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 â€“ or should be â€“ as a national priority, suggesting that the next President must address the lack of an â€œeffective strategy against major threats.â€
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 Harmanâ€™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.Â These are her words:
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ 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 mandatedÂ Quadrennial Homeland Security Review would be an ideal setting in which to address these questions.