Piracy study needed better balance
With Heritage Foundation's work group lacking industry firepower on subject, the result is 'a bit of a dud.'
Analysis By Eric Kulisch
Think tanks crank out reports on myriad topics. Their mission is to generate ideas for political discourse and influence the debate in federal and state government.
Put simply, they want to catch the attention of lawmakers and policymakers and hope some of those ideas are incorporated in law or policy decisions.
Prolific think tanks and ones that have big-name fellows, such as former administration officials, or are associated with a particular political ideology, are able to boost their reputations, raise funds and get heard.
The conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation is one of those think tanks. Among the areas it focuses on are national defense and homeland security, often led by the able and provocative James Carafano.
But its latest report on dealing with piracy in the Gulf of Aden is a bit of a dud. Sure, there are a couple of good recommendations buried in the report, but most of the suggestions in the 23-page document (puny by Washington standards) have either been discussed repeatedly in the media and on Capitol Hill, or are actions already being undertaken by the U.S. government and industry to prevent hijacking of commercial vessels.
I won't mention that the report incorrectly states that 32 cargo vessels were hijacked last year, when in fact the number was 42, because that is a minor point.
My biggest problem with the report is that few of the 20-member Maritime Security Working Group convened by Heritage appear to have any substantive expertise regarding Somali pirates, or how naval forces and ocean carriers should deal with the problem.
The Maritime Security Working Group sounds more like a golf foursome, times five, in which the lead author invites a bunch of his buddies to participate.
|'An endeavor like this undoubtedly benefits from a multidisciplinary approach, so it was justified to include some of the participants. But when few of the disciplines involved have direct relation to the subject being studied you've got a problem.'|
Several members of the group have U.S. Coast Guard or defense backgrounds. But just because you were in the Coast Guard or understand missile defense systems doesn't mean you know a ton about pirates and the maritime industry. The Coast Guard has missions as varied as management of fisheries, pollution enforcement and navigational aids to port security.
To be fair, the Maritime Security Working Group has produced three other reports on maritime and supply chain security during the past four years and the composition of the panel appears better suited for some of those broader topics than piracy.
Jena Baker McNeill, a homeland security policy analyst at Heritage, said the committee reached out to other experts to contribute to the report, but that begs the question of why they weren't listed as contributors.
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Carafano is the lead author and shares primary responsibility for the panel and report. The other lead writers are Richard Weitz and Martin Edwin Anderson. Weitz is a senior fellow and director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the conservative Hudson Institute. His current areas of research include defense reform, weapons of mass destruction nonproliferation, and U.S. policies towards Europe, the former Soviet Union, Asia and the Middle East.
Andersen served as senior defense and foreign policy adviser to the late U.S. Senate Majority Whip Alan Cranston and is former editor of Port Security News.
Four of the panelists are ex-Coast Guardsmen, but their affiliations on the report don't hint of any special expertise. Jim Dolbow is named as a contributor to an unofficial Coast Guard blog, James D. Hull as an independent consultant and Jeffrey C. Robertson as with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Dolbow's bio on his Web site says he's a Coast Guard reserve officer and former staff assistant on defense issues for Congressman John Hostettler of Indiana.
Hull was a vice admiral who commanded the Coast Guard's Atlantic region and held various high-level policy positions in the service.
Robertson is no longer at DHS. He departed U.S. Customs and Border Protection as assistant commissioner for public affairs in January because he was a Bush administration political appointee. He also was deputy commander of the Coast Guard's Miami sector, and served as the sea service's liaison to the FBI and the National Joint Terrorism Task Force in 2004.
McNeill said all three were used to figure out Coast Guard capabilities and capacity as they bear on the service's role in dealing with piracy.
Shelly Gardiner and Michael Kichman are simply listed as U.S. Coast Guard consultants.
That's a lot of 'consultants' who don't have any transparency into their affiliations or background. Heritage declined requests to provide any biographical information on them or several other panelists.
Kichman is a retired Army officer who joined the Coast Guard in a civilian capacity after 9/11 and helped stand up a new anti-terrorism unit called Maritime Safety and Security Teams, according to Robertson. The quick-response teams are moved around the nation as needed to provide protection for strategic shipping, high-interest vessels, special events and critical infrastructure in and around ports.
Most of the recommendations for expanding Coast Guard capabilities were made in a previous report by the Maritime Security Working Group, so the added value of these experts as it relates to piracy appears minimal. Hull gets a pass because of his extensive Coast Guard background. I'll give Kichman a pass too since his anti-terror background could apply to piracy. The report should have had small profiles of the group members so one needn't guess about their credentials.
Then take McNeill. I'm sure she's a fine homeland security analyst in her own right, but she's quite new to the field. She started out as a research assistant with Hutchison Group LLC, a lobbying firm founded by Asa Hutchison, former undersecretary for border and transportation security at DHS. Hutchison is chairman of the Safe Commerce Coalition, comprised of companies and associations opposed to 100 percent cargo scanning in the air and ocean environments. But Hutchison Group was only founded in 2005 and is a broad lobbying firm that provides all types of governmental services to clients beyond the homeland security sphere, so how much expertise McNeill picked up there and what issues she worked on is open to question. She previously worked as an environmental management consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton and as a staff assistant for Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr.
Irvin Varkonyi is marketing manager for the transportation and logistics department at American Public University System, an online school and teaches an occasional class on transportation security at George Mason University. His background and expertise is in distribution, logistics and air freight. He said that his contribution related to how piracy impacts the global trading system. But the report only devotes two passing sentences to that part of the issue.
