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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
Director of Inspection & Compliance, U.S. Coast Guard
March 3, 2006

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
Good afternoon. I'm pleased to be here today to entertain your questions. The purpose of the Coast Guard is to protect the public, both with regard to waterways as well as maritime safety, and serve the citizens of the United States. Often in the Coast Guard we say our job is to protect people from the sea in search and rescue operations and the sea from people, in regard to the environment. And so today, I know port security is on the minds of many of the people. I'm happy to answer any of the questions you might have.

Edward, from Chicago Illinois writes:
Given the current rate of protection at our ports, what is the likelihood of a terrorist group infiltrating our defences and detonating an explosive device of great magnitude at one of our busiest ports? For example, using a speed boat to slide past our overburdened coast guard.

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
In the Coast Guard we have established a system of layered security, so that first we can focus on identifying threats overseas, before they reach the United States. Second, we have numerous programs to identify and then intercept the threats--in this case vessels--as they move closer to our shores. 96 hours prior to a vessels' arrival into the United States, we screen the vessels' cargo, people, and background on the operating companies to identify what type of risk profile the present. By that we mean risks associated with the safety of the ship, the security of the ship, or the environmental threats that ship might bring. We determine at that time whether we are going to board the ship in open ocean or possibly let the ship go to an anchorage near shore or allow it to go to a pier (dock side). In each case for these boardings, specialized teams go on board with equipment and verify the condition of the ship, its crew and cargo manifest, as well as the condition of the vessel. We examine its cargo with special equipment to ensure it's safe for off loading operations. If a vessel is found to be non-compliant with U.S. and international law, we can take actions to either direct the vessel to correct its condition at the dock, offshore, or not allow the vessel in at all and direct to another port, but not in the United States.

Edward, in regards to your specific question about a domestic speedboat attack, we have boats--both Coast Guard and state and local--that are armed patrolling our water ways and vessel traffic systems with cameras to monitor our largest ports. This detects and intercepts a vessel that presents a risk or threat profile. We have security zones, which are areas where vessels are not allowed to enter, established around our highest risk operations and critical infrastructure. If a vessel attempts to enter into that area, the Coast Guard is authorized to use force to stop the vessel. We also provide escorts for large passenger vessels and ferry vessels, as well as high-risk vessels such as chemical carriers and liquefied natural gas carriers to ensure their safety. These small boat teams are specially trained to address a multiple small boat attacks, not just a single boat attacks.

With regard to security, since July 2004, we have boarded 16,000 vessels and have found numerous violations, many of which we could correct and allow the vessel in to handle cargo. However, there were 144 cases where the vessel was not allowed to come into U.S. waters.

The Coast Guard is not alone in this effort. We received the port from the customs and border protection officers both in foreign ports, where they check cargo before it departs, as well as upon arrival in the United States. If we believe any cargo or individual presents a significant threat to the United States, we can deny entry into U.S. waters.

Beverly, from Cincinnati writes:
How will Dubai's port authority impact on homeland security? Dubai isn't the United States.

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
First, Dubai, as a country, gains no additional authority within our ports, as a result of this transaction. They would own a terminal, or a facility, they don't control the port operations. They have no responsibility for security or safety for the port as a whole. However, they do have responsibility for the safety and security operations within the fence lines of their facility. Again, as I mentioned earlier, a vessel has to be pre-screened for its crew or passengers, its cargo and its operations companies history before it will be considered for entry into the United States.

A vessel that contracts with Dubai might never make it here if the U.S. Coast Guard feels it is a threat to the United States. Most vessels do not present that threat profile and are legitimate operations, but we know that even legitimate operations can be compromised as we know from the war on drugs. As such, we also conduct random boardings of vessels.

When a ship does arrive to begin off-loading cargos, again, the border protection uses a targeting to identify the highest risk cargo, which requires further screening, such as x rays and radiation detection, immediately as the cargo is off-loaded.

We have regulations under the law that requires facility owners to control access to its facility and maintain security operations on board. The Coast Guard inspects and randomly checks the facility to ensure continued compliance with that law. Again, since July 2004 when these laws went into place, we've issued 700 violates, 44 have caused facilities to shut down or cease cargo operations until the major problems were corrected and a process put into place to ensure they could not be repeated. So there is accountability for Dubai Ports World. This is the same for them as any other company.

Additionally, for Dubai Ports World, we put additional requirements on their operations. We are requiring all employees of their company to undergo and provide information about them, to allow the Coast Guard to run background checks through intelligence databases and law enforcement databases, to ensure they don't present a threat to the United States. This will be a continuous process. If any of their names show up later in a database, we will receive notification and be able to take immediate action. We don't expect the employee profile to change drastically in their operations, and most of the people employed are U.S. citizens or longshoremen or stevedores (who do the work of handling the cargo).

Robert, from Connecticut writes:
Is there any added threats to having a foreign nation control domestic ports and entry points into the United States?

