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  4. Written testimony of U.S. Coast Guard for a House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security hearing titled “What Does a Secure Border Look Like?”

Written testimony of U.S. Coast Guard Deputy for Operations Policy & Capabilities Rear Admiral William Lee for a House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security hearing titled “What Does a Secure Border Look Like?”

Release Date: February 26, 2013

311 Cannon House Office Building


Good morning Madame Chair Miller, Ranking Member Jackson-Lee, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee. I am honored to be here today to discuss the Coast Guard’s role in maritime border security.

Threats to security along our nation’s maritime border may arrive by sea, air, and land. The potential threats include terrorist activity against our ports, smuggling and other forms of criminal activity, and disruption of maritime commerce. The Coast Guard is one of the federal agencies at the forefront of combating these threats, and I would like to share with you some of the ways we are doing that.

A Layered Approach to Counter Maritime Risk

With more than 350 ports and 95,000 miles of coastline, the U.S. maritime domain is vast and challenging in its scope and diversity. Under Federal statute, the U.S. Coast Guard has the statutory authority and responsibility to enforce all applicable Federal laws on, under, and over the high seas and waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

The Coast Guard leverages its unique authorities, capabilities, capacities, and domestic and international partnerships to maintain maritime border security through a layered and integrated approach – one that actually begins in foreign ports. Through the International Port Security Program, we conduct foreign port assessments to determine the port security effectiveness and antiterrorism measures of foreign trading partners.

Offshore, our major cutter and patrol boat fleet supported by maritime patrol aircraft guards against and responds to threats, while maintaining a vigilant presence over the seas. Closer to shore, Coast Guard helicopters, smaller cutters, and boats monitor, track, interdict, and deliver boarding teams to vessels of interest. In our ports, the Coast Guard, along with federal, state, local, tribal, and port partners, works to monitor critical infrastructure, conduct vessel escorts and patrols, and inspect vessels and facilities. The Coast Guard’s mix of cutters, aircraft, boats, command and control, vessel monitoring, and intelligence gathering programs and systems – all operated by highly proficient personnel – allows us to exercise layered and effective security through the entire maritime domain.

When the Coast Guard is alerted to a threat to the United States that requires a coordinated U.S. Government response, the Maritime Operational Threat Response (MOTR) Plan is activated. The MOTR Plan uses established protocols and an integrated network of national-level maritime command and operations centers to facilitate real-time federal interagency communication, coordination, and decision-making to ensure timely and decisive responses to maritime threats.

This layered approach, facilitated by our participation within the national intelligence community, allows the Coast Guard to position its limited resources more effectively against the Nation’s most emergent threats.

International Efforts

To combat threats as early as possible, the Coast Guard fosters strategic relationships with partner nations. The International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code provides an international regime to ensure ship and port facilities take appropriate preventative measures in alignment with our domestic regime under the Maritime Transportation Security Act. Through the International Port Security Program, Coast Guard personnel visit more than 150 countries and 900 ports on a biennial cycle to assess the effectiveness of foreign port antiterrorism measures and verify compliance with the ISPS Code and our maritime security regulations, as appropriate. Vessels arriving from non-ISPS compliant countries are required to take additional security precautions, may be boarded by the Coast Guard before being granted permission to enter our ports, and in specific cases, may be refused entry.

Additionally, the Coast Guard maintains 45 maritime bilateral law enforcement agreements with partner nations, which facilitate coordination of operations, and the forward deployment of boats, cutters, aircraft, and personnel to deter and counter threats as close to their origin as possible. These agreements also enable us to assist partner nations in asserting control within their waters, and maintaining regional maritime domain awareness.

To further address maritime threats and leverage opportunities to improve border security closer to the United States, the Coast Guard, U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), the Mexican Navy (SEMAR), and the Mexican Secretariat for Communications and Transportation (SCT) have strengthened relations through the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). Through the SPP, SEMAR and SCT are increasing their engagement with the Coast Guard through training, exercises, coordinated operations, and intelligence and information sharing.

Furthermore, the North American Maritime Security Initiative (NAMSI) provides an operational relationship between SEMAR, NORTHCOM, Canadian Forces, and the Coast Guard built upon standard procedures for communications, training, and operations. Since the inception of NAMSI in December 2008, there have been 27 joint narcotics interdiction cases resulting in the seizure of 85,500 pounds of illegal narcotics.

