Marine Log

April 5, 2006

USCG and FBI turf wars

A recently released report from the Audit Division of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice raises the specter of a marine counterterrorism action being botched because of turf disputes between the Coast Guard and the FBI.

You can download an unclassified version of the report here.

The full title of the report is "The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Efforts to Protect the Nation's Seaports" and the question of turf disputes is just one of the issues it addresses. Still, it is the one that has hit some headlines.

What's apparently the source of the friction beyween the USCG and the FBI is that the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 gave the Coast Guard new responsibilities and created overlaps with what had previously been FBI areas of responsibility. These should have been resolved within the context of the "National Strategy for Maritime Security" which was rolled out last September and which included eight supporting plans--including the Maritime Operational Threat Response Plan (MOTRP). It seems that the MOTRP needs some further refinement.

The good news in the just published Inspector General's report is in the back of the book where various parties say what they are going to do to implement the recommendations made. Meantime, the following extracts give some idea of some of the problems the report addresses

"We found indications that the relationship between the FBI and the Coast Guard may already be strained," says the report. "Early in 2005, as part of its efforts to develop its tactical response teams, Coast Guard and FBI officials met, and the Coast Guard requested further information on the selection criteria the FBI uses for SWAT teams and the HRT [Hostage Rescue Team]. The FBI responded to the Coast Guard's written request by stating that that the FBI would not be able to assist the Coast Guard until the two agencies' roles in responding to terrorist threats and incidents had been clearly defined and 'are not competing for the same resources.'"

The report continues by noting that "The Coast Guard and the FBI also have different opinions about the level of cooperation between the two agencies at TOPOFF 3, a DHS-sponsored exercise to assess the nation's capacity for preparing for and responding to terrorist attacks involving WMD. HRT representatives said the exercise showed the two agencies' ability to respond in a coordinated fashion. The HRT took part in one of the incidents of the exercise, a scenario that called for the team to assault a 200-foot moving ferry off the coast of Connecticut. A boat and helicopters were used to transport the team to the ferry. The Coast Guard supported the HRT in the TOPOFF 3 exercise by providing search and rescue services. According to FBI officials, the Coast Guard could not participate in the boarding because it has a very limited capability to perform boardings when its boarding team faces armed resistance. FBI officials also noted that the Coast Guard does not train its personnel to board vessels that are underway.

"Coast Guard officials disagreed with the FBI's analysis of TOPOFF 3, saying that the FBI guarded its territory as the lead federal agency for terrorism," says the report. "One of the Coast Guard's goals for TOPOFF 3 was to exercise its new tactical assault team, called an Enhanced Maritime Safety and Security Team. However, Coast Guard officials said the FBI repeatedly blocked the Coast Guard's efforts, saying the FBI was the lead federal agency in the scenarios developed. The Coast Guard ultimately changed the scenario to circumvent the FBI's lead federal agency role."