Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 26, 2006

Why hasn’t Ralph Basham been confirmed yet?

Filed under: DHS News — by Christian Beckner on May 26, 2006

Michael Hayden was nominated to head the CIA on May 8th, and confirmed today - a total of 18 days from start to finish.

Meanwhile, Ralph Basham was nominated to head Customs and Border Protection – the nation’s lead border security agency and co-lead port security agency – on January 30th. And 116 days later, he still hasn’t been confirmed, even though as far as I can tell, there is absolutely no controversy about his nomination. What gives? He’s gone through the entire committee vetting process now (a hearing on April 5th, and unanimous committee approval on May 18th). How difficult would it have been to get him confirmed this morning…almost certainly on a voice vote, which would have taken mere minutes of floor time?

This slow boat to confirmation is detrimental to the important missions that CBP performs.

Update (5/26): Evidently he was finally confirmed today.

House holds hearing on nuclear smuggling

Filed under: International HLS,Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Christian Beckner on May 26, 2006

The Subcommittee on Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attack of the House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing yesterday on the topic of “Enlisting Foreign Cooperation in U.S. Efforts to Prevent Nuclear Smuggling.” The testimony of the committee’s witnesses – Jayson Ahern of CBP, David Huizenga of the NNSA, Frank Record of the State Dept., and Vayl Oxford of the DNDO – is on the committee’s website at the preceding links. There’s very little new information in the prepared statements, but it provides a solid overview of the current status of efforts in the respective agencies charged with carrying out this important mission.

Update (5/31): A summary of the hearing available here.

CRS examines the National Guard border deployment issue

Filed under: Border Security,Legal Issues — by Christian Beckner on May 26, 2006

The Congressional Research Service released a timely report a few days ago on the issue of sending the National Guard to the US-Mexico border, available publicly for the first time here at HLS Watch:

RS22443: Border Security and Military Support: Legal Authorizations and Restrictions, May 23, 2006.

It provides a solid, fact-filled overview of the issue, looking at the impact of the Posse Comitatus Act in this case and examining how troops have been used to support counternarcotic efforts at the border in recent years.

Sen. Bunning puts hold on FEMA nominee

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

The AP reports today that Sen. Jim Bunning has put a hold on the nomination of David Paulison to head FEMA:

A spokesman for Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) said the senator would delay a vote on Paulison’s confirmation until the Federal Emergency Management Agency develops a suitable appeals process for property owners whose flood insurance claims are rejected.

FEMA administers the insurance program. Bunning spokesman Mike Reynard said the agency was supposed to establish an appeals process by December 2004.

Bunning “is going to hold the nomination until they meet the intention of Congress by establishing an appeals process that will help the victims of floods,” Reynard said. “It has to be a real and meaningful appeals process.”

Whatever Bunning’s grievances might be, this is no time to be impeding FEMA, with hurricane season starting next week. This type of petty sniping – seen before here - is a dangerous game and creates unnecessary risks to our readiness, at a time when Paulison needs all of the authority that he can muster.

Pandemic flu threat in the Americas discussed

Filed under: Biosecurity — by Christian Beckner on May 26, 2006

The Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Pan American Health Organization held an event this week on “Responding to an Influenza Pandemic in the Americas.” A rich spate of content from the event – audio files, remarks, presentations – is now available online at the link above, and is worth browsing by those who are focused on this issue.

Final air cargo security regs now online

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

Friday’s edition of the Federal Register contains the final TSA regulations on air cargo security, as mentioned in this post last week.

And on a related note, the Federal Register also published this notice of upcoming TSA meetings in Newark, Tampa, St. Louis, and Long Beach to discuss the implementation of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program in the maritime sector.

DHS posts privacy workshop materials

Filed under: Privacy and Security — by Christian Beckner on May 26, 2006

The DHS privacy office held a workshop on April 5, 2006 on the topic of “Transparency and Accountability: The Use of Personal Information within the Government.” The transcripts and materials from that workshop are now available online at the following link, including these panelist presentations:

  • Layering Notices: Communications and Accountability (PDF, 17 pages, 6 MB) Marty Abrams, Center for Information Policy Leadership
  • Designing Easy-to-Understand Consumer Financial Privacy Notices (PDF, 26 pages, 698 KB) Loretta Garrison, Federal Trade Commission and Amy Friend, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
  • IFAI: Access to Information and Accountability (PDF, 13 pages, 662 KB) María Marván Laborde, Federal Institute of Access to Public Information
  • Personal Data Protection in Mexico (PDF, 17 pages, 740 KB) Lina Ornelas, Federal Institute of Access to Public Information, Mexico

May 25, 2006

Border bill passes the Senate

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS — by Christian Beckner on May 25, 2006

The Senate’s immigration and border security legislation, S. 2611, passed the Senate today by a 62-36 vote, with 38 Democrats, 23 Republicans and independent Jim Jeffords voting for the final bill. The full record of amendments and votes over the past two weeks can be found here.

