Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 28, 2006

Inside the radiological sensor tests in Nevada

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Christian Beckner on January 28, 2006

The AP reported yesterday on the current radiological sensor tests at the Nevada Test Site, as mentioned in this post earlier in the month. From the story:

Technicians are testing pillar-style roadside sensors like those deployed to ports of entry and some highway weigh stations. The sensors detect neutrons and gamma rays emitted by lethal nuclear devices or radioactive isotopes that could be dispersed by less sophisticated explosives in a “dirty bomb.”

The scientists also are testing sensors in vehicles, including white ambulance-style vans, black SUVs and a Jeep loaded with sophisticated radiation sniffers and computers.

The tests aim to see whether the 30 or so devices available commercially can distinguish a bomb from less harmful sources of radioactivity, such as a person who has had a radioactive isotope injected during a medical procedure, or household items like kitty litter and floor tiles that contain natural trace amounts….

Detecting radioactive materials in public places is an evolving science, Oxford said. There are no national standards for devices that range from the size of a steam iron to the two-door prototype “Smart Jeep.”

The next generation of hand-held detectors should be able to identify radiation sources without the need to open shipping containers using what Oxford calls “discrimination capability.”

This is very important work on the most important research challenge for our nation’s homeland security. There are no guarantees, but hopefully this testing will help produce a breakthrough in the state of detection technology.

January 27, 2006

HLS in DC, Jan. 30 – Feb. 3, 2006

Filed under: Events — by Christian Beckner on January 27, 2006

Below is a list of homeland security policy events in the DC area next week. I post a list each week and will often update mid-week when I find new items. You can always find current and previous postings under the “Events” category tab at right. And please note that many events require prior invitations and/or RSVPs.

1/30-1/31: Railway Security Forum and Expo. Speakers include TSA Administrator Kip Hawley and House HSC Chairman Peter King. Washington Marriott Hotel.
1/30: First meeting of the FCC’s Hurricane Katrina Independent Panel. 445 12th St. SW, 10am.
1/30: Senate HSGAC hearing on “Hurricane Katrina: Urban Search and Rescue in a Catastrophe.” Dirksen 342, 10am.
1/30: Lecture by former CIA director Jim Woolsey on “The Long War of the 21st Century: How We Must Fight It” as part of the SAIS Intelligence Forum. 1740 Mass Ave., NW, 5pm.
1/31: Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on pandemic flu preparedness. Hart 216. 9:30am.
1/31: Senate HSGAC hearing on “Challenges in a Catastrophe: Evacuating New Orleans in Advance of Hurricane Katrina.” Dirksen 342, 10am.
1/31: Woodrow Wilson Center discussion with terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna on “The al Qaeda Network in Iran and Iraq.” 1300 Penn Ave. NW, 12 noon.
1/31: Meeting of the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee. By teleconference. 2pm.
2/1: Senate HSGAC hearing on “Hurricane Katrina: Managing the Crisis and Evacuating New Orleans.” Dirksen 342, 10am.
2/2: Senate HSGAC hearing on “Hurricane Katrina: The Role of the Governors in Managing the Catastrophe.” Dirksen 342, 10am.
2/2: Discussion on Protecting the U.S. Electric Power System convened by the National Academies’ National Research Council. 500 Fifth St. NW, 10am.
2/3: Senate HSGAC hearing on “Hurricane Katrina: Managing Law Enforcement and Communications in a Catastrophe.” Dirksen 342, 10am.

(Please e-mail if you have suggestions about additions to this list for this week, or future weeks).

Border madness

Filed under: Border Security — by Christian Beckner on January 27, 2006

Up until now, I’ve deliberately ignored some of the border security-related stories that have been in the news this week, trying to sort out the details and understand their implications before posting.

To recap:

All of this “border madness” takes place at a time when Congress is considering the most important border security and immigration legislation in a decade. I worry that these kinds of highly charged stories will have an undue influence on the legislative process. The border security legislation needs to be written not based on emotion, but on a rigorous analysis of the threats to national security, the costs and benefits of various measures, and the macro-level economic impacts on measures such as GDP and unemployment. A bill that is not fundamentally grounded in these realities, but responds instead to the hysteria of the day, is going to be a disaster for the nation.

