Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 21, 2006

Randy Beardsworth resigns from DHS

Filed under: DHS News — by Christian Beckner on September 21, 2006

According to a press release by Sec. Chertoff, Asst. Secretary for Strategic Plans Randy Beardsworth, one of the last folks left from the original senior-level team at DHS, has decided to resign from his job:

Randy Beardsworth has announced his resignation as Assistant Secretary for Strategic Plans for the Department of Homeland Security, effective September 29, 2006. Randy played an integral part in standing-up this department and melding of 22 agencies into a cohesive unit.

Randy’s service to the department dates back to December of 2002, when he joined the Transition Office after a career with the Coast Guard. His experience and expertise were vital to the design and development of the new Department of Homeland Security. Randy also filled the critical role of Acting Under Secretary for the former Border and Transportation Security Directorate during its final days as a component within the department.

DOD IG report on Able Danger

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christian Beckner on September 21, 2006

The Department of Defense Inspector General has released a report responding to the numerous allegations regarding the Able Danger program and its relation to the 9/11 attacks. Among the findings:

  • The program did not identify Mohammed Atta prior to 9/11, stating that witness recollections to this effect were not accurate.
  • DOD officials did not explicitly prohibit the sharing of Able Danger information with the FBI.
  • Several terabytes of data related to the program were destroyed.
  • The revocation of Lt. Tony Shaffer’s security clearance was appropriate given the full scope of circumstances beyond those publicly known.

Here’s an AP story on the report. And here’s the reaction on the Able Danger Blog.

Heritage report on homeland security grants

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Risk Assessment — by Christian Beckner on September 21, 2006

The Heritage Foundation published a piece today, co-authored by Heritage’s Jim Carafano and Jamie Metzl from the Partnership for a Secure America, on Congress’s inaction in making the homeland security grant system risk-based. The article provides a good history of this debate, and offers two recommendations for Congress:

Require the Department of Homeland Security to conduct a Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, just as the Department of Defense is required to conduct its Quadrennial Defense Review, and

Reform homeland security grants by eliminat­ing the minimum-grant formula to allow for pure risk-based funding.

And two recommendations for DHS:

Continue to update the formula for homeland security grant allocation to reflect risk, threat, and vulnerability, and

Create regional offices to coordinate disaster preparedness and response, as mandated by HSPD-8 and the Homeland Security Act of 2002.

Overall, a solid piece on this important issue.

September 20, 2006

Chemical security showdown in the Senate

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Infrastructure Protection — by Christian Beckner on September 20, 2006

A story by Eric Lipton in Thursday’s New York Times provides a good summary of the current showdown in Congress over the inclusion of chemical security language in the FY 2007 DHS appropriations bill. The article links to letters sent to Sen. Judd Gregg by a group of Republican Senators and a group of Democratic Senators that offer opposing positions on this debate.

The article succintly describes the chemical industry’s proposal for legislative language:

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff would have been authorized to establish regulations requiring security measures, but the regulations would have applied only to a sliver of facilities that manufacture, use or store toxic chemicals and that are deemed to have the “highest levels of security risk.” Mr. Chertoff would not have had the power to shut down plants not in compliance.

The proposal would also have left decisions about security plans entirely up to these high-risk plants.

There can be a principled disagreement in this debate over whether DHS should be allowed to mandate inherently safer technologies (ISTs) – I’m against a strong mandate, but think they should be an option as a last resort if other security measures are inadequate. And there can be a principled disagreement over whether states should have the right to have stronger regulations – something that I support consistent with our nation’s tradition of federalism.

But for the chemical industry to put forward a proposal that gives DHS such weak authority, including zero authority to shut down a plant after an extreme security violation, is ludicrous. It confirms all of my suspicions over the last six months regarding the chemical industry’s lack of seriousness – and to be quite frank, their lack of patriotism – in this debate. I hope that serious-minded Senators – including homeland security committee chairs Collins and King – stick to their guns, and demand legislation that can deliver needed security dividends, instead of this sham proposal.

Negotiations over FY 2007 DHS approps

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending — by Christian Beckner on September 20, 2006

Two stories in GovExec yesterday focus on the state of negotiations between the House and Senate over FY 2007 appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security. The first story concerns a fight over the inclusion of drug reimportation language in the bill, a battle that pits the pharmaceutical industry against the AARP. The second story discusses negotiations over the inclusion of $1.8 billion in additional funding for border security in the bill, funding that had earlier been included in the Defense appropriations bill (as I detailed in this post in early August) but has now been shifted to DHS appropriations. The story highlights disputes over whether this money should be allocated solely toward border fencing and vehicle barriers, or instead partially allocated to other accounts related to border security, interior enforcement, and Coast Guard operations.

