Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 20, 2006

CRS updates immigration legislation report

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS — by Christian Beckner on November 20, 2006

The Congressional Research Service updated their report that tracks immigration-related legislation earlier this month:

RL33125: Immigration-Related Legislation in the 109th Congress. Updated Nov. 7, 2006.

As always the full collection of CRS reports at Homeland Security Watch is available here.

November 17, 2006

HLS in DC, Nov. 20-22, 2006

Filed under: Events — by Christian Beckner on November 17, 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). Please note that many events require prior invitations and/or RSVPs.

11/19-11/20: National Academy of Sciences meeting on “Methodological Improvements to the Department of Homeland Security’s Biological Agent Risk Analysis.” Keck Center, 500 5th St NW.
11/20: New Jersey Universities Homeland Security Research Consortium Symposium. Rutgers University.
11/21: CSIS event on “Implementing the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.” 1800 K St NW, 8:30am.
11/21: Equity International briefing on their “2007 Border & Port Security Outlook.” National Press Club, 529 14th St NW, 1pm.

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

Final ISE plan offers new framework for state-local intell sharing

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,State and Local HLS — by Christian Beckner on November 17, 2006

The Information Sharing Environment program office within the DNI released their final implementation plan to Congress yesterday, as part of efforts to fulfill a mandate of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 to improve information-sharing among the intelligence community and with key external stakeholders. This press release and this Washington Post story summarize the Plan. The Post story focuses on the most newsworthy item in the Plan: the creation of a new Interagency Threat Assessment Coordination Group (ITACG), led by DHS and housed at the NCTC, which will be responsible for leading efforts to better coordinate the synthesis and distribution of intelligence and warning information for state and local customers. This chart on page 71 of the report shows the notional framework for the ITACG’s role (click to enlarge):

ITACG

If this initiative succeeds, it will be a welcome development, given the frustrations that many state and local officials have felt in recent years when it comes to their information-sharing interactions with the federal government, struggling to deal with the reality of too little information coming down too many different pipes. If the intelligence community can integrate and streamline its communications with state and local officials, that effort (in combination with related efforts strengthen fusion centers and build personal ties at the local level) will go a long way to remedying the problems that have existed over the past few years in the area of state and local info-sharing. But there is still a long way to go to turn this framework into reality.

For those who follow intelligence and info-sharing issues, there are a number of other important ideas in the final ISE implementation plan, such as a plan for standardization of sensitive-but-unclassified (SBU) markings across the intelligence community.

November 16, 2006

CTC releases ‘Militant Ideology Atlas’

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christian Beckner on November 16, 2006

The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point released a report entitled “The Militant Ideology Atlas” this week, a report that is billed as “in-depth study of the Jihadi Movement’s top thinkers.” The study employs social network analysis of citations in numerous jihadi tracts to show the ideological relationships among the various influential people in this area, as shown on page 12 of the executive report. The authors also released a 360-page supplemental compendium that details the works cited and analyzed in the report.

Report analyzes hazmat training for rail workers

Filed under: Ground Transport Security — by Christian Beckner on November 16, 2006

The group Citizens for Rail Safety released a report yesterday entitled “Training in Hazmat and Rail Security: Current status and Future Needs of Rail Workers and Community Members.” The report examines an issue that I haven’t seen much discussion on in the past few years: the training of rail workers on hazmat-related security issues. This matter is especially critical given the fact that hazmat-carrying railcars that are often stored in non-secured locations for days and weeks, as the report notes in numerous examples. Such railcars prevent a vulnerable target, and when they are located in urban areas (as is often the case), present a dangerous risk. The paper argues for better training of rail workers on hazmat-related issues as a response to this reality, a step that seems a sensible response to this reality.

DHS IG looks at SBINet

Filed under: Border Security — by Christian Beckner on November 16, 2006

The House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing today to look at SBINet, DHS’s major border security integration project, at which the DHS Inspector General released their first review of DHS’s work on the project. The report looks at two types of risk to the project: (a) organizational capacity for management and oversight, and (b) operational requirements and performance management, and finds DHS not fully up to speed in some areas, but taking the steps to remedy any current deficiencies. Overall, I think the report is a clean bill of health for SBINet in its relatively early stages, but given its likely cost it’s important for the IG to continue to closely monitor it.

