December 31, 2002

HAPPY NEW YEAR:

U.S. intelligence officials have identified approximately 15 cargo freighters around the world that they believe are controlled by al Qaeda or could be used by the terrorist network to ferry operatives, bombs, money or commodities over the high seas, government officials said.

American spy agencies track some of the suspicious ships by satellites or surveillance planes and with the help of allied navies or informants in overseas ports. But they have occasionally lost track of the vessels, which are continually given new fictitious names, repainted or re-registered using invented corporate owners, all while plying the oceans. . . .

“If the Coast Guard can’t stop 200 people on a freighter from coming into the port of Miami, how can they stop a terrorist with a dirty bomb?” asked Bruce Stubbs, a former Coast Guard captain and now a security consultant.

Long-term, this is likely to put an end to flags of convenience and to introduce the maritime industry to a degree of regulation it has escaped so far. My feelings on that: very mixed.

UPDATE: I wonder if there’s a North Korea connection?