Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 29, 2006

CFR report on the private sector and homeland security

Filed under: Business of HLS,Infrastructure Protection — by Christian Beckner on April 29, 2006

Steve Flynn at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and Daniel Prieto at the Reform Institute have written a new report for CFR entitled “Neglected Defense: Mobilizing the Private Sector to Support Homeland Security.” The report provides a solid analysis of the challenges associated with strengthening the private sector’s involvement in homeland security and puts forth a set of insightful recommendations about how to enhance its role.

The report includes the following general findings:

  • The federal government has failed to establish national priorities for critical infrastructure protection.
  • The federal reorganization since 9/11 has raised the difficulty and transaction costs for the private sector to work with the federal government.
  • Information sharing between government and the private sector remains stunted.
  • Overall investment in private sector security initiatives has been modest.
  • Private sector protective efforts have been more effective in sectors that face regular threats of criminal attack and in sectors that already must comply with established security regulations.
  • The federal government has failed to provide meaningful incentives or standards for securing critical sectors that pose the highest risk and where voluntary efforts have proven to be insufficient.
  • The private sector has not been effectively integrated into response and recovery planning for major disasters, though some promising public-private initiatives have been piloted.
  • The federal government has not adequately developed alternatives to shutting down entire economic sectors in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, nor has it done sufficient planning for reopening these sectors.
  • Insurance adoption has been promising, but it requires continued government engagement in the insurance market to be sustained.

And it offers the following recommendations about how to improve this situation:

  1. Washington needs to change its policy paradigm regarding the private sector, which, in effect, tells companies to protect themselves. On critical infrastructure issues, Washington needs to provide leadership, not followership.
  2. Either DHS or a group of outside experts needs to quickly complete, as required by law, a national list of priorities for critical infrastructure that can serve as a strategic road map for spending and protective actions. At the same time, Washington should not allow completion of this list to delay immediate efforts to improve security where well-known and widely acknowledged security gaps exist.
  3. Washington must move beyond talking about the need to dramatically improve information sharing with the private sector and hold government officials accountable for actually doing it.
  4. DHS must strengthen the quality and experience of its personnel. One way to do this would be to establish a personnel exchange program with the private sector.
  5. Congress and the administration should work closely with industry to establish security standards and implement and enforce regulations where necessary and, especially, where industry is seeking standards and regulation.
  6. Congress should establish targeted tax incentives to promote investments in security and resiliency in the highest-risk industries.
  7. Congress should establish federal liability protections for companies that undertake meaningful security improvements.
  8. Homeland security officials should substantially increase the number of exercises for responding to catastrophic events. Private sector assets and capabilities should be fully integrated into these exercises, with a view to achieving deeper private sector integration into national and regional emergency response plans.
  9. Federal response plans should identify specialized supplies/capabilities that will be in short supply following certain types of terrorist incidents or high-consequence events, including vaccines, ventilators, electric transformers, laboratory capacity, and decontamination equipment. Washington should work with the private sector to ensure the availability of these supplies and capabilities.
  10. DHS should establish a federal awards program, modeled after the prestigious Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Awards program, which recognizes private sector achievement and innovation in homeland security.

Overall, this is a thoughtful and balanced report, and an important contribution to the policy debate on homeland security. DHS and the private sector should take its recommendations seriously, and Congress should consider moving forward on ones that require legislative action.

For more on this, see the transcript of the event that CFR hosted to discuss the key issues of the report in early March.

Security at the NAC: Wackenhut fires back

Filed under: DHS News — by Christian Beckner on April 29, 2006

CQ Homeland Security has posted a letter online from Wackenhut CEO James Long to Sec. Chertoff, responding to allegations about Wackenhut’s performance on its contract to guard the DHS Nebraska Avenue Complex (NAC), which ended last month. It’s an interesting read.

It’s also worth considering this issue in its larger context, and whether there is a gathering opposition to the use of private guard services for sensitive federal facilities. In February, the Department of Energy’s IG published a report which noted that Wackenhut had falsified guard training records at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. On Thursday, the GAO released a report on the use of Alaska Native Corporations that criticizes an Army contract for private guard services which was won by the Alaska Native Corporation Alutiiq using 8(a) provisions to bypass competitive bidding (and had Wackenhut as a subcontractor).

