Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 26, 2006

Time Magazine looks at securing private infrastructure

Filed under: Infrastructure Protection — by Christian Beckner on February 26, 2006

Time Magazine has an important story out today that looks at the Dubai ports deal in the context of broader efforts to secure private sector infrastructure since 9/11. It focuses on the issue of chemical plant security, a topic that I’ve been harping on constantly in recent months:

Today only about 1,100 of the nation’s 15,000 biggest plants participate in the voluntary security program. Even Bush loyalists are worried about the vulnerability that remains. “Not all chemical sites are good partners,” said Asa Hutchinson, a former top Homeland Security official, at a recent chemical-industry gathering. “Some of the top-tier sites will not let Homeland Security inside the fence.”

For my money, the single most important thing that Congress could do in 2006 to strengthen homeland security has nothing to do with FEMA or border security: it’d be passing the Collins-Lieberman chemical security legislation as soon as possible.

Does TSA need an executive recruiter?

Filed under: Aviation Security,Organizational Issues — by Christian Beckner on February 26, 2006

According to a Fedbizopps posting last week, the TSA intends to hire an executive recruiting agency:

The Transportation Security Administration intends to begin market research pursuant to Executive Recruitment Services for multiple key Federal Government executive positions in the United States….

The contractor must provide nationwide services to assist in filling key Federal Government leadership (executive) positions. The ideal candidates for the leadership positions to be filled must have experience in security in one or more of the transportation modes (air, rail, highway, port, etc.). Candidates would also include those individuals with law enforcement/security experience or individuals with previous military leadership experience. The positions to be filled are located in the National Capital Region and at airports throughout the country.

Without a doubt, TSA needs to have a cadre of strong senior managers, both at headquarters and in the FSD positions. But do they really need to hire an outside executive recruiting firm? What’s wrong with USAJOBS? This seems like a questionable expenditure for an agency is likely to be cash-strapped in the coming fiscal year.

60 Minutes looks at port security

Filed under: Port and Maritime Security — by Christian Beckner on February 26, 2006

60 Minutes reported tonight on the Dubai ports story and the broader issue of port security. The transcript of the show is available here, and does a good job of outlining the key issues related to port and maritime security today.

From the summary of the report:

“We have a real problem on our waterfront. But it’s less about who owns these few terminals in our country. It’s about the systematic vulnerability,” [Stephen Flynn] says.

“So you’re not terribly concerned by the fact that a company from Dubai is going to be operating port terminals in the United States?” [Steve] Kroft asked.

“I’m concerned that the entire system is potentially vulnerable,” Flynn replied.

This is just the latest example of the media broadening their focus from the Dubai story to the much more important issue of broader port and maritime security activities. If there’s a silver lining from this whole Dubai ports story, it’s the fact that renewed attention to the issue of port security may very well lead to increased resources in this appropriations cycle.

February 24, 2006

HLS in DC, Feb. 27 – Mar. 3, 2006

Filed under: Events — by Christian Beckner on February 24, 2006

Below is a list of homeland security policy events in the DC area next week. I post a list each week and will sometimes 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.

