- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2006

The FBI has failed to rank U.S. seaports based on the likelihood of terrorist attacks, nor does it always use that basis when assigning agents who specialize in maritime security, according to a Justice Department report.

“Although the United States has placed much attention on better securing civilian aviation since 2001, seaports remain largely at risk,” said Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine, in a report released yesterday.

Mr. Fine said one FBI field office with six significant seaports in its territory has one maritime liaison agent, while another FBI field office with no strategic ports has five maritime liaison agents. He also said the agency’s failure to conduct a threat assessment hampered the ability to make informed decisions about resource allocation.

“In addition, we found that the FBI database used to collect information on terrorist threats and suspicious incidents at seaports cannot be easily searched to identify trends in maritime-related suspicious activities or threats,” he said.

The report, however, praised the FBI’s decision to name maritime liaison agents in most of the bureau’s 56 field offices to coordinate seaport security with other federal agencies.

Mr. Fine also said the FBI and the U.S. Coast Guard have not resolved issues regarding their overlapping responsibilities, jurisdictions and capabilities to handle a maritime terrorism incident. He said that because the FBI and the Coast Guard share the responsibility for ensuring the safety of U.S. seaports, the bureau “needs to come to an agreement with the Coast Guard on each agency’s respective roles and authorities.”

The report made 18 recommendations for the FBI to enhance seaport security, including increasing coordination with other agencies that share responsibility for maritime security, assessing the threat and risk of maritime terrorism compared with other terrorist threats, and improving the database that the FBI uses to collect and manage data concerning suspicious incidents or terrorist threats involving seaports.

In its response, the FBI said it either had implemented or was taking steps to implement the recommendations.

Mr. Fine said the protection of U.S. seaports is a responsibility shared by the Department of Homeland Security, Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the FBI. He said the Coast Guard protects and enforces laws at seaports while CBP enforces import and export laws and inspects cargo at seaports.

The FBI, he said, “has an overarching role in protecting the nation’s seaports that includes gathering intelligence on maritime threats and maintaining well-prepared tactical capabilities to prevent or respond to maritime-based terrorism.”

Mr. Fine said the FBI had created a centralized maritime security program at its headquarters and placed enhanced maritime SWAT teams in the FBI field offices closest to 14 of the nation’s strategic seaports.

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