Intelligence Sharing in Port Security

Jul 15, 2011

Since 9/11, marine port security has been the subject of increased scrutiny as it is clear that contraband flows – undetected and uninterrupted – through access and egress points of both Canada and the United States. Numerous reviews initiated by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Canadian Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence have clearly articulated that ports are a haven for criminal activity and organized crime, as well as targets for potential terrorist activity. Both these reviews demand an increase in the level of intelligence sharing among partner agencies focused on policing and security of marine port operations.

Marine ports are complex working environments. They include many commercial entities complemented by multiple regulatory and law enforcement agencies, each with a key role in the maintenance of legislative compliance and the overall provision of security services.

It is most evident that our marine ports are a vital component of both Canadian and United States economies. To understand the economic impact of our ports, one must ­recognize that shipping today represents more than 90% of world trade. One average size container ship represents approximately $30-$50 million of cargo. Currently, it is estimated that Canada’s Port Authorities handle more than 460 million tonnes of cargo annually – amounting to approximately $162 billion worth of goods. Not surprisingly, this impact is exponentially larger with the United States. For example, in 2006 it was estimated that the American marine cargo activity generated a total of $1,975.4 billion of total economic activity. These figures clearly demonstrate that North American marine ports are attractive transportation and supply nodes that, if not properly controlled, provides fertile ground for criminal and terrorist related activity that threatens our overall national security.

For many years, Canadian law enforcement has been aware of the threat posed by organized crime at marine ports. With the poignant disbanding of the Ports Canada Police in 1997, port enforcement responsibilities shifted entirely to local police agencies and private security companies. In 1998, Criminal Intelligence Service Canada (CISC) began reporting on the organized criminal threat at Canada’s marine ports and, in March 2000, established a National Working Group to coordinate information and intelligence sharing pertaining to organized crime in marine ports. This reporting continued until approximately 2005 when CISC changed its focus and commenced reporting on the various “criminal markets.” However, it is clear that Canada’s marine ports continue to provide an environment well suited to illicit activity. Though the events of 2001 heightened our security awareness, including additional concerns regarding our marine ports, they remain a major conduit into North America for illegal activity and continue to be our Achilles heel, from an enforcement and security perspective.

Within Canada, there have been numerous reviews and studies pertaining to the security of marine ports, in particular the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence, which has been very active and focused on this area of vital interest. In 2007 it released a follow-up report to its 2003 study. This latest report was entitled “Canadian Security Guide Book – An Update of Security Problems in Search of Solutions – Seaports.” The report updated the 2003 recommendations and some new ones. One of the main issues, made most clear in this report, is the multitude of agencies that are involved in the venue of marine port security. They include Public Safety Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada Border Services Agency, Transport Canada, Canadian Coast Guard, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, provincial and municipal police services as well as the Department of National Defence, not to mention the many private security agencies engaged to protect the assets of numerous commercial companies within the marine port environment. Although several actions have been taken to address marine port security, such as the development of Integrated Port Enforcement Teams (IPET) and Marine Security Operations Centres (MSOC), the timely collection and passage of security and police related information and intelligence continues to be a challenge. This is not expected to change anytime soon until leadership, coordination and accountability matters are more clearly defined. Today, for the most part, for proprietary concerns, agencies continue their stove pipe in orientation and one can appreciate this situation is further exacerbated and magnified for intelligence operations in support of marine port security in the United States.

A plethora of studies, inquiries, reviews and articles have highlighted the problems associated with the sharing of security and law enforcement intelligence. Even with tragic events such 9/11, and the subsequent report by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the “9/11 Commission Report”) police and intelligence agencies still struggle with the processes for the robust and timely sharing of information and intelligence. These issues of sharing are often tied to “inter-agency turf wars”, stove piping of information, lack of common standards and practices and regulatory barriers (such as the Access to Information, the Privacy, and the Freedom of Information Acts). The biggest challenges in developing technologies that support the sharing of information in a seamless manner, are the quagmire of bureaucracy and the lack of focussed leadership when advancing various intelligence related initiatives through the government procurement processes.

However, it is important to note that although there are many challenges and struggles there have been some clear successes; such as the IPETs and MSOCs mentioned earlier. Within several jurisdictions in the United States, efforts have been made to find innovative solutions in the development and sharing of intelligence related to marine ports. In the area of stakeholder coordination and collaboration initiatives, there have been activities under the Area Maritime Security Committees (AMSC). AMSCs serve as forums for local seaport stakeholders from federal agencies, state and local government, law enforcement, and private industries to gain a comprehensive perspective of security issues at the nation’s seaports. In addition to the Area Maritime Security Committees, several ports have created other methods by which they can share information and intelligence through protocols for detecting and monitoring port-related security risks and systems for increasing intelligence-sharing.

Some of these efforts are undertaken daily, such as daily security briefings held at the Port of Boston involving local, state, and federal law enforcement, as well as representatives of private industry, to discuss information that might be relevant to security at either the port or Logan airport. Another good example is the San Diego Harbour Police Homeland Security Unit which coordinates community outreach and public awareness campaigns to make port tenants, marina residents, hospitality workers and others more aware of terrorist activities and how to report them. One other progressive initiative is the Maritime Security Initiative (MSI) developed by the New Jersey State Police Marine Services Bureau. It addresses the changing trends in terrorism and other criminal activities, within maritime communities.

The Maritime Security Initiative recognizes the current trends while increasing port security and developing maritime intelligence. The MSI program encourages the development and sharing of intelligence and relies on the development of a combined intelligence database, and community outreach program, through the building of cooperative community and corporate partnerships. The various partners can now report suspicious activities directly to the New Jersey State Police using the internet.

There has been some advancement in Canada and the United States in particular as it pertains to the sharing of intelligence in support of marine port security operations, however, still much more must be addressed. As demonstrated by various ­initiatives in the United States, it is important for any marine port intelligence program to be “holistic” in nature and to include both government and private entities. Additionally, initiatives and objectives must be clearly defined and dedicated leadership accountable for achieving these goals and objectives as the situation dictates. This is essential for ensuring the protection and regulatory functioning of each of our Ports. Such direction and focus will erode and at some point eradicate illicit activity of organized crime, petty criminals and terrorists that continue to use our ports as a transportation backbone for their activities. In the absence of this coordination, ports will continue to be an environment rich in potential for many illicit activities. Though oft articulated, through numerous reviews and studies, it is time for our security and law enforcement agencies to overcome the often “self imposed” barriers and to begin sharing intelligence in a well planned strategic manner. Part of the answer will be to develop a “public-private partnership” to build a secure web-based information sharing platform that will allow the various entities involved in marine port security to contribute unclassified information in a timely manner. Only by actively engaging all partners in the collection and sharing of intelligence can proper security of our marine ports be realized. Marine Port security is vital to the economic viability of Canada and North America and, as such, it is crucial that proper intelligence sharing support this important function. It is time for Canada to develop a central organization, complete with legislative authority to establish its responsibility, to report to government annually on the security and law enforcement status of this country.  

W.H. (Bud) Garrick has more than 29 years of experience in the realm of police and security operations both domestically and internationally, including serving as the Deputy Director General for Criminal Intelligence Service Canada. He is currently active in security consulting as a key Principal of Presidia Security Consulting and an Associate with Lansdowne Technologies Incorporated.
© FrontLine Security 2011