Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 29, 2007

Evolving Adversary Attempts Next Attack on London

Filed under: Risk Assessment,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Jonah Czerwinski on June 29, 2007

Not a lot of detail in the public statement today from the Secratary about the foiled bombing in central London last night.  You can view the statement at the bottom of this post.  Following is a summary and analysis from London-based Exclusive Analysis.  They gave me permission to share this proprietary document here on HLSWatch.com.  It beats any newspaper update at this point and I’m grateful to them for allowing our readers to get this kind of detail.

At approximately 2am GMT, officers defused a bomb on The Haymarket in the Piccadilly Circus area of central London. Police responded to reports of a Mercedes driving erratically; the driver was reported to have crashed the car near Tiger Tiger nightclub before fleeing the scene. The device found in the car is so far reported to have utilised gas canisters, petrol and nails.

Analysis and Forecasts

The level of sophistication of the device has yet to be determined; evidence revealed in the investigation will be a key indicator of the level of capability of the bomber.

Police reports so far suggest that the vehicle contained canisters of gas and petrol and that there were nails found in the car. The intended method of initiation of the device is as yet unverified. For instance, whether explosives were to be used to initiate the device with a timer, or whether the petrol was to be set on fire to trigger the gas canisters to explode, will be an important indication of the potential scale of damage. An ambulance that arrived on the scene early reported that the car was full of smoke. The presence of smoke means that it is possible that the device was scheduled to detonate on a timer and that it had gone off early or malfunctioned. Indeed, it may have been the smoke that caused the driver to begin driving erratically and flee the scene.

Though a densely populated nightclub in central London would certainly be a prime target, this also suggests that the car might not have been left at its intended destination (i.e. that the would-be bomber stopped the car and fled prematurely). The nails do suggest that civilian casualties were a goal; exploding canisters would also produce shrapnel. Gas cylinders have been used frequently by terrorist groups, particularly the IRA within the
UK in the past and FARC in Colombia more recently, because they are simple to use and easy to obtain. However, the blast area would not be of the same radius as a large fertiliser bomb.

Both the method and the target of this incident suggest that home-grown terrorists are learning from and influenced by one another.

Our analysis suggests that home-grown European networks are making contact with one another for the purpose of learning from one another and coordinating attacks. Moreover, would-be attackers learn from remotely observing the plots and mistakes of others. For instance, Dhiron Barot, who was imprisoned in the UK in November 2006 for plotting attacks, planned to detonate limousines wired with gas canisters outside the London Stock Exchange. The members of the group arrested for a “fertiliser bomb” plot in 2004 had discussed targeting nightclubs, and nightclubs also feature as a target on extremist websites. Increased collaboration will at first expose individuals to detection, but over time learning will occur, and through social connections knowledge will be passed on, increasing capability over the one- to two-year period.

In this case, the police have stated that there was no specific intelligence about an upcoming attack and that this was a reactive operation, not intelligence-led, showing that the bomber had at least managed to evade surveillance. It is possible that the individual(s) involved were known to intelligence services, but that they, like the 7/7 bombers, had not been prioritised for surveillance out of the large volume of information and leads the security services are grappling with (information overload has become a problem following the expanded definition of ‘terrorism’ under the Terrorism Act 2006).

The target set for UK attacks is likely to focus on large capacity venues in order to maximise casualties and media attention.

Though it is not yet confirmed that any of the bars or clubs in the area of the incident were specific targets, such a target set is certainly consistent with past plots and threats. Sunni extremist groups wanting to carry out terrorist attacks in the UK are likely to choose targets that will maximise casualties. Whilst economic disruption is a desirable side effect of an attack, killing large numbers of people is likely to be the priority. The death toll of an attack, as well as being a gauge of how successful it has been, would also be viewed as justified revenge for those Muslims killed in the War on Terror. Evidence given during the trial of the 21/7 suspected bombers claimed that several of the bombers had repeatedly talked about wanting to pay back the UK for the deaths caused by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Venues that represent perceived ‘ills’ of Western society, such as bars, clubs and concerts are also likely to be appealing to extremist groups. The ‘fertiliser plot’ bombers, who had talked about targeting the Ministry of Sound nightclub, were recorded saying that none of the casualties in an attack on a London nightclub would be ‘innocent’ as they would all be ‘slags’. Although it is clear that terrorists in the UK are prepared to carry out suicide bombings, it is not necessarily the only tactic that terrorists would use. Venues that have large capacities, such as transportation hubs, airport check-ins, nightclubs and bars, or those with both large capacities and that are accessible by car (e.g. city-based skyscrapers or Canary Wharf) will all be at heightened risk.

