Date: April 11, 2011
Abstract: This Assessment examines terrorist threats to the Marine Transportation System (MTS) relevant to the U.S. and Canadian maritime borders, and updates unclassified judgments from the 2007 Canadian Integrated Threat Assessment Centre (ITAC) product, “(//CAN U) Terrorist Threat to the Canadian Maritime Sector,” and the 2008 USCG Intelligence Coordination Center product, “(U//FOUO) National Maritime Terrorism Threat Assessment.” The information is provided in support of the activities of the Department and to assist federal, state, and local government counterterrorism and law enforcement officials in effectively deterring, preventing, preempting, or responding to maritime terrorist attacks against the United States and Canada.
(U//FOUO) This document provides an updated baseline for MTS threats to support the activities of the Department and assist other federal, state, and local government agencies and authorities; the private sector; and other entities, both in implementing joint U.S. and Canadian strategies for northern border security. Moreover, it assists the Department and other federal, state, and local government agencies and authorities; the private sector; and other entities in developing priorities for protective and support measures to address existing or emerging threats to the homeland related to maritime border security.
(U) Key Findings
(U//FOUO) While passenger vessels and terminals will likely remain potentially attractive targets for terrorist attacks, trends in overseas terrorist attacks and the lack of any reporting on maritime terrorist plots against the U.S.-Canada MTS suggests the threat to the majority of the system is low; violent extremists could attack U.S. and Canadian ferries and similar soft maritime targets with little or no warning.
— (U//FOUO) The capabilities of al-Qa‘ida and its sympathizers to conduct small boat waterborne improvised explosive device (WBIED) attacks against the U.S.-Canada MTS probably remain limited. When compared to other tactics, maritime attacks by al-Qa‘ida or its affiliates are rare and have only occurred in the Middle East and East Asia.† The transferability of this tactic to North America would be problematic given MTS governance and law enforcement that create a less permissive maritime environment.
— (U//FOUO) Terrorists probably would be reluctant to use containerized cargo to smuggle weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) into the United States or Canada because the loss of physical control of a valuable weapon would likely pose an unacceptable intervention risk. Nonetheless, this threat remains a low-probability, high impact scenario. We judge that terrorists would seriously consider other maritime means, such as small boats and bulk cargo shipments, to smuggle any available WMD or to conduct related waterside attacks in the United States or Canada if they had the opportunity. This judgment is primarily based on expert opinions from DHS officials, as well as assertions put forth by the Monterey Institute Center for Nonproliferation Studies and other academic or nongovernmental organizations.
(U//FOUO) Ferries and other passenger vessels remain vulnerable targets for terrorist attack. Although we have no credible reporting that any U.S. or Canadian ferry systems are the target of ongoing terrorist plotting, concerns are elevated because of the focus by al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates on attacking soft targets to cause mass casualties, the growth of internationally inspired and homegrown violent extremist (HVE) threats, and the paucity of preoperational indicators for ferry attacks. Moreover, terrorists might target ferries as a way to compensate for the increasing security measures protecting the aviation sector.
(U//FOUO) Past terrorist successes involving use of toxic industrial chemicals (TICs) in overseas conflicts may encourage attackers to attempt to weaponize large hazardous materials (HAZMAT) shipments moved in the MTS each day. Violent extremists have a limited ability to produce small improvised chemical weapons, but experimentation with these HAZMAT concoctions may eventually result in an evolutionary development of greater attack capabilities.
(U//FOUO) Terrorists and criminals almost certainly will continue their efforts to exploit the MTS to facilitate illegal entry of personnel or other criminal activities. Immigration and mariner document fraud, smuggling, and criminal activities along the waterfront require continuous law enforcement vigilance. Illicit actors may attempt to increase their circumvention of maritime security in North America because of enhanced land border security and air passenger screening.