Newsday editorial on chemical security

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Infrastructure Protection — by Christian Beckner on September 20, 2006

Newsday has a strong editorial today urging its local member of Congress, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, to stick to his earlier support for the House’s chemical security legislation:

One of the most egregious pieces of unfinished business from 9/11 is the continuing vulnerability of chemical plants to terrorist attack. The plants have done a certain amount on their own, but when Congress tries to mandate tighter security, the industry shamefully heads it off.

Now the issue is at our door on Long Island, because the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee is Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford). This summer, King committed himself to his own committee’s strong bill. But he’s now swatting down accusations that he’s quietly backing away from it and seeking language that would help the chemical industry but stave off tighter plant security. King must put the safety of Americans over any industry’s desires.

I agree, and I hope Chairman King will continue to realize that a common-sense analysis of the vulnerabilities in the chemical sector and the potential consequences of an attack require the passage of strong legislation – like the legislation that passed the Committee – as soon as possible.

September 19, 2006

Boeing wins Secure Border Initiative contract

Filed under: Border Security,Business of HLS — by Christian Beckner on September 19, 2006

According to stories in Wednesday’s New York Times and Washington Post, The Boeing Company has won the DHS contract for the Secure Border Initiative (SBI). From the latter story:

Aerospace and defense giant Boeing Co. has won a multibillion-dollar contract to revamp how the United States guards about 6,000 miles of border in an attempt to curb illegal immigration, congressional sources said yesterday.

Boeing’s proposal relied heavily on a network of 1,800 towers — most of which would need to be erected along the borders with Mexico and Canada. Each tower would be equipped with a variety of sensors, including cameras and heat and motion detectors.

The company’s efforts would be the basis of the government’s latest attempt to control U.S. borders after a series of failures. The contract, part of the Secure Border Initiative and known as SBInet, will again test the ability of technology to solve a problem that lawmakers have called a critical national security concern. This time, the private sector is being given an unusually large say in how to do it.

Boeing sold its plan to the Department of Homeland Security as less risky and less expensive than competing proposals that would have relied heavily on drones for routine surveillance work. Boeing plans only limited use of small unmanned aerial vehicles that could be launched from the backs of Border Patrol trucks when needed to help pursue suspects.

For more on Boeing’s bid, see this Bloomberg story from August and Boeing’s initial press release on SBI from May.

Update (9/20): More analysis on the decision (which appears will be officially announced on Thursday) from the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Update (9/21): The official announcement was made today by DHS. You can read the transcript of the press briefing at this link.

An EU anti-terror exercise in Denmark

Filed under: International HLS — by Christian Beckner on September 19, 2006

Defense News has a story today that describes an anti-terror exercise that is taking place this week in Denmark:

The Danish government launched its first anti-terror exercise on behalf of the European Union on Sept. 18, a multiple-event scenario that brings together 300 experts on weapons of mass destruction and civil emergency responders from seven EU countries — Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovenia and Sweden.

Codenamed EU DANEX, the five-day exercise is structured around this scenario: An extremist group plans to take advantage of the chaos produced by a severe storm over Denmark and southern Sweden to set off explosive devices in both countries. The simulated bombs are targeted against the region’s critical infrastructure to create mass panic.

Participants in the exercise will have to deal with attacks on an ammonia storage facility, the release of a chemical warfare agent in a command center, and the explosion in an urban area of a so-called dirty bomb containing radioactive material. Additional explosive devices will cause fire and leaks at a natural gas hub.

You can find more information on the exercise at its website. Notably, they’ve also created a blog as part of the exercise in order to provide information about its progress.

Canadian gov’t issues Maher Arar report

Filed under: International HLS,Investigation & Enforcement — by Christian Beckner on September 19, 2006

The commission looking into the rendition of Maher Arar issued its final report yesterday, an 800+ page tome that strongly criticizes Canada’s lead law enforcement and intelligence agencies for their actions in this case. The report does look into the details of US actions on this case. The full report is available here, and the Washington Post has a solid overview of the report in this story, and Glenn Greenwald has a cogent analysis of the case in this blog post.

September 18, 2006

Border fence bill moves through Congress

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS — by Christian Beckner on September 18, 2006

A new bill on border fencing, H.R. 6061, emerged last week from the ashes of comprehensive immigration and border security legislation, and was passed by the House by a 283-138 vote. The Senate plans to take up the legislation this week, according to the Associated Press:

The Senate will consider a bill calling for erecting 700 miles of fencing on the U.S-Mexican border, a proposal that has been approved twice by the House.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., used a legislative maneuver to get the bill to the floor as early as Wednesday, when the Senate could decide whether to move forward on the legislation….

