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An Unsuspecting Target

Updated: Nov 14, 2019

Maritime ports of the United States is not a topic that one can routinely expect to see flashing across headlines or at the center of controversy, but these institutions are critical to much of the U.S. economy as well as those abroad. Globalization and the general trend to liberalize international trade policy has interlinked the economies of many nations, and often the well-being of the people on either side relies on the linkages within and across global industries. It is precisely because ports and the shipping industry are so integrated to modern society that threats to the industry should be monitored as closely as possible.

The image some will imagine when thinking of a port will likely be a scene of semi-organized chaos with containers and ships maneuvering their ways around tugboats, semi-trucks, and trains through a spiderweb of cranes; others will think of military equipment and personnel or even tourists embarking on a cruise. The truth is that all of these people are perfectly correct, but there is still much more to the picture. Often there are repositories or pipeline supplies of oil, liquid natural gas (LNG), and all of the workers required to manage, maintain, and operate each asset that is available on the premises. Because of the density of both people and value of assets, substantially-sized ports become a consideration for terrorist threats. Multiple entities that could potentially be a point of attack are available in the same location that is designed to be a gateway to the country. A halted or destroyed shipment costs hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. An attack on workers or tourists inspires panic and fear as well as taxing the tourism industry. An attack on natural resource shipments like oil and gas has a combined effect of a normal shipment, but additionally deprives the recipient of fuel that is likely to be in strong demand.

Data is key in all modern industries. It facilitates efficient actions and decisions in many ways, including security. In the case of port activity, there is an intersection of maritime and domestic jurisdiction as well as customs and even federal oversight. To ensure the most accurate, and secure transactions these overlaps in dominion must be seamless, else they should open the door to what would have been a directly preventable incident. In March of this year, Reuters reported regarding an interaction involving the FBI allegedly supplying “incomplete and potentially inaccurate information” after the FBI was tasked with a threat evaluation. This is a perfect example of what happens when cooperation on both sides of the dock falters- specifically with data and information. In this instance nothing unfortunate came to pass, but there was a fault in the defense to hopefully be avoided in the future.

The effect of a major compromising of a port is crippling to the local area, but soon becomes a far more invasive issue to a significant portion of the population; and it is not only the government that is responsible for them. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, “90 percent of U.S. exports and imports flow through a U.S. [multinational corporation]”. The sheer quantity of jobs required to operate the nuclear composition of the port is impressive. Even more impressive is the amount of employment generated by the horizontal and vertical economic linkages that attach themselves to the port’s activities. With the import of crates and containers comes rails and trucks to distribute them and office staff to account for, pay for, track, and allocate the new stock. The port of Los Angeles alone covers 7,500 acres of land and waterways. This port, combined with San Pedro Bay, employ roughly 3 million individuals on the west-coast alone. The port of Miami’s 2018-19 report boasts $890 million paid in wages and $43 Billion in economic activity in the state of Florida. These measurements stand to substantiate how crucial ports are to the U.S. economy and to so many millions of households domestically. As technology improves and we learn more, it is prudent to be proactive in assessing how to improve and be protected. With so much at stake, continual evaluation is mandatory.



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