2/27-2/28: Bird Flu Summit. Hyatt Regency Crystal City, Arlington, VA.
2/27: Heritage Foundation event on “What’s in a Name? How to Talk about Terrorism.” 214 Mass Ave NE, 11am.
2/28: Carnegie Mellon University conference on “Before the Next Crisis: Steps to Secure America’s Essential Services.” Hart 911, 8:30am.
2/28: The Trust for America’s Health forum on business and pandemic flu preparedness. National Press Club, 14th and F St. NW, 8:30am.
2/28: Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing on “Wartime Executive Power and the NSA’s Surveillance Authority.” Dirksen 226, 9:30am.
2/28: Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the FY 2007 DHS budget request. Dirksen 192, 10:30am.
2/28: House Government Reform committee hearing on “Progress Since 9/11: Protecting Public Health and Safety Against Terrorist Attack.” Rayburn 2154, 2pm.
2/28: Senate Commerce Committee hearing on “Security of Terminal Operations at U.S. Ports.” with DHS Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson et al. Dirksen 106, 2:30pm.
3/1: Senate HSGAC hearing on “The Department of Homeland Security’s Budget Submission for Fiscal Year 2007” with Sec. Chertoff. Dirksen 342, 9:30am.
3/1: Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing on “Federal Strategies to End Border Violence.” Dirksen 226, 9:30am.
3/1: CSIS Homeland Security Program event on “The Dubai Ports Deal: How Secure is It?” with Adm. James Loy, Judge William Webster, Jayson Ahern from CBP and Rear Adm. Craig Bone from the Coast Guard. 1800 K St, NW, 9:30am.
3/1: United States Animal Identification Organization press conference to unveil a new web-based system to track livestock. National Press Club, 14th and F Sts. NW, 10am.
3/1: House T&I committee hearing on “The United States Coast Guard and The Federal Maritime Comission FY ’07 Budget Requests.” Rayburn 2167, 10am.
3/1: Center for American Progress and American Constitutional Society for Law and Policy event on “Warrantless Domestic Surveillance: Its Roots and Where We Go From Here” with former Sen. Gary Hart and others. CAP, 1333 H St, NW, 10th Fl., 12:30pm.
3/1: House HSC hearing on “The State of Interoperable Communications: Perspectives from State and Local Governments.” Cannon 311, 2pm.
3/1: Johns Hopkins SAIS Center for Transatlantic Relations conference on “International Aspects of Homeland Security: A Congressional Conference.” Rayburn 2237, 2pm.
3/2: House Appropriations Committee hearing on “Avian Influenza – International Response.” Rayburn 2359, 10am.
3/2: Senate Banking Committee hearing on “Continued Examination of Implementation of the Exon-Florio Amendment: Focus on Dubai Ports World’s Acquisition of P&O.” Dirksen 538, 10am.
3/2: New America Foundation brown bag lunch with former Sen. Gary Hart on his new book, The Shield and the Cloak: The Security of the Commons. 1630 Conn Ave NW, 7th Fl., 12:15pm.
3/2: House Armed Service Committee hearing on “National Security Implications of the Dubai Ports World Deal to Take over Management of U.S. Ports.” Rayburn 2118, 1pm.
3/2: House HSC hearing on “The 9/11 Reform Act: Examining the Implementation of the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center” with DHS Asst. Secretary Randy Beardsworth. Cannon 311, 2pm.
3/2: House Appropriations Committee hearing on the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology budget. Rayburn 2359, 2pm.
3/3: Center for Immigration Studies discussion on the proposed guest worker program. National Press Club, 14th and F St. NW, 12 noon.

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

Is bioterrorism hype?

Filed under: Biosecurity — by Christian Beckner on February 24, 2006

The LA Times published an op-ed last week by Milton Leitenberg, the author of a recent book entitled “Assessing the Biological Weapons and Biological Threat” published by the Army War College.

In the editorial he notes:

The United States has spent at least $33 billion since 2002 to combat the threat of biological terrorism. The trouble is, the risk that terrorists will use biological agents is being systematically and deliberately exaggerated. And the U.S. government has been using most of its money to prepare for the wrong contingency.

A pandemic flu outbreak of the kind the world witnessed in 1918-19 could kill hundreds of millions of people. The only lethal biological attack in the United States — the anthrax mailings — killed five. But the annual budget for combating bioterror is more than $7 billion, while Congress just passed a $3.8-billion emergency package to prepare for a flu outbreak.

The exaggeration of the bioterror threat began more than a decade ago after the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo group released sarin gas in the Tokyo subways in 1995. The scaremongering has grown more acute since 9/11 and the mailing of anthrax-laced letters to Congress and media outlets in the fall of 2001. Now an edifice of institutes, programs and publicists with a vested interest in hyping the bioterror threat has grown, funded by the government and by foundations.

He then goes on to examine the bioterrorism threat posed by hostile states and terrorists, and argues that the former is rapidly in decline and the latter is unsubstantiated. He then argues that the United States’ strong focus on bioterrorism might actually be exacerbating the threat:

The real problem is that a decade of widely broadcast discussion of what it takes to produce a bioweapon has provided terrorists with at least a rough roadmap. Until now, no terrorist group has had professionals with the skills to exploit the information — but the publicity may make it easier in the future.

There is no military or strategic justification for imputing to real-world terrorist groups capabilities that they do not possess. Yet no risk analysis was conducted before the $33 billion was spent.

