Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 31, 2008

TSA Joins the Blogroll

Filed under: DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 31, 2008

The Transportation Security Administration took a step into the blogosphere with its new outlet called “Evolution of Security.”  This looks a lot different form the DHS/HQ blog set up by the Secretary.  TSA says that the purpose of its blog is “to facilitate an ongoing dialogue on innovations in security, technology and the checkpoint screening process.”  More of a two-way street.

Kip Hawley made the first post, and it sounds like an excellent start.  Hawley states that “While I and senior leadership of TSA will participate in the discussion, we are turning the keyboard over to several hosts who represent what’s best about TSA (its people). Our hosts aren’t responsible for TSA’s policies, nor will they have to defend them — their job is to engage with you straight-up and take it from there. “

Refreshing.  The bloggers assuming the keyboard cover a number of positions, but they are also practically anonymous.  Bob, Ethel, Jay, Chance, and Jim will be providing content.  While the informality is welcome, the introduction is a little awkward.  (“I like music, I love ice cream, and I adore weird facts,” begins one bio.)  In any case, the line-up includes a senior Transportation Security Officer, a Federal Security Director, and a staffer (referee?) from the Office of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs, among others.

Judging by the surfeit of comments the first post has generated (98 in one day as of this posting), they are hitting the ground running.

January 30, 2008

Container Security Accuracy Questioned

Filed under: International HLS,Port and Maritime Security — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 30, 2008

GAO reports on how well the DHS Container Security Initiative (CSI) has contributed to strategic planning for supply chain security and strengthened overall container scanning operations.  It raises problems with the CSI concept of operations, but there is a way to improve this — and its accruacy in targeting risky containers.

GAO praises CBP for following its earlier recommendations, but then drills into a core operational reality in the CSI program: limitations in evaluating inspections processes related to the accuracy and completeness of data collected. That data is essentially the main take for this program and its role in informing our targeting of high-risk cargo bound for the U.S. GAO goes on to suggest that if we don’t exercise better control over this aspect of CSI, the security value of the program declines pretty quickly.

Click image to view a conops of the CSI targeting process.


The net net of all this is that CBP “potentially lacks information to ensure that host government examinations can detect and identify weapons of mass destruction, which is important because containers are typically not reexamined in the United States if already examined at a CSI seaport.”

Hold on here. The purpose of CSI is to bring added security through greater transparency in the maritime shipping domain. CSI does this by adding scrutiny to cargo traveling to the U.S., before it arrives in the U.S. (at the foreign CSI port). But if the scrutiny is conducted by host government authorities, that sure dials up the risk.

In a sense, this brings us back to the concern over balancing throughput and security. The last thing we want to do is clamp down on the maritime trade to assure 100% security if that is done at the total expense of economic flows. However, too light of a touch on the system and we wind up adding false scrutiny without adding any value.

Striking the right balance requires revisiting the way in which we look at the maritime domain. It is not only an avenue for sea-based cargo. It is one medium for five global flows: cargo, people, information, finances, and the conveyances themselves (ships in this case). Securing the U.S. by examining every piece of cargo is a sledgehammer approach that we should use if necessary, but a more surgical option would seek to knit together these five flows across the maritime domain, for example, to generate the kind of transparency and intelligence we seek with the container scanning conducted by foreign port authorities.

Treating the information about cargo as a source of risk targeting limits our ability to identify the actual threat and it favors indiscriminate scrutiny that slows throughput without adding any real security. Generating and combining information on cargo in the context of the other four flows would provide an exponentially more accurate understanding of the true risk. Granted, CSI does not operate in a vacuum, but maximizing transparency – and therefore better informed risk targeting – can be more productive with a comprehensive approach that views the domain in a different way.

January 29, 2008

DHS Essential Technologies Task Force Meets Today

Filed under: Technology for HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 29, 2008

Looking forward to writing up something on the SOTU from last night, but I have to run to this meeting of the Essential Technologies Task Force, under the Homeland Security Advisory Council.  The agenda follows and my remarks for the hearing are here.  Nothing profound, but the subject matter for this group is important: Find ways for DHS to better think about — and acquire — essential technologies.


