Make us your home page

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen talks about what keeps him awake at night

In Tampa on Friday, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen talks about the tradeoff between security and culture since Sept. 11 in the United States and the threats to major ports.


In Tampa on Friday, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen talks about the tradeoff between security and culture since Sept. 11 in the United States and the threats to major ports.

For most people, the Coast Guard's main job involves plucking unlucky or careless boaters out of the stormy seas. But Adm. Thad Allen, the service's top officer, tells civilians the Coast Guard has lots of roles that take "Coasties" from the Mississippi River to the Horn of Africa.

The commandant was in Tampa on Friday to address a conference of harbor safety committees, industry and government officials that work on security and safety issues at major ports. He talked with the St. Petersburg Times about how the service adapted to fight terrorists and what worries him most.

How has the Coast Guard's job changed since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks?

Our mission set didn't change terribly since 9/11. Going back to World War I, we were put in charge of safety and security for anchorages and waterfront facilities after a sabotage event in New York harbor. Some of our mission emphasis has changed.

Like what?

After 9/11, we required (foreign-flagged ships to provide) 96-hour notification and the electronic information they provide regarding the manifest of the crew and passengers. That goes to the National Targeting Center, and they produce anomalies that may cause us to want to hold a ship offshore because of a passenger or some cargo we may have a question about.

What kind of threat keeps you awake at night?

Small boats that are under the threshold for international regulation (300 gross tons or about 70 to 80 feet long). If you look at some of the things that have occurred around the world — things like the Mumbai attacks (in India), attack on the (Navy destroyer) Cole, piracy off the Horn of Africa or these self-propelled semisubmersibles bringing cocaine from South America — there's a common denominator: unregulated small boats.

What attacks are the biggest concern?

In the 2007 conference, we looked at four scenarios: the use of a small boat as a platform for a shoulder-held (missile) around, say, an airport; (using a boat) to introduce a weapon of mass effect into the country; a waterborne improvised explosive device; (and) the Mumbai scenario where a small terrorist team would be put ashore by a small vessel.

What is the best way to protect against them?

Here's where it starts to get dicey. Following 9/11, there was an international agreement that every vessel 300 gross tons or more would have a transponder on it, called automatic identification systems.

With recreation boaters and commercial fishing vessels, it becomes a very emotional issue. (They) have a history of autonomy and independent action on the water. There would be very strong resistance to put locator devices on recreational boats. That said, there are countries that require it. If you go to Singapore, they require tracking devices clear down to the Jet Ski level.

So, it really is a tradeoff between security and culture, freedom of movement, autonomy of action — a lot of things this country has been built on. It's a discussion that needs to be had. Sooner or later there's going to have to be a solution that emerges in this country, and we would not like to have to solve this problem after an event.

Steve Huettel can be reached at or (813) 226-3384.

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen talks about what keeps him awake at night 05/29/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 30, 2009 9:04pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Black entrepreneur says city stiffing him on project after he endorsed Rick Baker


    ST. PETERSBURG — A prominent African-American resident says his endorsement of mayoral candidate Rick Baker has led city officials to freeze him out of a major construction project along the historic "Deuces" stretch of 22nd Street S.

  2. Sen. Nelson urges FEMA to examine high number of denied flood claims


    Sen. Bill Nelson urged FEMA on Tuesday to ensure fairness, proper oversight and transparency in processing Hurricane Irma aid following a report by the Palm Beach Post that 90 percent of Irma claims under the National Flood Insurance Program had been denied.

    Sen. Bill Nelson is calling for FEMA to ensure the flood claims process post-Hurricane Irma is fair and ethical following reports that 90 percent of claims under the National Flood Insurance Program were denied. | [Times file photo]
  3. Amazon expands in Tampa with Pop-Up shop in International Plaza


    TAMPA — A new retailer known largely for its online presence has popped up at International Plaza and Bay Street.

    Shoppers walk past the new Amazon kiosk Tuesday at the International Plaza in Tampa. The kiosk, which opened last month, offers shoppers an opportunity to touch and play with some of the products that Amazon offers.
[CHRIS URSO   |   Times]

  4. Study: Florida has fourth-most competitive tax code


    Florida's tax code is the fourth most competitive in the country, according to a study released Tuesday by nonprofit group Tax Foundation.

    Florida has the fourth-most competitive tax code, a study by the Tax Foundation said. Pictured is  Riley Holmes, III, H&R Block tax specialist, helping a client with their tax return in April. | [SCOTT KEELER, Times]
  5. Trigaux: On new Forbes 400 list of U.S. billionaires, 35 now call Florida their home

    Personal Finance

    The latest Forbes 400 richest people in America was unveiled Tuesday, with 35 billionaires on that list calling Florida home. That's actually down from 40 Florida billionaires listed last year when a full 10 percent listed declared they were Floridians by residence.

    Edward DeBartolo, Jr., shopping center developer and  former San Francisco 49ers Owner, posed with his bronze bust last year during the NFL Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony in Canton, Ohio. DeBartolo remains the wealthiest person in Tampa Bay according to the Forbes 400 list released Tuesday. 
[Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images]