Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 26, 2006

Company develops bird flu vaccine

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

Some good news on the pandemic flu front:

A British company reported Wednesday it had achieved the best results ever seen on an experimental human vaccine for bird flu and said mass production might be possible by 2007.

A global health official called GlaxoSmithKline’s early results “an exciting piece of science.” If future tests are as promising, it would be a major step in the frustrating campaign to protect people from a possible deadly flu pandemic.

The U.S. government’s chief infectious disease scientist also was very optimistic.

“The data are really very impressive,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “It changes the whole complexion of the issue that we have to face of getting enough vaccine for people who might need it in a pandemic.”

There are still risks that the virus could mutate into forms that the vaccine would not contain, but this is certainly a positive development for the scientific community’s effort to combat this potential global threat.

New CRS report on ‘trends in terrorism’

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christian Beckner on July 26, 2006

Another new homeland security-related CRS report:

RL33555: Trends in Terrorism 2006, July 21, 2006.

The report provides a useful summary of key findings in the State/NCTC counterterrorism reports, considers trends cited in non-governmental reports, and offers a list of issues for Congress to consider, including international counterterror cooperation, developing mechanisms to address the strengthened terrorist-criminal nexus, dealing with radicalization at madrasas, and responding to unattributed terrorism.

CBP stops invasive slug

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

This press release from CBP today makes me nostalgic for my childhood, and hours spent in the morning, while waiting for the school bus, pouring a salt shaker over the hapless creatures:

Slug

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agriculture specialists here recently intercepted a slug in a shipment of fresh mushrooms from Bulgaria. The slug, identified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as Lehmannia nyctelia, is established throughout Europe, north and south Africa, Australia and New Zealand and could potentially pose a tremendous threat to agriculture in the United States.

The shipment of mushrooms arrived at Sea-Tac Airport from Bulgaria via London on Monday, July 10th, and was examined by CBP agriculture specialists. As the numerous (62) cartons of mushrooms were being unloaded from the air cargo container, an agriculture specialist crawled into the container to check for pests. The slug was found on the floor of the container, apparently after crawling out of the mushroom shipment. The shipment was bound for an importer in California.

The live slug was captured and sent to the USDA National Identification Services located in Philadelphia. If a sample is “actionable,” that is, not known to exist in the United States, or is an exotic invasive species detrimental to American agriculture, the shipment is ordered for fumigation, destruction, or reexport. On July 12th, scientists there dissected and identified the slug and verified that it was the first positive identification of this species intercepted at any U.S. port of entry. The shipment of mushrooms was destroyed.

The Lehmannia nyctelia species of slug is a voracious feeder on a variety of trees, shrubs, crop and greenhouse plants. It can also transmit the tobacco mosaic virus to some plants, which unchecked can have devastating effects on several crops including tomatoes, peppers, other vegetables, flowers and weeds.

What I can say? It’s been a slow news week.

July 25, 2006

A compromise on the border bill?

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

As the House-Senate conference to negotiate the differences between their respective border security bills continues to languish, new proposals are emerging to try to break the impasse and/or shift the political dynamic.

For example, yesterday Sen. Kyl and Sen. Cornyn proposed the need for $3.5 billion in additional border security funding. And today, Sen. Hutchison and Rep. Mike Pence introduced a compromise plan, as summarized by Reuters:

The plan calls for implementing border-security measures before a guest-worker program backed by President Bush is put into place. Once the borders are determined to be secure, a temporary-worker program and an employment-verification program would go into effect.

The U.S. government would license private employment services to match workers with employers. They would operate out of Canada, Mexico and Central American countries that are part of trade pacts with the United States.

Illegal immigrants from those countries seeking to legalize their status would have to travel home to get a two-year visa, which could be renewed for a total of 12 years. After that time, those seeking to continue in the United States could apply for a visa that would allow them to say for another five years before they could apply for permanent status.

I’ve read through the full proposal, and my initial reaction is that it’s an idea that sounds OK in theory…but the more you think about, the more unworkable it would be in practice, requiring the creation of a massive new bureaucracy to administer. For example: What happens to illegal immigrants who don’t leave the country to enroll? What happens to families who are currently in the U.S. where some (but not all) members have legal status? How would the hiring process described in the proposal address the need for seasonal or short-term workers in certain sectors? What happens when someone loses their job through no fault of their own? Are they allowed to find work in the U.S. without returning to their home country? The proposal doesn’t account for these likely outcomes.

