will retaliate for the brutal slayings of the four American contractors who were shot, beaten, dismembered, dragged down the street, and strung up on bridge poles. The universal feeling is that some response is necessary to let the insurgents know they can't get away with this. The question is what kind of response?

Do we know who the killers are? Do we know, more broadly, who the insurgency's leaders are, where they hang out, or what they value (and, therefore, what they would regret losing)? Probably not. It is unlikely that U.S. intelligence has any sources in Fallujah. By all accounts, the elation of the Fallujah crowds—as clearly and alarmingly seen on videotape—reflects a widespread anti-Americanism.

So, what do we do? Bomb the place till the rubble bounces? The U.S. Air Force briefly tried this approach last November with Operation Iron Hammer, in which we bombed buildings that the insurgents had been using, to no effect. The Israelis have been raining missiles and bombs on their own local terrorists for years, also to no effect. The danger of massive bombardment is that it kills the wrong people, angers their friends and relatives, and sires new insurgents as a result.

Do we cordon off Fallujah? To what end? To keep terrorists from entering? That assumes that the insurgents come from elsewhere, when most of them seem to be natives. Fallujah has long been the hot point of the Sunni Triangle, a stronghold of pro-Saddam sentiment. At least since last April, when U.S. soldiers killed 15 Fallujah residents in a demonstration, the city has been bitterly, hatefully anti-American. Besides, we don't have enough troops to close off the borders.

Do we send in more troops to "pacify" the Sunni Triangle? From where? As several Army generals warned before this war started (prompting ridicule and, in one case, the dismissal of the truth-telling commander), Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's battle plan did not provide enough troops. As it turned out, there were enough troops to defeat the Iraqi army and occupy Baghdad—but not enough to accomplish the war's strategic goals. One year later, American forces are stretched thin throughout Iraq, throughout the world for that matter. (Check these grim numbers on the Web site.)

The proof of a troop shortfall is the very presence of the four dead contractors—retired special operations officers (three Navy SEALs and one veteran of the Army's Delta Force) who went to work for a private firm called Blackwater Security Consulting, which had been contracted to provide protection for food convoys into Fallujah. That's what it's come down to: U.S. troops are so stretched, the Pentagon has to pay private contractors, at much higher pay scales, to do what soldiers and Marines normally do.

Paul Bremer, chief of the Coalition Provisional Authority, said of the murdered contractors, "Their deaths will not go unpunished." Maj. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, spokesman for the U.S. military command in Iraq, said today there will be a military response. "We will not rush in to make things worse," he said, wisely. But he added, the response, when it comes, will be "deliberate, it will be precise, it will be overwhelming." If Bush officials can devise a response that can be all that—without inflaming and enlarging the ranks of insurgents in the process—they will prove themselves more agile than they've otherwise shown the past year.

If there is a way to deal with the insurgents, it will be fundamentally political—and it will have to take shape in the next few months. Two things are necessary. First, the occupying "coalition" must be broadened, and the occupation authority must be turned over to some international body. The Bush administration seems to realize this—hence Bremer's recent urgent calls for the United Nations to mediate internal disputes in Iraq. Will an international organization—the U.N., NATO, the Arab League, or whatever—be more effective than the U.S.-led CPA? Maybe, maybe not. But it would be more legitimate.

Second, somebody—the U.S., the U.N.—must devise a policy toward the Sunnis. It doesn't much matter whether the insurgents are local Baathists or foreign terrorists. The key thing is that vast majorities in the Sunni Triangle are so bitter about the occupation, and about their perceived place in the new Iraqi order, that they are willing, even happy, to give the insurgents refuge. Juan Cole, a specialist in Iraqi politics at the University of Michigan, makes the point eloquently in his excellent blog today:

[T]he guerrilla violence will continue for years, since it has a firm class base in the Sunni Arab rentiers who had benefited from Sunni dominance in the Baath and to whom the best jobs, infrastructure and most power had been thrown. They are not going to be quietly reduced to a small, powerless, and much less wealthy minority… [They] have to be convinced that they are not playing a zero-sum game…where…if your rivals get a bigger piece of the pie, then your piece will inevitably shrink... The Iraqi economy has the potential to expand greatly. So the pie won't stay the same size, and Shiites could get richer without robbing the Sunni Arabs. Likewise, in a parliamentary system, the Sunni Arabs could make coalitions with Kurd and moderate Shiites in such a way as to be a key player and to retain a great deal of political power and to forestall the radical Shiites from taking over… Unless the Sunni Arabs are drawn into parliamentary politics and convinced that the new game is not a zero-sum game, the bombs will continue to go off.
Fred Kaplan writes the "War Stories" column for Slate.

Good Morning Tehran!

Hazardous Seas
Maritime Sector Vulnerable to Devastating Terrorist Attacks

The recent attacks on the USS Cole (DDG-67) and the French supertanker MV Limburg offer a stark illustration of terrorist interest in maritime targets. U.S. intelligence officials have identified between 12 and 300 ships possibly owned and/or operated by al Qaeda. Upon his capture, the alleged al Qaeda mastermind behind the USS Cole attack, Abdul Rahim Mohammed Hussein Abda Al-Nasheri, reportedly confessed to planning future attacks against U.S. and British warships in the Straits of Gibraltar. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence agencies have described an increase in terrorist “chatter” regarding ships, port facilities, bridges, and SCUBA diving, reported

In its October 2003 terrorism report, London-based security consultants Aegis Defence Service (ADS) warned of the growing threat posed by the partnership between maritime piracy and marine terrorism.