There are also three other Heritage research fellows on the panel. One is Mackenzie M. Eaglen. Her areas of focus are defense strategy, military readiness, Defense Department transformation, the defense industrial base and the size and structure of the nation's armed forces. Before that, she was principal defense advisor to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services and No. 2 on the Homeland Security Committee. Good credentials, but not targeted to the topic at hand.
James Phillips follows Middle Eastern affairs and international terrorism, and has written about Somalia. He gets a pass.
Brett Schaeffer specializes in sub-Saharan Africa, international aid and the United Nations. The report devotes a chapter to governance issues in Somalia and the root causes of piracy. He gets a pass too.
Daniel Goure is vice president of the Lexington Institute, a libertarian public policy organization where he focuses on national defense issues. He has an extensive background dealing with Defense Department organizational issues, emerging military needs, counter-proliferation and a host of other related topics.
|'To be fair, the Maritime Security Working Group has produced three other reports on maritime and supply chain security during the past four years and the composition of the panel appears better suited for some of those broader topics than piracy.'|
Two panel members belong to the lobbying firm Catalyst Partners. David Olive is a principal at Catalyst, which recently changed its name from Olive, Edwards & Cooper LLC. Olive is listed in the report under the company's previous name. He's a former chief of staff to Hutchison during his tour as congressman from Arkansas. After leaving Capitol Hill, he supervised the aviation, antitrust, telecommunications and information technology practice groups at public affairs firm Powell Tate. And before coming to Washington he served as president of Care First Inc., a nursing home management company. He also directed the legal division of the Donrey Media Group, a publishing, real estate and advertising company. Catalyst does homeland security consulting.
Kevin McCarthy is a former pilot and an aviation security expert at Catalyst. I haven't seen pirates attack ships from the air yet.
Rob Quartel heads NTEL-X, which helps companies automate data collection and analysis in the health care, logistics, regulatory and cargo security fields. The report lists him as associated with FreightDesk Technologies, the company's previous name. FreightDesk focused on international logistics software and automating risk management decisions. Again, the link to piracy expertise is tenuous.
I'd be remiss if I didn't point out a few conflicts of interest. Mark Gaspar is director of maritime systems for Lockheed Martin Corp. and Robbin F. Laird is an advisor to Gryphon Technologies. Lockheed Martin is the biggest U.S. defense contractor and was one of two lead systems integrators given unprecedented control of the Coast Guard's Deepwater program, the troubled effort to modernize the service's air and sea fleet. Integrated Coast Guard Systems, the joint venture company, was formed by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to manage the contract and then gave itself the job of doing the actual construction and fleet retrofitting. The Coast Guard took back management of the program it had outsourced after huge cost overruns and faulty vessel construction and communication systems were exposed. The piracy report calls on the U.S. government to expand the Navy and Coast Guard, including substantial increases for the Deepwater program.
As for Laird, he is a prolific author on defense issues, but his specialty is Soviet affairs, European foreign policy, the defense industry, NATO, arms control and grand military strategy. Gryphon Technologies is a high-tech contractor for the U.S. Navy.
Another potential conflict involves Corey Ranslem, a former Coast Guard officer who is chief executive officer of Secure Waters Security Group LLC. The Miami-based company provides counter-piracy security services such as armed guards, and detection technologies such as long-range high-definition, infrared and night vision cameras. Not surprisingly, the Heritage report calls for commercial vessel owners to consider 'alternative detection technologies that have proven successful in other areas, including long-range high-definition camera systems that have the ability to track smaller fast-moving targets.' And it recommends that carriers 'employ certified security consultants to serve onboard vessels transiting high-risk areas' to implement and train crews on defensive measures ' in effect endorsing the type of work done by Secure Waters.
The report also says commercial crews should receive 'real-time information sharing about pirate activities, maritime threats and hot spots around the world,' and that 'a handful of private companies provide such information.' One of them appears to be Secure Waters, which its Web site says provides threat intelligence briefings.
Having some private maritime security experts involved in the report probably makes sense, but it doesn't appear that there were enough checks and balances on their views in terms of the panel's composition.
Luke Ritter appears to have some credentials when it comes to piracy and how commercial cargo vessels operate. He is a former U.S. Navy officer who worked in the freight transportation business for an ocean container line, but ironically for the company's trucking business. He also marketed transportation security technology products while working for a systems integrator and is a part-time instructor at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. He was a co-founder of Trident Global Partners, a consulting firm that provided transportation and logistics advice to commercial and military clients. Ritter co-authored a book called Securing Global Transportation Networks that explains how businesses should use a total systems management approach to reduce supply chain risks. He now is a principal for global trade security at Ridge Global, the management consulting firm created by former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge.
An endeavor like this undoubtedly benefits from a multidisciplinary approach, so it was justified to include some of the participants. But when few of the disciplines involved have direct relation to the subject being studied you've got a problem.
I would have been more comfortable with the report if there were representatives on the panel from BIMCO, the world's largest private ocean shipping association, the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners or the World Shipping Council, or a former Coast Guard or Navy commander who specifically dealt with piracy, ocean carrier executives, someone from the Naval War College or Merchant Marine Academy, or a former Maritime Administration official with knowledge of the region or experience dealing with piracy around the world.
Plus, there was not one pirate on the panel.