Entries Tagged "Coast Guard"

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"Insider Threat" Detection Software

Notice this bit from an article on the arrest of Christopher Hasson:

It was only after Hasson’s arrest last Friday at his workplace that the chilling plans prosecutors assert he was crafting became apparent, detected by an internal Coast Guard program that watches for any “insider threat.”

The program identified suspicious computer activity tied to Hasson, prompting the agency’s investigative service to launch an investigation last fall, said Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride, a service spokesman.

Any detection system of this kind is going to have to balance false positives with false negatives. Could it be something as simple as visiting right-wing extremist websites or watching their videos? It just has to be something more sophisticated than researching pressure cookers. I’m glad that Hasson was arrested before he killed anyone rather than after, but I worry that these systems are basically creating thoughtcrime.

Posted on February 27, 2019 at 6:22 AMView Comments

Actual Security Theater

As part of their training, federal agents engage in mock exercises in public places. Sometimes, innocent civilians get involved.

Every day, as Washingtonians go about their overt lives, the FBI, CIA, Capitol Police, Secret Service and U.S. Marshals Service stage covert dramas in and around the capital where they train. Officials say the scenarios help agents and officers integrate the intellectual, physical and emotional aspects of classroom instruction. Most exercises are performed inside restricted compounds. But they also unfold in public parks, suburban golf clubs and downtown transit stations.

Curtain up on threat theater—a growing, clandestine art form. Joseph Persichini, Jr., assistant director of the FBI’s Washington field office, says, “What better way to adapt agents or analysts to cultural idiosyncrasies than role play?”

For the public, there are rare, startling peeks: At a Holiday Inn, a boy in water wings steps out of his seventh floor room into a stampede of federal agents; at a Bowie retirement home, an elderly woman panics as a role-player collapses, believing his seizure is real; at a county museum, a father sweeps his daughter into his arms, running for the exit, while a raving, bearded man resists arrest.

EDITED TO ADD (9/11): It happened in D.C., in the Potomac River, with the Coast Guard.

Posted on August 25, 2009 at 6:43 AMView Comments

Hiding Behind Terrorism Law

The Bayer company is refusing to talk about a fatal accident at a West Virginia plant, citing a 2002 terrorism law.

CSB had intended to hear community concerns, gather more information on the accident, and inform residents of the status of its investigation. However, Bayer attorneys contacted CSB Chairman John Bresland and set up a Feb. 12 conference at the board’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. There, they warned CSB not to reveal details of the accident or the facility’s layout at the community meeting.

“This is where it gets a little strange,” Bresland tells C&EN. To justify their request, Bayer attorneys cited the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, an antiterrorism law that requires companies with plants on waterways to develop security plans to minimize the threat of a terrorist attack. Part of the plans can be designated as “sensitive security information” that can be disseminated only on a “need-to-know basis.” Enforcement of the act is overseen by the Coast Guard and covers some 3,200 facilities, including 320 chemical and petrochemical facilities. Among those facilities is the Bayer plant.

Bayer argued that CSB’s planned public meeting could reveal sensitive plant-specific security information, Bresland says, and therefore would be a violation of the maritime transportation law. The board got cold feet and canceled the meeting.

Bresland contends that CSB wasn’t agreeing with Bayer, but says it was better to put off the meeting than to hold it and be unable to answer questions posed by the public.

The board then met with Coast Guard officials, Bresland says, and formally canceled the community meeting. The outcome of the Coast Guard meeting remains murky. It is unclear what role the Coast Guard might have in editing or restricting release of future CSB reports of accidents at covered facilities, the board says. “This could really cause difficulties for us,” Bresland says. “We could find ourselves hemming and hawing about what actually happened in an accident.”

This isn’t the first time that the specter of terrorism has been used to keep embarrassing information secret.

EDITED TO ADD (3/20): The meeting has been rescheduled. No word on how forthcoming Bayer will be.

Posted on March 18, 2009 at 12:45 PMView Comments

Licensing Boaters

The U.S. Coast Guard is talking about licensing boaters. It’s being talked about as an antiterrorism measure, in typical incoherent ways:

The United States already has endured terrorism using small civilian craft, albeit overseas: In 2000, suicide bombers in the port of Aden, Yemen, used an inflatable boat to blow themselves up next to the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole, killing 17 sailors and wounding 39 others.

Terrorism experts point to other ways small boats potentially could assist in attacks ­ for example, a speedboat could deposit saboteurs at the outlet pipes of a nuclear power plant, or hijackers aboard a cruise ship. In a nightmare scenario, suicide bombers in a crowded harbor could use small watercraft to detonate a tanker carrying ultra-volatile liquefied natural gas, causing a powerful explosion that could kill thousands.