April 28, 2006

HLS in DC, May 1-5, 2006

Filed under: Events — by Christian Beckner on April 28, 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.

5/1: Press conference by “You Don’t Speak for Me,” a Hispanic group opposed to illegal immigration. National Press Club, 529 14th St NW, 10am.
5/1: National Academies of Science meeting of the “Committee on Using Information Technology to Enhance Disaster Management.” 500 5th St. NW, 1:15pm.
5/2: Migration Policy Institute event on “Latin America’s Response to the U.S. Migration Policy Debate” with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez et al. Jefferson Building, Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave, SE, 9am.
5/2: Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on FBI oversight. Dirksen 226, 9:30am.
5/2: Senate HSGAC meeting to release the full committee report on Katrina and markup the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act. Dirksen 342, 10am.
5/3-5/4: Commission on the National Guard and the Reserves meeting on the roles of the National Guard and Reserves in homeland security, homeland defense, and disaster response. National Transportation Safety Board Conference Center, 429 L’Enfant Plaza, SW.
5/3: Center for American Progress event on “A Unified Security Budget.” 1333 H Street N.W., 10th Floor, 9:30am.
5/3: US Chamber of Commerce event on “An Effective Registered Traveler: Aviation in the Fast Lane.” 1615 H St NW, 12 noon.
5/3: Homeland Security Honors Reception hosted by Women in Government Relations, honoring Rep. Jane Harman and White House Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend. Rayburn 2168, 6pm.
5/4: Center for Nonproliferation Studies breakfast seminar on “The Conduct of Laboratory Research to Characterize Biological Threat Agents.” 1111 19th St NW, 12th Floor, 8:30am.
5/4: House Government Reform Committee hearing on “Sifting Through Katrina’s Legal Debris: Contracting in the Eye of the Storm.” Rayburn 2154, 10am.
5/4: House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on al-Qaeda’s use of strategic communications. Rayburn 2247, 10am.
5/4: House Homeland Security Committee hearing on “BioScience and the Intelligence Community (Part II): Closing the Gap.” Location TBA. 2pm.
5/5: Cato Institute event on the “Bush NSA Surveillance Program.” 1000 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, 12 noon.

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

Congress gets the WHTI blues

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS — by Christian Beckner on April 28, 2006

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing yesterday on the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), the joint effort by DHS and the State Department to create a standardized system of identification for travel within North America. As part of WHTI, DHS and State announced the creation of new PASS cards as part of the Rice-Chertoff Initiative launched in January.

As I have noted previously, this plan began to attract concern among border residents and their representatives in Congress shortly after the announcement. It was a key issue of contention when Canadian homeland security minister Stockwell Day visited Washington last week, as he recounts here. The hearing yesterday offered the latest round of disagreement with the WHTI measures, as recounted by the AP:

Northern lawmakers on Thursday challenged a plan to require passports or a new high-tech ID card for those crossing the U.S.-Canada border, as homeland security officials insisted the new rules won’t create a bureaucratic nightmare.

But the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Sub-Committee questioned whether the agency tarred with most of the blame for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina could properly launch the program.

“We’re certainly skeptical all sitting here, to be very blunt,” said the head of the committee, Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.

“I sat up here and listened to our post-Katrina analysis and listened to folks at Homeland Security,” he said. “I don’t want to be cynical here but we’re talking about the federal government doing this… We don’t have in place any of these systems yet.”

New York politicians were more blunt, charging the plan would wreck businesses on the border.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the plan would drive down cross-border visits from Canadians attending football games in Buffalo.

“If these new rules prevent or discourage the 15,000 Canadians from coming over to watch games — it would devastate the team. No more sell-out games and ultimately no more Buffalo Bills,” said Schumer.

Having grown up close to the US-Canada border, I’m generally sympathetic to these arguments, and I think there are problems with the current plan; for example, the $50 cost of the PASS cards. But I don’t think that browbeating DHS and State with doom-and-gloom anecdotes is going to solve these problems, especially given the fact that the WHTI was the Congress’s own creation. Sec. 7209 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) in 2004 (which passed overwhelmingly) provided the legal mandate, with clear timetables, for DHS and State to create the WHTI:

The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, shall develop and implement a plan as expeditiously as possible to require a passport or other document, or combination of documents, deemed by the Secretary of Homeland Security to be sufficient to denote identity and citizenship, for all travel into the United States by United States citizens and by categories of individuals for whom documentation requirements have previously been waived under section 212(d)(4)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1182(d)(4)(B)). This plan shall be implemented not later than January 1, 2008, and shall seek to expedite the travel of frequent travelers, including those who reside in border communities, and in doing so, shall make readily available a registered traveler program (as described in section 7208(k)).