January 28, 2008

EU Institutional M&A On the Rise in Homeland Security

Filed under: International HLS,Organizational Issues — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 28, 2008

Brooks Tigner reports today on a trend we’ve discussed here on a few occasions: The Europeans are more comfortable with homeland security than we give them credit for. The Brits have their “civil” security, the Swedes have coined “societal” security, and even NATO has long owned a “civilian emergency planning” capability. Tigner identifies what he calls “the proliferation” of EU actors, institutions, and decision-makers in civil security across the EU’s institutional map, which has prompted a familiar debate across the Atlantic: Should the array of Homeland Security-related entities be streamlined?

To be sure, streamlining is different from the perennial practice of “reorganization” that we engage in on this side of the Pond. The Lisbon Treaty elevated justice and home affairs decisions to EU-level.  More than a dozen of the European Commission’s (EC) 23 directorates general (DGs) have some civil security policy jurisdiction. Streamlining efforts may result in reducing the number of directly involved DGs or in the appointment of a single DG to have overall responsibility.

The EC’s foreign affairs and security/defense portfolios will be handled by a single position. That new “High Representative” will operate as part of the EC that proposes policy and as a member of the European Council that approves policy.  Now that’s streamlining.  If its wise remains to be seen.

Top priorities in the justice and home affairs agenda resemble issues here. Tigner points out a few, including border patrol and immigration issues, judicial and police operations, critical infrastructure protection, visa and passport procedures, counterterrorism efforts and the fight against organized crime.

Another development to watch is the French thought leadership on this topic. The French government plans to issue a white paper on security and defense this spring. How much of this topic the paper will address is unknown, but it will surely gain attention when France assumes the EU presidency in July.

January 22, 2008

Final National Response Framework Issued

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 22, 2008

Only have time to make sure you have a link to this final report.

If interested, the official DHS statement about the Framework is here:

WASHINGTON – The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today released the National Response Framework (NRF), successor to the National Response Plan. The NRF, which focuses on response and short-term recovery, articulates the doctrine, principles and architecture by which our nation prepares for and responds to all-hazard disasters across all levels of government and all sectors of communities. The NRF is responsive to repeated federal, state, local and private sector requests for a streamlined document that is less bureaucratic and more user-friendly. The NRF also focuses on preparedness and encourages a higher level of readiness across all jurisdictions.

The NRF is being released following an extensive process of outreach and coordination between DHS and key stakeholders representing federal, tribal, state and local governments, non-governmental agencies and associations, and the private sector. The latest public comment period for the base document of the NRF closed on Oct. 22, 2007 and the comment period for the support annexes closed on Nov.10, 2007. The final documents reflect the nearly 5,700 comments received from participants of the process.

“The National Response Framework is an essential tool for emergency managers at all levels,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. “It helps define the roles, responsibilities, and relationships critical to effective emergency planning, preparedness and response to any emergency or disaster. Today’s release reflects the culmination of many months of hard work and collaboration within the nation’s emergency management community.”

The NRF is intended for senior elected and appointed leaders, such as federal department and agency heads, state governors, mayors, tribal leaders, city managers and the private sector. Simultaneously, it informs emergency management practitioners by explaining the operating structures and tools routinely used by first responders and emergency managers at all levels of government.

The NRF is designed to:
o be scalable, flexible and adaptable;
o always be in effect; and
o articulate clear roles and responsibilities among local, state and federal officials.

In addition to releasing the NRF base document, the Emergency Support Function Annexes and Support Annexes will be released and posted at the NRF Resource Center (www.fema.gov/nrf), an online repository of the entire component parts of the NRF. The annexes are a total of 23 individual documents designed to provide concept of operations, procedures and structures for achieving response directives for all partners in fulfilling their roles under the NRF.

Upon finalization and publication of the NRF base document and the annexes, a large focus will be to initiate an intensive nationwide training and exercise program to embed the NRF into the nation’s preparedness and response cycle. Implementation of the NRF training and exercise strategy will include awareness training, position-specific training, exercises (tabletop and functional), and sustainment training.