If an explicit alliance between piracy and terrorism exists, as ADS and other intelligence officials believe, then the hijacking of merchant vessels at sea suddenly presents a daunting and multi-layered threat to global security and trade well beyond the “simple” threat of merchant piracy.

The nexus between piracy and terrorism affords terrorist groups a lucrative cash flow, access to deadly cargoes, and a means to launch spectacular attacks with the potential to wreak havoc on the global economy.

Rampant Piracy in Modern Times
In 2000, the Annual Piracy Report published by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) cited more than 460 reported acts of maritime piracy - a 56 percent increase from the previous year. The majority of these attacks occurred in areas known to host terrorist groups including Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Bab al Mandab straits located at the mouth of the Red Sea. The Bab al Mandab region, along the coasts of Yemen, Somalia, and Djibouti, has experienced a 155 percent increase in maritime piracy incidents since 1998, according to a RAND Corporation study by Peter Chalk. Little government regulation, the near absence of effective naval policing capabilities, and the necessary adherence of merchant vessels to established international sea-lanes, provide a favorable environment for terrorists and pirates to operate in.

The IMB report warned that merchant vessels are most vulnerable in coastal areas while anchored outside port facilities or traversing navigation channels and coastal waterways at slow speeds. Ironically, these littoral areas are the easiest to protect since many countries ravaged by pirates primarily maintain shallow water navies. Still, many foreign governments are unable to compete with the well-equipped pirates, who typically make use of state-of-the-art speedboats, automatic weapons, and sophisticated communication gear.

Piracy is a Lucrative Sideline for Terror Groups
Maritime piracy is attractive to terrorist groups because merchant vessels and their cargos afford an easy and highly profitable source of funding, one that skirts existing international efforts to freeze terrorist finances. Consider the hijacking of the merchant ship Juliana off the coast of Indonesia in August 2000 with a cargo of 1,993 tons of steel sheets, worth approximately $50 million. The Juliana eluded authorities for months with false names, forged registrations, and new paintjobs. The ship was recovered only when the pirate crew dramatically undervalued the cargo while passing through customs off Thailand’s Ko Si Chang Island to unload the freight to a buyer. Some experts, including Sam Vaknin - author of Treasure Island Revisited - On Maritime Piracy, (United Press International, 2002) estimate the total dollar value of cargo lost per hijacked ship is between $8 million and $200 million.

Crewmembers and the merchant vessels themselves are another source of profit. Ransom money, paid for the release of merchant crews, averages $350,000-$500,000 while hijacked ships, which are usually repainted, renamed and re-flagged, become “ghost ships.”

“Ghost ships” have become pandemic. In some countries, up to 80 percent of maritime certificates were found to be fraudulent or questionable, according to a November 17, 2003 report by The Straits Times. Poor government intervention, corrupt customs officials, and weak shore-side surveillance and intelligence capabilities contribute to the anarchy of the maritime environment.

Deadly Cargo in Evil Hands
In April 1998, pirates seized the Petro Ranger, a Malaysian-registered merchant vessel loaded with 9,600 tons of diesel petroleum and 1,200 tons of A-1 jet fuel, outside Singapore. The pirates, using a gallon of paint, renamed the ship Wilby and re-flagged her under Honduran colors. Two other ships met the Wilby at sea and siphoned-off half of the estimated $2.3 million dollars worth of fuel. The Wilby then made way for the Chinese port of Hankow, where the pirates hoped to replace the forged Petro Ranger registration for a new registration under the Wilby name. A new and legitimate registration would allow the pirates to sell the ship, which was insured at a value of $16 million. Chinese customs agents, who boarded the ship in the harbor, fell victim to the forged paperwork and the pirate’s charade as the legitimate crew. Just as the Chinese customs agents were about to issue a new registration, the real crew made a daring dash for the bridge and alerted the Chinese authorities that the pirates had hijacked the vessel. The Wilby was returned to its Australian owner shortly afterwards but the Chinese government kept the remaining $1.2 million worth of jet fuel.

The Wilby incident offers a stark illustration of the absence of government regulation and enforcement agencies found in many maritime regions of the world. But while hijacked cargo can be a profitable commodity for terrorists, many merchant vessels transport far more ominous shipments. Bomb making chemicals, nuclear materials, and entire production lines for manufacturing ballistic missiles have been seized in recent years. Alarmingly, the majority of these interdictions were not due to the efforts of vigilant foreign customs officials but the result of “anonymous tips.” The terrorist acquisition of any one of these vessels or cargos would substantially increase their capabilities.

On June 22, Greek authorities intercepted the Baltic Sky, a merchant vessel fictitiously registered under the Comoro Islands. The ship was loaded with 750 tons of ammonium nitrate-based explosives known as ANFO as well as a reported 8,000 detonators. ANFO is primarily used in the mining and construction industry. Greek authorities boarded the vessel after receiving an anonymous tip concerning the suspicious transit of the vessel into Greek waters.

It is not uncommon for merchant vessels to transport explosives, a major concern in and of itself. The large quantity found on the Baltic Sky, however, was “extremely rare” according to Greek Merchant Marine spokesman Panayotis Tsianos told CNN on June 12, 2003. The ANFO was taken onboard in Tunisia and destined for Sudan, according to the captain, Anatoliy Baltak. Upon further investigation by Greek officials, mounting inconsistencies surrounding the Baltic Sky began to surface including a nonexistent delivery address in Sudan for the entire load of explosives. Furthermore, Greek authorities could not understand the unusual detour the Baltic Sky took from freely navigable international waters to Greek territorial waters. Some officials suggested the owner of the vessel, identified as Cristian McNulty, an Irish citizen, detoured the ship through Greek waters in order to stall the delivery and extort the buyer for more money. Sudanese representatives continue to profess the Baltic Sky affair was a legitimate business transaction and are pressing for the release of the seized ANFO. The explosives used in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania were delivered to the al Qaeda operatives in a merchant ship much like the Baltic Sky.