Perhaps there is a compromise proposal that wouldn’t create a giant new bureaucracy and doesn’t leave so many unanswered questions. The right way to find out is for the House leadership to appoint conferees and sit down with the Senate to work out a compromise that builds on the hundreds-of-thousands of hours of work that have already gone into the existing legislation.

New report looks at personnel reform and the Homeland Security Act

Filed under: Organizational Issues — by Christian Beckner on July 25, 2006

Stephen Barr writes today in his Federal Diary column at the Washington Post about a new report from the Naval Postgraduate School that provides a case study of the proposed civil service reforms that were debated in the process of passing of the Homeland Security Act of 2002. A lot of this story has been told in bits and pieces already, but it contains a few new wrinkles, and this is the first time I’ve seen it in a single comprehensive narrative, featuring interviews with many of the principals involved with the process.

The report a number of interesting details, such as the fact that White House officials had a total of five days to write the initial draft of the Homeland Security Act and get it transmitted to Congress, based on a promise from VP Cheney to Speaker Dennis Hastert. And it quotes former OHS & DHS official Bruce Lawlor on the thought process behind the creation of the four initial DHS directorates:

When we originally built the Department, if you think about it, you’ve got information, critical infrastructure protection—that’s two of your functions. That’s one Directorate. We’ve got the borders, law enforcement and transportation security. There’s another Directorate. And emergency response and recovery—that’s the third Directorate. We only had three Directorates when we started. Then the Vice President came along and said, “You’ve got to do something more about bio-terrorism.” That’s the fourth Directorate, Science and Technology.

Overall, an interesting report – Chapter III (the narrative) is definitely worth a read.

Chemical security bill: a glimmer of hope?

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Infrastructure Protection — by Christian Beckner on July 25, 2006

Is there a new concerted effort among supporters of the Collins-Lieberman chemical security bill to fight for its passage? Sen. Collins and Sen. Lieberman sent a letter to Majority Leader Frist recently lobbying for floor time, and this editorial from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune yesterday (home state of bill co-sponsor Norm Coleman) makes a strong case for action:

Here are some statistics we’d rather not think about: At perhaps 700 sites around this country, toxic chemicals are stockpiled in quantities that terrorists could turn into weapons threatening at least 100,000 lives. At more than 120 of those sites, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the right kind of attack could kill or injure more than a million people. And in some big cities, according to the Surgeon General, the toll could be twice that high.

Plenty of opportunities to enhance Americans’ security have been missed since 9/11 supposedly changed everything. In some areas, like inspection of cargo arriving in U.S. ports, the protective measures are necessarily complicated, expensive and time-consuming. Beefing up security around several hundred refineries, chemical factories and water-treatment plants, however, is relatively simple, cheap and quick.

It’s hard to understand why Congress has let this vulnerability persist for so long, but it’s easy to grasp the current snag. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., has derailed new security legislation for the twin purposes of helping corporate friends and skewering environmental foes.

The measure is the work of Maine’s Republican Sen. Susan Collins, and it’s pretty simple: The Department of Homeland Security would be given authority to set and enforce security standards at chemical facilities, with plant operators given considerable flexibility to choose their own solutions.

At her insistence, the bill was stripped of a requirement that some facilities shift to less noxious chemicals — for example, replacing chlorine gas with liquid bleach or ultraviolet light for drinking-water treatment. Such shifts make up a growing trend known as “inherently safer technology,” or IST, and they’re gaining favor for reasons beyond anti-terror security — workplace safety, cost savings and community relations among them. This spring, the Center for American Progress found that more than 200 chemical facilities (including five in the Twin Cities) had voluntarily adopted IST.

Now, some people might think it a good thing when a single solution improves security, lowers environmental risk and maybe even saves some money. Certain sectors of the chemical industry, however, oppose writing IST into law — and for Inhofe, the mere prospect of IST provisions being amended back into the Collins bill was enough to justify bottling it up in his Environment and Public Works committee, a graveyard for all sorts of green legislation.