Democrats are likely to try to block the bill. They may try to attach the comprehensive immigration bill the Senate passed in May as an amendment and push debate into next week. A delay could be a problem as Congress tries to wrestle with legislation addressing treatment of terrorism suspects.

I agree with the idea of increased fencing along the US-Mexico border to this extent (or even more). But I think these preventive investments need to be made in conjunction with deterrent investments, such as better worksite enforcement and some sort of temporary worker program. It doesn’t make sense to focus only on prevention or only on deterrence at the US-Mexico border. By making both types of investments, the Border Patrol will be better able to do its job at a high level of effectiveness.

DHS appoints cybersecurity chief

Filed under: DHS News — by Christian Beckner on September 18, 2006

433 days after the position was first created (eleven days short of the length of the Iran hostage crisis), DHS has nominated someone to be the first Assistant Secretary for Cyber Security and Telecommunications. From a statement by Sec. Chertoff:

I am pleased to announce that Gregory Garcia has been appointed as Assistant Secretary for Cyber Security and Telecommunications at the Department of Homeland Security. Greg brings the right mix of experience in government and the private sector to continue to strengthen our robust partnerships that are essential to this field. He has the expertise to focus resources and activities within the cyber and telecommunications communities in a manner that is consistent with our risk-based approach to homeland security.

Greg joins the department from the Information Technology Association of America, where he was Vice President for Information Security Policy and Programs. In that capacity, Greg led the public debate on cyber security policy and national cyber readiness. He has worked closely with the department over the past few years in his role on the IT Sector Coordinating Council and working with industry to found the National Cyber Security Partnership. Greg helped to draft and enact the Cyber Security Research and Development Act of 2002 during his tenure with the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science. Greg has also worked to strengthen encryption control regulations while with the Americans for Computer Privacy and he was active on international trade and IT policy at the Americans Electronics Association. He is a graduate of San Jose University with a Bachelor of Science degree.

You can find initial reaction to the pick in this story at ZDNet.

NY Times looks at BioShield strife

Filed under: Biosecurity,Business of HLS — by Christian Beckner on September 18, 2006

From today’s New York Times, a story surveying the problems in which Project BioShield is currently mired:

The last of the anthrax-laced letters was still making its way through the mail in late 2001 when top Bush administration officials reached an obvious conclusion: the nation desperately needed to expand its medical stockpile to prepare for another biological attack.

The result was Project BioShield, a $5.6 billion effort to exploit the country’s top medical and scientific brains and fill an emergency medical cabinet with new drugs and vaccines for a host of threats. “We will rally the great promise of American science and innovation to confront the greatest danger of our time,” President Bush said in starting the program.

But the project, critics say, has largely failed to deliver.

So far, only a small fraction of the anticipated remedies are available. Drug companies have waited months, if not years, for government agencies to decide which treatments they want and in what quantities. Unable to attract large pharmaceutical corporations to join the endeavor, the government is instead relying on small start-up companies that often have no proven track record.

The article builds off the excellent piece in Time Magazine back in January on BioShield and goes into great detail on the nasty fight between VaxGen and Emergent BioSolutions (formerly BioPort) over anthrax vaccine contracts.

September 16, 2006

Congressional oversight of homeland security: looking forward to the 110th

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Christian Beckner on September 16, 2006

Congress Daily had a story last Monday that looked at the issue of congressional oversight of homeland security, an issue that I’ve followed closely over the last few years, including my work drafting the CSIS-BENS report “Untangling the Web” in 2004.

The Congress Daily story discusses the state of congressional oversight on homeland security today, quoting many of the key players in the House and the Senate, including the chairs of the Senate and House homeland security committees:

From their vantage point, lawmakers acknowledge the situation is not optimal but say it is working.

“Clearly the situation is much better than it was prior to the 9/11 Commission’s report, but Congress has not completely implemented the recommendations of the commission for complete consolidation of congressional oversight. I think that’s unfortunate,” said Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Collins said she does not believe the situation is a huge problem and has not impeded important legislation. The only bill that has really been affected, she said, is chemical security legislation, on which Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., has placed a hold.

….House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., sees the credibility and oversight authority of his committee growing over time. He said he now has “about 85 percent” of what he needs, adding that the House leadership is siding more and more with his committee.

“I think [oversight is] working relatively well. Better than it has in the last three years,” he said. “It’s a tough business and you’re talking about a lot of entrenched powers,” he added. “To me, we’re establishing ourselves … I’m confident we’re going in the right direction.”