Greek Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Anomeritis compared the explosive power of the cargo carried by the Baltic Sky as, “tantamount to the power of an atomic bomb.” By way of comparison, it took only three tons of the same chemical compound to devastate the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City in 1995. Terrorist acquisition of a ship carrying cargo similar to the Baltic Sky could have horrific consequences for port facilities, offshore oil platforms, cruise ships, and numerous other maritime targets.

Immediately following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino temporarily suspended shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG) into Boston Harbor. Long viewed by the community as an unprecedented hazard, 33 million gallons of LNG are delivered by a massive 930-foot tanker once a week. Shortly after September 11, 2001, national security officials recognized LNG shipments to Boston Harbor as a likely target for future terrorist attacks.

The arrival of LNG shipments at Boston Harbor triggers an elaborate security procession that includes maritime patrol boat escorts, helicopters, police divers, firefighting tugs, and the closing of the Tobin Bridge - the U.S. Route 1 commuting expressway, which LNG ships clear by less than 10 feet. In addition, Massachusetts State Police cruisers are placed strategically along the shore to watch for possible land-based missile attacks.

Despite the intricate security precautions, concerns regarding the vulnerability of LNG tankers and the potential for a terrorist strike persist. Although a handful of other ports in the United States take delivery of liquefied natural gas via ship, Boston is especially vulnerable because it is the only such port located in a commercial or residential harbor.

According to James Fay, a leading LNG expert and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an explosive laden boat detonated next to or underneath an LNG ship - as in the case of both the USS Cole and the MV Limburg - would cause at least half of the onboard LNG to spill into the harbor creating a sea of searing fire hot enough to burn everything from buildings to people in a half-mile radius. “There’s no doubt that with a big enough bomb you can blow a hole in the side of a vessel and the cargo will burn,” Fay told the Associated Press on February 8, 2004. Within a distance of “a half-mile or so, you can get second-degree burns to exposed skin in about 30 seconds.” But officials from both the U.S. Coast Guard and the LNG industry dismiss Fay’s allegations as improbable and argue that the escorting firefighting tugboats nullify any danger of an uncontrollable fire. In addition, officials describe the double hull design of LNG vessels as far more difficult to breach than the single hull of the USS Cole. Moreover, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), LNG is non-explosive in a liquid state - the same condition in which LNG is transported on ships. Furthermore, according to the FERC website, LNG must be heated to a gaseous state to ignite and even then, “the gas is not explosive if it is unconfined.” However, the specific characteristics of Boston Harbor and previous LNG tragedies challenge many of these claims supporting the safety of LNG. Despite the double hull structure of LNG ships, they are still considered vulnerable to breaching as the terrorist attack against the double hulled oil supertanker MV Limburg and the subsequent release of 90,000 barrels of burning crude oil into the Gulf of Aden clearly demonstrated.

The FERC advertises LNG to be nonflammable in both a liquid form and unconfined in a gaseous state. The persistent concern that heat generated from an explosive charge and the ensuing fire could quickly transform LNG into a gaseous state is almost irrelevant. Simply releasing LNG from its cryogenic container creates a highly flammable vapor cloud such as the one released in a 1944 disaster that was certainly one of the most disasters involving this fuel.

In 1944, in Cleveland, Ohio, an LNG storage tank failed resulting in a massive spill. The gas formed a vapor cloud that flowed down nearby streets and seeped into the underground sewer system via street-level storm drains. Shortly thereafter, the gas ignited killing 128 people and caused millions of dollars in property destruction. Moreover, the vast area of underground sewer systems and street runoffs occupied by LNG as a result of the spill casts further doubt upon the FERC statement that LNG is “not explosive if it is unconfined.”

During a hearing addressing LNG safety and Boston Harbor held February 26, 2004, Fire Commissioner Paul A. Christian told the House Committee on Homeland Security and Federal Affairs that the Boston Fire Department was ill prepared and equipped to handle any LNG catastrophe. “We feel the risk is more than the Boston Fire Department could handle... we have a lot of serious and grave concerns.”

Concerns regarding LNG safety in Boston Harbor resurfaced when former National Coordinator for Counter Terrorism, Richard A. Clarke, alleges in his book, Against All Enemies, (Free Press, 2004), that upon investigation of the foiled 1999 “Millennium” plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport, FBI officials learned terrorists were infiltrating the United States onboard Boston-bound LNG tankers from Algeria. FBI officials have denied the validity of Clarke’s allegations claiming that much of Clarke’s testimony was based on preliminary intelligence given to him during the FBI’s then-ongoing FBI investigation in June 2000. Shortly afterward, the FBI concluded that none of the known Algerian stowaways had any connection to terrorist activity. Abdelghani Meskini, who entered the United States in 1995 onboard an Algerian tanker, however was later convicted for his alleged participation in the “Millennium” plot. FBI officials claim that no connection between al Qaeda and Meskini, who has cooperated with authorities and denies being a terrorist, could be established in 1995. Although Clarke’s allegations highlight the danger of terrorists entering the United States onboard Algerian LNG tankers, little has been mentioned regarding shipboard suicide bombers detonating the tanker’s volatile cargo as LNG ships pass through Boston.