And how exactly is licensing watercraft supposed to help?

There are lots of good reasons to license boats and boaters, just as there are to license cars and drivers. But counterterrorism is not one of them.

Posted on January 4, 2007 at 2:35 PMView Comments

New Congress: Changes at the U.S. Borders

Item #1: US-VISIT, the program to keep better track of people coming in and out of the U.S. (more information here, here, here, and here), is running into all sorts of problems.

In a major blow to the Bush administration’s efforts to secure borders, domestic security officials have for now given up on plans to develop a facial or fingerprint recognition system to determine whether a vast majority of foreign visitors leave the country, officials say.


But in recent days, officials at the Homeland Security Department have conceded that they lack the financing and technology to meet their deadline to have exit-monitoring systems at the 50 busiest land border crossings by next December. A vast majority of foreign visitors enter and exit by land from Mexico and Canada, and the policy shift means that officials will remain unable to track the departures.

A report released on Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, restated those findings, reporting that the administration believes that it will take 5 to 10 years to develop technology that might allow for a cost-effective departure system.

Domestic security officials, who have allocated $1.7 billion since the 2003 fiscal year to track arrivals and departures, argue that creating the program with the existing technology would be prohibitively expensive.

They say it would require additional employees, new buildings and roads at border crossings, and would probably hamper the vital flow of commerce across those borders.

Congress ordered the creation of such a system in 1996.

In an interview last week, the assistant secretary for homeland security policy, Stewart A. Baker, estimated that an exit system at the land borders would cost “tens of billions of dollars” and said the department had concluded that such a program was not feasible, at least for the time being.

“It is a pretty daunting set of costs, both for the U.S. government and the economy,” Mr. Stewart said. “Congress has said, ‘We want you to do it.’ We are not going to ignore what Congress has said. But the costs here are daunting.

“There are a lot of good ideas and things that would make the country safer. But when you have to sit down and compare all the good ideas people have developed against each other, with a limited budget, you have to make choices that are much harder.”

I like the trade-off sentiment of that quote.

My guess is that the program will be completely killed by Congress in 2007. (More articles here and here, and an editorial here.)

Item #2: The new Congress is—wisely, I should add—unlikely to fund the 700-mile fence along the Mexican border.

Item #3: I hope they examine the Coast Guard’s security failures and cost overruns.

Item #4: Note this paragraph from the last article:

During a drill in which officials pretended that a ferry had been hijacked by terrorists, the Coast Guard and the Federal Bureau of Investigation competed for the right to take charge, a contest that became so intense that the Coast Guard players manipulated the war game to cut the F.B.I. out, government auditors say.

Seems that there are still serious turf battles among government agencies involved with terrorism. It would be nice if Congress spent some time on this (actually important) problem.

Posted on January 2, 2007 at 12:26 PMView Comments

Coast Guard Solicits Hollywood to Help with Movie Plot Threats


Trying to avoid a failure of imagination in its uncharted new role, the agency has even called in screenwriters from Hollywood to help sketch terrorism situations.

“The biggest change is that the Coast Guard has gone from being an organization that ran when the bell went off to being a cop on the beat at all times,” said Capt. Peter V. Neffenger, who recently gave up command of the port here for a position in Washington and who consulted with the screenwriters.

Anyone who’s watched Hollywood’s output in recent years knows that screenwriters aren’t the most creative bunch of people on the planet. And anyway, they can have all of these ideas for free.

Posted on May 22, 2006 at 7:49 AMView Comments

Major Security on a Minor Ferry

Is a ferry that transports 3000 cars a day (during the busy season) a national security risk?

Thousands of motorists who use the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry can expect more stringent screenings this week, when the state adds armed guards and thorough car searches.

More info here

New, increased security measures are coming to the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry. Beginning July 1, security guards at the ferry will conduct random screening of passengers and their vehicles in an effort to prevent dangerous substances and devices from boarding the ferry. Commuters should prepare for a possible increase in the amount of time it takes to board the ferry once the screenings are in place; however, the ferries will depart on time according to schedule.

In accordance with the Maritime Transportation Security Act, VDOT will post security guards at the base of the bridge on each side of the James River to screen those traveling the ferry. Screening activities will vary and can include checking picture IDs of the driver and passengers, and inspection of the vehicle, including under the hood, trunk and undercarriage. Guards may also check the cargo areas of cars, trucks, campers and trailers.

The frequency and depth of screening at the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry will change with the Maritime Security level, which is set by the United States Coast Guard. In order to board the ferry, drivers and passengers must consent to the screening process.

How many ferries like this are in the U.S.? How many other potential targets of the same magnitude are there in the U.S.? How much would it cost to secure them all?

This just isn’t the way to go about it.

Posted on September 20, 2005 at 6:46 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.