September 28th, 2006 15:45 EST
Container Ships Must Be Protected from Terrorist Exploitation
Washington – A State Department terrorism expert says the United States must work with its international partners to reduce the risk that terrorists will use container ships to carry weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Thomas Lehrman, director of the State Department’s Office of Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism, said terrorists constantly are adapting to existing defenses. Previously, an airplane might have been a weapon of choice against civilians, he said, but the next time the terrorists “may seek to slip a weapon of mass destruction into a container ship headed for one of our ports and then onto the streets of our cities,” he said at a Maritime Security Expo in New York on September 20.
For this reason, Lehrman stressed, international coordination among specialists in weapons design, transportation and international finance is needed to prevent illegal shipments of WMD.
Because terrorists’ access to chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons poses such a grave threat, he said, the United States is determined to work with foreign government and private-sector partners to strengthen “national and collective defenses against this pre-eminent threat.” (See related article.)
Defending the United States and its international partners against a potential covert nuclear or biological terrorist attack presents many operational and technical challenges, he said. “Since we cannot afford to fail in this mission, we must embrace a strategic approach capable of reducing this risk to its absolute minimum,” Lehrman said.
The official discussed how the United States and its partners must develop “a layered defense-in-depth” because no single layer, or capability, can provide enough protection against “a determined and adaptable terrorist adversary.” (See related article.)
PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS ARE KEY
Lehrman emphasized the importance of public-private partnerships in an era when more than 90 percent of global trade in goods is transported in containers through the maritime supply chain, making ports and related infrastructure “an inviting target.”
The ability to detect illicit and terrorist activity quickly is critical if governments are to “accelerate the appropriate enforcement response,” he said, inviting private-sector entities to come up with new ways to protect the maritime supply chain.
Illicit WMD traffickers such as A.Q. Khan have used the maritime supply chain to transport WMD materials and delivery systems, he said, making the Proliferation Security Initiative an important effort to confront this threat. With more than 75 nations supporting PSI, Lehrman said more than 30 high-risk shipments have been stopped, including centrifuge parts en route to Libya. (See related article.)
The official also called for more research and development of technologies that can help secure maritime supply chains and facilitate “real-time sharing of information among and between international partners.” Thwarting the next terrorist attack might well depend on rapid information-sharing with foreign government and/or private-sector partners, he said.
For more information, see Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Response to Terrorism and Terrorist Financing.
The full text of Lehrman’s prepared remarks is available on the State Department Web site.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)