Combating Terrorism:

Improvements Needed in Pacific Command's Antiterrorism Approach for In-Transit Forces at Seaports

GAO-04-851NI: Published: Aug 27, 2004. Publicly Released: Sep 27, 2004.

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Since the October 2000 attack on the Navy destroyer USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen, other incidents have further illustrated the continuing danger overseas of unconventional threats from determined terrorists. More recent attacks on the French oil tanker MV Limburg near Yemen and on oil terminals in Iraq demonstrate the continued willingness of terrorists to strike maritime targets. In a series of reports, GAO has reported on DOD's antiterrorism efforts at domestic seaports and at seaports overseas in the U.S. European and U.S. Southern Commands. In this final report of the series, GAO was asked to address the following questions: (1) To what extent is the U.S. Pacific Command's antiterrorism approach designed to address in-transit forces at seaports in its area of responsibility? (2) Does the Department of Defense conduct independent, periodic assessments of the Pacific Command's antiterrorism approach and specific measures in place to protect in-transit forces to identify gaps and weaknesses and suggest potential improvements.

DOD does not conduct periodic, independent assessments of the Pacific Command?s overall antiterrorism approach and specific measures used to protect in-transit forces. Consequently, weaknesses in the approach have gone undetected and unresolved. DOD's antiterrorism standards establish periodic assessments as an integral part of antiterrorism planning and execution to help commanders identify weaknesses and improve their antiterrorism efforts. However, DOD's assessments generally focus on installations and ports and are usually conducted under the Command's direction. They do not provide a comprehensive, independent assessment of the Command's overall antiterrorism approach and measures used to protect in-transit forces. GAO has noted this condition in three combatant commands and believes that it is a systemic weakness across combatant commands. GAO has recommended that DOD expand Joint Staff oversight to include an in-depth review of the combatant commander's antiterrorism approach and measures used to protect in-transit forces. Although DOD generally agreed with the recommendations, it stated its preference that oversight remain within the purview of the combatant commander. In subsequent discussions, DOD officials were resistant to expanding the Joint Staff's oversight responsibilities due to concerns about the resources required and a belief that the combatant commander can provide needed oversight. Without modification to DOD's antiterrorism standards, to include a specific requirement for an independent review, internal resistance may continue to preclude such reviews and in-transit forces may continue to be exposed to unnecessary risks.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve the antiterrorism measures related to logistics support for in-transit forces at seaports, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict to incorporate a new standard that sets minimal requirements for screening mail, supplies, food, water, and other materiel or equipment placed aboard in-transit vessels during port visits to minimize the potential risk to the vessel and crew into ongoing revisions to the antiterrorism standards set out in DOD Instruction 2000.16.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, DOD reissued its antiterrorism standards set out in DOD Instruction 2000.16 in October 2006. The revised standards include one that did not previously exist, "Antiterrorism Measures for Logistics and Other Contracting." This new standard includes a requirement to implement a verification process, through background checks or other similar processes, that enables the U.S. Government to attest to the trustworthiness of DOD contractors and sub-contractors (U.S. citizens, host-nation, and third country personnel) to the greatest extent possible. The standard further states that priority will go to service provisioning related to mail, supplies, food, water, or other materiel and equipment intended for use by DOD personnel. The vetting of trustworthiness is to include husbanding agents and crews on contracted ships, planes, trains, and overland vehicles.

    Recommendation: To improve the antiterrorism measures related to logistics support for in-transit forces at seaports, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict to establish a mechanism or forum that includes the appropriate organizations to (1) develop specific measures that can be adapted by the geographic combatant commanders to verify the trustworthiness of husbanding agents and to inspect mail, supplies, food, water, and other materiel brought aboard vessels during port visits in each area of responsibility and (2) identify ways to overcome implementation obstacles that may be encountered.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation that it establish a forum to develop specific measures to verify the trustworthiness of husbanding agents, inspect supplies brought aboard vessels during port visits, and identify ways to overcome potential implementation obstacles, DOD addressed such issues during an August 2005 conference held by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict (OASD/SOLIC) and the Joint Staff for the annual review of the DOD Antiterrorism Strategic Plan. The conference was attended by representatives of the Joint Staff, Services, and Combatant Commands. Several initiatives and procedures were pursued regarding husbanding agents and screening contractors. OASD/SOLIC committed to continuing to address the issue at subsequent annual antiterrorism strategic plan reviews. GAO believes that this effort meets the intent of our recommendation using an existing forum.

    Recommendation: To improve the antiterrorism measures related to logistics support for in-transit forces at seaports, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict to set specific time frames for approving revisions to DOD Instruction 2000.16 and for implementing new logistics support security initiatives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, DOD reissued its antiterrorism standards as set out in DOD Instruction 2000.16 in October 2006. The revised standards included one that addressed GAO's recommendation to set minimal requirements for screening mail, supplies, food, water and other materiel or equipment placed aboard in-transit vessels during port visits to minimize the potential risk to vessel and crew. The revised instruction and the new standard contained therein addressing GAO's recommendation was effective immediately upon issuance.

    Recommendation: To provide an independent oversight review mechanism to periodically assess the combatant commanders' antiterrorism approach and specific measures to protect in-transit forces at overseas seaports, the Secretary of Defense should the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict to modify existing antiterrorism standards to require that the Joint Staff or another organization independent of the combatant commander conduct periodic, in-depth reviews of the Command's antiterrorism approach and the specific measures in place to protect in-transit forces and, as appropriate, identify potential improvements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendations in this and two previous reports (on the European and Southern Combatant Commands), DOD has taken steps to provide an independent oversight review mechanism to periodically assess the combatant commanders' antiterrorism approach. In October 2006, DOD reissued DOD Instruction 2000.16 which includes a new standard requiring comprehensive antiterrorism program review. Specifically, the standard requires the heads of the DOD components to ensure that the combatant commands, services, and defense agencies undergo a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff-led Headquarters antiterrorism program review at least once every three years. Additionally, the Joint Staff has incorporated changes to the Joint Staff Higher Headquarters Program Review process to include benchmarks and guidelines to reflect greater emphasis on in-transit forces. The guidelines went into effect in January 2007.

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