To make the NRF a living system that can be revised and updated in a more nimble, transparent fashion, the NRF Resource Center was developed. The Resource Center will allow for ongoing revisions as necessary to reflect real-world events and lessons learned.

The NRF and the annexes will go into effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

Global Biometrics Database in the Offing?

Filed under: Border Security,International HLS,Technology for HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 22, 2008

International cooperation in combating terrorism is a no-brainer value add.  And we often try to address on this blog ways in which cooperation can be deepened – or established in the first place as the case may be.  So I was interested — and concerned — to read about a database under joint development by the U.S. Australia, UK, Canada, Japan, and China. 

The database will house biometric data on individuals in order to identify people based on fingerprints, but also such things as voice and facial expression.  These “signatures” are intended to help homeland security authorities better identify and trace terrorists and other suspects.

A story today on News.com.au covered an international forensics conference taking place this week in Australia where this developing database was described by American Patrick Wang, a professor at Northeastern University who spoke at the event. Wang explained that “cross-country collaboration is already under way. There have been some very minor achievements, but people still expect to spend more money and time and to achieve a solution that cannot afford any more mistakes – aiming for 100 per cent accuracy.”

Biometrics are used across many parts of the private sector for facility entry credentials.  But the homeland security and law enforcement communities are gaining momentum. Next month, the FBI will let a contract for a $1 billion revamp of their fingerprints database (IAFIS) into a robust multi-metric identification database called Next Generation Identification that will include the ability to process, store, and analyze several other biometrics. DHS recently started its Biometric Storage System to support its immigration services and other credentialing programs. Could the international database gain access to NGI and BSS? Perhaps these U.S. databases will hoover the international sources.

Professor Wang scopes the effort as follows: “We’re talking about the internet, telephony, mobile phones, mobile phone cameras, digital cameras – all of these are being used not only to commit crimes but also to solve crimes,” he said.

January 17, 2008

Transition Report and Borders Study Released from DHS Advisory Council

Filed under: Border Security,Organizational Issues — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 17, 2008

This week, the Administration Transition Task Force reported out to Secretary Chertoff and the overall Homeland Security Advisory Council on its recommendations for how the Department leadership can prepare for and manage the first transition for DHS.  Its a rather skeletal report at 9 pages (the remaining 18 pages are appendixes), but it represents the beginning of a very worthwhile process of managing what will surely be a challenging transition. 

 Many people, even the Secretary, are advocating for a depoliticized transition that focuses on the mission.  This report speaks to that with some detail.  Other efforts to manage the HLS transition are underway at the DNDO, the HSC, and even by contractors of DHS (namely the Council on Excellence in Government).


The “Secure Borders Open Doors Advisory Council” — more easily referred to as the SBODAC — also reported out.  This report can be downloaded here. 

UPDATE: Thanks to reader William Cumming for identifying the related story in today’s Washington Post.  Stephen Barr interviews acting Deputy DHS Secretary Paul Schneider about how the Department is gearing up for the transition.  Check out William’s comment on this post for more.

January 15, 2008

DNI McConnell Sheds Light on Cyber Strategy in Interview with New Yorker

Filed under: Cybersecurity,Privacy and Security,Strategy — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 15, 2008

Additional public information about the developing cybersecurity policy can be found in an interview with DNI McConnell in the Jan 21, 2008, issue of The New Yorker. In it, interviewer Lawrence Wright describes McConnell’s path to prioritizing cybersecurity, the scale of the challenge to secure both government and private networks, and some of the unique characteristics of the plan that invoke privacy concerns. As noted in yesterday’s post, the President requested $436 million to fund cybersecurity initiatives likely to be driven by this strategy.

• In May 2007, at a meeting with the President and several cabinet members, McConnell asked for authority to wage information warfare against the tech savvy insurgents in Iraq. McConnell identified computer-network defense as an area in which the U.S. was under-invested. The President then charged McConnell to craft a security strategy, not only for government systems but also for American industry and private individuals.