From my vantage point on this issue, the system is working about as well as one could expect in the House, but is still broken in the Senate. Pete King might have 85% of what he needs, but Susan Collins has 50-60% at best. The chemical security legislation, which Collins references, is a prime example of this, and the port security bill only overcame these hurdles because of Dubai Ports World and the electoral necessity for Congress to pass something this year related to homeland security after the border legislation derailed. The Senate homeland committee needs to have primary jurisdiction over the Transportation Security Administration and infrastructure protection issues. And it needs secondary jurisdiction, at the very least, on border security and domestic intelligence (along with Judiciary) and the Coast Guard (with Commerce).

I also think that the article’s key point – that additional reform is unlikely in the 110th Congress – is premature. We do not yet know the results of the November elections, and if the House and/or Senate shifts to the Democratic Party – whose leaders have consistently argued in favor of implementing ALL of the 9/11 Commission recommendations – then that could alter this political calculus. And the public debate on this issue, as it applies to the 110th Congress, has not yet really begun. I still am hopeful that there will be additional improvements to oversight in the new Congress.

A new National Strategy for Combating Terrorism

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on September 16, 2006

On September 5th, the White House released an updated version of the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism. The previous version of the report was released in February 2003, and is available here. I’ve finally got around to reading the new report, with the objective of comparing its homeland security-related content to the 2003 report.

The 2003 report dealt only peripherally with homeland security, and by design: it was explicitly intended to serve as an equal companion piece to the National Strategy for Homeland Security, and not discuss the domestic, defensive aspects of the war against terror.

The 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, by contrast, makes no reference to the National Strategy for Homeland Security as a companion piece, and instead includes several homeland security-related sections within it. The report contains sections that deal with border and travel security, infrastructure protection, counter-WMD efforts, and homegrown radicalization. But it seems to view homeland security as an afterthought: the language in these sections feels like boilerplate. The reason for this is primarily institutional: the strategy was developed by the National Security Council, which does not have a direct role on homeland security at the White House, a responsibility that falls to the Homeland Security Council.

The result of this schism of authority is that we’re likely to continue to lack strategies that address how the “offensive” and “defensive” elements of the war on terror relate to each other, in terms of linking institutions and systems and prioritizing resources.

September 15, 2006

Calif: $239m in DHS grant money at risk

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,State and Local HLS — by Christian Beckner on September 15, 2006

Back in February, I wrote a post about homeland security grants management in California, focused on a story that ran that month in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. That story noted that California had not spent approx. 1/3rd of federal homeland security grant funds as of 2005, and that Gov. Schwarzenegger was set to issue a strategic plan about how to improve the grants distribution process. That report was due to the California state legislature on February 1, 2006. I made numerous inquiries to try to find it, but was unsuccessful, leaving me to believe that it apparently has yet to be published.

That history helps me to understand the findings of a California state audit report released this week, one which blasts the state’s Office of Emergency Services for its emergency preparedness efforts, most notably its failure to effectively spend federal homeland security grant money that has been directed to the state. According to the report, the state has spent only 42% of the $954 million in federal homeland security grant funds awarded to it from 2001 to 2005, as of June 30, 2006. $239 million of this unspent grant money (most of which has been encumbered) is set to expire at the end of 2006, leaving the state at the risk of forfeiting this money. The report also criticizes the state’s efforts to review local plans, monitor grant spending, and coordinate preparedness efforts.

The report has attracted a firestorm of attention in California – see these stories in the Los Angeles Times and the Contra Costa Times as examples – and rightfully so. I’ve maintained for a long time that the inability of states to channel funds effectively is a worse problem than the oft-cited examples of wasteful overspending, and this report reinforces my belief. California isn’t alone on this – numerous other states have failed to spend their money in a timely fashion – but it is certainly appears to be one of the worst offenders. If I were a California resident, I’d be really wondering why the state government has thus far failed to use all available federal funds to protect the state and prepare for terror-related and natural disaster threats.

CBP takes on those motherf***ing snakes

Filed under: Humor — by Christian Beckner on September 15, 2006

Somebody at Customs and Border Protection has a good sense of humor about their job. Here’s a CBP press release from earlier today:

Snakes On the Plains! Pythons and Boas ‘Apprehended’ by U.S. Customs and Border Protection

SWEETGRASS, Mont., Sept. 15 — U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers here “apprehended” five snakes Monday after being refused admittance into Canada at the adjoining port of Coutts, Alberta. A 24-year-old male U.S. citizen was attempting to enter Canada via automobile with the snakes in pillowcases when Canada Border Service Agency officers discovered he did not have the required export certificate.

The three Ball Pythons and two Red-Tail Boas are protected under the Endangered Species Act and require a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) permit to export protected species….

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