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On piracy in the Gulf of Aden

Modern Somali pirateThe U.S. Naval Institute’s new blog features some heavy hitters posting on America’s response to modern day pirates in the Gulf of Aden. How come? Well, those pesky Somali pirates have kept themselves in the headlines long enough to draw the attention of the UN Security Council (I’ll bet the pirates are terrified). After a recent close call, cruise ship passengers have now begun debarking before their ships reach the danger area, then flying to the next port of call to rejoin the cruise in safer waters.
At the USNI blog, the Navy’s current tactics catch flak from Chuck Spinney, while Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen asks about the counter-piracy endgame. The latest missive from the Department of Crazy Ideas (courtesy of lawyer and retired Navy Captain “Eagle1”) suggests a cheap inshore fleet. All well and good, but something’s missing.
Let’s convince Congress to issue Letters of Marque & Reprisal. This isn’t as quaint or old-fashioned as you might think, and I’m not in the middle of a Walter Mitty daydream about Sir Francis Drake. The most recently-issued letter of marque allowed the civilian blimp Resolute to operate as an Anti-Submarine Warfare privateer, patrolling out of Los Angeles in 1941-42.
To curb the Somali pirates, our Congress could simply turn loose civilian contractors like Blackwater, Paratus World Wide Protection, or Triple Canopy. Quick, easy, no muss, no fuss. The Democrats in DC would only need to handle the paperwork and make belligerent speeches, leaving the private military companies to figure out the messy details. There would be minimal risk to our military personnel, who would only have to assist the contractors with surveillance and intelligence gathering.
If the sea services insist on taking part, or if the DC crowd pushes them into the fray, they should resist the urge to charge right up the middle with conventional forces. They should first look carefully at the capabilities of the Coast Guard’s MSSTs (and the MSRT), as well as the Navy’s SEALs, SWCC Teams, and Maritime Expeditionary Security Force. There’s not much sense in trying to swat flies with a sledgehammer.