The Collins bill has other opponents; some Republicans want it to prevent states from adopting stricter security standards, and some water-treatment operations would prefer to be regulated under a different law. But these are the sorts of disagreements that Congress resolves routinely.

Inhofe’s objections, on the other hand, are to something that isn’t even in the legislation, and therefore can’t be brokered. His stalling would be shameful even if this were a bill where little was at stake. But here is a measure to head off plausible scenarios in which any among hundreds of chemical facilities become weapons of mass destruction. The Senate GOP leadership ought to recognize this and nudge Inhofe out of the way.

As I’ve said repeatedly over the last eight months, we can’t afford to wait any longer to get this legislation passed.

Atlantic Magazine interviews Sec. Chertoff

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

Stuart Taylor has a long interview with Sec. Chertoff on the website of The Atlantic magazine. It’s an insightful interview, largely because of Taylor’s well-researched questions and his follow-ups to Chertoff’s initial answers to certain questions. It’s behind The Atlantic’s subscription wall, but below are some notable excerpts:

On Chertoff’s qualifications to run DHS:

Nobody doubts your intelligence, your dedication, [or] your legal skills. But what qualifies you to run a brand new department consolidating 22 sub-agencies with 184,000 employees? Is there anything that you’ve learned the hard way that you wish you had known from the start?

Yeah. I think that, when I took the job, what I had in mind was my experience when I was at the Department of Justice, having to bring a lot of different teams together—whether it was the FBI or the IRS, state and local law enforcement—to build a case or to build an investigation and drive it through the conclusion. And I felt that the key to success in the job I did as a prosecutor was bringing a lot of groups together and forcing them to identify their mission and driving them to accomplish the mission. The one thing about being a prosecutor is that it’s a very unforgiving job. You know when you’ve won and you know when you’ve lost. And so you have a very clear sense of the fact that success in the end is the only real measure that counts.

So that was the philosophy I think I brought into that role [and] into this job. And although the scale here is much greater, in some ways the challenge is the same. You’ve got a lot of different components, and you’ve got to transform them from agencies that are focused on doing their own jobs to a team of agencies that are focused on an overall mission. And I do think the experience I had making cases and making tough cases and working with a lot of different agencies has been a real help in this job.

On what he sees as the greatest homeland security threats:

I prioritize nuclear and biological events at the top of the heap. And radiological and chemical close behind because they have the largest capacity to affect the largest number of people and to really be earth-shattering in terms of the impact on the United States. That’s not to say we don’t also look at bombings in subways and bombings in supermarkets and shopping malls, but as bad as those things are, they are the kinds of threats we have dealt with previously and we are well-equipped to deal with. The catastrophic event is the kind that has never happened before and that could really be just transformative in its disastrous effect. So I think that, from a federal standpoint in particular, where we add real value is in developing the tools to prevent, protect against, and respond to those catastrophic events. We still want to be mindful of the less catastrophic and work across the board to raise the level of terrorism [preparedness], but nuclear and biological are, to me, at the top of the heap in terms of consequence.

His reflections on the Dubai Ports World controversy:

Dubai Ports was never going to be entrusted with the seaports. They were going to buy a company that basically owns and operates the cranes that lift the containers out of the cargo holes and puts them on the dock until they can be moved off by trucks. The impact and the danger to security was negligible and, as a condition of agreeing on the deal, we had actually put into place agreements that would have given us much greater security and much greater control of the security overseas than we would have had without the acquisition.

So the furor about Dubai Ports to me is a case where the politics and the public appearance overwhelmed what actually was a perfectly rational and sensible decision. And I think in a nutshell that sums up the challenge of homeland security. To do this job right, we’re often required just to make a lot of decisions that are a little complicated. [The decisions] require a fair amount of factual investigation and sometimes they require us to balance a lot of different considerations. It’s been really hard sometimes to sum that up in a sound byte. And it’s easy to take something like Dubai Ports and say, “Arabs, ports, bad.” I think that it was unfortunate—not only in the individual case, because I think it led to a result that was probably unfair to the company—but [also because] I have since heard from our allies overseas, “What are we going to make of America now? Does that mean that if we help Americans but we’re foreigners, Americans are going to retaliate against us?” And one of the things I said at the time and I believe to be true is [that] it would be a shame if the message we sent to the world was, “We don’t understand who our friends are and we’re going to punish our friends.” To me, one of the huge issues we face in homeland security is how do we boil down and explain decisions that are sometimes complicated and even difficult in a way that is immediately intelligible in a world of blogs and instant messages and slogans.

