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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Lack of security clearances jeopardizes maritime security

According to the GAO, even when we know terrorists might strike at a seaport, the threat may not be able to be communicated to the local authorities, as reported here:
"The ability to prevent or respond to a potential terrorist attack at a U.S. seaport may be hampered because federal officials cannot communicate necessary information to local, state and private-sector officials who do not have security clearances, government auditors said Tuesday. The major barrier hindering information sharing at seaports around the country is the lack of federal security clearances for nonfederal members of committees or centers, the Government Accountability Office said in a new report (GAO-05-394)."
I have downloaded the GAO report and am reviewing it for an updated posting. Meawhile...perhaps we ought to revise our checkllist of things to accomplish, like listing " get local authorities clearances" as a priority.

Hat tip: The Counterterrorism Blog

Update: The summary of the report finds that communication has been improving, but there is some way to go, mostly through education:
While information sharing has generally improved, a major barrier
mentioned most frequently by stakeholders as hindering information
sharing has been the lack of federal security clearances among port
security stakeholders. The lack of security clearances may limit the ability
of state, local, and industry officials, such as those involved in area
maritime security committees or interagency operational centers, to deter,
prevent, and respond to a potential terrorist attack. By February 2005—or
over 4 months after the Coast Guard had developed a list of over 350
nonfederal area maritime security committee participants with a need for
a security clearance—28 had submitted the necessary paperwork for the
background check. There were two main reasons why the Coast Guard
had not processed security clearances more expeditiously. First, local
Coast Guard officials said they did not clearly understand their
responsibility for communicating with state and local officials about the
process for obtaining a security clearance. After receiving a draft of our
report, the Coast Guard issued guidelines clarifying the role that local
Coast Guard officials play in the program. Second, the Coast Guard had
not developed formal procedures for using its database on security
clearance applicants to troubleshoot potential problems and take
appropriate management action. As the Coast Guard proceeds with its
program, nonfederal officials could benefit from more information on the
process for obtaining a security clearance. The FBI, which spearheaded a
similar effort (but not specific to ports) to expedite security clearances for
nonfederal officials, found that nonfederal officials were slow in
submitting application forms in part because of the lack of awareness
about the security clearance process, and the agency made specific efforts
to educate local officials about the application process. Similar
educational efforts by the Coast Guard might help clear up any such
uncertainties about the application process. Other barriers to greater
information sharing identified by committee participants included the size
and complexity of ports—factors that are intrinsic to port operations—but
none of these barriers were mentioned as frequently and considered as
important as the lack of security clearances.

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