(U//FOUO) Cyber attacks—regardless of motivation—will continue to represent only a marginal threat to automated ships and port facilities in North America, largely because of the complexity required for a successful attack. A paucity of information regarding such threats remains an enduring intelligence gap. Still, concerns related to maritime supply chain disruption perpetrated by disaffected employees or other insiders—particularly those with system administrator access—are the most frequently voiced by private sector security officials.
(U) MTS Overview and Vulnerabilities
(U//FOUO) The U.S.-Canada MTS consists of ocean, coastal, and inland waterways; ports; intermodal connections; vessels; and commercial, military, and recreational users. The system stretches from the Great Lakes-Saint Lawrence Seaway System—also known as the Great Lakes Marine Transportation System (GLMTS) westward—to the Pacific Ocean along the U.S.-Canada border.
— (U) Over 1.5 million passengers arrive in Canada annually, largely from the United States, and Canada’s ports handle a rapidly growing number of cruise ships.
— (U) Besides its ports, Canada also has 10 international ferry terminals, 19 interprovincial terminals, and nearly 300 intraprovincial terminals providing vital links both within and between the provinces. In 2008, Canada’s ferries carried more than 48 million passengers and approximately 18.3 million vehicles.
— (U//FOUO) According to TSA, more than 20,000 passenger vessels—including ferries, casinos, and harbor excursion vessels—carry more than 175 million passengers each year in U.S.-Canada waters.
(U//FOUO) The GLMTS is the heart of the U.S.-Canada MTS. The GLMTS is a vital binational waterborne transportation link for moving goods and people. The system encompasses the Saint Lawrence River and the five Great Lakes, and extends over 2,300 miles, encompassing eight states and two provinces with over 32 million citizens. The region produces 50 percent of all U.S. manufacturing output and two-thirds of Canada’s. This waterway is expected to increase in importance over this decade as both countries seek ways to ease highway and rail congestion, especially along North America’s east and west coasts and the midwest region (DHS, 2011).
Levels Low, But Persistent, In U.S.-Canada Marine Transportation System
Date: November 13, 2012
Abstract: Ships traveling between the U.S. and Canada and the ports that serve them can present attractive targets to terrorists, but the vessels and facilities present a difficult environment to execute an attack, according to a DHS report.
While the myriad passenger and cargo vessels plying the waters between the U.S. and Canada, as well as their ports, remain attractive terror targets, “the threat to the majority of the system is low,” said the “U.S.-Canada Marine Transportation System Terrorist Threat Assessment” Unclassified//For Official Use Only (U//FOUO) report.
The unclassified document issued by DHS in April to assist federal, state and local government counter-terror officials, updated earlier threat assessments of the Marine Transportation System (MTS) by the U.S. Coast Guard and Canadian assessments in 2008 and 2007, respectively.
The 38-page report was posted on the Public Intelligence open source Web site on Nov. 12. DHS said the document provided an updated baseline for maritime transportation threats in support of joint U.S. and Canadian northern border security.
Although ports and vessels in along the northern border face a low possibility of attack, “violent extremists could attack U.S. and Canadian ferries and similar soft maritime targets with little or no warning.”
Al Qaeda and its sympathizers, it said, have limited capability to conduct small boat waterborne improvised explosive device (WBIED) attacks against the U.S.-Canada MTS. “When compared to other tactics, maritime attacks by al-Qa‘ida or its affiliates are rare and have only occurred in the Middle East and East Asia. The transferability of this tactic to North America would be problematic given MTS governance and law enforcement that create a less permissive maritime environment,” it said.
Although an attack by terrorists using a weapon of mass destruction smuggled into the U.S. or Canada aboard a containerized cargo ship could produce a high impact event, the report said that logistically, terrorists could be reluctant to carry out such a plan because they wouldn’t be able to tightly control what would be a valuable weapon aboard a ship. “Nonetheless, this threat remains a low-probability, high impact scenario,” it warned.