Some scientists and politicians privately acknowledge that the threat of bioterror attacks is exaggerated, but they argue that spending on bioterrorism prevention and response would be inadequate without it. But the persistent hype is not benign. It is almost certainly the single major factor in provoking interest in bioweapons among terrorist groups. Bin Laden’s deputy, the Egyptian doctor Ayman Zawahiri, wrote on a captured floppy disk that “we only became aware of (bioweapons) when the enemy drew our attention to them by repeatedly expressing concerns that they can be produced simply with easily available materials.” We are creating our worst nightmare.

These are strong arguments by Leitenberg, and are worthy of debate. I’m inclined to believe that the bioterrorism threat is real, especially if we look at it from the appropriate 15-20 year time horizon. But I also think he has a good point about the relative value of spending money to prevent bioterrorism from a risk assessment perspective. $33 billion is a lot of chips to be putting on one type of threat, when there are a lot of other very relevant threats (both terrorist and non-terrorist related) that we face today. From a risk-based perspective, are we better off spending an additional billion at the margin to develop vaccines for non-contagious threats such as anthrax and ricin, or for programs to secure WMD-related materials in Russia? Or for enhancing our humint capabilities? Or strengthening security at ports? These types of questions need to be asked as part of a strategic approach to homeland security.

February 23, 2006

National Journal: TIA lives

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christian Beckner on February 23, 2006

The National Journal has a very solid piece of reporting on the process by which the Total Information Awareness project at DARPA (which Congress cut off funding for in 2003) went over to the classified world:

Research under the Defense Department’s Total Information Awareness program — which developed technologies to predict terrorist attacks by mining government databases and the personal records of people in the United States — was moved from the Pentagon’s research-and-development agency to another group, which builds technologies primarily for the National Security Agency, according to documents obtained by National Journal and to intelligence sources familiar with the move. The names of key projects were changed, apparently to conceal their identities, but their funding remained intact, often under the same contracts.

The story is full of interesting details, introducing the codenames of the ex-TIA programs in their new incarnations (Genoa II, Topsail, Basketball) and providing a lot of convincing evidence that ties TIA contractual activities together with very similar programs at the NSA-linked Advanced Research and Development Activity. Hopefully the revelations in this story will encourage these programs, if they continue, to strengthen their internal privacy controls – something that was a key element of the original vision for TIA.

A ‘national security approach’ to emergency management?

Filed under: Organizational Issues,Preparedness and Response — by Christian Beckner on February 23, 2006

I’ve taken a closer look at the White House’s report on Katrina, released earlier today, focusing on one of the core sections of the report – Chapter Six, entitled “Transforming National Preparedness.” The chapter looks at the core, systemic lessons of the response to Katrina, noting that the reliance on “pull-model” for disaster response where states and cities request federal assistance is now inoperative in cases of large-scale, catastrophic disaster. The report then suggests that a model of national security is perhaps more appropriate in such catastrophic incidents today:

While this [pull] approach has worked well in the majority of disasters and emergencies, catastrophic events like Hurricane Katrina are a different matter. The current homeland security environment—with the continuing threat of mass casualty terrorism and the constant risk of natural disasters—now demands that the Federal government actively prepare and encourage the Nation as a whole to plan, equip, train, and cooperate for all types of future emergencies, including the most catastrophic.

A useful model for our approach to homeland security is the Nation’s approach to national security. Over the past six decades, we have created a highly successful national security system. This system is built on deliberate planning that assesses threats and risks, develops policies and strategies to manage them, identifies specific missions and supporting tasks, and matches the forces or capabilities to execute them. Operationally organized, it stresses the importance of unity of command from the President down to the commander in the field.

Perhaps most important, the national security system emphasizes feedback and periodic reassessment. Programs and forces are assessed for readiness and the degree to which they support their assigned missions and strategies on a continuing basis. Top level decision-makers periodically revisit their assessments of threats and risks, review their strategies and guidance, and revise their missions, plans, and budgets accordingly.

This is a very important passage in this report, and deserves some careful scrutiny.

At a general level, the idea of a “national security approach” makes intuitive sense to me. Reactive strategies for catastrophic response are definitely insufficient, and new, more forward-leaning strategies are required given the increasing likelihood of response situations where state and local responders will be overwhelmed.