Since he mentions blogs, I’ll respond to this with a bit of friendly advice: DHS can use blogs and other new media to its advantage if it makes the effort. I try to assess DHS fairly, based on the facts, in a way that acknowledges that the people running DHS have a very tough job. But when issues like the NY/DC grant controversy and the National Asset Database IG report come along, it’s difficult for me (and I would imagine, for the DHS beat reporters) to respond positively, because the backdrop to these issues and decisions are kept opaque, and it seems like the only information coming out of the DHS press office at these times is spin or snarky criticism. Similarly, on the Dubai Ports World issue, I wanted to write more posts that were sympathetic to the Department’s perspective, but DHS was slow to publicly circulate information about the scope of the deal that would have made it possible for me to write timely, favorable posts. A greater effort to increase transparency at DHS – something that can be done without “helping the terrorists” – would go a long way to improving the favorability of media and blogosphere commentary on the Department.

Finally, Sec. Chertoff on chemical security legislation (emphasis added):

But I am the first person to tell you, I think this year we owe the American people a chemical security bill that we can put into law, and then with that we can start the process of correcting exactly the kind of freeloader problem you’ve identified.

It’s time to get this done. Sec. Chertoff, and possibly even the White House, need to put their credibility on the line and get certain intransigent Senators to stop stalling this legislation.

Update (8/1): The link to the interview no longer works. For some reason The Atlantic took it down.

July 24, 2006

DHS and states dispute preparedness review findings

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS — by Christian Beckner on July 24, 2006

McClatchy’s DC bureau published a very interesting piece on Sunday that tells the inside story of the Nationwide Plan Review, citing numerous examples of confusion and disagreement resulting from DHS’s survey and final results:

The results of the $5 million attempt by DHS to determine whether states and cities have adequate emergency plans are troubling, and they offer a glimpse of serious behind-the-scenes disagreements among government officials over how prepared the nation is for another catastrophe.

DHS challenged the self-assessments of almost 60 percent of the states, cities and U.S. territories that participated in the review, according to the internal records obtained by McClatchy Newspapers.

The documents, which Homeland Security officials refuse to make public, reveal that, in most of those cases, the federal agency gave the states and cities significantly higher marks than they gave themselves.

The differing assessments reflect continuing confusion over how states and cities need to handle a catastrophe and what types of disasters they should be prepared to handle. That, in turn, threatens to undermine the federal government’s $18 billion effort to help them prepare for disasters and terrorist attacks.

“There’s a substantial gap between our understanding of preparedness and that of Homeland Security’s,” said Jim Mullen, the director of Washington state’s emergency management division, which rated itself less prepared than federal officials did. “There is not a recognition of the full thrust of what has to be accomplished at the state and local level, and that’s because there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what we do and what we need.”

….Of the 131 jurisdictions that DHS reviewed, only two – Florida and California – agreed with the federal government’s assessments. Fifty-eight states and cities rated themselves less prepared than Homeland Security did in at least four of nine categories, including evacuation plans, disaster warning systems and the ability to provide emergency medical treatment. Eighteen said they were better prepared.

The story goes on to provide several specific examples of these disagreements between state officials and DHS.

After reading this story, and looking at the Nationwide Plan Review documents, I get the sense that this process has fallen prey to risks that face any attempt to understand the world via a survey-based methodology. The capabilities, institutions, processes, and threats that compose and interact with national emergency preparedness system do not easily lend themselves to the imposition of a clear, logical template, and as a result, any effort to survey baseline preparedness is going to face a trade-off between getting results that can be meaningfully compared across states and results that acknowledge this complexity and are sufficiently rich in their findings. It’s certainly a worthwhile exercise to try to carry out such baseline assessments, but there needs always to be an understanding of the tradeoffs and imperfections in the information-collection process.