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
Any time a foreign owner or state-owned business is considering investing in the United States, we must look and must examine to see if they present an increased threat to our country, as that potential could be very real. The reason I say "increased" threat is that we live in a world that always has some level of threat in it--that is why we already have protective measures in place. That is also why we as a country have armed forces, which includes the Coast Guard.

Again, no foreign nation will control our ports. They are buying the cranes to move cargo and they lease the property from the state or local government to carry out the cargo removal operations from a vessel and its loading onto either trucks or railroad cars, to transport to middle America. The majority of workers at these facilities have no idea what is in the boxes they are moving, however management or lead supervisors do. The lead security officer and company security officer will be required to be U.S. citizens who have undergone background examinations that meet law enforcement standards. They will be the only individuals that we, in the law enforcement community, provide security related information to. Even those individuals will not know Coast Guard and state and local law specific operations.

Again, they will be held accountable to provide security of their terminal. We will also have exercises and tests of the security operations at the facility conducted on a every three month basis, to ensure the people who operate in that environment have been trained to detect a security event and know what actions to take to mitigate that event and contact Coast Guard and law enforcement authorities to respond.

An example might be finding a stowaway on a vessel or a person who tried to come into the United States found on the facility. They are required to have procedures to respond to this type of case, and many others.

In the case of cargo, if the container has broken seals, then we also are notified. These checks are conducted as the container is removed from the vessel, while stored at the facility, as well as the condition of the container as it departs the facility.

Louis, from Butler,PA writes:
Why is it that foreign companies are operating our port facilities? Thank you

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
The United States is still the land of opportunity and these companies see our country as a very good business opportunity. Just as we invest overseas in oil companies, where we have port facilities that are U.S. owned and operated in foreign countries. The majority of container facilities, in fact, are foreign owned or operated in the United States. Also, over 90% of the ships that carry these cargos are foreign owned and operated, not necessarily by the same companies, but in some cases. This is not the case with Dubai Ports World.

Also, one other reason is that they know we have a system of government and judicial system that sets the standard which is fair and bound by law. They are not subject to issues such as bribery or pay offs in order to conduct their business.

In addition, the United States is a very secure country, so there is less risk doing business within our borders.

Finally, the United States is the largest consumer of goods in the world, so it is a great marketplace to conduct business.

John, from Texas writes:
I would like to congratulate you on the great job the USCG did during Katrina. They are the agency with expertise in search and rescue and their command and control structure has the ability to call on needed assets in a hurry, even from the rest of the military. Do you think the USCG should have a bigger role in managing disaters and Homeland Security?

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
John, thank you for recognizing the heroic efforts of the men and women in the Coast Guard who responded to that terrible disaster. We do believe that our contingency planning in advance of the storm and our command and control, as well as the training and expertise of our people, allowed us to perform our mission well.

The Coast Guard in the maritime environment has responsibility to lead, dependent upon the type of disaster that takes place. The Coast Guard is only, however, the size of the New York City Police Department, to provide a little perspective. We train all our people to be leaders and we work to empower them to the maximum extent possible. As such, when significant events take place, their leadership and experience is called to bear in response to disasters where significant response is needed in the maritime environment, meaning on our nation's coasts and inland waterways or Great Lakes. We have federal responsibility as federal on-site coordinators for those events and are responsible for large geographic areas. Those are currently the responsibilities of our captains of the ports, who are charged with covering 96,000 miles of coastline and inland waterways.

In the case of Katrina, five of our captains of the port lead the responses in those maritime environments. However, Katrina also swept far inland and called for a response much broader than just our inland waterways. The most senior leaders in the Coast Guard are admirals, are trained as principal federal officials that the Secretary of Homeland Security or the President could call upon to take an overall coordination and leadership role of the response operation. That occurred for Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

The structure for the national response plan allows the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security the flexibility to bring their best leaders from any agency to respond to the emergency based on the location and emerging situation at hand. The Coast Guard is just one agency whose senior leaders have this training.

On a daily basis, the Coast Guard is trained in incident response for chemical and oil spills, as well as search and rescue, or major casualties such as a vessel explosion and fire, or a catastrophic accident such as a sinking ship or a collision at sea.

What we are talking about is a much larger scale operation and cooperation. Many of our activities involve working with marine industry, as well as state and local authorities. As such, when an event takes place we already have an understanding of each other's capabilities and shared assets that could come to assist with an emerging situation. Such proved of Katrina.

Marilyn, from Texas writes:
With all of the hoopla from all quarters, most of it political what is the real scoop from the military about the port security? It seems to me to make sense that the deal should be approved since other ports are foreign owned and the Saudis have foiled terrorist attacks. Also it doesn't make sense that our great president who is so concerned about national security would suddenly abandon ship.