But what exact “national security” model are we talking about here? Are we talking about traditional military models – the command-and-control principles that have governed military strategies from the Gallic Wars to the Cold War defense of the Fulda Gap? Or are we talking about leading-edge, technology-enabled models such as net-centric warfare or fourth generation warfare (4GW) that empower decentralized unit-level decision-making and initiative?

Given the language in the second paragraph of the excerpt above, I’m afraid it’s the former, when what we really need is the latter. The paragraph seems to envision planning for every conceivable contingency to a very detailed level, and assigning specific responsibilities in advance. Is that what we really need? I don’t think so. Instead, I think we need a flexible, capabilities-based planning system that focuses on developing the broad set of capabilities that we need – trained people, equipment, systems, etc. – and prepares people by robustly testing these capabilities against a broad set of scenarios in a way that encourages creativity, adaptability and cross-organizational teamwork.

The paragraph also speaks of a hierarchical “unity of command” in this model. But that’s an outdated model in a networked world. Even with robust system awareness, I’d contend that in any large-scale catastrophic response situation, the “effectiveness benefits” due to rapid on-the-ground decision-making will outweigh the “efficiency benefits” of centralized control.

As I mentioned earlier today, I think there are some important and positive lessons in this report. But any shift to greater centralization of the emergency management process has serious risks, and could ultimately weaken the system rather than strengthen it. Instead of trying to over-plan and assert greater control over the national preparedness effort, the federal government should focusing on empowering and enabling the millions of direct participants in the national response system around the country. That’s the ‘national security approach’ that we should take.

How much has the U.S. spent on port security?

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Port and Maritime Security — by Christian Beckner on February 23, 2006

In the Senate Armed Services hearing on the Dubai ports deal today, Sen. Levin made the following statement about spending on port security:

At the same time, it has been a constant struggle to devote adequate funds to strengthen port security. According to the Wall Street Journal, while $18 billion has been spent on airport security since 9/11, the amount spent on port security has been only $630 million.

This quote is taken from a story in today’s (2/23) edition of the Wall Street Journal; the story itself provides no detail as to the source of this statistic.

This figure of $630 million seems incorrectly low to me.
It’s very close to the total level of port security grants that have been allocated since 9/11 – the AAPA noted this total at $708m in a recent press statement.

But port security grants are NOT the totality of port security spending. The “ports, waterways, and coastal security” budget line item within the Coast Guard’s budget has totaled nearly $5 billion since FY 2003. ($1.25 billion in FY 2003, $1.26 billion in FY 2004, $1.21 billion in FY 2005 and $1.26 billion in FY 2006.) There is no similar estimate available for FY 2002, but it’s likely similar – I’ll estimate $1.1 billion. Not all of this is for port security per se, but a large share of it is – I’ll estimate 60%. Spending within Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on port security is harder to break down, but in FY 2006, the Container Security Initiative is funded at $139m, C-TPAT is at $54m, the National Targeting Center at $16m, Automated Targeting Systems at $28 million, and spending on radiation portal monitors at $125 million (some of which are for land borders). I’d imagine that there’s at least another $200-$300m within the entire $1.27 billion in CBP’s budget for border inspections for FTE’s at seaports (with the balance at land border checkpoints and international airports). That add ups to around $600m/year within CBP’s budget for port security, although prior years are significantly lower since many of these line items have only been introduced in the last 1-3 years. Finally, I’d add the Department of Energy’s Megaports initiative, funded at $74m this year and $28m in FY 2005.

All told, I’d have to estimate cumulative port security spending at $6.13 billion during the 4.5 years between the start of FY 2002 (Oct. 1, 2002) and the midpoint of FY 2006 (March 31, 2006).

Are we spending enough, however? As I’ve said in recent days, I don’t believe so. MTSA implementation has been underfunded, and there has never really been a “system-wide commitment” to the challenges of port security in the same way that the federal government has addressed the vulnerabilities of the commercial aviation system. But I think it’s important to provide fair spending estimates when engaging in this important debate.

White House Katrina report now out

Filed under: Organizational Issues,Preparedness and Response — by Christian Beckner on February 23, 2006

Fran Townsend’s report on “The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned” is now available here (3MB PDF)on the White House website. The White House also released a summary fact sheet about the report.