Coast Guard plans new maritime strategy

Filed under: Port and Maritime Security — by Christian Beckner on July 24, 2006

GovExec reported on Friday on a media briefing by Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen:

The Coast Guard is developing a maritime security strategy that will guide its decision-making, rulemaking, technological requirements and requests for legislation into the future, the agency’s chief said Friday.

Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen said he hopes to unveil the new strategy within four months, adding that it will serve as the basis for making decisions. “It’s going to provide us a template of how you increase maritime security,” Allen told reporters during a briefing sponsored by Defense Daily.

….The Coast Guard is developing a maritime security strategy that will guide its decision-making, rulemaking, technological requirements and requests for legislation into the future, the agency’s chief said Friday.

Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen said he hopes to unveil the new strategy within four months, adding that it will serve as the basis for making decisions. “It’s going to provide us a template of how you increase maritime security,” Allen told reporters during a briefing sponsored by Defense Daily.

There have been a number of maritime security strategies developed in the last few years, including the National Strategy for Maritime Security and its supporting plans, and the “Maritime Sentinel” strategic plan developed by the Coast Guard earlier this year. Based on these comments, I would expect this new plan to be more holistic than current strategies, and also more useful in terms of informing operational decision-making.

July 21, 2006

HLS in DC, July 24-28, 2006

Filed under: Events — by Christian Beckner on July 21, 2006

Below is a list of homeland security policy events in the DC area next week (as well as the occasional listing outside of DC). 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.

7/24: Heritage Foundation event on “Rethinking Visa Policy for the 21st Century” with DHS policy chief Stewart Baker et al. 214 Mass Ave NE, 11am.
7/25: National Maritime Security Advisory Committee meeting. USCG HQ, 2100 Second St SW, Room 4202, 9am.
7/25: House Government Reform Committee hearing on “Is the Federal Government Doing All it Can to Stem the Tide of Illegal Immigration?” Rayburn 2154, 10am.
7/25: House Financial Services Committee & House HSC joint hearing on “Terrorism Threats and the Insurance Market.” Rayburn 2128, 10am.
7/25: House Ways & Means Committee hearing on “Customs Budget Authorizations and Other Customs Issues.” Longworth 1100, 10am.
7/25: Heritage Foundation event on border security with Rep. Mike Rogers (Alabama) et al. 214 Mass Ave NE, 10am.
7/26-7/28: NACCHO annual conference. San Antonio, TX.
7/26: U.S. Conference of Mayors media forum on disaster preparedness. National Press Club, 529 14th St NW, 10am.
7/26: House Homeland Security Committee hearing on “Is Our Nation Prepared for a Public Health Disaster?” Cannon 210, 2pm.
7/26: House Ways & Means Committee hearing on “Impacts of Border Security and Immigration on Ways and Means Programs.” Longworth 1100, 2pm.
7/27: House Homeland Security Committee markup of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006. Cannon 210, 10am.
7/27: House Government Reform Committee hearing on “Code Yellow: Is The DHS Acquisition Bureaucracy a Formula for Disaster?” Rayburn 2154, 10am.
7/27: HSGAC business meeting to markup several bills including the Post-Katrina Emergency Reform Act of 2006 (S.3721). Dirksen 342, 10am.
7/27: House Appropriations Committee hearing on “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement.” Rayburn 2359, 10am.
7/27: House Judiciary Committee hearing on “Whether Attempted Implementation of the Senate Immigration Bill Will Result in an Administrative and National Security Nightmare.” Rayburn 2141, 11:30am.
7/27: Center for American Progress event on “New Strategies to Protect America: A Market-Based Approach to Security.” 1333 H St NW, 10th Floor, 12:30pm.
7/27: National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee teleconference. 2pm.
7/27: Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Detecting Smuggled Nuclear Weapons” with DNDO director Vayl Oxford et al. Dirksen 226, 2:30pm.
7/28: HSGAC hearing on “Cyber Security: Recovery and Reconstitution of Critical Networks.” Dirksen 342, 9:30am.