The section goes on to note that DHS and State have no authority to waive these requirements. I think one can make a solid case that these deadlines were unrealistic, in which case the Congress bear equal responsibility for any current woes.

There is a good chance that Congress will move to extend the deadlines, in particular the 1/1/2007 deadline for entry by air and sea (including US-Canada ferry services). The security rationale for the WHTI is still solid, but the relevant agencies need to get this one right, and ensure that legitimate cross-border trade and travel is not unfairly impacted.

State Dept releases ‘Country Reports on Terrorism’

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christian Beckner on April 28, 2006

The State Department today released its annual Country Reports on Terrorism, available at this webpage. The strategic assessment piece offers up five top-level trends:

  • An increasing AQ emphasis on ideological and propaganda activity to help advance its cause. This led to cooperation with al-Qaida in Iraq, the organization led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and with AQ affiliates around the globe, as well as with a new generation of Sunni extremists;
  • The proliferation of smaller, looser terrorist networks that are less capable but also less predictable;
  • An increased capacity for acts of terror by local terrorists with foreign ties (demonstrated in the July 7 London bombings);
  • An increase in suicide bombings. The July 7 London bombing was the first such attack in Europe (three of the four terrorists were second-generation British citizens of South Asian descent); we also noted a marked increase in suicide bombings in Afghanistan;
  • The growth of strategically significant networks that support the flow of foreign terrorists to Iraq.

Later in the report, Chapter 4 is particularly useful, and provides a good overview of programs and treaties designed to enhance international cooperation on counterterrorism.

The annual statistics on acts of terrorism are available in this document, compiled by the NCTC. The methodology was changed for the second straight year; given this change, I think it’s incumbent upon NCTC and State to provide historically comparable statistics back at least 15-20 years using this new methodology.

April 27, 2006

New federal plan for cybersecurity R&D

Filed under: Infrastructure Protection,Technology for HLS — by Christian Beckner on April 27, 2006

Newly available on the Internet, the pre-publication Federal Plan for Cyber Security and Information Assurance Research and Development. It provides a useful survey of the key cybersecurity threats today and a technology roadmap for addressing them.

(Hat tip: the HSDL Weblog).

LA Times column pillories TSA staff cuts

Filed under: Aviation Security,Organizational Issues — by Christian Beckner on April 27, 2006

Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez has an interesting piece today on TSA’s performance at Los Angeles International Airport:

Twice on recent flights out of LAX, I’ve been stuck in security lines that stretched outside of the building. That’s nothing new, of course. But these lines were so long I had time to grow a beard, have a weenie roast and fire off an angry letter to the Transportation Security Administration, the underperforming stepchild of the Department of Homeland Security.

Cars and trucks drove past by the hundreds, meanwhile, and potentially, we were all sitting ducks. I spent 20 minutes outside on one occasion, then stepped inside to find an even longer line, and nearly missed my flight. For the third straight year, the Rand Corp. warned in February that a luggage or car bomb attack could wipe out hordes of people jammed on sidewalks and in the check-in lobbies. Rand recommended that airlines and TSA add enough staff to move passengers along more quickly.

The reasons for these long lines?

Paul Haney, an LAX official, said the airport is down 200 TSA staffers from its allocation of 2,000 full-time-equivalent positions. That’s 400 less than its allocation of a year ago and 700 down from the high in 2003. This follows the national pattern. Several times since the inception of TSA, Congress has simply decreed that the agency will have fewer employees nationwide. In case you’re wondering, the number of passengers at LAX rose steadily as the TSA whacked employees.

Why not just hand out bull’s-eye vests to passengers stuck on the pavement?

“It sure is damn stupid,” U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) said of the shortage. She intends to make her feelings known to Homeland Security boss Michael Chertoff, she said, asking him to explain how a one-time terrorist target is supposed to ensure traveler safety with a shrinking TSA staff.