The media also needs to do a better job of reporting these kind of stories in context, and explain how many of these activities are not new problems, but have been happening for a long time. They are important problems and need to be addressed, but they don’t deserve a manic level of attention, a la the “summer of the shark attack” in 2001.

QDR discusses strategy to combat WMD threats

Filed under: Homeland Defense,Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Christian Beckner on January 27, 2006

Bill Gertz at the Washington Times has a story today that provides some of the first substantive details on the counter-WMD and homeland defense elements of the forthcoming Quadrennial Defense Review:

A section of the report on combating weapons of mass destruction (WMD) said future U.S. military forces will have the capability to interdict and “render safe” weapons of mass destruction before terrorists can use them.

To counter the threat, the Defense Department will “develop new defensive capabilities in anticipation of the continued evolution of WMD threats,” the report said.

Evolving WMD threats include electromagnetic pulse weapons, portable nuclear devices, genetically engineered pathogens and new chemical arms, the report said. The report states that the four-star general in charge of the Omaha, Neb.-based U.S. Strategic Command has the lead role in countering WMD threats.

“The United States will have increased efforts to locate, track and tag shipments of WMD,” the report said. One key recommendation of the report is that “there shall be a joint task force for the elimination of WMD,” the report said.

At first impression, this sounds like a very important and positive shift in the nation’s defense posture, one that puts the military’s WMD counterproliferation efforts on much more of a strategic footing.

And the report speaks to new DOD efforts to counter genetically engineered bioweapons threats:

For homeland security, the report calls for spending $1.5 billion over the next five years for medical countermeasures against genetically engineered biological warfare agents.

This seems appropriate, given the uncertain but potentially grave vulnerabilities that we face to genetically engineered biothreats. DOD needs to make sure that it works closely with civilian government agencies – NIH, CDC, and DHS – in the development of these new countermeasures.

TSA gets a new intelligence chief

Filed under: Aviation Security,Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christian Beckner on January 27, 2006

Via CQ:

TSA chief Kip Hawley said Thursday that the agency is creating a new senior-level intelligence position, which will play the role of interlocutor between the TSA’s central intelligence shop and local officials at airports and other transportation venues. Hawley said the acting director of TSA’s intelligence unit, Nick Grant, will assume the new role….

Hawley also announced Thursday that Bill Gaches, now head of the intelligence division at the National Counterterrorism Center, will take over Grant’s old job as the assistant administrator for intelligence and analysis.

The article also quotes Rep. Ed Markey criticizing DHS for the lack of info-sharing among its intelligence activities. I think that things have been moving in the right direction in recent months with the appointment of Charlie Allen as Chief Intelligence Officer. But articles such as this one illustrate the depth of the challenge facing DHS in its efforts to strengthen and link its intelligence activities.

For more context on TSA’s intelligence activities, see this post that I wrote last month, or run this Google search.

January 26, 2006

“Progressive” QDR makes homeland defense recommendations

Filed under: Homeland Defense — by Christian Beckner on January 26, 2006

The Center for American Progress (CAP) has released a new report entitled “Restoring America’s Military Power: A Progressive Quadrennial Defense Review” this week. It represents a preemptive critique of the official Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which DOD will release on February 7th. On the subject of homeland defense, the CAP report provides the following homeland defense-related recommendations:

  1. Establish a “Homeland Security Corps” and make the Army National Guard the primary protector of the homeland. Shift its composition to units suited for homeland defense missions (ie. combat support, military police).
  2. Prohibit first responders from serving in the Selected Reserve.
  3. Have DOD work more closely with DHS and other agencies to build synergies between the homeland security and homeland defense missions.
  4. Double homeland defense spending to $20 billion.
  5. Increase DOD capabilities to support civil authorities in response to CBRNE attacks.
  6. Establish two regional commands within the National Guard to enhance homeland defense and disaster response planning.
  7. Enhance Northcom recovery capabilities for catastrophic disasters. Train two active-duty Army divisions in domestic consequence management as a reserve force for the homeland defense mission to the Army National Guard.