But conventional explosive substances, like ANFO and LNG, are far from the most dangerous cargos merchant vessels transport. In 1999, two ships owned by British Nuclear Fuels, Ltd., the Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal, set sail for Japan with a cargo of radioactive mixed oxide (MOX) fuel rods. MOX is a combination of spent plutonium and uranium that is recombined to form a recycled fuel for nuclear power plants. Unlike merchant vessels, BNFL ships do take limited security precautions. Safety measures include bolting the armored vaults containing the MOX to the deck of the cargo hold. In addition, each vessel is armed with three deck-mounted 30 mm cannons and carries a 12-man security force equipped with small arms.

Both ships, however, traversed the ocean without an escorting naval vessel, and a 1999 Jane’s Foreign Report concluded that BNFL vessels were “capable of repelling only a lightly armed attack.” A June 12, 2002 BBC report concurred, highlighting a report by the Oxford Research Group that suggests “a second-year undergraduate could extract enough plutonium from MOX to make a crude nuclear bomb.” A hijacked shipment of MOX could be used to produce a catastrophic nuclear device and, even if it was not removed from the ship, a shaped-charge explosive could easily rupture the protective vaults in which the MOX is transported, creating a “dirty bomb.” Furthermore, an onboard fire could heat the nuclear fuel pellets to a state of oxidization creating a cloud of toxic smoke potentially threatening nearby communities and coastal population centers.

Amid alarming evidence of increasing shipments of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile technology over land, sea, and air routes, member nations of the new Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) have quietly begun conducting ship interdiction exercises in the Arabian Sea. North Korea, Syria, Pakistan, and Iran have been cited as countries increasingly under close watch. The PSI, comprised of 15 nations including Canada, Denmark, Norway, Singapore, Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the United States, was formed last year.

Missiles At Sea
December 9, 2002 saw the interception of the North Korean vessel So San as it was secretly transporting 15 Scud missiles to Yemen. The So San ship was boarded by the Spanish Navy at the request of U.S. intelligence officials and eventually released with its cargo after Yemen authorities pledged not to transfer the missiles to other countries. Under the PSI, a series of multi-national naval exercises are being carried out based on the type of mission that led to the interception of the So San.

North Korea continues to be a major concern with regards to nuclear related materials and ballistic missile technology. Pyongyang maintains a large merchant marine capability primarily used for smuggling drugs, counterfeit money, ballistic missile technology, and nuclear-related materials to support its failed economy. In 2003, Japanese authorities accused the North Korean vessels Man Gyong Bong and Namsan-3, both of which had entered Japanese ports, of conducting spy missions and “transporting nuclear-and missile-related parts.” Upon inspection of the Namsan-3, a secret compartment was discovered in the forward bulkhead but no suspicious cargo was found at the time.

In 1999, Indian officials discovered an entire ballistic missile factory onboard the North Korean freighter Kuwolsan. As in the case of the Baltic Sky, the discovery onboard the Kuwolsan was prompted by the fortuitous deviation from international waters to the territorial waters of another nation where ships are subject to searches. Unbeknownst to North Korean government officials, the captain of the Kuwolsan, looking to make money on the side, had picked up 14,000 tons of sugar in Thailand en route to the final destination. The Kuwolsan entered the port of Kandla, India, to offload the sugar after a deal to sell it to an Algerian company dissolved. Indian customs officials, acting on a tip, noticed misleading paperwork and a fictitious receiving company. A search of the cargo hold ensued and an unnamed Indian official described the discovery of, “an entire assembly line for missiles offered for sale” according to The Washington Post, August 14, 2003. The 200-ton cargo included everything from detailed blueprints for Scud-B and Scud-C missiles, heavy metal forming presses, toroidal air bottles used for warhead guidance, nose cone tips, and other missile manufacturing machinery. According to U.S. intelligence officials, the illicit cargo was bound for Libya.

North Korean ships may present the gravest maritime terrorism threat. It is not difficult to imagine terrorists specifically targeting North Korean ships as they sail through the terrorist and pirate-infested waters of Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand while en route to ports in southwest Asia, the Middle East and Europe. In 1997, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam terrorist group is suspected of specifically targeting the falsely Greek-registered Stillus Limassul - a freighter carrying more than 30,000 81mm mortar rounds - valued at over $3 million. Moreover, North Korean ships are more likely to be carrying illicit cargos including possible weapons of mass destruction, lucrative drug shipments, and missile related technologies. Finally, if a North Korean ship succumbed to a terrorist hijacking, it is unlikely that North Korean officials would either report the incident to the International Maritime Bureau or reveal the truth about the ship’s cargo.

Contributing to the danger of a pirate/terrorist link is the relatively poor security at U.S. and foreign port facilities. The United States, through such legislation as the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) of 2002, has begun taking concrete steps to bolster port security. However, many maritime facilities are struggling to comply with the strict new security measures. Speaking at the “Africa Oil and Gas Forum” held on January 6, 2004, Russell Whitmarsh, director of security for the Port of Houston, noted that port facilities have always been designed to facilitate the fast track pace of free flowing commerce. Until recently, little thought has ever been given to impediments to deter that process, including security measures.

Securing the Seas, Securing U.S. Ports
Of the 8,500 U.S.-flagged ships and 3,200 port facilities - including oil refineries, LNG depots, nuclear power plants, etc., identified by the United States Coast Guard as likely targets for a terrorist attack, 700 of those ships and 300 of those marine installations missed the deadline for submitting a security plan mandated by the MTSA. Moreover, the Coast Guard suspects that many of the plans are likely to be weak or inadequate, the Associated Press reported February 9, 2004.