DHS said it believes terrorists would most likely more seriously consider using other maritime options like small boats and bulk cargo shipments, to smuggle weapons of mass destruction, or conduct related “waterside” attacks in the U.S. or Canada if they had opportunity.
Although there is no
credible reporting that ferry systems and other passenger vessels have been
targets of ongoing terrorist plotting, “they
remain vulnerable targets for terrorist attack,” said the report.
Concerns about such an attack are “elevated,” said DHS, because Al Qaeda and its affiliates have been keen on attacking “soft targets” to create maximum mayhem. The growth of homegrown violent extremist (HVE) threats and the scarcity of preoperational indicators for ferry attacks, it said are also contributing factors to the added caution. Terrorists could also target ferries as a way to compensate for the increasing security measures protecting the aviation sector, it said.
Despite the apparent paucity of terrorist plans to attack ports and ships themselves, port and maritime traffic present opportunities to slip personnel and material into the U.S., it said. Immigration and mariner document fraud, smuggling, and criminal activities along the waterfront require continuous law enforcement vigilance, it said, warning that criminal elements may try to bump up their circumvention of maritime security in North America because of enhanced land border security and air passenger screening.Cyber attacks “will continue to represent only a marginal threat to automated ships and port facilities in North America, largely because of the complexity required for a successful attack,” it said. Information about such electronic assaults, however, “remains an enduring intelligence gap.” The dangers of Cyber attack, it suggested, could originate with disaffected employees or other insiders—particularly those with system administrator access. Complaints of insider threats “are the most frequently voiced by private sector security officials,” it added (GSN, 2012).
Terror Threat To Canadian Waterways ‘Limited’: U.S. Report
Date: November 13, 2012
Source: Ottawa Citizen
Abstract: The U.S. government calculates there’s a low risk of terrorism against North American shipping, ports and along shared waterways, in contrast to a Canadian assessment of maritime security vulnerabilities.
“The capabilities of al-Qaida and its sympathizers to conduct small boat water-borne improvised explosive device attacks against the U.S.-Canada MTS (marine transport system) probably remain limited,” says a newly surfaced Department of Homeland Security report.
“When compared to other tactics, maritime attacks by al-Qaida or its affiliates are rare and have only occurred in the Middle East and East Asia. The transferability of this tactic to North America would be problematic given MTS governance and law enforcement that create a less permissive maritime environment.”
The most vulnerable marine sector, it says, is U.S. and Canadian passenger ferries and terminals, which present softer targets than major ports and other significant marine transport elements and are readily accessible to homegrown extremists.
The U.S. assessment presents a distinctly different picture than that of a January report by Defence Research and Development Canada, which said the threat to Canada’s maritime borders has increased. It analyzed the terror risk posed by millions of small boats in high-traffic border regions, such as the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway, against targets such as bridges and nuclear power plants.
“The terrorist risk manifests itself in several forms, including transportation of weapons of mass destruction, the use of small vessels to deliver water-borne improvised explosive devices, for the smuggling of wanted persons, as well as a platform for standoff weapons and attacks.
“Emerging threats are being signalled by events in other countries such as Colombia and Mexico where there is a growing use of submersibles or miniature submarines, partially submerged vessels (presenting a small radar cross section) and high-powered low freeboard vessels (Pangas).”
The report concluded that Canada has no coherent strategy for dealing with a growing national security threat posed by small boats in high-traffic border regions. Much of the analysis was based on comments and insights from police, military, port authorities and government officials. Most “do not feel that the current surveillance capabilities are sufficient to counter the small vessel threat and that a change is needed,” the report said.The Great Lakes marine transportation system encompasses eight states, two provinces and more than 32 million Canadian and U.S. citizens. The region produces 50 per cent of all U.S. manufacturing output and two-thirds of Canada’s. The waterway’s importance is expected to grow as both countries seek ways to ease highway and rail congestion (Ottawa Citizen, 2012).