Many of the policy recommendations above are sensible, and a lot of them are consistent with the official DOD Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support released in June 2005. The biggest question mark for me in these recommendations is the idea of doubling homeland defense spending. Without a better of idea of what this new spending would deliver, I’m initially skeptical. And from my vantage point, I see a number of mission areas within DHS that have more pressing funding needs than DOD’s homeland defense activities.

It will be very interesting to see what the real QDR says about homeland defense. I’ve been looking doggedly for advance information about this part of the report, but there’s very little info out there as of yet. You’ll definitely see analysis of it here on Feb. 7th.

John Russack leaves Information Sharing Environment job

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christian Beckner on January 26, 2006

Washington Technology reports tonight that John Russack has left his job as program manager for the Information Sharing Environment office at the DNI:

John Russack, program manager for the Information-Sharing Environment in the office of the Director of National Intelligence, is leaving the post, according to a statement released today by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

“It is a troubling setback that John Russack, the Bush administration’s top official in charge of implementing a governmentwide initiative to enhance information-sharing between local, state and federal officials, is stepping down,” Durbin said in a statement.

“It appears that our best efforts to implement 21st century technology for information-sharing are still far behind. Today’s announcement tells us that plans for moving forward may be delayed or jeopardized,” Durbin said.

This position is critically important for efforts to improve homeland security-related information sharing, both within the federal government and with state and local officials, as discussed in Russack’s testimony last November. The DNI needs to find a replacement quickly to move forward with the office’s key initiatives and fulfill the mandates of the President’s executive order from 2004 on terrorism information sharing.

Forbes on the business of biodefense

Filed under: Biosecurity,Business of HLS — by Christian Beckner on January 26, 2006

Forbes Magazine has a new article (might need a login and password; borrow one here) that highlights a handful of companies that are researching new technologies and developing new products for biodefense, directed against both the terrorism and avian flu threats:

Government funding will likely spur growth in the biosecurity business. In 2004 Congress approved Project BioShield to aid research and development for detecting viruses and biological weapons. Biotech companies have received a fraction of the $5.6 billion, ten-year allocation, but investors are catching a whiff of this new pork from Congress. The $7.1 billion President George W. Bush laid out in November to fight bird flu has led to Senate bills that could result in additional biosensor opportunities.

The article contains some interesting details about key companies working in this sector, describing them as “tempting takeover targets.”

Chertoff at Davos

Filed under: DHS News,Risk Assessment — by Christian Beckner on January 26, 2006

Sec. Chertoff visited the original Magic Mountain today – Davos, Switzerland – for a session at the World Economic Forum together with FBI director Robert Mueller. From an AP report on his talk:

One of the biggest hurdles in fighting terrorism is assessing the risk, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said, as Muslim leaders debated extremism, and weapons experts warned of terrorists building a nuclear bomb.

Each day countries are faced with a myriad of risks — to railroads, public transport and chemical plants — but officials need to look at the consequences, the vulnerability and the nature of the threats to prevent attacks, Chertoff said Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“I personally think the biggest danger we face is a nation-state developing a bomb … and making that bomb available to somebody not inhibited to using it. That is a nightmare scenario,” Chertoff said.

There’s no additional info about the speech on the DHS or World Economic Forum sites. I’ll update this post if I learn more.

Heritage analysis of new cargo security bill

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Port and Maritime Security — by Christian Beckner on January 26, 2006

Alane Kochems at the Heritage Foundation published an analysis of the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act today, a bill introduced by Sen. Patty Murray and Sen. Susan Collins last November.

Some of the analysis is solid, such as her comment on “requirements for a strategic plan” that the bill only mandates that DHS look at cargo containers, and not also at other means of carriage in the system, i.e. bulk cargo, breakbulk cargo, air freight, etc. But two of the things that she cites as “wasteful items” seem to reflect a misreading of the bill. She writes:

Office of Cargo Security Policy. The Act would establish an office to coordinate all DHS policies and programs relating to cargo security and to con­sult with stakeholders and federal agencies on best practices and regulation. This office is redundant; the Assistant Secretary of Policy already coordi­nates policy across the department. This proposed office would stovepipe information and policy decisionmaking rather than addressing interna­tional supply chain security policy in the central DHS policy office, which can coordinate policy among all of the department’s many components.