The article mentions that TSA is shifting responsibility for hiring and training to the local level, which could be causing delays in replacing screeners who have left the TSA workforce. This posting at the unofficial TSA Screeners site notes a short-term solution to the problem, an impending push to hire more temporary screeners at LAX for the summer travel season. But that’s not a long-term fix. The TSA HQ needs to make a renewed effort to look at readjusting the TSA workforce in a way that is appropriate to airport requirements.

SAFE Ports Act moves out of committee

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Port and Maritime Security — by Christian Beckner on April 27, 2006

The SAFE Ports Act (H.R. 4954) moved out of committee yesterday at a markup held by the full House Homeland Security Committee. The most contentious issue at the hearing was an amendment proposed by Rep. Edward Markey that instructed DHS to develop a detailed plan with firm deadlines for overseas container screening, which failed by an 18-16 vote following extensive pressure from industry, as noted by Kevin Drum today. A substitute amendment by Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, which was directionally consistent with Markey’s amendment but removed firm deadlines, passed unanimously.

I’m glad that the bill has passed and is headed for a vote on the floor of the House (perhaps as soon as next week). If the Markey amendment had passed, that could have hurt the bill’s chances of moving to a floor vote, and perhaps scuppered the prospect of passing meaningful port and cargo security legislation this year.

Industry groups had some legitimate reasons to oppose this amendment; for example, there are some foreign ports (e.g. small ports in the Caribbean) where it probably is a bad security investment to for the United States to mandate and/or fund purchases of expensive screening equipment. There are still technology gaps that need to be filled, in order to improve detection capabilities and facilitate its use in a way that keeps the supply chain moving. And there are real governance challenges associated with enforcing the foreign use of screening technology, given the relevant issues of sovereignty and international cooperation.

But it is incumbent on industry to now be proactive rather than reactive in response to proposals such as this one, and step up voluntary and industry-led efforts to strengthen supply chain security. After all, this is not the final word for this proposal. The Senate plans to take it up when the companion bill to the SAFE Ports Act, the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act (S. 2459), moves forward soon. And if, God forbid, there is a terrorist attack involving the port and cargo system that can somehow be linked with industry inaction, then Congress and/or the Adminstration are likely to impose requirements that will be much, much more stringent than anything envisioned in this amendment.

Thoughts on the Senate’s Katrina report

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Preparedness and Response — by Christian Beckner on April 27, 2006

I’ve now read through the partial set of documents that were posted online today as part of the Senate HSGAC’s Katrina report (the full report will be out next Tuesday).

Given the incomplete nature of today’s documents, I’m somewhat reluctant to make final judgments about the report. But my initial reaction is a sense of disappointment in the report. It focuses significantly on bureaucratic issues related to the nation’s preparedness and response challenges, to the detriment of a consideration of the systemic and cultural reasons for the multiple failures in the response to Katrina. The House’s report on Katrina, released in February, takes much more of this latter approach, although it lacked any recommendations that derived from these findings. Perhaps the optimal analysis can be found in the synthesis of the two reports.

There are many good ideas in the Senate’s report; for example, the proposal to merge the HSOC, NRCC, and the IIMG into a new National Operations Center. But for the most part, the ideas in the report are necessary but not sufficient. Unaccompanied by transformative changes in the cultural and systemic approaches to preparedness and response, there’s a risk that they could simply become org chart reshufflings, and little more.

Take, for example, the headline proposal of the day: the abolishment of FEMA and the creation of a new National Preparedness and Response Authority (NPRA). This proposal basically amounts to turning back the clock to the period of time between the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003 and the implementation of the DHS second-stage review in 2005, when preparedness and response were (at least in theory) merged into a single Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPR) Directorate. The new proposal puts this neo-EPR directorate as a standalone agency within DHS (like the Coast Guard and the Secret Service), and creates a direct line of authority to the President during a crisis, bypassing the DHS Secretary, but this still feels like the same old FEMA in new packaging, and I don’t think that it would address the root causes of dysfunctionality in the preparedness and response system, which have much more to do with the decision-making protocols, chains of communication, and incentive structures at the individual level than with the org chart du jour.

