Armed Hostilities

CRS Report for Congress by Jonathan Medalia


The research problem discussed in this report is the security threat posed by oil tankers. The author wants Congress to focus more on the oil tankers as he feels terrorists might plant nuclear or atomic bombs in oil tankers shipping oil to the US from oil exporting countries. There is a central argument in this report, which is, oil tankers pose a major terrorist threat to the US security. Based on this argument the author explores various topics supporting his thesis.

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The Importance of the Report

The author provides solution to the research problem by providing alternative measures for Congress to undertake. This makes the report crucial and indispensable while addressing the security problems posed by the rapidly increasing terrorist activities. The author offers various solutions and methods that Congress should adopt.

These include clarifying the federal responsibility for tanker security by ensuring all federal agencies are aware of their various roles in tanker security. A lead agency must be assigned to tanker security. An initiative should be created for tanker security whereby those tankers, from other countries, that do not adhere to the set standards should be denied entry into the US ports. This will sensitize the issue forcing other countries to observe the set standards.

The maritime domain awareness should also focus keenly on ships having oil tankers, keeping close surveillance on them. US intelligence should also be engaged in unearthing the various symbols and signs used by terrorist groups to ensure terrorist cargos are detected early before causing damage.

Funding on the technological focus of developing tools for detecting atomic bombs in tankers should also be re-evaluated. Offshore ports should also be constructed to keep tankers away from US ports while at the same time enhancing international cooperation on the sector involving oil tankers to make other countries accountable and more sensitive on the security issue, competent reliable personnel should be the prime focus.

The study of this report is worth doing as the author touches on an issue of national security that has not been emphasized. His study is on an area that should be closely monitored as no one knows which will be the next target of terrorists. Terrorists usually plan their attack for years, and this could be the most suitable method for carrying their bombs. The September 11 attack on the US also involved the transport system network, which shows the sector has loopholes. The report also points a crucial observation that screening methods cannot work on oil tankers.

The Uniqueness of the Study

The study is unique. It deviates from the common points of focus like airports, rail, container ship and borders. Although security has been tightened at the ports, the study shows the irony of the neglected oil tankers. The maritime security personnel state they have no jurisdiction of vessels on international water or vessels belonging to other countries before they enter the US waters yet they might as well cause harm to the US.

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The study clearly shows the shortcoming in the handling of tankers of which these tankers could cause major problems and damage than witnessed in the September 11 attack. Cargo containers are not inspected despite the high security measures and thus bombs in the cargo can easily be felled into the country (Medalia, 2004).

Main Points of the Article

The report tells of how security was tightened after the September 11 attack by terrorists almost in all areas especially in port and maritime security. However, the report shows that in spite of all this security, only a few cargo containers are inspected, raising the concern that terrorism has not been properly addressed. Experts have warned that any major attack on the ports would paralyze all operations of the ports and might bring the world economy to a stand still.

Although experts warn of repercussions of an attack, nothing out of the ordinary seems to be done to contain or address the posed threats. The report then highlights how importation of oil from Middle East forms the largest share of imported oil by the US. Middle East is believed to be the base of many terrorists groups and thus an attack on the US could occur through the importation of oil. The crude oil from Middle East is mainly through the supertankers and thus supertankers should be of great concern to the security department.

The report then explains how staging a nuclear bomb planted in an oil tanker could be possible. Terrorist might take advantage of the lax security of Middle East countries to infiltrate and plant the bombs in the ports of origin of the oil. They might also enter a ship in the sea and plant a bomb. It is explained how implanting a bomb like the one used to bomb Hiroshima would be easy. The gun-assembly bomb is said to be very effective such that, the one used to bomb Hiroshima had not been prior tested.

Possible targets like the Panama Canal and the offshore port of Louisiana could be bombed due to their economic importance. Terrorists are predicted to target ports that handled large volumes of oil and oil products, and those that have a densely population through which tankers passed on their way to the unloading terminal (Cochran, Arkin & Hoening,1984).

Detecting a bomb in the oil tankers is considered a difficult task as the well-known and most reliable methods like Gamma rays and x-rays could fail due to the nature of the oil inside and the nature of material used in making the oil tanker. The vast amount of oil in an oil tanker also works against chemical sampling of oil. Since it is very difficult to detect a bomb aboard in an oil tanker, then it would be appropriate to prevent it from being placed there. Personnel reliability and screening should be emphasized.

Then the issue of the problem highlighted is addressed, this is whether the administration considers oil tankers as a possible, if so, what measures are being taken and which executive branch is responsible and accountable in dealing with the threat. If Congress is convinced that report has credible concerns, then Congress should follow up the issues highlighted by the report.

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Alternatively, Congress should adopt the recommendations of the report like creating a tanker solution initiative, ensuring that tankers are a focus of maritime domain awareness, ensuring considerable amount of intelligence resources are focused on the threat, and keeping oil tankers from US ports. The US should also pursue oil-producing nations to be cooperative like having intertwined signal networks. On who should pay for the expenses to be incurred, funds should be deduced from the general revenue, tax on ships carrying the crude oil, or on petroleum products in the US.