But the bill explicitly states that this new office would be located inside the office of and report to the Assistant Secretary of Policy (Sec. 431(c)). That isn’t redundancy; it’s simply filling out part of the org chart for the new policy office.

She then writes:

Radiation Detection and Radiation Safety. This provision would require that all containers entering the United States be inspected for radia­tion within one year of the Act’s signing. Such a mandate would waste scarce resources on scan­ning mostly innocuous containers. Time, money, and effort should go toward investigating and examining suspect containers rather than every piece of hay in the haystack.

There might be some confusion here on the definition of “inspect.” Inspect in the context of the bill doesn’t mean opening every container, or moving containers through relatively slow gamma ray imaging devices; it means putting radiation portal monitors in place at fixed locations that trucks and containers can rapidly move through. This creates very little disruption to normal port operations. In fact, trucks can drive through radiation portal monitors today without stopping. I think it’s absolutely a good idea to scan 100% of containers for radiation, if it can be done non-intrusively, as part of a layered security strategy that includes other elements of the cargo security system such as C-TPAT and the National Targeting Center.

Three new DHS IG reports

Filed under: DHS News,Technology for HLS — by Christian Beckner on January 26, 2006

Posted on the DHS Inspector General’s website in the last day or so:

Management of the DHS Wide Area Network Needs Improvement (PDF, 32 pages – 264 KB)

Security Weaknesses Increase Risks to Critical DHS Databases (Redacted) (PDF, 36 pages – 2 MB)

US-VISIT System Security Management Needs Strengthening (Redacted) (PDF, 47 pages – 2 MB)

I haven’t had a chance to read these yet, but I’ll browse through them later and write a new post if there is interesting content in any or all of them.

A peek at the FY 2007 DHS budget

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Christian Beckner on January 26, 2006

According to CQ, a key congressional staffer gave a top-level preview of the FY 2007 budget for the Department of Homeland Security at a meeting yesterday:

However, police, firefighters and local officials should not expect increases in the department’s first-responder grants, G. William Hoagland, director of budget and appropriations for the office of the majority leader, told an industry symposium hosted by Equity International.

“My friends in state and local government are not going to be pleased with me, but that’s where the restrictions are going to be placed,” Hoagland said. DHS as a whole could see a 3 percent to 5 percent funding increase in 2007, he said.

A 3%-5% funding increase basically means that DHS is now at a steady-state in terms of funding, when you control for inflation. This contrasts quite starkly with predictions 2-3 years ago that the DHS budget would see double-digit percentage increases for years to come, and implies that the Administration thinks that it is now spending the right amount on homeland security. I think that idea is open for debate. There are certainly examples of DHS spending money unnecessarily, but there are also, more importantly, a number of mission areas where DHS investment has until now been inadequate. A steady-state budget suggests that there will be little new investment in these mission areas.

The full budget request will be released on Feb. 7th. I’ll be analyzing parts of it in detail that day.

Update (1/26): More on Hoagland’s comments at GovExec, including the following:

Hoagland predicted that Congress and the administration will increase funding for border security by as much as 10 percent and funding for science and technology to defend against weapons of mass destruction by as much as 35 percent.

January 25, 2006

Reports on DHS cybersecurity state and local outreach

Filed under: Infrastructure Protection,State and Local HLS — by Christian Beckner on January 25, 2006

The Democratic staff of the House Homeland Security Committee released a report today entitled “Falling Short in Securing Cyberspace on the State and Local Level.” The report derives its analysis from a survey conducted by the National Association of State Chief Informational Officers (NASCIO) and the Metropolitan Information Exchange (MIX).

The recommendations in the report and the survey have a common theme of “DHS should do more to help state and local governments with cybersecurity.” Specific recommendations focus on areas such as DHS outreach to state and locals, training programs, and the coordination of alerts. Some of these recommendations (e.g. better coordination of alert systems) are solid, but on many others, my gut reaction is “why is this a federal responsibility?”