As outlined by President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Harper in the Beyond the Border declaration, border security includes the safety, security, and resiliency of our Nation; the protection of our environmental resources; and the facilitation of the safe and secure movement of commerce in the global supply chain.

Integrated Border Enforcement Team (IBET) seal

Along our northern border with Canada, the Coast Guard is an integral part of the Integrated Border Enforcement Team (IBET) operations where U.S. and Canadian agencies share information and expertise to support interdiction operations along our common border. From this partnership, an operational relationship known as Integrated Cross-border Maritime Law Enforcement Operations, commonly referred to as Shiprider, has emerged. Operations coordinated under the Shiprider Framework Agreement, ratified by the Canadian Parliament during the summer of 2012 and formally authorized in the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012, are expected to commence this spring. This agreement provides unprecedented law enforcement flexibility in the shared waters of the U.S. and Canadian maritime border.

Under the Shiprider Framework Agreement, specially trained U.S and Canadian officers from federal, state, local, and tribal agencies are granted cross-designated law enforcement authorities. U.S. law enforcement officers are designated Peace Officers in Canada, and Canadian officers are designated Customs Officers in the United States for the purposes of executing law enforcement operations approved under the agreement. This arrangement facilitates improved integrated operations and provides U.S. and Canadian law enforcement officers the authority to carry weapons and conduct law enforcement operations on both sides of the border. The Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are the lead agencies for Shiprider for the U.S. and Canada respectively. Together, the Coast Guard and RCMP have developed a curriculum taught at the Coast Guard’s Maritime Law Enforcement Academy in Charleston, South Carolina. To date, law enforcement officers from the Coast Guard, RCMP, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Ontario Provincial Police, and the St. Regis Mohawk (United States) and Akwesasne (Canada) tribes have been trained and cross-designated as Shipriders.

Domestic Partnerships

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to apply a broad-based approach to border security on the southwest border with a focus on keeping our communities safe from threats of border-related violence and crime, and to weaken the transnational criminal organizations that threaten the safety of communities in the United States and Mexico.

The Coast Guard coordinates and conducts joint operations with other DHS components and interagency partners as part of a whole-of-government response to border threats. Our efforts are guided by the DHS Small Vessel Security Strategy and its Implementation Plan, and Maritime Operations Coordination Plan (MOCP). The MOCP is the Department’s cross-component plan for maritime operational coordination, planning, information sharing, intelligence integration, and response activities.

In our ports, Coast Guard Captains of the Port (COTP) are designated as Federal Maritime Security Coordinators (FMSC). In this role, they lead the Area Maritime Security Committees (AMSC) and oversee development and regular review of AMSC Plans. The purpose of the AMSC is to assist and advise the FMSC in the development, review, and update of a framework to communicate and identify risks, and coordinate resources to mitigate threats and vulnerabilities for the COTP zones. AMSC’s have developed strong working relationships with other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in an environment that fosters maritime stakeholder participation.

On a national scale, the establishment of Interagency Operations Centers (IOCs) for port security is well underway. In ports such as Charleston, Puget Sound, San Diego, Boston, and Jacksonville, the Coast Guard, CBP, and other agencies are sharing workspace and coordinating operational efforts for improved efficiency and effectiveness of maritime security operations.

The Regional Coordinating Mechanism (ReCoM) diagram

The Regional Coordinating Mechanism (ReCoM) is another example of the evolution of joint operations among interagency partners. Located at San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco the ReCoMs are manned with Coast Guard, CBP, and state and local law enforcement agencies. The San Diego and Los Angeles/Long Beach ReCoMs coordinated operations contributing directly to the interdiction of 803 illegal migrants and 164,000 pounds of illegal drugs in FY 2012 and FY 2013 (through February 7).