Now the fun part begins – the House-Senate conference on this legislation. Stories in the New York Times and Christian Science Monitor preview the conference. From the latter story:

As hard as it was in the Senate to pull together a winning coalition on immigration reform, getting to “yes” with the House – in a form that can again pass both bodies – will be even tougher.

But it’s not impossible. Even before the Senate completed work on its immigration bill Thursday, House Republicans were signaling an openness to compromise, as long as the final legislation maintains a focus on border security.

“I believe it is resolvable, and we will be successful in putting an illegal immigration bill on the president’s desk,” said House majority leader John Boehner, before the Senate vote Thursday. But he cautioned: “This is going to be a delicate negotiation between the House and Senate.”

….Moreover, House leaders say that unless a compromise plan has the support of most House Republicans, it will not be allowed to come to a vote – even if the members of the conference committee agree on a compromise.

“The Speaker will not bring a conference report on immigration to the floor unless it has the support of a majority of the majority,” says Ron Bonjean, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert.

I’m relatively optimistic that the conferees can find a middle ground that increases funding for a border fence and makes the pathway to citizenship a bit more arduous (but not impossible) as part of a guest worker program, given comments by key House members like Jim Sensenbrenner and Peter King indicating that they think a deal can be struck.

But this latter issue about needing a “majority of the majority” among House Republicans to bring the final bill to the floor could be a real fly in the ointment, because I don’t think that the Senate’s supporters of this legislation would be willing to accept legislation that goes to such extremes. And by the time that we get to September, the Democratic leadership in Congress could make the calculation that they’re going to win control of the House or Senate in November, and decide to wait this one out, and take up new legislation in the 110th. If Pres. Bush puts pressure on Hastert to change his mind on this issue for the long-term good (but probable short-term disadvantage) of the Republican Party, then perhaps this impediment can be overcome. But Bush probably lacks the political capital to make that pitch to the leadership of the House today, and members of Congress don’t exactly relish the prospect of serving as sacrificial pawns in a larger strategic game.

Update (5/26): The rundown on the bill from the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

Charlie Allen outlines DHS progress on intelligence

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

DHS Chief Intelligence Officer Charlie Allen testified before the House Homeland Security Committee yesterday, and offered a progress report from his first seven months on the job. His prepared testimony offers information on a number of new initiatives coming out of the DHS intelligence shop, such as:

  • Putting forward a DHS Intelligence Learning and Development Strategic Plan, which has led to DHS “offering a full range of courses to improve our key analytic skills, including critical thinking, intelligence writing, and briefing, not only for I&A’s employees, but across our DHS intelligence enterprise.”
  • Establishing a Content Management Board within DHS, which is “developing consensus on Department-wide standards for formatting and dissemination of intelligence products, including posting of relevant products for use by state, local, and private-sector partners.”
  • Developing a new “Department-wide roadmap for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), ensuring that the surveillance capabilities of DHS’s operating components will be employed with those of the Intelligence Community and the Department of Defense in national crises or natural disasters.”
  • Initiating an Intelligence Campaign Plan for Border Security, focused on “bringing the resources of both the national and Departmental intelligence communities to bear on this acute problem.
  • Creating a constantly-updated briefing for members of Congress, the Homeland Threat Stream Matrix, on homeland security-related intelligence.
  • Implementing a DHS Intelligence Recruitment Strategic Plan to “bring onboard the best and brightest people fresh out of America’s universities and colleges” and finding the resources to hire 30 new GS-7/9/11′s.

After 2.5 years of delay and misdirection, the DHS intelligence enterprise is finally on the right track, and doing what needs to be done to build a sustainable and strategic intelligence capability at the Department. There are still major challenges ahead for DHS in terms of carving out its intelligence role, particularly in terms of strengthening its relationship with state & local governments and working out turf issues with the FBI. But I think that this is a real success story (so far) at DHS amid the Department’s broader turmoil, and hopefully the positive progress will continue.

