The U.S. intelligence community is making steady progress towards “an advanced state of intelligence integration and information sharing” regarding potential threats to the U.S. and its allies from the sea and the air, according to a new report from the Director of National Intelligence.
“Threats that terrorists and other illicit actors pose to the nation’s ports, waterways and airways remain persistent and grave, leaving no room for error or delay in this effort,” the report (pdf) said.
In response to such threats, a new ODNI National Maritime Intelligence Center has been established, new information sharing protocols have been put in place, and collaborative “communities of interest” have been nurtured. But “challenges remain” in both air and maritime intelligence “to overcome cultural and institutional resistance” to cooperation, particularly given the “sharply diminished” sense of urgency since 9/11.
One enduring difficulty is that “a lack of robust foreign and domestic HUMINT assets hampers the capability to detect and identify place and time of hostile or disruptive actions….” However, the report says, “examining smuggling networks, front companies, and ‘gray’ actors and transactions has resulted in successful interdictions of people and cargo who clearly pose national security threats.”
The unclassified report did not mention any specific interdictions. But last month, U.S. forces intercepted a German cargo ship carrying arms from Iran to Syria, according to an October 12 story in Der Spiegel. Last week, reportedly based on a tip from U.S. intelligence, Israel seized a ship carrying weapons said to be supplied by Iran and intended for Hezbollah fighters.
The DNI report described the formidable intelligence challenges posed by the vast maritime and air domains.
“Worldwide maritime activity includes more than 30,000 ocean-going ships of 10,000 gross tons or greater,” operating under more than 150 different national flags, making tens of thousands of calls at 125 major U.S. ports each year. Meanwhile, “there are over 43,000 fixed airfields worldwide with over 300,000 active aircraft, making the air domain a dense, complex operating environment with attendant reduced reaction time to potential airborne threats.”
“The economy’s inherent lack of resiliency to a major [trade or transportation] disruption event presents a substantial opportunity for those who seek to attack our institutions asymmetrically,” the report said.
The ultimate intelligence goal, therefore, is nothing less than “to create and maintain a persistent awareness of all aspects of passenger and intermodal cargo conveyance. This single integrated team approach would permit 24/7 coverage of the entire transportation spectrum….”
The new report is heavy on management jargon, with lots of integration, alignment and leveraging said to be taking place. (“ODNI remains committed to expediting horizontal intelligence integration supported by the implementation of data sharing standards that are breaking down barriers to information sharing, thereby facilitating rapid decision support.”)
Some of the “successes” touted by the report seem paltry or oversold, such as a “precedent setting conference” on piracy in the Horn of Africa last April which “drew more than 280 attendees.” And the new ODNI National Maritime Intelligence Center is confusingly housed within the existing National Maritime Intelligence Center that also hosts the Office of Naval Intelligence. But overall the 62-page report testifies to a level of bureaucratic churning within the intelligence community that rarely leaves a trace on the public record.
A copy of the new report was obtained by Secrecy News. See “The Inaugural Report of the Global Maritime and Air Communities of Interest Intelligence Enterprises,” Director of National Intelligence, November 2009.