At first glance, the high-profile recommendations look familiar, and it also looks like there are some interesting items buried in the weeds of it. For example, the set of recommendations on “Homeland Security Professional Development and Education” are definitely worth a closer look, and seem closely aligned with the bill introduced by Sens. Collins and Lieberman to create a National Homeland Security Academy. And the recommendations on public communications, critical infrastructure protection, and citizen preparedness are all solid and forward-looking.

My overall impression is that the report seems relatively solid, and many of its recommendations are things that the federal government should do. The essential question is whether the Administration is willing to both find the resources and push on the key agencies to turn these recommendations into reality.

Border tunnel legislation introduced in the Senate

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS — by Christian Beckner on February 23, 2006

Watch out Dig Dug.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has introduced a bill that would set criminal penalties for people who build, use, or finance border tunnels – something that is apparently not against the law today. The LA Times story on the legislation is here.

This seems like a sensible idea, the kind of thing that is likely to attract near-unanimous support in Congress. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it attached to the border bill when the Senate takes up the issue next month.

Update (3/8): Here’s a link to the bill.

LA Times: port security is the real issue

Filed under: Port and Maritime Security — by Christian Beckner on February 23, 2006

This Los Angeles Times op-ed echoes my contention on Monday morning that the real issue should be port security funding:

This week’s hubbub diverts attention from a pressing and genuine debate over what those agencies really need to do to keep our commercial harbors safe. Compared to airport security, port security is woefully underfunded and undeveloped.

A paper written by former Coast Guard Cmdr. Stephen E. Flynn in the current issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review calls the system a “house of cards.” Flynn argues that any terrorist worth his salt could simply seek out a well-known “trusted” shipper’s containers to stash his deadly contraband. He calls for a slate of inspection-oriented reforms, including the adoption of better screening technologies.

Who owns the companies that operate the ports isn’t the point — it’s how those companies work together with federal and local authorities to keep ports safe. And the Department of Homeland Security has a long way to go before it figures out how best to get that done.

I still think there are some security issues that need to be examined more closely with the Dubai deal, such as building safeguards against insider threats – but otherwise, this editorial is spot-on.

For more info, read the original article by Flynn mentioned in the editorial. And here’s my take on Flynn’s piece from a post last month.

Update (2/23): On a related note, this sentence from an NYT story in Thursday’s paper stood out (emphasis mine):

But Mr. Seymour, head of the subsidiary now running the operations, says only one of the six ports whose fate is being debated so fiercely is equipped with a working radiation-detection system that every cargo container must pass through.

Closing that gaping hole is the federal government’s responsibility, he noted, and is not affected by whether the United Arab Emirates or anyone else takes over the terminals.

Update 2 (2/23): Similar comments from USA Today’s editorial page:

The uproar in Congress does raise one useful question: What is the government doing to secure ports? The major threat is that a terrorist could smuggle a radioactive “dirty bomb,” nuclear device or another weapon of mass destruction in one of millions of cargo containers that land on U.S. docks each year. If lawmakers want to prevent that, here are a few real concerns they’ve been ignoring:

• Congress’ investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, has issued more than a dozen reports since 9/11 revealing huge gaps in just about every shipping security program the government runs.

• A program to inspect high-risk, U.S.-bound containers at foreign ports misses many of its targets; others get inspected but not very effectively, the GAO found.

• An effort to issue federal identification cards to more than 5 million transportation workers has barely started. The Transportation Security Administration has issued just 4,000 “prototype” cards so far.

• Radiation sensors deployed in some foreign ports are not “capable of detecting a nuclear weapon or a lightly-shielded dirty bomb,” according to security expert Stephen Flynn of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Yes, Congress is welcome to take a hard look, unvarnished by political gamesmanship, at the involvement of Dubai Ports World in a sensitive industry. But it could do far more for security by working to fix the broad vulnerabilities in shipping.

Both tasks would be easier if lawmakers got down to business, instead of tripping over each other on the way to the cameras.