The most interesting document of the day is Sen. Lieberman’s additional views to the report, which provides a full record of the White House’s stonewalling and footdragging in responding to the Committee for this report. Lieberman writes:

There are matters that we could not fully explore because of agency and Administration recalcitrance and, in some cases, intransigence. We don’t know what we don’t know – for example, as a result of the Justice Department’s failure to produce large volumes of what the Committee had requested. But one thing we do know is that because we were denied the opportunity to fully explore the role the White House played in preparing for and responding to Katrina, we have little insight into how the President and his staff monitored, managed and directed the government’s disaster preparedness in the post-9/11 world, how they coordinated the rest of the federal bureaucracy in response to Katrina, or how leadership was exercised by the only entity in the federal government with the authority to order all the others to act. Without this information, our investigation necessarily lacked the ability to fully and fairly analyze and assess a critical element of the response to Katrina.

Lieberman goes on in the report to provide a detailed account of this recalcitrance, noting that when the White House did provide documents, they were typically from publicly-available sources (e.g. the White House’s website) or other agencies; and, as has been previously reported, accusing the White House of encouraging other agencies not to respond to requests for information related to their interactions with it.

This is shameful. As I wrote three months ago:

The American people deserve a full and complete answer to the question of what happened during the response to Katrina – not as ammunition for partisan games, but because if we don’t find out the whole and complete truth, we’re going to be less prepared the next time we’re hit, whether it be by a hurricane or a dirty bomb. That fact should be unacceptable to anyone who cares about national security and preparedness.

Senate report recommends abolishing FEMA

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Organizational Issues,Preparedness and Response — by Christian Beckner on April 27, 2006

The headline story this morning is the Senate’s partial release of their report on Katrina, and the report’s first recommendation, to scrap FEMA:

Foundational Recommendation #1- Create a New, Comprehensive Emergency Management Organization within DHS to Prepare for and Respond to All Disasters and Catastrophes.

Hurricane Katrina exposed flaws in the structure of FEMA and DHS that are too substantial to mend. We propose to abolish FEMA and build a stronger, more capable structure within DHS. The structure will form the foundation of the nation’s emergency management system. It will be an independent entity within DHS, but will draw on the resources of the Department and will be led and staffed by capable, committed individuals. We must create a robust National Preparedness and Response Authority (NPRA) within the Department of Homeland Security. The NPRA would fuse the Department’s emergency management, preparedness and critical infrastructure assets into a powerful new organization that can confront the challenges of natural or man-made catastrophes. It will provide critical leadership for preparedness and response by combining key federal personnel and assets, as well as federal partnerships with state and local officials and the private sector to prepare for and respond to terror attacks or natural disasters.

Here are the direct links to the executive summary, findings, and recommendations. More detailed analysis to follow.

April 26, 2006

Senate report on Katrina previewed

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Preparedness and Response — by Christian Beckner on April 26, 2006

From the AP:

The U.S. is unprepared for a disaster of Hurricane Katrina’s scale, according to a Senate inquiry that lawmakers said Wednesday took a critical look at failures in responding to the storm.

The final report is “fair and tough, and it charts a course to strengthen our nation’s emergency preparedness at all levels,” leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee wrote their colleagues.

The Associated Press on Wednesday obtained a copy of the letter written by the committee’s head, GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, and the top Democrat, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. The report’s title is “Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared.”

Senators were to get the report on Thursday, with a public release set for next week. The committee on Thursday planned to disclose the report’s 86 recommendations, said Collins’ spokeswoman, Jen Burita.

Stay tuned for analysis, when the report is released.

CBP’s UAV crashs on the US-Mexico border

Filed under: Border Security,Technology for HLS — by Christian Beckner on April 26, 2006

From the Arizona Daily Star:

Border Patrol officials are investigating the Tuesday morning crash of a Predator-B spy drone, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s office of Customs and Border Protection in Washington, D.C.

Spokesman Michael Friel said operators lost contact with the $14 million unmanned plane about 2:50 a.m. as it patrolled the border at 12,000 to 15,000 feet. Efforts to re-establish contact were not successful….

The Predator, called an unmanned aerial vehicle, is remotely controlled through satellite communication, and its cameras and sensing equipment are able to see through clouds from up to 50,000 feet.

Friel said the Border Patrol began deploying the Predator last September. Since Oct. 1, it has flown more than 900 hours and is credited with the apprehension of 1,793 illegal entrants and 200 pounds of marijuana.