• McConnell’s Cybersecurity Policy, which is still in draft, recommends reducing the access points between government computers and the Internet from two thousand to fifty.

• McConnell expresses concern about private sector defense. “The real question is what to do about industry,” McConnell is quoted as saying. He continues, “Ninety-five per cent of this is a private-sector problem.”

• McConnell suggests that the “real problem is the [cyber crime] perpetrator who doesn’t care about stealing [money] —he just wants to destroy.”

• Privacy protections are considered to be in conflict with enhanced security. A contributor to the strategy and long-time collaborator with McConnell says that the government needs the authority to examine the content of any e-mail, file transfer, or Web search.  Citing a maxim among the info-sec community, he concluded that “Privacy and security are a zero-sum game.”

• Aware of the difficulties in obtaining new powers for security measures, McConnell says that “FISA reform will be a walk in the park compared to this….”

January 14, 2008

Cybersecurity Plans Subject of Panel Discussion

Filed under: Cybersecurity,Events — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 14, 2008

Readers recall the November 8 post that cited a White House move to secure $436 million for cybersecurity initiatives. There’s been little news about the development since, but I’m hoping to glean more details on the 24th.

The president sent his request to Speaker Pelosi on November 6th explaining the requested budget change. Its unclear if the new cyber initiative will reside wholly at the Department of Homeland Security, the intel community, or at DOD. Each has a stake, to be sure, but it depends on how cybersecurity is defined. Are we interested in securing the private sector-owned cyber infrastructure (DHS)? Will we emphasize the use of the internet as a source of secrets and detecting plots (IC)? Or are we protecting government assets and countering attacks on them (DOD)?

We may get some light shed on the subject when Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, Staff Director at the House Homeland Security Committee, and Andy Purdy, former Director of DHS’s National Cyber Security Division speak over breakfast on January 24th as part of the “Cyberspace and Homeland Security: Vulnerability and Opportunity” event at Crowell & Moring, 1001 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.

RSVP for the event with organizer Gordon Platt via gplatt@gothammediaventures.com

The event runs from 8-930 and is moderated by Scott Greiper, Managing Director of investment firm Legend Merchant Group, Inc. Gordon has two other panelists lined up: David Bodenheimer, a Partner at Crowell & Moring who focuses on government, and Jody Westby, the CEO of Global Cyber Risk.

I’ll be on travel, so I’ll rely on you all to tell me how it goes. Email me with input (jonah.hlswatch [at] gmail [dot] com).

January 9, 2008

The Anything’s Possible Counterterrorism Strategy

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 9, 2008

Perhaps the way we’ve arrived at considering spending billions on missile defense for commercial airliners and monitoring paintball games for signs of extremism is along the appealing path of “it could happen.” In the early days following 9/11, many of us in the policy community worried about the nature of follow-on attacks, which gave way to defensive measures based on scenarios, which led to ever more ominous scenarios, and ever more expensive countermeasures. Is this serving us well as an approach to Homeland Security?

To be sure, we have a lot of work to do and a lot of worthy work is underway at DHS, State, and Defense that is critical to combating terrorism. However, we should beware the tendency to shape our strategy based on the theory that “it could happen.” Could terrorists fire surface to air missiles at airplanes leaving LaGuardia? Yes. Likely? Hard to say. Worth $10 billion to reduce but not eliminate the possibility? Hardly.

So it bothered me when Paul J. Browne, an NYPD police spokesman told the New York Times this week, “One call one day may be the one that stops an attempt to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge.” He was justifying the ubiquitous ad campaign across the City’s subway system urging riders to “say something” if they “see something.” The motive initially makes sense: A complacent ridership risks missing indications of a conspiracy to bomb the subway trains. I suppose the assumption is that had the other riders on Spain’s train to Madrid on the morning of March 11, 2004, noticed the terrorists leaving their bomb-rigged bags, the concerned commuter would have alerted others and possibly avoided the carnage.