Canada declassifies reports on surface transport and maritime threats

Filed under: Ground Transport Security,Port and Maritime Security — by Christian Beckner on May 25, 2006

Secrecy News has obtained copies of two recently-declassified (but heavily redacted) reports by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service:

“International and National Terrorist Threats to Surface Transportation,” 2002.

“The International Terrorist Threat to Maritime Transportation,” 2003.

The two reports are interesting reads even in their redacted states, and given the paucity of publicly-available threat analysis from governments, they’re useful for validating open-source threat analysis.

Peter King touts the HSC’s legislative agenda

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Christian Beckner on May 25, 2006

House Homeland Security Committee chairman Peter King makes his pitch for the HSC’s current legislative docket in an editorial in The Hill today, describing the border security and port security legislation that has moved out of the committee, and making a pitch for the committee’s version of FEMA reform:

This past week, the Committee on Homeland Security passed another very important piece of legislation — our Hurricane Katrina “Lessons Learned” bill. This bipartisan legislation, written by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), ranking member Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) and Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.), was crafted with the input of hundreds of state and local first responders and emergency managers, people who were on the ground during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and understand where our response fell short and what needs to be done to correct it.

The bill enhances FEMA’s role and resources within the Department of Homeland Security, making a number of important preparedness, response and emergency communications improvements to the agency. The bill will also mandate that the FEMA director be a qualified and capable leader and elevate the director to report directly to the president during times of crisis.

Furthermore, the legislation makes a number of common-sense reforms at the state and local levels. It establishes regional offices and directors to ensure better coordination at the state and local levels, both before and during emergency situations. It requires states and urban areas to implement emergency evacuation, shelter and communications plans that actually work. And it puts in place better protections against waste, fraud and abuse to ensure that federal aid is being delivered to the people that actually need it.

King’s pitch here is mainly to the 434 other members of the House, who will be forced to choose in the coming weeks (if they haven’t done so already) between the HSC’s approach and the alternative approach backed by the Government Reform and T&I committees that would remove FEMA from DHS.

Stratfor opines on the border fence

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

Stratfor has a new article yesterday that weighed in on the “Tactical Implications of a Border Fence” (click through to the link). The author, Fred Burton, argues that plans for a partial border fence would simply lead to a redirection of the flow to unfenced areas and would escalate the tactics employed by coyotes trying to smuggle people across the border.

I agree with Burton that a fence would not solve all of the problems related to illegal immigration and smuggling. But by making it harder, it would increase the costs of entry and deter the “casual” illegal crossers who make up a large percentage of the current flow. That would allow the Border Patrol to concentrate on rooting out the bad guys, instead of spending most of their time tracking and detaining decent people who are simply coming to the U.S. to make an honest living (and who presumably could enter in the near future via a temporary worker program). In that sense, I think a border fence is a good investment.

Also, I’m not sure about Burton’s contention that a partial fence would simply lead to a redirected flow of people. Many of the areas that would be left unfenced are very remote today, and illegal immigrants’ ability to reach them is limited by the lack of roads on the Mexican side of the border. Thus the current proposals for limited fencing. (The Rio Grande river is also a factor, to the extent it serves as a natural barrier along parts of the border). However, if new entry routes emerged, then it would make sense to expand the length of the fence.

May 24, 2006

Chemical security loses momentum

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Infrastructure Protection — by Christian Beckner on May 24, 2006

The issue of chemical plant security has fallen out of the spotlight in the last month, after receiving a lot of attention in late March and early April, following Sec. Chertoff’s speech on 3/21 on the topic. On the legislative front, Rep. Sabo (D-MN) was able to add language to the House Appropriations bill that provides “the Secretary the authority to issue an interim final rule regarding chemical facility security.” But S. 2145, the comprehensive and bipartisan chemical security legislation sponsored by Sen. Collins and Sen. Lieberman seems to have lost momentum, and the legislative window for passing it this year is narrowing by the day. The same thing is true for the companion legislation in the House.