More on the report and hearing in this GovExec article.

November 15, 2006

ICE removes detention and removal strategy from website

Filed under: Border Security,Investigation & Enforcement — by Christian Beckner on November 15, 2006

The kooky website Cryptogon had a post a few days ago (hat tip: CQ) where they linked to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement strategic plan for detention and removal from 2004 codenamed Endgame. That report had previously been available online at ice.gov, but shortly after the Cryptogon post revealed its existence, it was removed from the website. The proprietors of this Cryptogon site therefore put it up on their own server, and you can download it here:

ENDGAME: Detention and Removal Strategic Plan, 2003 – 2012

The document is unclassified and fairly banal, so I have a hard time believing that this was removed for security reasons. A likelier explanation is that it was removed because it was outdated, a lot of the content in it having been superceded by strategic work under the auspices of the Secure Border Initiative over the last 1+ years.

“Animal enterprise terror” threats vs. chemical plant security

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Infrastructure Protection — by Christian Beckner on November 15, 2006

On Monday, the House passed S. 3880, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act by unanimous consent, clearing the way for it to potentially be signed into law by the President. The Act “provide[s] the Department of Justice the necessary authority to apprehend, prosecute, and convict individuals committing animal enterprise terrorism.”

Normally this is the kind of bill that I would ignore on the blog, given the fact that it’s essentially trivial in nature, giving the DOJ new narrow authorities that it already essentially had based on the discretionary application of broader authorities. I don’t disagree with its contents; I just think it doesn’t matter all that much.

But when I came across the bill today, I couldn’t ignore it, after noting that the chief Senate sponsor is Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma. Inhofe is probably the person most responsible for blocking the passage of comprehensive chemical plant security legislation this year, motivated as much by jurisdictional pique as any substantive disagreements with the bipartisan legislation put forward by Sen. Collins and Sen. Lieberman.

Given this history, he has a lot of nerve to put forward a bill like this. With the “Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act”, Sen. Inhofe is addressing a minor issue as if it’s a major threat, while at the same time leading efforts to block legislation that would remedy the greatest vulnerability in our domestic infrastructure today – legislation that is needed to improve the security of millions of Americans.

This is shameful. When it comes to homeland security, his priorities have been woefully misplaced, and I’m glad he’s surrendering the gavel at EPW at the end of the 109th Congress.

Shell companies and security vulnerabilities

Filed under: Investigation & Enforcement — by Christian Beckner on November 15, 2006

The Investigations Subcommittee of the HSGAC held a hearing today entitled “Failure to Identify Company Owners Impedes Law Enforcement,” which looks at the ease with which anonymous shell companies can be established in states and the national security consequences of this reality, as Sen. Coleman notes in his opening statement:

This lack of transparency not only creates obvious vulnerabilities in our financial system, it also threatens our homeland security. GAO reports that the FBI has 103 open investigations involving financial market manipulation, and most of these cases involve U.S. shell companies. A Department of Justice report revealed that Russian officials used shell companies in Pennsylvania and Delaware to unlawfully divert $15 million in international aid intended to upgrade the safety of former Soviet nuclear power plants.

Schemes like these are not uncommon, but without sufficient company ownership information, it is often difficult for law enforcement to identify and prosecute the criminals behind them. For example, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials reported that over a two year period one Nevada-based corporation received more than 3,700 suspicious wire transfers totaling $81 million. This case has not prosecuted, however, because ICE was unable to identify the corporation’s owners.

Clearly, our failure to identify the owners of U.S. shell companies is a significant deficiency in our anti-money laundering and terrorist financing efforts. And I am concerned that the competition among the states to attract company filing revenue and franchise taxes has in some instances resulted in a race to the bottom.

Sen. Levin’s opening statement suggests a couple of potential approaches to address this legislatively:

FinCEN is considering issuing new regulations requiring company formation agents to establish risk-based anti-money laundering programs which would require careful evaluations of requests for new companies made by high-risk persons. Another approach would be for Congress to set minimum standards, so that no state would be placed at a competitive disadvantage when asking for the name of a company’s true owners. This nationwide approach would also ensure U.S. compliance with international anti-money laundering standards. Still another approach would be to expand on the work of a few states which already identify some ownership information, and ask the National Conference Committee on Uniform State Laws to strengthen existing model state incorporation laws by including requirements for beneficial ownership information, monetary penalties for false information, and annual information updates.