Under American pressure, the United Nation’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted a parallel port security measure on a global scale. Foreign ports are expected to bolster counterterrorism efforts through the acquisition of computers, surveillance cameras, and increased security patrols, The New York Times reported, March 24, 2004. Like U.S. ports, overseas facilities are struggling to meet the July 1, 2004 deadline. Moreover, many nations feel the U.S. is passing the costs of American national security to other - and often much poorer - countries without financial assistance. Nations failing to meet these new regulations may be refused access to U.S. maritime facilities. According to the Times, if a vessel or any of the last 10 ports it visited prior to entering U.S. waters has not met the July 1 security protocols it will be denied entry into American harbors. Small countries like Honduras are racing to comply with the new regulations. Mauro Membreno, chief of Honduras’s new National Commission on Port Security, says if trade were cut off with the United States for even a week, “our national economy would collapse.” The U.S. is risking the collapse of the global economy by attempting to balance American national security with global trade, according to Stephen E. Flynn, a retired Coast Guard commander now at the Council on Foreign Relations. “If the United States locks down its ports for more than two weeks, the entire global trade system crashes,” he told The New York Times, March 24, 2004.

Testifying before Congress on June 3, 2003, Bethann Rooney, security chief of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, stated, “the Coast Guard estimate[s] that the cost of completing the recommended security improvements for facilities [to meet the first year deadline for the new security protocols mandated under the MTSA] would be $1.5 billion and $4.4 billion over a 10-year period. That breaks down to an initial, average cost of $1.4 million per facility. I would argue that those estimates are astonishingly low. My agency plans on spending more than that on fencing alone.” New York-area port facilities, responsible for handling13 percent of the nation’s imported and exported cargo - worth an estimated $90 billion - received only $8.8 million of the $179 million homeland security appropriation for the month of December 2003.

The Congressional Maritime Transportation Security Act identified 361 public ports in the United States, which handle 95 percent of American foreign trade. The top 50 ports account for 90 percent of all cargo container tonnage entering the United States. In 2001, some five million truck-size cargo containers entered the U.S. via the maritime shipping industry. Because of the tremendous volume, customs officials are able to inspect merely four percent of these containers.

In October 2001, Italian port officials discovered an Egyptian terrorist with suspected al Qaeda links inside a container onboard a merchant vessel. The freight container was complete with a bed, toilet, heater, water, laptop computer, mobile and satellite phone, and forged airplane mechanic security passes for restricted areas of several of the largest airports in the United States including JFK, LAX, and Chicago’s O’Hare International.

The following February, Italian authorities in the port of Trieste intercepted eight Pakistanis who had jumped ship from the Twillinger - a merchant vessel arriving from Cairo. According to U.S. and Italian officials, the Pakistanis were carrying large sums of cash and fraudulent identification documents. Officials later determined they were al Qaeda operatives.

The captain of another ship, the Sara, radioed Italian maritime authorities in August of the same year reporting that the ship’s owner had forced him to take 15 Pakistanis aboard in Morocco. Upon investigation, the Pakistanis were also found to be carrying large sums of money, phony documents, and detailed maps of Italian cities. Further evidence linked them to an al Qaeda cell in Europe, according to U.S. officials. They were charged in Italian courts of law with conspiracy to engage in terrorist activity.

In May 2002, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a warning to federal, state, and local law officials that, “twenty-five Islamic extremists” with suspected links to al Qaeda had entered the United States after arriving onboard merchant cargo ships in the ports of Savannah, Georgia; Long Beach, California and Miami, Florida. All those identified remain at large.

Three months earlier, in February 2002, the U.S. Customs Service announced the Container Security Initiative (CSI). Designed to pre-screen U.S. bound cargo containers in foreign ports, the CSI twice failed to detect depleted uranium smuggled into New York Harbor and the Port of Los Angeles six months later, noted by JINSA in "Nuclear Smuggling, A First Step to Nuclear Terrorism".

As part of an ABC News investigation into port security, a briefcase containing 15 pounds of depleted uranium (DU) inside a lead-lined pipe began a 25-day, seven-country journey to the port of New York on July 4, 2002. Although depleted uranium is considered harmless and is incapable of being used in a nuclear weapon, Dr. Thomas Cochran, a nuclear weapons expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council insists, “it is a perfect mockup, it replicates everything but the ability to explode.”

Traveling by rail across Hungry, Romania, Bulgaria, and into Turkey - where Turkish officials have intercepted more than 100 nuclear smuggling attempts in recent years - the depleted uranium was packaged into a cargo container bound for New York Harbor without question. The European route taken by the mock device was precisely the route authorities have identified as one used for nuclear smugglers transporting Russian materials out of the former Soviet Union.

In the early morning hours of July 29, the unidentified cargo ship entered New York harbor with the depleted uranium in its cargo hold. State-of-the-art X-ray machines and radiation detecting beepers - designed to detect trace amounts of radiation - screened the cargo container holding the DU, but both systems failed to discover the depleted uranium. Cochran said that if the depleted uranium had actually been weapons grade uranium and encased in a slightly thicker shielding, the radiation signature would have been identical to that of the DU.

Prior to the DU smuggling experiment by ABC News, customs inspector Kevin McCabe promoted the same hand-held radiation detecting beeper as capable of identifying trace amounts of shielded, low-level radiation during a visit by President George W. Bush to the Staten Island dock in New York. ABC News made no attempts at disguising the pipe of depleted uranium, yet the X-ray machine technicians failed to identify the unusually dense, pipe bomb-shaped device encased in the cargo container. “ If you didn’t detect this, you wouldn’t have detected... the real thing,” cautioned Dr. Cochran. “U.S. Customs absolutely... missed it.”

