JHOC: Eyes Wide Open

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

By Greg Trauthwein

The Joint Harbor Operation Center (JHOC) — pronounced "Jay - Hawk" —v on Naval Station Norfolk is the pinnacle of cooperation between the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy; jointly devised, outfitted, staffed and maintained to protect what is arguably one of the most diverse, sensitive and valuable series of waterfront installations in the nation.

The JHOC established on Naval Station Norfolk in wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks is serving as a sort of prototype for the rest of the nation, with a similar JHOC under development in San Diego. It is unique as, for the first time it brings together the Navy and the Coast Guard in a joint operation to ensure port security, specifically monitoring military and civilian vessels entering and exiting the lower part of the Chesapeake Bay.

The 'Red Box on Stilts'

Left to the imagination, one might envision the JHOC housed in an ultra-sophisticated and secretive bunker; a James Bond-esque facility employing the latest technologies to effectively monitor such a vast expanse of waterway and track the vessels transiting them.

While much of the security attention has focused on New York and Washington for good reason, the Norfolk area, with a diverse commercial and military mix of potentially attractive terrorist targets, is the quintessential locale for the JHOC experiment. Assets on the lower Chesapeake, which includes the Elizabeth and James Rivers, include: the largest concentration of naval ships and facilities in the world, including Navy Intelligence Command, and, at any given time, perhaps a half dozen aircraft carriers; the Cove Point LNG facility; three major container ports, in addition to a fourth, recently announced $400 million container port; a growing Cruise Port; as well as a number of bridges and tunnels.

While the new JHOC facility in Norfolk, scheduled to open later this summer, will fit the high-tech mold, the current facilities are, in fact, the polar opposite.

JHOC's home today is an old degaussing tower that had been used to neutralize the magnetic field surrounding ships, and prior to September 11 was empty and scheduled to be demolished. Dubbed by some observers as "the red box on stilts" (see photo, right), the center was opened about a month after September 11 and was "basically a box with a pair of binoculars and a space heater … and the space heater didn't work too well," said Robert T. Nelson, Jr., Lieutenant Command, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve. From humble roots JHOC will evolve into a template upon which other such ventures may be based, but there are currently only loose plans to develop JHOCs in areas where there is a strong Navy presence.

Evolution is the keyword, as the U.S. security stance, with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, which subsequently integrated the U.S. Coast Guard from the Department of Transportation — continues to morph in devising an adequate security posture for an estimated 95,000 miles of waterfront.

While JHOC is a natural evolution and an efficient use of information and resources, operations such as this have raised questions as it is considered by some close to crossing borders established by The Posse Comitatus Act (PCA) of 1878, which states:

The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878

The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 (PCA) prohibits the use of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus to execute the laws of the U.S.

"POSSE COMITATUS ACT" (18 USC 1385): A Reconstruction Era criminal law proscribing use of Army (later, Air Force) to "execute the laws" except where expressly authorized by Constitution or Congress. Limit on use of military for civilian law enforcement also applies to Navy by regulation. Dec '81 additional laws were enacted (codified 10 USC 371-78) clarifying permissible military assistance to civilian law enforcement agencies--including the Coast Guard--especially in combating drug smuggling into the United States. Posse Comitatus clarifications emphasize supportive and technical assistance (e.g., use of facilities, vessels, aircraft, intelligence, tech aid, surveillance, etc.) while generally prohibiting direct participation of DoD personnel in law enforcement (e.g., search, seizure, and arrests). For example, Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDETS) serve aboard Navy vessels and perform the actual boardings of interdicted suspect drug smuggling vessels and, if needed, arrest their crews). Positive results have been realized especially from Navy ship/aircraft involvement.

While debaters debate, JHOC employs the strengths of USCG and USN to provide an effective harbor security solution.

For example the Navy is not in the business of commercial port operation, and left to its own devices may impose a more stringent 'stop and check' of everything moving in the harbor, effectively stymieing commerce in the region. However, the Navy does have much "deeper pockets" than the Coast Guard, and of course a superior number of advanced boats and firepower. For its part, the Coast Guard delivers its port operations experience.

In the event of a valid threat, the USCG is able to physically commandeer naval resources to adequately meet and address it. The result is maximum protection of high value naval and commercial targets, with the continuation of commerce in "business as usual" mode.

"While we are responsible for our ships and our Navy ports, the Coast Guard is in charge of the entire port of Hampton Roads," said Capt. Joseph F. Bouchard, the commanding office or Naval Station Norfolk. "By working together we can accomplish more with the resources available to each agency. We can track ships throughout the harbor. It greatly extends our defensive perimeter. Now we can detect potential threats before they can become a problem off the naval station piers," he said.

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