 And now the press release: 

From: DHS Employee Communications
Sent: Friday, June 29, 2007 10:46 AM



We have been in close contact with our counterparts in the U.K. regarding the suspected explosive device discovered in a vehicle in the London Haymarket area.  Our law enforcement and intelligence officials are closely monitoring the ongoing investigation.

At this point, I have seen no specific, credible information suggesting that this incident is connected to a threat to the homeland.  We have no plans at this time to change the U.S. threat level.  DHS and the FBI have been in touch with our state and local homeland security and law enforcement partners to convey available information.

We encourage the public to enjoy the upcoming holiday but ask, as always, that they be vigilant and report any suspicious activities to authorities.

June 25, 2007

DHS S&T Under GAO Microscope

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Technology for HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on June 25, 2007

Sincere apologies for the absence.  Just coming up for air and noticed a new release from the Government Accountability Office taking DHS to task on yet another front.  This time the S&T Directorate is in its crosshairs.  Seems the full-speed-ahead approach taken by Under Secretary (ADM) Cohen left some knotty little details undone.  According to GAO:

The S&T fiscal year 2007 expenditure plan, including related documentation and other information provided by program officials, did not fully satisfy the conditions set forth in the Appropriations Act.

Minor detail.  

The current trajectory of S&T spending — accounting notwithstanding, apparently — represents a good start toward energizing what has been a difficult mission space to manage.  This deck used by U/S Cohen at a presentation hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science provides a quick overview of the solutions they’re aiming for.  (You can also see this post about a Congressional hearing in March at which both U/S Cohen and I testified.)  Take a look at the org chart in particular and you’ll notice the “Human Factors” division, which is led by Sharla Rausch. I’ve met her a few times and I believe she might have the most interesting portfolio of the group.

While a good portion of it deals with understanding the process of radicalization as a spectrum from sympathetic to operational, she also takes a look at leadership challenges for the stressed decision maker at the federal, state, or local level during a crisis in order to identify best practices and to support technology that can in turn support the decision maker.  We did some work at CSP on crisis leadership in partnership with Sweden’s version of DHS late last year.  Dr. Rausch attended and discussed some of her team’s interests.  I’ll be curious to see any developments on that front. 

Update 6/26: CQ’s Rob Margetta ran a piece today about the GAO report with a more technical run-down of its findings.  He notes also that U/S Cohen will testify tomorrow before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, and Science and Technology about the Directorate’s strategic plans.

June 11, 2007

Hearts, Minds, and the Homeland

Filed under: International HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on June 11, 2007

Ever wonder what happened to public diplomacy?  “Hearts” and “minds” clogged the talk shows’ airwaves and pundits pontificated about soft power until an Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy was finally appointed in July 2005.  I think they still hate us out there, but the closest Washington gets to public diplomacy nowadays is proclaiming the limits of a “military solution.” 

Changing hearts and minds starts with one thing: shared interests.  If we can identify that shared interest, then nothing should stop our diplomats and others from taking it and running with it as far as possible.  The problem these days is that shared interests are too often viewed as rare, and resident primarily among the willing coalitionists.  We are missing a great opportunity. 

The most widely shared interest among nations (albeit with a few exceptions) is the protection of their civilian populations.  That’s what homeland security is for.  The U.S. happens to be a late comer to this game, but we’ve dumped more treasure and energy into the antiterrorism pursuit that any other nation.  Today, we’ve made significant progress in a wide range of capabilities crucial to protecting against terrorism attacks on our civilian population.  We ought to do a better job of sharing those capabilities with others, especially reluctant partners facing the political turmoil and violence threatened by terrorism. 

