The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is hoping to enlist a new force multiplier in the fight against terrorism as the weather warms: the nation's 80 million recreational boaters.
Officials today were to announce a plan calling on states to develop and enforce safety standards for recreational boaters and asking boaters to look for and report suspicious behavior on the water - much like a neighborhood watch program.
The government also will look to develop technology that will help detect dangerous materials and other potential warning signs.
The Small Vessel Security Strategy (SVSS) was created after DHS held the National Small Vessel Security Summit in June 2007, which brought 300 small vessel community stakeholders and federal, state, and local government leaders together to discuss security vulnerabilities among other issues.
DHS says the SVSS concentrates on numerous vulnerabilities associated with the use of small vessels, including "domestic use of waterborne improvised explosive devices; conveyance for smuggling weapons (including radiological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction) into the U.S.; conveyance for smuggling terrorists into the U.S.; and waterborne platform for conducting a stand-off attack, such as Man-Portable Air Defense System attacks."
A recent intelligence brief states that the major threat of maritime terrorism still remains al Qaeda using a small boat to attack its target. The fear is terrorists could deliver a nuclear or radiological device to its destination along the U.S.'s 95,000 miles of coastline and inner waterways.
The AP says no regulations exist that govern the behavior of small boaters as they cruise around potential terrorist targets such as ports, oil tankers, and power plants.
In 2000, al Qaeda suicide bombers used a dinghy rigged with explosives to crash into the U.S.S. Cole, a destroyer anchored in the Port of Aden, Yemen. Seventeen sailors died in the attack.
“We saw quite vividly with the U.S.S. Cole attack that violent extremists will not hesitate to use any means, large or small, in their efforts to inflict blows to our maritime assets,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. “This strategy ensures all small vessel stakeholders across our ports and coastal waterways can play a role in unified threat mitigation efforts and replaces today’s seemingly honor-based neighborhood watch program with an efficient and successful means to combat terrorism along our waterways.”