Adm. Robert J. Papp, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, recently testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Border & Maritime Security about the nation’s maritime border security post-9/11. Papp stated under oath that the agency follows a layered security and communications approach to counter maritime risk to more than 350 ports and 95,000 miles of coastline.

“The U.S. maritime domain is unique in its scope and diversity, requiring an integrated and layered approach to security,” he said.

A layered security system includes a focus on Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), a diverse set of capabilities that support strategic, operational and tactical decision-making, Papp said. Effective MDA requires efficient information-sharing that demands coordination among numerous participants at international, federal, regional, state, local, territorial and tribal levels of government, as well as with maritime industry and private-sector partners, he said.

Indeed, Papp said the Coast Guard Intelligence Coordination Center's Coastwatch program is one example of efficient information-sharing. Coastwatch is conducted in partnership with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Office of Naval Intelligence and observes vessels of interest until their arrival at U.S. ports. He said Coastwatch also uses CBP's Automated Targeting System-Passenger (ATS-P), which offers real-time database checks and allows Coastwatch to develop scenario-based targeting rule sets in order to identify suspect maritime entities.

Last year, Coastwatch screened 71.2 million people and more than 257,000 ship arrivals, and “generated 309 advance warning reports regarding arriving ships, people or cargoes posing a potential national security or criminal threat,” Papp said.

In addition, Papp said the agency has strengthened mutual relationships with the Mexican Navy (SEMAR) and the Mexican Secretariat for Communications and Transportation (SCT). SEMAR and SCT are increasing their engagement with the Coast Guard and the U.S. Northern Command in education, training, and participation in exercises and coordinated operations, along with intelligence and information-sharing, he said.

Papp also said that the establishment of additional Interagency Operations Centers (IOCs) for port security is well underway in Charleston, S.C.; Puget Sound, Wash.; San Diego, Boston and Jacksonville, Fla.; where CBP, Coast Guard and other agencies share a workspace for improved the efficiency and effectiveness of maritime assets. IOCs provide a framework to align agency operations among DHS and other federal, regional, state, local, tribal, territorial and international organizations and port stakeholders, he said.

“Additionally, the Web-based information-sharing system Watch Keeper has been deployed in eight ports to date,” Papp said. “Watch Keeper supports interagency information sharing and MDA management across port entities.”

Read the full testimony.