This crash happened just as the Senate was preparing to vote to add $1.9 billion in funding for border security to the FY 2006 supplemental bill, including new funds for UAVs. Before CBP buys new or replacement UAVs, I think that careful thought needs to be given as to whether they are cost-effective. Based on the facts in the story above, the cost-per-apprehension for this UAV was $7,808. If I make a similar calculation for the Border Patrol ($1.4 billion annual budget, 1.2 million apprehensions in 2005), the cost-per-apprehension is $1,166. This is admittedly an imperfect comparison, because there are other budget items that impact on the apprehension totals, and because UAVs should presumably have an average useful life that is longer than eight months – but I still think that it’s telling.

CDC entry tracking system for pandemic flu under fire

Filed under: Aviation Security,Biosecurity — by Christian Beckner on April 26, 2006

The AP provides an update today on the CDC’s plans to develop a system to track people entering the country for the purposes of detecting and tracking pandemic flu, a plan announced last fall and described in these regulations. From the AP story:

Concerned about bird flu, federal health officials want airlines to collect personal information about domestic and international passengers to help track a potential epidemic.

Financially strapped airlines say creating such a database would impose staggering new costs.

“What we’re asking for is the authority to collect the information in the context of modern travel on airlines,” Dr. Marty Cetron, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s director of global migration and quarantine, said Tuesday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

“There’s just a number of conditions where acting quickly with electronic access to passenger information is going to make a lot of difference,” Cetron said.

The story goes on to note airline industry’s general opposition to this plan:

The Air Transport Association, which represents major airlines, said the plan “represents an unwarranted and insupportable burden on an industry sector that can ill afford it.”

ATA lawyer Katherine Andrus said in an interview that the CDC plan wouldn’t work because of cost, technological difficulty and the time needed to fill out the forms.

“We don’t think that, as proposed, this is a workable approach,” Andrus said.

In the event of a pandemic flu outbreak, this type of system could be a critical and powerful line of defense. Given its potential benefits, I think that the affected stakeholders (primarily the airlines) need to accept that it has to happen, and work with the government to move it forward, in a way that acknowledges their legitimate concerns about implementation, and perhaps partially reimburses them for their efforts, but also leaves no doubt that this has to move forward expeditiously. If we don’t have this sort of system in place in the event of a serious pandemic, the costs to our economy will be much greater that the costs of this system, possibly by a 100x or greater factor.

April 25, 2006

DOJ IG looks at FBI’s maritime security role

Filed under: Investigation & Enforcement,Port and Maritime Security — by Christian Beckner on April 25, 2006

The Department of Justice inspector general released a report earlier in the month on the FBI’s role in maritime security. The report drew attention earlier in the month in the New York Times, and received renewed attention over the weekend following an AP report focused on the extent to which the report suggests that Washington state ferries are at risk of a terror attack.

The report discusses a number of important issues related to maritime security, including:

  • Challenges associated with cooperation between the US Coast Guard and the FBI on maritime security, due to unclear and overlapping jurisdiction.
  • The role of the FBI in responding to a threat situation, in particular in cases where a radiological source has been detected.
  • The implementation of the Maritime Operational Threat Response (MOTR) plan, one of the eight supporting plans to the National Strategy for Maritime Security (and one of two that has not been publicly released).
  • The lack of a comprehensive FBI threat and risk assessment for maritime security, which leads to an overemphasis on certain threat scenarios (e.g. attacks by scuba divers and combat swimmers) and the underemphasis of other scenarios.
  • Difficulties with maritime-related threat reporting in the FBI’s Guardian system.

On this last point, the report notes:

In September 2004, to facilitate the accurate, complete, and timely reporting on the status of terrorist threats, the FBI launched a database called Guardian. Guardian is available on the FBI Intranet, and all field offices and legal attaches are required to enter into Guardian new terrorism threats and suspicious incidents originating in their territory and use it to track resolution. As of September 2005, the FBI had entered information in Guardian on 51,000 threats. However, because of Guardian’s limited search capabilities, the system cannot readily be used to identify maritime or other sector-specific threats or to produce data for trend analyses.

At our request, the FBI’s Threat Monitoring Unit (TMU) queried Guardian in an attempt to identify the number of maritime-related incidents within the database, but the system was unable to conduct such a search. Instead, Guardian could be queried on the number of times certain words occurred in the system. Even this search was not simple because maritime-related terms, such as “port,” are a subset of other words that occur frequently in Guardian. For example, “report” and “airport” both include “port,” so the search for port had to be modified to exclude these words.

