Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Federal Agencies Sometimes Don't Want to Play in the Same Sandbox

So nice to hear the Coast Guard plays well with other federal agencies. From the Hartford Courant:
During the largest terrorism drill in U.S. history last year, the FBI and U.S. Coast Guard got into a tussle off the shores of Connecticut, fighting over how each agency's tactical assault team would be involved in the boarding of a hijacked ferry.
The New York Times as a little more blunt:
Potentially disastrous confusion could arise during a terrorist attack on a cruise ship or ferry because of a power struggle between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Coast Guard over who would be in charge, a report released Monday by the Department of Justice inspector general warned.

After the 2001 attacks, both organizations created or expanded armed teams that have the ability to board a moving ship or ferry, using a small boat or helicopter.

"The F.B.I. and the Coast Guard both want the ability to respond to terrorist threats in the maritime area," the report says. "Unless such differences over roles and authorities are resolved, the response to a maritime incident could be confused and potentially disastrous."

The agencies do agree that cruise ships, ferries and container ships are likely targets for terrorists using a bomb or a small boat packed with explosives or by taking hostages.

After 2001, the Coast Guard, a part of the Department of Homeland Security, created 13 specialized teams based at major ports around the nation that travel on small boats equipped with machine guns and are trained to respond to a hostage situation or other maritime terrorism. These 100-member teams also have access to Coast Guard helicopters and transport planes.

The F.B.I., a division of the Justice Department, has 14 of what it calls enhanced maritime SWAT teams and a separate hostage rescue team trained to respond to maritime terrorism. The hostage team can rappel from a helicopter onto a ship, or approach a ship by doing closed-circuit diving (using scuba gear that does not emit bubbles) or so-called combat swimming.

The inspector general's report says the rivalry between the F.B.I. and Coast Guard teams is so great that during a training exercise last year in Connecticut, which featured a mock terrorist strike on a ferry, "the F.B.I. repeatedly blocked the Coast Guard's efforts, saying the F.B.I. was the lead federal agency."

In response, the report says, the Coast Guard "changed the scenario to circumvent the F.B.I.'s lead federal agency role."
I can see it now; MSST teams are going to start doing closed-circuit diving...

In another bid for transparency in government interactions, this tidbit was in the NY Times piece:
But one Homeland Security official, who was granted anonymity because open discussion of the conflict was not allowed, said the new report might sharpen the disagreement.
Yeh, let's not let anybody see our dirty laundry...

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