Chertoff on Mumbai: DHS shapes plan to reduce small-craft threat

The Homeland Security Department is already working on matters involving maritime security as it relates to small craft like those used in the terrorist attacks last week on Mumbai, India, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Dec. 3 in a briefing.

In a discussion about the department's response to the Mumbai attacks that left nearly 500 people killed or wounded, Chertoff highlighted U.S. efforts to monitor small craft. The perpetrators approached the coastal city on the Arabian Sea with a hijacked fishing boat in that attack.

"We were working on a small boat strategy beginning 18 months ago," Chertoff told reporters. "We didn't just wake up because of what happened in Mumbai. We've got a general aviation strategy we have unrolled, and these things obviously are not finished, but we've launched them off to a good start."

In DHS' "Small Vessel Security Strategy" released in April, the department offers ideas about increasing surveillance and tracking of small boats near major critical infrastructure installations, such as shoreline power plants. The report said DHS officials would prepare a more detailed report in the coming months for safeguarding from threats associated with the nation's 13.2 million recreational and commercial small boats.

Small craft could be used to carry explosives, weapons or terrorists to attack shoreline infrastructure or be transferred to land-based transportation, the report said.

Technologies are needed for data reporting, analysis and sharing, boat tracking and detection, radiation detection and surveillance, the report said.

"Surveillance of the entire maritime domain and the tracking of all small vessels are not contemplated by this strategy," the report states. "Consistent with applicable privacy laws, increased surveillance and tracking may be appropriate, though, along the maritime border and in high-risk, high-traffic areas."

Surveillance, identification and tracking, anomaly detection and information-sharing technologies are active business areas for government contractors. The scope of the opportunities from small boats is not yet known.
Specific technologies recommended in the report are:
  • Low-cost, nonintrusive, small-vessel identification systems, such as radio frequency identification tags.
  • Adaptable miniature transponders.
  • Global Positioning System devices.
  • Cell phone-based recognition systems.
  • Anomaly detection instruments.
  • Advanced maritime radiation/nuclear detection technology for portable radiation detection equipment, mobile stand-off radiation detectors.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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