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
As my Commander-in-Chief, I know the President's top priority is the safety and security of America and Americans. The President also relies on all of the departments under his direction to examine every aspect of this transaction to ensure that it will not provide increased threat to the United States. If any of the departments or the President believes after full investigation and review, as well as additional requirements placed on Dubai Ports World have been completed, that this provides an increased threat to the American public or our adhered interest, he would not let it go through, as would none of the departments.

As I stated earlier, the reason the Coast Guard exists is to provide for the safety and security of the public and I can assure you that if there was anything that needed to be done, we would require it. Again, we are not the only agency responsible for the safety and security of the public. Upon completion of the review of this case and the information we have been provided, we do not believe this transaction presents in and by itself any significant threat to the U.S. ports.

Most of the discussion about this transaction is about vulnerability, not threat. The U.S. Navy made 600 port calls to the Port of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, last year. The UAE aided in the fight in Kosovo and is aggressively combating terrorism in their region.

I know many people in the U.S. Navy, and I know that they would never dock their ships in a place that they felt was a high threat environment. The UAE is not such a place as U.S. ships dock there regularly.

Dawson, from South China, ME writes:
I understand 2 of the attackers of 911 were from this country, UEA.It seems to me that it would be very difficult for a Arab to convince an American or even a Brit he should aid in the smuggling of WMD for the purpose of attacking us. A Arab dealing with another Arab is a total different story.

If this deal does go down how can you insure the American people that this government that played a vital part in moving money for the 911 attacks as well as other attacks against U.S. properties will not be coroperative again in aiding Al Queda or that its employees will provide loyalty as a American or Brit would?

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
It concerns me anytime a country's government is painted with a broad brush, because of the acts of a few individuals.

The same concerns could be made by a U.S. citizen because there was a shoe bomber from England to blow up an airplane or the London subway system was bombed by citizens residing in their country.

In no way do I think England is any less an ally to the United States or less concerned and dedicated to removing terrorism from their country.

The UAE, through their actions, has demonstrated a commitment to the United States to aid in the war against terrorism, provide support for our U.S. Armed Forces overseas and even providing relief to Katrina victims.

Thus, you won't hear me make a broad brushed statement about the country of UAE, because of the acts of a few within their country.

Jo, from Owensboro KY writes:
The media has reported how unsecure and vulnerable our port system is to a terrorist attack. Can you state what some of the changes that have been made to the security of the port system since 911? Thank you.

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
After 9/11, the Coast Guard required 3200 commercial faculties to provide security physical improvements and modify their operations to meet new security regulations, as well as training for their personnel.

Over 11,000 U.S. flagged commercial vessels were also required to have security plans and personnel trained to ensure the safety and security of cargos, as well as passengers on their vessels, such as ferry vessels and large passenger vessels.

Additionally, the U.S. Government provided 12 maritime safety and security teams, which are tactical small boat teams to protect our most critical infrastructure and highest risk operation areas. The Coast Guard was also provided with increased helicopters with aerial use of force that can stop vessels from the air.

The Coast Guard was also provided almost 4,000 additional personnel to increase boardings, escorts, and patrols of our ports and waterways, as well as conduct boardings, inspections and examinations of foreign flagged vessels and U.S. port facilities.

Additionally, the Coast Guard was provided funding to support annual large scale exercises such as to responding to disasters like Hurricane Katrina, or a transportation security incident, involving more than one geographic area, to make sure we are prepared for catastrophic events whether natural or manmade.

In addition, we've been provided increased detection capabilities for vessels offshore before them coming to the United States and have required all large commercial vessels over 300 gross tons to have transponders on their vessels that allow us to track their movements. Again, a vessel could be detected prior to coming to the U.S. This requirement is for both U.S. and foreign flagged vessels.

For more information regarding the security precautions the U.S. Coast Guard is doing and has done, I encourage you to visit the U.S. Coast Guard web site.

Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone
Thank you for all of your great questions.

Before I go, a word about safety. We are about to approach boating season and some may even choose to go on the water early because the air is warm. Everyone who goes boating has to ensure their boat is in good operating condition following the off season and everyone needs to understand the water temperature is nowhere near the air temperature and is won't be close for months to come.

It is always critical to wear your lifejacket and that you tell a friend or family member where you are going and how long you expect to be gone. Always have some form of radio to call for help in case of emergency on the water from your vessel's operation to an unusual weather change, to "I'm lost."

And if you find yourself in the water, your best hope for survival is to take those preparations, as well as, the most critical element--your lifejacket. I can't over emphasize the wearing of a lifejacket, and it's not just for children. We have more fishermen who die from falling overboard without wearing their lifejacket than any other community, and most fisherman don't let anyone know where they are going in a n effort to protect their secret "favorite spot" for fishing. So to the fishermen--tell a really good friend where you are headed! For the kids who are online, make sure your parents wear their lifejackets, too.

One final note. If you are young, smart, energenic and you want to make a difference saving lives while protecting your country and our way of life, and you want to have lots of fun, join the Coast Guard!