Literature Review Provided

Books, journals and other reports have been used by the author in the support of his case. For example, the author has used the book by Thomas Cochran, William Arkin, and Milton Hoenig, Nuclear Weapons Data book, volume I to explain the kind of bomb the terrorists might use. This helps the reader of the report as it clarifies further and gives the writer of the report credibility as it shows the high level of research conducted.

The writer has used many other books, journals, and reports from credible organizations and even government departments to support some of arguments like showing how laws prohibit the Maritime authority from inspecting vessels on international waters. The use of credible sources in citation and referencing shows that the author of the report is basing his argument on facts rather than heresy, rumors, and speculation. His work is thus well researched, has depth, and should not be ignored.

The Method used in Collecting Data

The author has used secondary method of data collection as there is nowhere in his report he is said to have gone to the field to collect data. The author has not categorically specified his method of data collection and he seems to have no single major source. His research methodology seems to be diverse. It is possible to replicate this study, as most of the facts are universal or easily accessible. There is no specific individual survey or field research.


The author focuses on the variable of security. The tanker security to him is dependant on the cooperation of the country of origin of the oil and the US. He talks of securing tankers in the ports of country of origin. This includes tightening security with the hiring of reliable personnel and working together with the US. However, he notes that securing tankers in port might not be adequate as it is possible for terrorists to smuggle a bomb into a ship at sea.

He also explores the option of using surveillance aircraft or satellites, but the speed of the tankers is very slow and the personnel involved is only sizeable for such a huge task. The only option left to the author is that of screening for personnel reliability and the US tightening it security.

The Study Findings and the Goal of the Author

The study finding supports the author’s thesis that oil tankers pose security terrorism threats. The report shows how it is difficult to detect a bomb in an oil tanker. The conventional methods of screening cargos cannot be applied to oil tankers because of the nature of oil and the material used in making the oil tankers. Powerful methods like the use of Gamma rays, x-rays and chemical testing have been proven to fail because of one reason or the other. The conclusion follow from the evidence provided.

The conclusion talks of the various ways of raising money for implementing the measures, measures as provided by the evidence. The conclusion is persuasive as the proposed methods of raising the money are possible and the money to be raised is for a noble cause, that of safeguarding the US from terrorism. This will also help curb and reduce terrorism in the world.

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Implications of the Results

The author addresses the implications of the results but not comprehensively. Denying tankers that do not meet the set standards from entering the US ports would consequently lead to negotiations with other nations. However, the author does not categorically state what the nature or the results of the negotiations would be. Increase in the intelligence assets would enable there to be critical analysis of terrorism signs, and hence detection of these signs would lead to prior alerts.

The creation of offshore ports would deter tankers from ports and hence cannot be used to bomb a port which is the major economic leeway for many costal cities. However, the author does not explain the results of the other proposed measures.

Strengths and Limitations of the Study

The report is well researched with extensive and intensive insights. The report shows how the terrorists can infiltrate the security of the ports without detection and how tankers can be the next target after the September hijacking of planes. This report brings to light an issue that had not been emphasized. The author has done a comprehensive research, researching on the security on land, sea and the ports in other countries. Such a report is time consuming but can be of great importance.

The report is very open and non-specific. It addresses a wide range of options. This means it can be adopted internationally and addresses global concerns, it emphasizes on the need for international relations and cooperation in combating terrorism.

The report not only addresses the problem but also proposes the solution. The solution offered is not fixed or one sided. The author cites that either Congress can decide to adopt his report’s solution or it can address the highlighted problems. This seems a broad report that can be appealing to the members of Congress. The members of Congress can also decide to amend it and thus offers room for contribution by different members. The report offers factual scientific facts especially on the type of bomb that can be used by terrorists and thus has a scientific backing.

However, this report has its limitations. It could be termed as very authentic but the author has no power to implement it. The Congress might discard it, even though it could be raising concerns of possible threats. The report could also be used by terrorists. Terrorists could actually take advantage of the report as it elaborately explains how an attack is possible.

Terrorists who might never have thought about it could now start exploring and funding the project of using tankers as tools of terrorism. It also scientifically explains how it is difficult to detect a bomb inside an oil tanker, which would give the terrorists an added advantage ( U.S. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, 2004).

The report lacks supporting case, which might be its biggest undoing. Nowhere the use of tankers had been reported and thus could be discarded or refuted as just another piece of theory work. The author relies heavily on other people’s findings. His work could be easily replicated, as has so much general work. He is not seen in any section conducting actual research. Reliance so heavily on secondary sources of data collection makes his work lose credibility and might be rejected by Congress on those accounts.

Reference List

Cochran T; Arkin W., & Hoenig, M. (1984). Nuclear Weapons Databook, volume1U.S. Nuclear Forces and Capabilities. Cambridge: Ballinger.

Medalia, J. (2004). Port and Maritime Security: Potential for Terrorist Nuclear Attack Using Oil Tankers. Washington D.C.: Congressional Research Service.

U.S. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (2004). The 9/11 Commission Report, Authorized edition. New York: Norton.

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