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

DHS names new chief privacy officer

Filed under: DHS News,Privacy and Security — by Christian Beckner on July 21, 2006

From an announcement sent out by DHS this afternoon:

I am pleased to announce that I have appointed Hugo Teufel III as Chief Privacy Officer for the Department of Homeland Security. Hugo is an outstanding professional, who I have counted on for steady judgment and sound advice as the department’s Associate General Counsel. Hugo is highly regarded throughout the department and the legal community for his expertise on privacy, employee relations and civil rights issues.

As Chief Privacy Officer, Hugo will be responsible for ensuring privacy compliance and the protection of personal information as the department continues to carry out its vital mission. Hugo brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this leadership position, having served previously as Associate Solicitor at the Department of the Interior, the Deputy Solicitor General for the state of Colorado, and as an attorney in private practice. Hugo is a graduate of the Washington College of Law at American University, where he was an editor of The Administrative Law Journal, and he is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College.

I look forward to Hugo’s many contributions to the important work of the Privacy Office and his efforts with the Privacy Office staff to continue to grow a culture of privacy protection throughout the department. Hugo has my appreciation for his continued service, and he has my complete confidence and support as Chief Privacy Officer.

Update (7/24): The AP story on the nomination.

Silly season for border security

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS — by Christian Beckner on July 21, 2006

The House of Representatives is convening a series of hearings this month on the immigration and border security legislation, with stilted titles like:

“Should We Embrace the Senate’s Grant of Amnesty to Millions of Illegal Aliens and Repeat the Mistakes of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986?”

And:

“Whether Attempted Implementation of the Senate Immigration Bill Will Result in an Administrative and National Security Nightmare.”

There have already been more than 50 hearings on immigration and border security in the 109th Congress, according to the Washington Post. But even though there’s nothing new to discuss, House Speaker Dennis Hastert indicated today that he might gin up another wave of hearings, and continue them into September, instead of appointing conferees to negotiate with Senate and reconcile the two chambers’ bills. That decision might have merit as an electoral strategy, but it’s one that is detrimental to the security of the United States.

Both the House and Senate bills have their flaws. But that’s the reason why our political system forces members of the two chambers to pack into a proverbial “smoke-filled room” and resolve differences in legislation via tedious negotiation. Perhaps the gap between the two bills really is too wide for a compromise. But by holding out from negotiations, the House Republican leadership isn’t even bothering to try to find out. If the 109th Congress ends without the passage of immigration & border security legislation, then we’re back to square zero in the 110th Congress – the worst possible legislative outcome for efforts to strengthen security on our borders.

If members of Congress, Republican or Democrat, really care about border security, they need to stop the electioneering B.S. and get this done. Perhaps the final bill would be minimalist, consisting of the 70-80% of content that the two chambers already agree on. Or perhaps the two chambers could strike a ‘grand compromise’ that establishes a guest worker program but also authorizes more fencing and strengthens state & local law enforcement authority on immigration enforcement. Both of those options are preferable to the status quo in terms of border security. It’s time for Congress to stop playing games and get this done.

July 20, 2006

New report on state pandemic preparedness

Filed under: Biosecurity — by Christian Beckner on July 20, 2006

The National Governors Association released a report this week intended to serve as a guide for governors and state officials to prepare for the pandemic flu. The press release is here, and notes four key principles to guide state-level activity that are stressed in the report:

  • The effects of a pandemic flu will be broad, deep and simultaneous, and states must focus resources to ensure continuation of essential services.
  • Medical response capability in a pandemic will be limited, strained and potentially depleted during a pandemic.
  • Government must work closely with the private sector to ensure critical operations and services are maintained.
  • A pandemic will force many key decisions to be made in a dynamic environment of shifting events, and partnerships must be built now and tested to ensure appropriate and rapid action.

It’s a solid report, the latest in a gathering wave of pandemic flu preparedness guides. A worthwhile read for state officials.

House Dems assess progress toward 9/11 Commission recommendations

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Christian Beckner on July 20, 2006

The Democratic staff of the House Homeland Security Committee released a report today entitled “To Secure America: The 9/11 Commission’s Homeland Security Recommendations” which attempts to measure the government’s progress toward implementing the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. The report goes one-by-one through each of the Commission’s homeland security-related recommendations, cites the 9/11 Public Discourse Project’s Dec. 2005 grades, and discusses what the House Democrats have proposed to accelerate progress on a number of issues.