Meanwhile, there have been a few developments in the policy debate on chemical security in recent weeks. The Center for American Progress released a report in April entitled “Preventing Toxic Terrorism: How Some Chemical Facilities are Removing Danger to American Communities,” which attempts to refute the notion that forcing chemical facilities to switch to inherently-safer technologies is too difficult or onerous. The Heritage Foundation released its “Congressional Checklist for Chemical Security” last week, which provides a set of recommendations very close to the DHS perspective on chemical security issues, and contains some positive new recommendations; for example, harmonizing chemical security regulation with MTSA. And this week, the New Jersey Work Environment Council released a report that profiles the risks in New Jersey from attacks or accidents at the state’s chemical plants. The report is summarized in this Philadelphia Inquirer story.

But overall, I think that the attention to this issue has waned, and as a result I’m feeling less optimistic about the prospect of passing meaningful chemical security legislation than I was 2-3 months ago. Instead of spending time on this legislation, the Senate is preparing to waste its precious floor time next month on divisive and tertiary issues like flag burning and gay marriage amendments. The opportunity cost of this decision is clear: a decreased chance of debating and passing meaningful chemical security (and port security) legislation. The bottom line: If Congress fails to address these important and timely homeland security issues this year, then it is abandoning its responsibilities and putting the American people at unnecessary risk.

New Yorker magazine profiles the SITE Institute

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christian Beckner on May 24, 2006

This week’s issue of the The New Yorker contains an interesting profile of the SITE Institute and the woman who runs it, Ritz Katz. From the story:

Before the September 11, 2001, attacks, the official counterterrorism agencies paid relatively little attention to the jihadis’ online presence. But in the past few years that has changed, in large measure because of changes in the way terror networks operate. “Nearly everything about Al Qaeda that matters is happening online right now,” Peter Bergen, a journalist and terrorism expert, said. Some analysts believe that Al Qaeda today is a model of what is called “leaderless resistance”: self-appointed cells operating with help and inspiration from materials that they find online. Traffic rose dramatically after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, posted a video of the beheading of the American contractor Nicholas Berg.

“It’s not as if Al Qaeda were inventing this,” Jessica Stern, a terrorism specialist who served on the National Security Council under President Clinton, said. What’s unique about Islamic terror and the Internet is that there is up-to-the-minute access to what terrorists are thinking. Rita Katz is, in a sense, the natural complement, the engineer of a leaderless counter-resistance to the terrorist groups. “Some people think that she’s a zealot,” Stern said when I asked her about Katz, “but only a zealot would provide this kind of service.”

Definitely worth reading the whole thing.

DHS prepares for hurricane season

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Christian Beckner on May 24, 2006

Sec. Chertoff gave a press conference yesterday to discuss the federal government’s preparations for hurricane season; the transcript is here. I have no doubt that we are better prepared as we head into the next hurricane season, although it’s difficult to make sense of the statistical measures provided in the briefing. The question that I keep chewing over, however, is this: what other areas of homeland security has the senior leadership of the Department been neglecting because of its laser-like focus on hurricane preparedness and response?

DHS IG probes detention and removal operations

Filed under: Border Security — by Christian Beckner on May 24, 2006

The Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security released a report a few days ago that takes a close look at the detention and removal system for illegal immigrants, and the challenges that it’s faced in the past few years. There’s been a lot of attention paid to this issue in the last year, as “catch and release” has entered the homeland security lexicon, but there’s been a shortage of hard facts on the system’s shortcomings. This report redresses this shortage, and provides a wealth of data on the detention and removal system, and in doing so, shows why this issue is critically important and requires sustained attention.

For me, this is the most important paragraph in the report:

Illegal Aliens from Special Interest Countries and State Sponsors of Terrorism Countries. A significant number of OTMs that are apprehended and released each year originate from SIC and SST. From FY 2001 through the first half of FY 2005, 91,516 SIC and SST aliens were apprehended of which 45,000 (49%) were later released. It is not known exactly how many of these SIC and SST aliens were ultimately issued final orders of removal and were actually removed since such data is not tracked by DRO. However, assuming SIC and SST aliens are being removed at the same rate as other apprehended and released aliens, 85 percent of the SIC and SST aliens released who eventually receive final orders of removal will abscond. Table 6 provides a breakdown of OTMs from SIC and SST countries that were apprehended and released from FY 2001 through the first 6 months of FY 2005.

This is absolutely unacceptable, and probably the most significant terrorism-related vulnerability in our immigration and border security system today. To its credit, DHS has taken action to address this issue over the past six months, and I hope that the Inspector General will continue to monitor the progress made in fulfilling the stated objectives of ending “catch and release” for OTMs.

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