I wrote about this in a paper for the Center for the Study of the Presidency in 2005.  In suggesting NATO is a sunk cost that could be engaged better by the U.S. to meet more relevant threats, my point was that the global pursuit of homeland security could help to combat the global discontent with the West, and the U.S. in particular.  NATO is an easier starting point for the U.S. because there we still have a significant amount of political influence with the governance structure in place to combine resources focused on mutual security.   Here’s an excerpt from that paper: 

NATO’s unique map of nearly sixty countries represents the only multilateral consultative environment in the world wherein the U.S retains a significant – albeit underutilized – political advantage.  Creative U.S. leadership of NATO in the 21st century can foster a better consensus between the U.S. and the many other countries within that framework for how to combat the evolving threat posed by terrorism.  This would include a targeted mix of security cooperation efforts and deeper dialogue on counterterrorism best practices.  Ultimately, such leadership must serve as the basis for greater cooperative efforts in crucial regions that serve U.S. security and foreign policy interests. 

The first five years of the war against terrorism demonstrated the importance of developing trust and confidence with non-traditional allies, namely those in the Mediterranean and Middle East.  U.S. national and homeland security interests would benefit from developing innovative security assistance relationships as it would garner more confidence and trust among countries in those regions that have not assumed entrenched anti-American positions.  NATO offers the potential to assist in developing capabilities for counterterrorism (defeating terrorists) and antiterrorism (protecting civilians) as the new currency of cooperation.

NATO already pioneers a set of targeted programs for this purpose, including the Program of Work on Defense Against Terrorism, the Mediterranean Dialogue, Security through Science, the NATO Counter-terrorism Technology Development Programme, and their partnerships through the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center. 

Other options exist for developing capabilities and a shared understanding of the threat posed by terrorism and other 21st century dangers.  The U.S. should take a leadership position by exporting the best practices, capabilities, and even technologies to countries susceptible to both the threat of terrorism and anti-western sentiment, which is not restricted to the Middle East. 

A promising recent example is a small scale partnership that led the Dominican Republic to develop its port and maritime trade infrastructure in ways that both secure the infrastructure and better facilitate vital trade.  The U.S. joined with the support of SOUTHCOM and the U.S. Coast Guard. 

The director of the International Harbor Security Program in the Atlantic said according to this release that “since 2004 Dominican Republic has utilized mechanisms and procedures in harbor security, and even managed to have the sanctions lifted, which had prevented the country’s ships to use U.S. ports freely.” 

Now the DR is being encouraged to share those practices, know-how, and basic return-on-investment rationale with neighboring countries.  It could be a sign of what’s come if the U.S. actively joins the effort on a broader scale.

June 6, 2007

National Bio and Agro-defense Facility Mark Up Today

Filed under: Biosecurity,Organizational Issues — by Jonah Czerwinski on June 6, 2007

A National Bio and Agro-defense Facility, or NBAF, is proposed in HR 1717, which is scheduled for a mark up this afternoon by the Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, and Science and Technology Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee. 

As the Department of Homeland Security continues to grow organizationally, it would seem that a good portion of its mission also continues to be shared among other agencies previously in charge of addressing certain threats.  The NBAF will be led by a director appointed by the Homeland Security Secretary, but it also will serve both the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture “in defending against the threat of potential acts of agroterrorism and natural-occurring incidents related to agriculture with the potential to adversely impact public health, animal health, and the economy, or may otherwise impact homeland security” according to the bill.  HR 1717 may reflect an emerging trend in DHS reorganization of the S&T missions. 

The proposed National Bio and Agro-defense Facility represents something not unlike the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office.  Both the NBAF and DNDO are responsible for “directing basic, applied, and advanced research, development, testing, and evaluation.”  In fact the authorizing language for the DNDO and NBAF look very similar in scope and structure. 

Could this be the beginning of an over all trend to reshape DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate into threat-oriented Offices or Facilities?  Will there next be an organization focused solely on bio-terrorism (there almost was)?  And another on just chemical threats?  Or MANPADS?