These proposals seem relatively benign in terms of their impact on the financial system, and seem like a solid starting point for new legislation in the 110th Congress.

You can read other testimony from the hearing at this link.

DHS privacy committee does Miami Beach

Filed under: Privacy and Security — by Christian Beckner on November 15, 2006

From yesterday’s Federal Register:

The Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee (“Privacy Advisory Committee”) will be meeting on Wednesday, December 6, 2006, in the Key Biscayne A room of the Eden Roc Hotel, 4525 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, Florida 33140. The meeting will be held from 8 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Dang, that’s a nice hotel. There’s a public comment period in the meeting from 2:00 to 2:30pm. You can register in advance as indicated in the notice.

Immigration and terrorism: what are the ties?

Filed under: Border Security — by Christian Beckner on November 15, 2006

Robert Leiken and Steven Brooke from the Nixon Center published a journal article recently entitled “The Quantitative Analysis of Terrorism and Immigration: An Initial Exploration.” The topic is an important one for border security strategy formation and priority setting, because too often such efforts fail to isolate whether and how investments address homeland security mission needs vs. other missions such as counter-illegal immigration and counter-narcotics (as I discussed in this post back in February).

The full article is only available if one pays for it, but the authors post their data set on the Nixon Center website and summarize their findings in the paragraph below:

This article uses immigration and other biographical data to refute much of the conventional wisdom about the relationship between terrorism and immigration. Using a database created from the biographical data of 373 terrorists, we have established a number of significant findings. Over forty percent of our database is made up of Western Nationals. Second, despite widespread alarms raised over terrorist infiltration from Mexico, we found no terrorist presence in Mexico and no terrorists who entered the U.S. from Mexico. Third, we found a sizeable terrorist presence in Canada and a number of Canadian-based terrorists who have entered the U.S.

The findings above seem to suggest that the U.S. government should redirect resources to the northern border, and not be overly obsessed with the US-Mexico border. The US-Canada border is certainly an area of concern, and needs more resources (particularly in the areas of intelligence and law enforcement cooperation), but I would hesitate to conclude that the US-Mexico border poses a minimal risk by contrast. Take a look at this paragraph from a 2004 House Homeland Security Committee minority staff report (page 28 of the PDF), which lists people detained at the US southern border from countries of interest (COI’s):

The staff obtained a partial list of COI apprehensions for fiscal year 2004 for the Southern Border which included foreign nationals from Afghanistan (16), Egypt (18), Kazakhstan (2), Kuwait (2), Indonesia (19), Iran (13), Iraq (10), Lebanon (13), Pakistan (109), Saudi Arabia (7), Somalia (5), Sudan (6), Syria (10), Tajikistan (3), Turkey (26), Uzbekistan (13) and Yemen (3). These figures are partial and do not reflect the total numbers of COIs apprehended.

Undoubtedly many of these individuals were economically-motivated illegal immigrants, but it’s hard to believe that all of them were, given everything we know about the terrorist threat. We need to be careful to isolate homeland security interests from other interests in our debate over border security, but we should also remain focused on the fact that the Southern border presents a real vulnerability in our system of protection.

November 14, 2006

Senate HSGAC adds new Dems

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Christian Beckner on November 14, 2006

The Senate Democratic leadership announced committee assignments for the 110th Congress today. Sen. Joe Lieberman will chair the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and the other Democratic members of the committee will be as follows:

Carl Levin, Michigan
Daniel Akaka, Hawaii
Thomas Carper, Delaware
Mark Pryor, Arkansas
Mary Landrieu, Louisiana
Barack Obama, Illinois
Claire McCaskill, Missouri
Jon Tester, Montana

Levin, Akaka and Carper are in line to chair the HSGAC investigations, financial management, and government management / workforce subcommittees respectively. The latter four members are new to the committee, filling two slots due to departing members (Mark Dayton, who is retiring, and Frank Lautenberg, who decided to leave the committee) and two slots due to changed committee ratios.