I agree with many of the points in the report, and think it’s vitally important for the government to work vigorously to implement and inculcate the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. So it’s disappointing to see omissions and blatant factual errors in the report, which undermine its credibility. The section on the need for a terrorist travel strategy doesn’t bother to acknowledge that the NCTC delivered the National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel in May, directly addressing this recommendation. And egregiously, the report says that the 9/11 Public Discourse Project (PDP) gave the government a “D” grade in combating terrorist financing. But the actual grade from the PDP was an “A-”: a very big difference.

DHS intelligence chief discusses priorities

Filed under: DHS News,Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christian Beckner on July 20, 2006

I attended this conference on Information Sharing and Homeland Security over the last two days – the main reason for the light posting over the last 48 hours. Overall, it was a very interesting event – some good presentations from senior representatives of DHS, DOJ, DNI, NCTC, and state & local agencies. The conference was held at the DIA’s building at Bolling AFB – a beautiful facility, in comparision to the squalor on Nebraska Avenue at which Congress continues to insist that DHS employees must work.

DHS Chief Intelligence Officer Charlie Allen spoke yesterday afternoon, and his remarks elevated my already-high confidence in his performance on the job. He fully acknowledged that DHS Information Analysis (IA)’s problems at the time of his arrival, and went through the list of steps he was taking to fix them, including:

  • Integrating intelligence activities within the component DHS agencies;
  • Developing a training regimen and a career path for DHS intelligence analysts;
  • Hiring junior-level analysts (GS 7/9/11) for the first time;
  • Strengthening outreach to Congress;
  • Embedding DHS officers in state and/or local fusion centers;
  • Creating an information-management system for DHS IA for the first time, noting that when he arrived, DHS didn’t have searchable databases for its intelligence;
  • Establishing an ISR office within IA, to better leverage national collection assets in support of emergency response (e.g. using remote sensing satellites in Katrina-type responses);
  • Clearing more state & local officials. He noted that he had just approved the clearance of 50 officers in NYC at the secret level;
  • Taking a look at the risk management methodologies used to award grants, and trying to strengthen them, noting that no one in the federal government knows terrorism risk better than him.

Allen mentioned that he was working on the FY2008 budget submission for IA, in a way that hinted that he would be asking for many new resources. Throughout his remarks, there were several wistful notes of “if I only had the resources, I would do this…” I walked away thinking that we can’t afford to wait. Congress should find a way during the FY 2007 House-Senate conference on DHS appropriations to get an extra $100 million to Charlie Allen, to accelerate his plans to improve DHS intelligence. Funding his office might not be as politically sexy as hiring 1,000 new border guards or building new detention facilities, but it’s much more vital to our ability to protect the nation against terrorism.

p.s. One other tip from the conference: the DHS S&T Directorate’s Stephen Dennis mentioned that a major “realignment” of S&T was underway, and would be announced shortly. He didn’t provide details. Stay posted.

GAO questions DHS charge card program

Filed under: DHS News — by Christian Beckner on July 20, 2006

The GAO released a report yesterday on DHS employees’ improper use of government purchase cards. The report has attracted a lot of media attention in the last 24 hours; see these stories in the Washington Times, Reuters, and the AP. The stories and the report offer a number of examples of inappropriate spending at the Department, such as dog booties, iPods, missing laptop PCs, and a beer brewing kit for the Coast Guard academy. DHS has begun to push back on this story, as summarized in this FCW piece, noting that the questionable purchases amounted to only 0.7% of total purchases.

What I find more disturbing than these examples of questionable spending is the total amount of spending through the card program. The GAO report notes that DHS had approx. 9,000 cardholders, who spent a total of $420 million – approx. $46,700 per employee. This doesn’t include travel expenses or ground transportation, which are handled by different programs. This seems like a lot. The Katrina response probably has something to do with this high level of spending, but I think it’s more than that. There needs to be a strong statement of responsibility from the senior leadership of DHS that every dollar spent needs to deliver a real security ROI to American citizens, especially in a time when DHS’s ability to adequately fund many of its core mission requirements in border security, port security, intelligence, and critical infrastructure protection is stretched thin.

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