Aftermath: “A Religious Duty”
After customs officials assured national leaders that U.S. port facilities remained safe, ABC News repeated the exact same scenario on the West coast. The same DU was loaded onboard the Charlotte Maersk in Jakarta, Indonesia - a hotbed for terrorist activity. Packaged inside a cargo container at a furniture store, ABC News producer David Scott said, “It took only a few days to find a shipper willing to send a container to America with almost no questions asked.” The DU landed in the port of Los Angeles on Aug. 23 and although the cargo container was flagged for screening - because of its point-of-origin in Jakarta, neither radiation nor X-ray screeners detected the depleted uranium.

The consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton estimates a radiological bomb or “dirty bomb” detonated in a major U.S. port would require a minimum 12-day shutdown of the facility and cost the U.S. economy $58 billion. Cargo ships are the easiest way to import a nuclear device into the United States and al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden considered acquisition of such a weapon a “religious duty.” Arabic documents captured from one of bin Laden’s top aides reveal plans for smuggling high-grade radioactive materials into the United States encased in shipping containers of sesame seeds.

Currently, 60 percent of the world’s oil and 80 percent of the six billion tons of cargo traded annually travels in cargo ships that navigate some of the most vulnerable choke- points in the world. Cargo ships conducted more than 95 percent of America’s oversea trade in 2002. Many of these strategic chokepoints are narrow enough to be blocked by a single sunken freighter or tanker. Al Qaeda has expressed an interest in specifically attacking American dependence on foreign oil, “the umbilical cord and lifeline of the crusader community” as described by a note faxed to the Al Jazeera television network purportedly signed by Osama bin Laden after the MV Limburg attack.

Delayed Regulations Hinder U.S. Domestic Salvage Response
On February 21, 2004, a 178-foot re-supply ship, the Lee III, sank in the Southwest Pass entrance of the Port of New Orleans after colliding with another ship in heavy fog. The Port of New Orleans is a significant gateway to the global market for American goods and is considered one of the world’s busiest port complexes, accommodating more than 6,000 vessels annually. The Southwest Pass is the only channel in the Louisiana delta deep and wide enough to handle large oceangoing cargo and passenger ships traveling to the Port of New Orleans. This is the first time in 50 years that the Southwest Pass has been closed due to a ship collision, according to Gary LaGrange, Executive Director of the Port of New Orleans.

Of the estimated 100 ships stranded by the closure of the Southwest Pass, approximately nine were destined for the Port of New Orleans while the remaining vessels were destined for ports outside the Gulf of Mexico or further up the Mississippi. Early economic forecasts, strictly for the Port of New Orleans, estimate a $3 million dollar loss for every day the Southwest Pass was closed. If the remaining estimated 93 ships and their ports-of-call suffered similar economic consequences, the overall impact on the national economy was roughly a $30 million loss for every day the Southwest Pass was closed. Moreover, what escaped many was that the Lee III is a relatively small ship compared to the much larger vessels the Port of New Orleans normally entertains and the salvage of the Lee III was infinitely accelerated by the fact that Bisso Marine Company - the salvage company responsible for recovering the Lee III - is not only headquartered in New Orleans but maintains its giant barge-mounted salvage cranes there. Had a similar situation occurred elsewhere it would take several days for the cranes to reach the incident site.

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90), mandated after the Exxon Valdez catastrophe, has dramatically reduced the number of oil and hazardous waste spills in U.S. waters, but the Salvage and Marine Firefighting Regulations - first introduced under OPA 90, remain undefined by the U.S. Coast Guard. The repeated and indefinite delay - now spanning over a decade and several USCG administrations, in addressing these regulations is not only causing tremendous frustration within the commercial salvage industry - it is undermining the strength and capabilities of salvors responding to marine disasters and future acts of maritime terrorism. According to Dick Fredricks, Director of the American Salvage Association (ASA), “until the regulations are promulgated, the American salvage industry will not have the support that it needs in order to develop a stronger response capability - one appropriate to meet today’s needs for marine environmental protection as well as economic protection (à la the Lee III) and, perhaps even more important, today’s needs for maritime security response to a terrorist [attack]. The fact is, without the regulations, the salvage community... lacks appropriate support and... the lack of regulations has had a serious impact on the salvage capability in the U.S.”

In the event of a maritime terrorist attack, the utilization of the U.S. salvage industry is virtually guaranteed. But without additional funding, the salvage industry cannot assume the role of the national maritime terrorist attack responder. Referring to the much smaller 183-ton Lee III, ASA President Richard Fairbanks cautions, “people think that if a 100,000-ton ship is sunk in the Southwest Pass, Navy or Army Corps of Engineers will fix it - but they’re pretty lean and mean right now. Moreover, they usually contract out salvage operations. [But] these contractors can’t [afford to] just standby waiting [for an attack to occur].” In addition, private worldwide contracts do not guarantee the immediate availability of these commercial salvage assets in the event of a domestic attack. Unlike the United States, the majority of European nations subsidize their indigenous salvage industry.

Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. maritime security strategy has shifted from response to prevention. For the past three years, America has essentially extended its maritime borders outward. United States Customs agents now screen U.S.-bound cargo in foreign ports and ships must now provide 96-hour advance notice of their arrival into American ports, plus detailed information about crews, passengers, and cargos to USCG officials. “If all you do is wait for ships to come to you, you’re not doing your job, the idea is to push the borders out,” Frances Fragos-Townsend, Chief of Coast Guard Intelligence, told The Washington Post, December 31, 2002.