In December, to counter the drug and migrant smuggling threat in waters off Southern California, the Coast Guard, in partnership with other federal, state, and local agencies increased our levels of effort for the standing Coast Guard Operation Baja Tempestad, which is also supported by CBP’s Operation Blue Tempest. This combined surge brings additional resources to the fight against transnational criminal organizations along our maritime border, including flight deck-equipped cutters with airborne and surface use-of-force capability; increased Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection maritime patrol aircraft flights; additional non-compliant vessel use-of-force endgame capabilities from our shore based boats; and enhanced intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination. Thus far in FY 2013, this interagency effort has led to the removal of more than 44,000 pounds of marijuana and the apprehension of 164 illegal migrants.

On the high seas and throughout the six million square mile drug transit zone, joint interdiction operations with federal partners are coordinated through the Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S) and Joint Interagency Task Force West (JIATF-W). Additionally, Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments are deployed aboard U.S. Navy and Allied (British, Dutch, and Canadian) assets to support detection, monitoring, interdiction, and apprehension operations.

In support of another DHS initiative, the Coast Guard and CBP are participating in the Aviation and Marine Commonalities Pilot Project (AMCPP) in Puerto Rico; a six-month operational pilot intended to test, measure, and evaluate the operational efficiency and effectiveness of existing DHS aviation and marine assets under actual operating conditions. Analysis of this information can improve coordination, decision making, force utilization, and highlight other operational dividends. Project efforts will also provide insight on the value of a Unified Command organization, potential efficiencies of coordinating action plans among components, the significance of continuing quantitative measures of data, the need for a common operational lexicon, and the potential for application elsewhere.

In Puerto Rico, the Coast Guard is part of a broad federal effort to strengthen current joint operations. To this end, we are conducting targeted surge operations and collaborating with international stakeholders. As a result of these joint efforts, 7,165 kilograms of cocaine and 200 pounds of marijuana were removed in FY 2012. So far in FY 2013, approximately 7,194 kilograms of cocaine and 1,750 pounds of marijuana have been removed.

To leverage existing programs, the Coast Guard established formal partnerships to collaborate with CBP on their maritime Predator Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) program (land based), and with the Navy UAS programs. Incorporating the UAS capability with manned patrolling will improve detection and surveillance activities significantly at a reduced cost when compared to manned aviation.

Maritime Intelligence and Targeting

Coast Guard vessel screening is the process of applying criteria to transiting vessels to develop a manageable set of targets for potential Coast Guard boarding and/or inspection. The Coast Guard screens ships, crews, and passengers for all vessels required to submit a 96-hour Advance Notice of Arrival (ANOA) prior to entering a U.S. port. Complementary screening efforts occur at the national and tactical levels. At the national level, the Intelligence Coordination Center’s Coastwatch Branch – which is co-located with CBP partners at the National Targeting Center – screens crew and passenger information. Through our partnership with CBP, we have expanded access to counter-terrorism, law enforcement, and immigration databases and this integration has led to increased information sharing and more effective security operations. In 2012, Coastwatch screened approximately 118,000 ANOAs and 29.5 million crew/passenger records.

At the tactical level, each of the Coast Guard’s Area Commanders receives support from a Maritime Intelligence Fusion Center (MIFC), which screens the commercial vessels operating within their areas of responsibility (over 350,000 in 2012) for unique indicators, as well as providing additional screening for vessels that submit an ANOA. The MIFCs focus on screening characteristics associated with the vessels itself, such as ownership, ownership associations, cargo, and previous activity. Coast Guard vessel screening results are disseminated to the appropriate DHS Maritime Interagency Operations Center, Sector Command Center, local intelligence staffs, and CBP and other interagency partners to evaluate and take action on any potential risks. If the Coast Guard determines a vessel poses a special security risk, the Maritime Operational Threat Response Plan is activated.

The Coast Guard also supports the CBP Container Security Initiative, to ensure that all United States-bound maritime shipping containers posing a potential risk are identified and inspected prior to being placed on vessels. This initiative encourages interagency cooperation through collecting and sharing information and trade data gathered from ports, strengthening cooperation and facilitating risk-informed decision making.


The Coast Guard has forged effective international and domestic partnerships to optimize maritime border security while minimizing delays to the flow of commerce. We foster training, share information, and coordinate operations to deter and interdict current and emerging threats to our border.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today, and thank you for your continued support of the U.S. Coast Guard. I would be pleased to answer your questions.

Last Updated: 03/10/2022
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