Top Navy officer warns piracy may spill over into terrorism

Story highlights

  • Vice Admiral James Houck: "There are people that are interested in chaos"
  • When piracy intersects with terrorism, he says, concern will ratchet higher
  • He speaks at a Penn State symposium, "Perilous Seas: Piracy in the 21st Century"
A senior U.S. Navy officer is warning that piracy may become an increasingly dangerous and expensive problem, especially if it intersects with terrorism.
"There are people that are interested in chaos in the maritime domain, not so they can make some money (but) so they can do other things which are much more ominous and serious," Vice Admiral James Houck said at a symposium at Penn State University this week. As the judge advocate general, Houck serves at the Navy's top lawyer.
He said the fight against pirates faces multiple problems. "They are hard to find. They are hard to get. When we do get them they are hard to keep," Houck said.
And he presented a potentially dark forecast, as pirates range over a much wider area and take more hostages, and the frustration of a "catch and release" cycle when pirates are captured.
"We may not have seen bottom yet in this problem," he told his audience at the Dickinson School of Law.
The symposium topic was "Perilous Seas: Piracy in the 21st Century," and Houck raised concerns of even greater peril, saying that the terror attack on the USS Cole should not be ignored. In that 2000 attack, terrorists killed 17 American sailors, wounded dozens more and crippled the warship in the harbor of Aden, Yemen.
"At such point as we get the intersection of the Cole and piracy, that's when we are going to have to be even more concerned than we are today," Houck said. "And we watch for that very carefully and, thankfully and maybe surprisingly, we haven't yet seen the solid connections. And we can hope we never do."
The Defense Department announced this week it will press forward with a death penalty trial at the U.S. Navy Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for one of the alleged plotters of the USS Cole attack.