At a Senate hearing titled SAFE Port Act Reauthorization: Securing Our Nation’s Critical Infrastructure, Admiral Papp was repeatedly questioned about what measures are being taken to complete the National Strategy for Small Vessel Security. The strategy was produced in 2008, but according to the DHS Office of Inspector General still lacks an implementing plan and the appropriate evaluation of programs intended to support its requirements.
Chairing the hearing was Senator John Rockefeller IV (WV), who showed a difference in opinion with the USCG Commandant in terms of how to counter the terrorist threat of small boats, which another witness, Stephen Caldwell of the GAO, referred to as “large in number, anonymous in movements, and ominous in capability.”
Admiral Papp spoke of the America’s Waterway Watch program and of using friendly small boats, contacted through boating safety initiatives and the USCG Auxiliary, as sensors, as helpers and informants, to increase domain awareness and intelligence.
Senator Rockefeller seized on the repeated use of the terms outreach and law abiding citizens, causing the following exchange to ensue.
Sen Rockefeller: “What do you know about the little boats? I’m not interested in outreach, in if they like us. This sort of driver education. I’m interested in terrorism and destruction in America. These are paramount. [...] We’ve got to find efficient ways of protecting people.[...] This is unacceptable in terms of national security. Agencies can do something about that, can stop that.[...] My approach would be, if I were you, I would take some of those ships in Fort Lauderdale or Houston, those pleasure craft, and I’d stop them. They’d be furious at you, and you don’t care because you have a job to do far greater than the pleasure they’re experiencing. You’re worried about destruction. I’d stop them. I’d go through them. You don’t have to do it everywhere, you don’t have the personnel, but word gets around. And that helps rather than saying the vast majority of Americans are law abiding citizens.”
Adm Papp: “We are doing boardings constantly.”
Sen Rockefeller: “But you just said you don’t want to interrupt people in their pleasure.”
Adm Papp: “Not all, but we do random. Daily there are thousands of boardings to inspect vessels for safety, but once we have people on board when there is some other indication of drinking or drugs we carry that inspection further. [...] In the years since September 11 we have not lost one single person due to terrorism out on the waters of the U.S., but every year we lose about 1,000 for not wearing lifejackets.”
Sen Rockefeller: “That is right, but that’s also a way to avoid answering a question in Washington speak… nothing has happened. Well the fact of the matter is a great deal has been attempted and interdicted which you cannot talk about, but if someone hadn’t been there…”
This was a good hearing, with intense discussions about the best way for the service to leverage aging assets and shrinking budgets to perform all of its statutory missions, specifically protecting the nation’s ports and the seas beyond. You can watch a video of the proceeding here. Minute 110~115 is when the above exchange begins.THIS POST DOES NOT REPRESENT USCG POLICY OR AUTHORITY. THIS IS AN UNOFFICIAL POSTING. IF THERE IS ANY CONFUSION IN RELATION TO OFFICIAL USCG LAW ENFORCEMENT, CONSULT THE MLEM (CIM 16247.1D) FOR GUIDANCE