Take the issue of training as an example. The NASCIO report recommends that DHS be more active about providing training opportunities to state and local cybersecurity officials, and even goes as far as suggesting that DHS create fellowships for state and local officials to go to the NCSD for six months:

Twenty (77%) of state CISOs indicated that they would consider sending employees to federally funded, short-term (e.g., 180 day) fellowships in Washington, DC with the National Cyber Security Division (NCSD) where they could learn more about NCSD’s mission and capabilities.

Naturally state and local officials are going to be in favor of this idea if they don’t have to pay for it. But should the federal government really pay to train state employees on cybersecurity? Is there a compelling national value to providing federal training in this area, or should the federal role simply be limited to standard-setting, and allowing the states to fund their own training if needed? I’d have to say the latter.

The House Democratic report also notes that most of the state and local CIOs surveyed were not familiar with the DHS National Infrastructure Protection Plan, and suggests that DHS should have done more to enhance awareness of it:

For instance, when asked about their awareness of the Interim National Infrastructure Protection Plan (Interim NIPP), a majority of state officials were not “familiar” with the plan, though the NIPP is the base plan for protecting the nation’s federal, state, and local cyber infrastructure. The Department must do a better job of marketing and promoting these documents directly to the state and local information security officers…

Is this really DHS’s fault? Don’t these local officials have some responsibility to find out on their own initiative about what’s going on at DHS? The NIPP is not exactly a secret; as CQ noted last month, the latest version of it received 5,000 public comments in December.

The Department’s cybersecurity efforts need to improve in many ways, as I’ve noted previously. But on some of the critiques in these reports, I’m not convinced.

Senate hearing on US-VISIT program

Filed under: Border Security — by Christian Beckner on January 25, 2006

The Senate Appropriations committee held a hearing today on the US-VISIT program, featuring testimony by program director Jim Williams and the GAO’s Randolph Hite, also posted as a GAO report today. GovExec’s story on the hearing is here.

The GAO report makes several recommendations about the program management of US-VISIT, including suggested improvements to its strategic plan and performance plan. And the report provides a very insightful explanation of the current status of US-VISIT and its relationship to other DHS programs and projects.

DHS CFO discusses challenges of interoperability

Filed under: State and Local HLS,Technology for HLS — by Christian Beckner on January 25, 2006

Washington Technology has a story tonight that quotes DHS CFO Andrew Maner on the difficulties of developing interoperable communications:

The Homeland Security Department is making slow progress in its efforts to achieve interoperability in first responder communications, Andrew Maner, the department’s chief financial officer, said at an academic conference today.

Lack of compatible radio and data communications among first responders became a major issue after 9/11 because of the inability of some firefighters, police and emergency medical personnel at the World Trade Center disaster scene to communicate by radio. It’s a longstanding problem affecting most public safety agencies nationwide.

“Interoperability is a very interesting topic—a source of pride and frustration,” Maner said at a homeland security budget conference at George Washington University, sponsored by Equity International Inc. business development firm.

“It’s one of our primary goals,” Maner said. “But I don’t know the breaking point for this—how much money it is going to take to achieve it. It feels endless. I feel like we should make more progress.”

I wrote about this issue in this post last month, linking in it to a USA Today story on the topic. I agree that there’s no easy answer to this issue, and think that developing expensive and brand new common systems might not be best use of homeland security funds if we look at it from a cost vs. security benefit perspective. Efforts should focus heavily on workaround tools that can virtually integrate existing systems rather than starting from scratch.

Upcoming DHS advisory committee meetings

Filed under: DHS News — by Christian Beckner on January 25, 2006

Two notices of meetings of DHS-led federal advisory councils have been published this week in the Federal Register:

The Departmental Advisory Committee on Commercial Operations of Customs and Border Protection and Related Functions (COAC) is having a meeting on February 9th. Topics include the implementation of the World Customs Organization Security Framework and a Benefits Review from the committee’s Green Lane Task Force. Complete details on the meeting can be found here.

The National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC) is having its next meeting on February 13th. Topics include a status update of the National Infrastructure Protection Plan. Complete details on the meeting can be found here.

Both meetings require prior RSVP’s, as outlined in the links.

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