Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 11, 2008

2008 Wish List: Part II

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Strategy — by Jonah Czerwinski on March 11, 2008

Today Congresswoman Jane Harman, chair of the Homeland Security Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment Subcommittee, published an op-ed in a California paper about how urgent homeland security is – or should be – as a national priority, suggesting that the next President must address the lack of an “effective strategy against major threats.”

She describes a horrific scenario that could take place at LAX: a dirty bomb attack on a highly populated civilian area. Try not to get spun up on the suggestions that terrorists might obtain enough americium from smoke detectors to make a bomb. (Estimates of the necessary amount of detectors range from 1500 to 7500.)

The real value in Harman’s article is the brief treatment she gives of the priorities the next President must embrace to secure the homeland. Readers will recognize some as similar to those included in the previous post entitled 2008 Wish List: Part I. Congressman Harman identifies enhanced intelligence, better stewardship of hazardous materials, stronger partnerships with international partners, and deeper involvement with the state and local authorities.  These are her words:

• Take the offensive against potential threats. Part of this equation is better intelligence – understanding the motivations and capabilities of our enemies, and using that information to anticipate and prevent attacks. For all its tough talk on terrorism, the Bush administration has done a particularly poor job on this front.

• Secure dangerous materials. The ingredients for a dirty bomb can be found in thousands of facilities across the United States – from hospitals to laboratories to water treatment plants – which often have extremely lax security.

Cesium and americium bind chemically to concrete and asphalt and become lodged in cracks on the surface of sidewalks, streets and buildings. Clean-up is nearly impossible. In some cases, demolition is the only practical solution.

• Enhance international relationships and cultivate new ones. Our allies are an extended defensive barrier, and there is much we can learn. Our solid relationship with the British enabled us to disrupt a terror plot to smuggle liquid explosives onto airplanes bound for the United States in 2006.

• Make state and local law enforcement a truly integral part of a homeland security strategy. Federal communication with these partners must improve. Law enforcement stands on America’s front lines and can offer valuable perspectives that inform the national intelligence cycle. They know their communities best. Programs established through the recently enacted 9/11 act will help facilitate information-sharing and avert needless panic caused by ambiguous “gut feelings.” DHS’s continued unwillingness to include local first responders meaningfully in preparing intelligence products borders on the irresponsible.

These explanations are pretty short on detail, but it is an op-ed. Hopefully, this is a sign of productive oversight from her Subcommittee on these important priorities. A hearing on the priority and potential role of the Congressionally mandated Quadrennial Homeland Security Review would be an ideal setting in which to address these questions.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

March 13, 2008 @ 4:44 pm

One of the key roadblocks in adminstering DHS programs is the translation of the federal functional approach to administration by political subdivisions. This critical junction has been repeatedly examined in Public Administration circles. I argue that the time has come for the States to become grownups and perhaps eliminate some political subdivisions that are hindering government services and the safety and security of all citizens right now. We don’t need 90,000 political subdivisions dealing with national issues. This prevents standards from being set and adopted and implemented. In reality, the FEDS should fund programs based in part on state involvement but also calculated using SMSA data and metropolitian area statistical data that make sense of lines drawn in the last two centuries or even earlier. And why not consider subdividing a few of the largest states. Politically, the small state great compromise may result in chaos not protection for the small states. And the largest states, the California, Texas, Florida entourage does not make sense as administrative units either. Unless the nation is willing to look at fundamentals we will be inviting chaos in many concieveable crisis situtations. The police and fire in the 500 largest cities should be made subject to common standards and training and subject to coordinated leadership should there be a WMD incident/event. As population density increases relocation is not administratively feasible much less politically feasible. Thus, the basic EM/HS tool of evacuation must be rexamined and probably rejected except in certain scenarios. If the States don’t reform their nightmarish subdivisions the feds could assist by only funding those jurisdictions that levy taxes, have sue and be sued authority, and full time professional HS and EM staff that are capable of leveraging assets and assisting in mutual support operations. Oh, and it is time for the feds to bite the bullet and automatically fund EMAC humanitarian operations when EMAC is triggered. This will not drain the federal fisc but help maintain it.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

March 18, 2008 @ 9:39 pm

Thank you William Cumming and while not knowing anything about you other than reading your perspective and very enlightening contributions, as a citizen I really hope that DHS and other government personnel who are truly interested in the security of our people read your every word and utilize your input for serious consideration during subject discussions…

Again, thank you for caring for the citizenry as your comments offer us a real sense of security with hopes that many of your comments will be implemented into policy!

Christopher Tingus
Harwich, MA

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