Last year, according to NYPD, 1,944 subway riders “said something.” By calling 1-800-NYC-SAFE, subway riders warned of “people seen counting in the subway.” Callers worried this was an antecedent to something nefarious and deadly. In all, the hotline received 13,473 calls in 2007, with 644 of those triggering investigations. (Of these calls, 45 were transit related.)

While some crimes were inadvertently uncovered by the callers “ranging from selling false IDs to illegal fireworks peddling” none of the calls resulted from or discovered actual terrorism threats. NYC’s subway riders were applying their own “no-fly list” to other riders. 13,373 callers would have sent fellow riders to secondary, but would have found no terrorists. This is the trickle down effect of “it could happen.”

The “it could happen” approach results from a steep national learning curve about terrorism that persists more than six years after 9/11. Terrorism is a complicated issue, and one that continually evolves. No doubt the general public has little time to read up on radicalism or studied analyses of terrorist behavior. But if our homeland is secured by an “anything’s possible” strategy, we’ll wind up doing at least one of three things:
• Going broke
• Tying up anti-terrorism assets with non-threats
• Eroding our sense of community and eventually our ability to be resilient if we are attacked again

None of these outcomes will happen quickly. However, the prospect does force a cost-benefit analysis of a new kind. Is it worth $10 billion to reduce the chance of a successful MANPAD launch against an airliner? Does a terrorism hotline make us safer if we don’t know what to look for?

National strategies – from Homeland Security to housing programs – require tradeoffs. But assessing the costs and benefits accurately requires balancing near-term and long-term needs with a sober assessment of the strategic threat. Seven years into the national effort to secure the homeland, we still seem to be struggling to understand this equation.

UPDATE: I will concede this: the terrorism hotline serves another potential benefit beyond empowering subway riders. The notion of an overly alert ridership has the potential to introduce enough uncertainty on the part of a perpetrator to second guess the viability of an operation. The flipside is that terrorists become more covert to further lower their profiles. The most effective measure would force a would-be terrorist to take more steps to avoid detection, thereby providing more indicators of a planned attack.

January 7, 2008

Terrorism and Iraq Give Way to the Economy in Voters’ Minds

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 7, 2008

Polls of adult Americans over the last year show trends in threat perceptions and priorities in the terrorism and homeland security domain. I converted some of the findings from this CNN/Gallup poll into the following charts. These two questions captured an important metric about how a cross-section of the electorate is thinking.  (The poll includes other questions that deal with Iraq, Iran, and Middle East peace specifically.)

When asked how worried they are that they would become a victim of terrorism, most said that they were “not too worried” across the seventeen-month span of the survey ending in December. Being “somewhat worried” ranked second consistently, but those asked were almost twice as likely to be not worried at all as opposed to very worried that they or a family member would be a victim of terrorism. Either there isn’t all that much fear-mongering these days, or it isn’t really registering.


And its still the economy, stupid. When asked about the “most important” issue for determining who should be the next president, terrorism and the war in Iraq gradually give way to the economy. In fact, terrorism rarely ranks 12% as the most important issue. Last summer, Iraq dominated with 31% of the voters’ attention. But through the fall and into December, despite the constant debate about funding our troops and whether/when to bring them home, Iraq could not compete with the credit crisis and job losses. The economy is the number one issue.


January 1, 2008

2008 Wishlist. Part I.

Filed under: Strategy — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 1, 2008

Happy New Year. What follows is not exactly my list of resolutions for 2008, but rather four consolidated priorities I’d like to see accomplished in order to improve our security at home. Since this blog embraces a broad definition of those factors that contribute to (or further denude) our homeland security, the topics are similarly beyond the normal scope of the homeland security debate (state grants, first responder interoperability, etc.)

Preempt the Terrorists’ Pursuit of WMD
We know that terrorists want them. We know that they are hard to detect when smuggled and to respond to when detonated or released. There’s a lot that can be done in the way of eliminating terrorist access to WMD, but it’ll take a sizeable commitment. While Russia’s military maintains more than 1,000 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and at least 150 tons of weapons-grade plutonium, even more HEU remains in research reactors in dozens of nations around the world, many with security inadequate to prevent theft. The “loose geeks” problem is as relevant as the loose nukes threat. According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, thousands of weapons scientists (presumably in Russia) are still without a steady paycheck.