This search query situation needs to be fixed. And clearly there are a number of things that the FBI needs to do to improve its effectiveness in the maritime security domain. Hopefully it will take these recommendations seriously and address each of the concerns described in the IG report.

Las Vegas UASI decision: garbage in, garbage out

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,State and Local HLS — by Christian Beckner on April 25, 2006

During the first week in January when the UASI grants were announced, I expressed puzzlement over the decision to drop Las Vegas from the list of high-threat cities, writing on January 6th:

Shouldn’t someone have done an intuitive gut check with the results, and asked “why is Las Vegas on our list of cities to stop funding? That makes no sense.”

News stories from the Las Vegas Review-Journal and KVBC-TV in Las Vegas explained late last week why this determination was made: faulty data.

From the Review-Journal story:

In finding that Milwaukee, Jacksonville, Fla., and hurricane-devastated New Orleans were among the nation’s most inviting targets for the world’s violent extremists, Homeland Security bureaucrats assumed that Las Vegas had no convention centers, no military bases and just a couple of shopping malls. The agency listed Wynn Las Vegas as the city’s tallest building; it thought the 1,100-foot Stratosphere Tower was an amusement park. Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which hosts more than 100,000 people for the valley’s annual Nextel Cup race, apparently doesn’t exist…

Apparently, the short-term collapse of Southern Nevada’s tourist trade following the 9/11 attacks wasn’t enough evidence of the region’s economic vulnerability to a terrorist strike. The 6.2 million visitors to the valley’s convention centers last year don’t indicate enough potential “innocent victims” to warrant federal concern. That Nellis Air Force Base helps train the fighter pilots of U.S. allies? That’s apparently news to the Homeland Security bureaucrats.

And the fact that 17 of the world’s 20 largest hotels draw hundreds of thousands of visitors and workers within a few square miles every day? Well, that’s just not “critical infrastructure” — even with big shopping malls built inside the hotels.

Assuming this is true, which I don’t doubt, then it provides more than enough evidence for Sec. Chertoff to reinstate Las Vegas immediately into the UASI grant program. I still am somewhat incredulous that this decision was made in the first place. Anyone who has been to Las Vegas and/or followed al-Qaeda in the past decade knows that it’s one of the top 6-8 cities nationwide in terms of both threat and vulnerability.

The Mary McCarthy story

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christian Beckner on April 25, 2006

Allow me to go somewhat off-topic for a post.

Most of you have likely read over the weekend about Mary McCarthy’s dismissal from the CIA , based on allegations that she was a source for Dana Priest’s secret European prisons story in the Washington Post last fall. Tonight the Washington Post revises this narrative dramatically, with her lawyer asserting that she was not the source for this story, and that the dismissal was based on unrelated contacts with reporters. Her lawyer added that:

But [attorney Ty] Cobb said she was “devastated” that her government career of more than two decades will “forever be linked with misinformation about the reasons for her termination,” and he said that her firing 10 days before she was to retire was “certainly not for the reasons attributed to the agency.” His comments constituted the first statement from her camp since her firing became public last week.

I know Mary McCarthy. I worked at the Center for Strategic and International Studies from September 2003 to April 2005, and Mary was a visiting fellow-in-residence at CSIS for most of that time. Via a couple of projects on which we both worked and staff meetings, I became acquainted with her well enough to know that she was a smart, decent, and honorable person, and a credit to the American intelligence community.

I don’t want to excuse her (alleged) actions. If she did break CIA rules on unwarranted disclosure, then she should face appropriate repercussions, as she has. But anyone who served the nation admirably for 20 years does not deserve the weekend from hell and public scorning that she’s gone through. Why did the CIA and the Administration allow the major errors in the media’s coverage to stand uncorrected over the weekend, while her reputation was grievously slimed and besmirched? I was sickened to read the fevered rantings in the blogosphere about Mary over the weekend. A woman who spent the last twenty years working on protecting America doesn’t deserve this kind of unseemly rhetoric. It’s sad, and it’s the kind of vindictive discourse that is going to discourage good people from signing up to serve in the intelligence community.

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