February 22, 2006

Senate progress on the border bill

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS — by Christian Beckner on February 22, 2006

Congress Daily reported today on the current state of play for border security legislation in the Senate, which suggests that the Senate leadership is pursuing a “two-track” approach: letting the Judiciary committee draft a bill, but with Majority Leader Bill Frist reserving the right to draft his own bill. From the article:

A chairman’s mark expected to be introduced this week will resemble the mark [Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen] Specter circulated last year, which borrows components from various immigration proposals. It included the border security provisions in the plan introduced by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., as well as the guestworker plan introduced by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Specter has characterized the mark as a “starting point” for debate.

Frist has told colleagues he wants to begin floor debate in late March, likely March 27. Senate aides said whether the bill will be written by the committee or leadership depends on how the Judiciary Committee markup goes. “If the committee keeps the bill solid, and if it gets it done on time, Frist won’t need to introduce anything,” one GOP aide said.

The question remains: what would cause Frist to write his own bill? He has generally seemed inclined to favor the broad outlines of the Judiciary Committee’s bill. Perhaps he’s reserving this as a contingency in case the political climate requires a more punitive and interdiction-focused bill, akin to the one that passed the House in December.

CBP outlines US port security and Dubai deal details

Filed under: Port and Maritime Security — by Christian Beckner on February 22, 2006

CBP’s press office just sent around a detailed fact sheet about what the federal government is doing for port security and about the Dubai acquisition. I’ve reposted it here on the site.

I don’t dispute any of their details on port security – there is a lot of great work being done by CBP, the Coast Guard and local agencies to enhance the security of our ports. But it’s also clear to me that much more funding is needed if we’re going to have a comprehensive strategic approach to port security.

The fact sheet also notes the scope of P&O’s operations at existing ports:

Baltimore – 2 of 14 total
Philadelphia – 1 of 5 (does not include the 1 cruise vessel terminal)
Miami – 1 of 3 (does not include the 7 cruise vessel terminals)
New Orleans – 2 of 5 (does not include the numerous chemical plant terminals up and down the Mississippi River, up to Baton Rouge)
Houston – 4 of 12
Newark – 1 of 4

The clear reality is that DP World would be far off from “full control” of these ports. I’m not sure why it took so long for these details to be clarified in the public record.

Homeland security committees sidestepped on ports issue

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Port and Maritime Security — by Christian Beckner on February 22, 2006

According to news reports, the Senate Armed Services Committee is holding a hearing tomorrow on the Dubai ports deal.

I’m glad that a hearing is taking place, but why Armed Services? There is a perfectly suitable homeland security committee in both the Senate and the House, not to mention the Senate Commerce and House T&I committees, both of which have some expertise on ports. This flies in the face of what DHS has been fighting for over the past three years: more direct oversight from Congress, and no longer having to report to dozens of committees. This is an issue that I’ve been passionate about over the past two years; I drafted a CSIS-BENS report on the subject of homeland security oversight that was released in Dec. 2004. But if the Administration is going to shop for friendly committees when a difficult homeland security issue arises, then they’re undermining an important principle and hurting DHS.

White House review of Katrina out tomorrow

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Christian Beckner on February 22, 2006

The White House is reporting that it will release Fran Townsend’s review of Katrina tomorrow morning at 9am. Scott McClellan notes that it contains “125 recommendations in 17 general categories.”

CNN has an advance copy and says that it contains no bombshells.

More to follow.

Update (2/22): Here’s the AP story on the release of the report.

A progressive case for a national ID card

Filed under: Privacy and Security,Technology for HLS — by Christian Beckner on February 22, 2006

Douglas McGray had an interesting op-ed in the New York Times today on the issue of a national ID card:

As states get ready to comply with a law passed last May and roll out Real ID’s (think 50 flavors of enhanced drivers’ licenses that will also, for lack of anything more suitable, regulate access to airplanes, bars and banks), it might be time to consider a national identification card. Unfortunately, two camps own the conversation.

Security heavies and cultural conservatives say a national ID is necessary to protect us from Islamic terrorists and illegal immigrants. Libertarians and government-wary leftists fret about privacy. Progressives and moderates have never shown much enthusiasm for the debate. But there are lots of reasons they should find the idea of a national ID appealing.

He goes on to list ways in which a national ID card might improve health care, education, voting rights, etc., and encourages moderates and progressives to engage in this debate and help to “design a card that works.” I’m glad to read a fresh and open-minded contribution to this debate.

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