As a result of the new emphasis on prevention, however, “we have ignored response (salvage) at our peril,” says Fairbanks. “If you look at 9/11, with its four simultaneous strikes, and look at four cargo ships - a fraction of the cost of airplanes, loaded with ammonium nitrate and imagine a similar simultaneous attack on the West coast - say Long Beach, Seattle, San Diego, and Los Angeles, the salvage industry would take at least six months to clear channels. You would, in effect, shut down the U.S. economy.” In the Winter 2003 issue of the American Salvage Associations’ newsletter Soundings, U.S. Coast Guard Captain Joseph Saboe wrote, “[U.S. salvage] capabilities would probably fall short of the needs of a situation if there were coordinated attacks against multiple targets or ports.” Richard Buckingham, Admiralty Counsel to the U.S. Navy Supervisor of Salvage and Diving, added in his 2002 paper, “Toward a National Salvage Policy,” that “the problem of [an] inadequate domestic marine salvage capacity is well documented and recognized by both the government and commercial sectors; furthermore, the situation is not getting any better.” Complicating any salvage effort are Cabotage Laws, which restrict American salvors from utilizing foreign-owned equipment - including heavy-lift boats and cranes that may be necessary for a major salvage operation.

Conservative estimates regarding the economic impact of the 10-day West coast port strike in October 2002, are forecasting a loss to the U.S. economy in the billions of dollars. Less conservative estimates have predicted a $1 to $2 billion loss per day. West coast port facilities, including Alaska and Hawaii, account for 42 percent of U.S. waterborne trade each year.

The global and economic consequences of an attack or blockage of a major maritime chokepoint would be astronomical. Moreover, obstructing marine channels is not a novel idea. During the American Civil War, the Union Navy sunk over 40 ships - mostly old whale ships later known as the “Stone Fleet,” in an attempt to blockade Charleston Harbor and intercept maritime smugglers. More recently, Egyptian forces successfully shut down the Suez Canal in 1956 by sinking 40 ships in the narrow waterway. It took a multi-national salvage team more than a year to clear the canal.

Strategic Chokepoints, Terrorism and the Global Addiction to Oil
Neal Adams, author of Terrorism and Oil (PennWell, 2003) has estimated that any significant oil supply disruption could cost the United States millions of jobs. He notes that in all five major disruptions to the flow of oil since 1970 (1973 Arab oil embargo, 1979 Iranian Revolution, 1980 Iran-Iraq war, 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and 1999 OPEC oil production cuts) the U.S. job market declined substantially despite preceding positive growth. These disruptions to the job market are felt for years. Many of the world’s chokepoints are located in areas where piracy, terrorism, and Islamic fundamentalists are endemic.

Iran gained de facto control of the Straits of Hormuz by acquiring the three tiny islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb in the early 1990s. As the only maritime access point to Persian Gulf oil, Hormuz has been described as the single most important waterway in the world. It is estimated that 13 million barrels of oil per day (bpd) pass through the two-mile wide inbound and outbound channels of the strait providing 40 percent of the world’s oil supply. Over the last decade, Iran has begun an aggressive military buildup campaign in the Straits. MiG-29 “Fulcrum” fighters, Su-24 “Fencer” attack planes, and a Beriev A-50 “Mainstay” airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft, have all been shifted to airfields near the coastal city of Bandar Abbas in southern Iran. Anti-ship cruise missiles have reportedly been sighted on the island’s shoreline.

In 2002, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme ruler, warned, “If they [Western nations] do not receive oil, their factories will come to a halt.” In December of 2001, Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) stated, “mark my words...sooner or later [a] terrorist is going to try to sink a tanker in the Straits of Hormuz, and when that occurs, and that free flow of oil out of the Persian Gulf ends, you’re going to have another great energy crisis.” Neal Adams noted, “If something happens in this location, there is no alternative supply route (into the Persian Gulf). Fourteen million barrels will go off the market.” Saudi Arabia is the only member of the Oil Producing Exporting Countries (OPEC) alliance capable of producing an emergency surge capacity in the event of another oil crisis. However, that two million bpd capability falls well shy of the 14 million bpd that would be removed from the world market if the Straits of Hormuz were temporarily out of service. Moreover, the emergency surge capability of Saudi Arabia is geographically reliant upon access to the world market through the Straits of Hormuz.

In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush revealed that U.S. forces had prevented a terrorist attack in the Straits of Hormuz where al Qaeda operatives planned to use high-speed, bomb-laden motorboats launched from a larger freighter to sink military and civilian vessels.

The Straits of Hormuz, however, are not the only straits at risk for a terrorist strike. The Bab al-Mandab Straits, the Straits of Malacca, and the Straits of Gibraltar, have all been cited by security experts as areas of great concern - either because of their importance to world trade or regional terrorist activity.

The fourteen-mile-wide Bab al-Mandab Straits, which connect the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, is the exclusive passage for ships passing through the Suez Canal. The straits are also governed by Yemen - the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden and the scene of the maritime attacks on the USS Cole and the French oil tanker MV Limburg. Experiencing a 155 percent increase in maritime piracy between 1998 and 1999, the Horn of Africa has become one of the most dangerous areas in the world for commercial shipping. Closure of the Bab al-Mandab would render the Suez Canal irrelevant and obstruct not only some 5,000 ships that transit the Bab al-Mandab every year but also the 3.3 million bpd of oil. Al Qaeda may have particular interest in Bab al-Mandab Straits because of the ease in which the terror group can operate in that area. An al Qaeda statement following the attack on the MV Limburg promised the assault “was not an incidental strike at a passing tanker but... on the international oil-carrying line in the full sense of the word... by using a $1000 boat to destroy such a big tanker, one can assume the scope of risks facing the Western economic lifeline, oil, of which the region holds the world’s vast reserves.”