It will be interesting to see what role these new members play on the committee. Sen. Landrieu is likely to use the committee to monitor progress on post-Katrina recovery efforts. Sen. McCaskill is likely to leverage her experience as state auditor (where she audited Missouri’s homeland security efforts in a report earlier this year) as a basis for work on issues with a federal-state nexus. And if Sen. Obama decides to run for President, it will be interesting to see if and how he leverages a role on the HSGAC to strengthen his national profile.

DHS holds 10-print industry day

Filed under: Technology for HLS — by Christian Beckner on November 14, 2006

GCN reports on the US-VISIT program’s 10-Print Capture Industry Day held yesterday, with remarks by Sec. Chertoff noting the importance of the transition from the 2-Print to the 10-Print system:

“The two-print system has already yielded significant results,” Chertoff said, referring to its ability to pinpoint wrongdoers already known to the authorities. “But to stop the unknown threat, [the 10-print system] will allow us to scan prints against those gathered at terrorist training camps, from battlefields [or other areas where terrorists have been known to leave prints],” he said.

Chertoff continued, “When we get [the 10-print system] done it will be an important deterrent. Any terrorist will have to ask themselves whether they have left telltale fingerprints at any bomb factory, safe house [or similar terrorist location]. That aspect of deterrence will drive them crazy,” Chertoff said.

The remainder of the article discusses some of the technical challenges associated with the transition to a 10-print system, such as image quality and system durability.

A TSA scofflaw on YouTube

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Christian Beckner on November 14, 2006

The actions depicted on this video are NOT recommended by Homeland Security Watch:

A new WHTI ID solution?

Filed under: Border Security,Technology for HLS — by Christian Beckner on November 14, 2006

Congress made a decision to delay the implementation of the land border requirements for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) until mid-2009 in the FY 2007 DHS appropriations bill, a change which has begun to prompt a look at alternate options to the proposed PASS card, at least at the state level. For example, yesterday the AP looked at a new proposal by Washington state and British Columbia focused on scanning drivers’ licenses:

Washington state on Monday asked the Department of Homeland Security to authorize a three-month pilot project for scanning driver’s licenses at the border with British Columbia.

Gov. Chris Gregoire hopes a successful display of technology will persuade the government that passports won’t be needed for all border crossings starting in the summer of 2009. She and British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell are trying to streamline the crossings as the region prepares for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

….Gregoire announced a proposal for a 90-day test of hand-held wireless scanners by U.S. border agents at the main Blaine crossing and possibly at Port Angeles. The devices, developed by Port Townsend-based Mobalissa, can scan the bar code on the back of U.S. and Canadian driver’s licenses to check for fakes and to see whether the name is on a security watch list of either country.

The scanners, which can “read” all 50 state licenses, will cost $150,000. The devices already are being used at some military installation gates.

Given the challenges to date in implementing the WHTI requirements (which were the main reason for the Congressional postponement), and the unclear business case for the PASS cards, I think it makes sense for DHS to encourage these types of alternate pilot projects. There is no guarantee that this concept will succeed, and it potentially has throughput challenges. But given the critical importance of getting this right, it’s imperative that multiple options are considered within the next year.

November 13, 2006

US-VISIT exit system moves forward

Filed under: Border Security,Technology for HLS — by Christian Beckner on November 13, 2006

Washington Technology has a story today that looks at an issue that I haven’t seen reported in a while: the status of efforts to develop the “exit” portion of US-VISIT:

Ten years after Congress ordered tracking of entries and exits by foreign visitors to the United States, the exit control plan may be moving forward, but also may be less comprehensive than expected.

To date, the Homeland Security Department has been fairly quiet about plans for the exit part of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (U.S. Visit) program, which collects personal and biometric information on all incoming visa holders. In three years, it has processed about 64 million visitors upon entry.

…An exit plan that U.S. Visit officials last month submitted to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is now under review, said DHS spokeswoman Kimberly Weissman.

The article is mum on the details of the plan submitted to Sec. Chertoff, but provides a good summary of the challenges and complexities associated with the implementation of the “exit” system, mainly related to re-engineering physical border points in a way that maintains throughput and facilitates screening and identification.

These are real challenges, but it’s still worthwhile to try to meet them, as a necessary and core part of the entry-exit system concept dating back to the 1996 mandate in IIRIRA. If the exit segment of US-VISIT languishes, then the benefits of the investments in entry systems made over the past several years will not be realized.

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