In 2008, let’s ramp up Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) efforts to role back this twin threat and keep WMD out of terrorists hands to begin with. Start with a plus-up for the CTR budget that amounts to a mere 10% of the budget we annually spend on, say, missile defense. That would be $1 billion for CTR, which is quite a jump from the paltry $342 million presently budgeted.

Finish the Job in Afghanistan to Prevent Further Terrorist Support
Focus on al Qaeda and Basic Stability
Our mission there is on a collision course with itself. What once was the frontline in fighting terrorism is on the backburner while our security gains there erode. We need a “surge” in Afghanistan to create the kind of political and security environment to enable our (albeit imperfect) reconstruction teams, more effectively distribute aid, provide the running room that nascent government needs in order to assert itself and gain the legitimacy it so sorely lacks in many parts of the country. That the Taliban and al Qaeda are still operating there after the early successes of 2001 and 2002 is utterly regrettable.

Recommit to NATO
Start with Afghanistan and follow up at Bucharest
Rebalancing America’s troop commitments in Afghanistan consistent with our national security goals is only part of the solution there. It is a NATO operation and our national interests are served by NATO’s success. Our Alliance is more than a sunk cost from the Cold War. NATO brings together 26 nations – largely under U.S. leadership – on a strategic security agenda that reflects U.S. national interests in 2008 and far into the future. Coalitions of the willing may actually have their place, but nothing is more valuable than the potential legitimacy generated by almost 50 countries (including NATO Partners).

We’ve known since 9/11 that our national security interests are in the common interest among our allies. It was confirmed when NATO invoked the mutual defense clause for the first time in its history in support of the U.S. on September 12, 2001. Let’s make the next NATO Summit, which is scheduled for the Spring and to be held in Bucharest, the “back-to-the-basics” Summit. There is great potential for NATO’s evolution as a global security forum with teeth, but it is already an asset for our national security efforts that remains largely untapped as a political arrow in our quiver for rallying reluctant allies and creating partners in parts of the world where we need them most . As they say, “Animus In Conulendo Liber.”

Win the war on terrorism on the moral front, in addition to the military one.
Rationalize Our Stance on Torture
America cannot sanction torture. While situations may arise wherein we have in our custody a person with knowledge of impending attacks, the United States cannot as a matter of policy advocate for a legal loophole or a moral exception that makes torture a standard operating procedure. Doing so diminishes U.S. credibility, endangers our soldiers overseas, runs contrary to the moral imperative our Fore Fathers set forth, and according to too many who’ve used or witnessed torture, it doesn’t work well enough to justify it as a practice.

Close Guantanamo Bay and Restore Habeas
Straightening out our nation’s position on torture will support our route to the moral high ground in rallying others to our cause against extremist terrorists, but so also will the closing of Guantanamo and the restoring of habeas corpus to prisoners we capture. This would be a basic measure to restore America’s conscience and make her once again consistent with our own Constitution. If those who we apprehend as suspects in supporting or perpetrating terrorism actually are guilty, they should be tried (military courts are fine) and punished. Let’s use the evidence that convinced us to apprehend them in the first place. Running prisons that lock people away without ever charging them is simply un-American.

UPDATE 1/14/08: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, also says its time for Gitmo to go. Reuters reported that Admiral Mullen would “like to see it shut down.” “I believe that from the standpoint of how [the prison at Guantanamo Bay] reflects on us that it’s been pretty damaging.”

UPDATE 1/21/08: Former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge objects to torture, too. In an interview with AP’s Eileen Sullivan and in remarks before the American Bar Association at a homeland security conference, he stated plainly that “There’s just no doubt in my mind – under any set of rules – waterboarding is torture.” He also reinforces the point made in this post that “One of America’s greatest strengths is the soft power of our value system and how we treat prisoners of war, and we don’t torture.”