Strategically located between Malaysia and Indonesia, the Straits of Malacca - described as the world’s economic jugular vein, have long been considered one of the world’s most critical chokepoints. Almost 50,000 ships - one-third of the world’s cargo and half of its oil, navigate this congested and narrow waterway every year. The straits are three miles wide at their narrowest point and suffer the world’s highest pirate incident rate. Combined with a terrorist ambition bent on crippling the global economy, the Straits of Malacca are understandably considered to be the most dangerous waterway in the world. It should be noted that the Philippines and Indonesia are the world’s two largest suppliers of crews for merchant vessels worldwide.

“If you close the Strait of Malacca, the disruption to international trade would be astronomical,” according to George Friedman, head of the private intelligence firm Stratfor. In October of 2002, CNN reported that U.S. and Indonesian officials have prevented numerous al Qaeda attacks on U.S. naval vessels and commercial ships from around the world.

In September 2003, reported that Lloyd’s of London identified an Indonesian organization known as “Group 272” that had fought with the Taliban against U.S. forces in Afghanistan and is currently planning attacks on oil tankers in the Straits of Malacca. In response, Japan - which receives 80 percent of its oil via the straits - has agreed to buttress the naval force in the area with additional fleet protection. Still, U.S. and international security experts continue to profess that local officials are not taking adequate measures to prevent regional terrorist activities. At the same time, ADS believes a recent surge in anomalous maritime activity to be terrorist related.

Anomalies Abound: The Pirate-Terrorist Alliance Realized?
On March 26, 2003, heavily armed pirates off the coast of Sumatra boarded the chemical tanker Dewi Madrim. After commandeering the bridge and driving the ship for an hour through the Straits of Malacca, the pirates suddenly fled with the ship’s first mate and captain but inexplicably made no request for ransom money, according to The Economist, October 2, 2003. Both remain missing and there is growing concern that they could be forced to instruct terrorists on ship handling.

The anomalies surrounding the Dewi Madrim incident led the London-based analysts at Aegis Defence Service to conclude that the hijackers were in fact terrorists gaining experience operating a large vessel and learning navigation skills for an eventual attack. According to “The New Piracy,” an article published by Charles Glass in The London Review of Books, December 18, 2003, ADS maritime expert Dominic Armstrong referred to the incident as particularly alarming, “They (the pirates) were fully armed with automatic weapons, which is a departure from the norm. They went straight to the bridge rather than the safe room. And instead of ransacking the crew’s goods they steered a laden tanker for an hour through the Malacca Straits... the implication is that what we are seeing... is the equivalent of a flight-training school for terrorists.” After 9/11, aviation schools came increasingly under close scrutiny. Similar training could be ongoing in the dozens of bridge simulation training centers located throughout the world. Moreover, the Dewi Madrim may not have been the first time terrorists have hijacked a ship for training purposes. The International Maritime Bureau believes that 75 percent of maritime attacks are not formally reported. In addition, ADS has expressed increasing concern that acts of terrorism are often disguised and erroneously reported as piracy.

Further suspicious activity occurred in June 2003 when the Philippine-based terrorist group Abu Sayyaf kidnapped a resort maintenance engineer. Upon his release, the man, a certified SCUBA diving instructor reported that Abu Sayyaf had specifically targeted him because of his SCUBA skills. Upon further investigation, a dive shop owner in Kuala Lumpur reported a spike in young ethnic Malays attending SCUBA diving classes. Alarmingly, few of them were concerned about life-saving decompression techniques. Their disinterest is a disturbing parallel to the September 11, 2001 hijacker’s indifference to landing and takeoff procedures in their flight instruction. Counter-terrorism experts are increasingly concerned al Qaeda may be training for unconventional underwater stealth attacks using SCUBA diving equipment, motorized underwater sleds, and human torpedoes. Al Qaeda operative Omar al-Faruq, who was captured in Indonesia on June 5, 2002, reportedly admitted to planning SCUBA attacks against U.S. warships.

The disappearance of 10 tugboats throughout Indonesia has also caused alarm. Tugs do not carry cargo and have few crew members compared to larger cargo ships. ADS and other security experts are concerned that these tugs could be used to maneuver a hijacked cargo ship into a busy port facility for an attack, The Economist reported October 2, 2003.

Will History Repeat Itself? The Danger of Explosives-Laden Ships in Commercial Harbors
Less than 100 years ago a tragic and devastating collision between two ships in Halifax, Nova Scotia demonstrated the massive potential for catastrophic destruction posed by ships carrying explosive cargoes.

On December 6, 1917, two freighters - the 420-foot Imo and the 320-foot Mont Blanc - collided in Halifax Harbor. The Mont Blanc was laden with 180 tons of TNT, 2,300 tons of picric acid and 10 tons of gun cotton. The resulting explosion destroyed more than 300 acres of Halifax city, killed more than 2,000 residents, and injured more than 9,000. It was the largest man-made explosion prior to the atomic bomb.

The Halifax tragedy pales in comparison to the devastation a deliberate terrorist attack - using a ship loaded with a cargo like the Baltic Sky - could have in the world’s congested and highly populated ports. The threat posed by maritime terrorism is alarmingly real and if and when an attack occurs, the results will likely be catastrophic

Referring to a potential terrorist attack in the city-state’s bustling harbor, Tony Tan, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister, replied, “We are not looking at it as a possibility. We are looking at it as an event which is likely to happen.”

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