Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 30, 2008

Homeland Security Threat Assessment Cites WMD, Radicalization

Filed under: Risk Assessment,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Jonah Czerwinski on December 30, 2008

A new Homeland Security Threat Assessment obtained by The Associated Press, marked FOUO, considers loss of life, economic and psychological consequences, and likelihood of potential attack vectors over the next five years.

During the period of 2008-2013, terrorists will try to conduct a biological terror attack, resulting in overwhelmed regional health care systems and deep economic impacts caused by widespread workforce illnesses and deaths. Interestingly, the assessment suggests that biological agents stolen from labs or other storage facilities within the U.S. remain among the highest threats. Al-Qaida continues to focus on attacks that would generate significant economic losses, casualties, and political turmoil. Hizbollah is cited as also interested in fomenting attacks within the U.S.

Eileen Sullivan’s reporting on this new threat assessment explains that instability in the Middle East and Africa, border security, and expanding cyber terrorism capabilities drive the terrorism threat to the U.S. over the next five years.

Recall the post here about Peter Bergen’s op-ed in the New York Times, In that piece, Bergen offers four reasons why the threat posed to the American homeland is far lower now, such that it justifies a title like “Safe At Home.” This latest threat assessment explains, however, that terrorists will continue to try to evade U.S. border security measures and place operatives inside the mainland to carry out attacks, possibly posing as refugees, asylum seekers, or travelers from visa waiver program members.

I’m not sure how accurate the threat assessment is, but I’m pretty confident that this only adds to the post rebutting his article. Indeed, according to Sullivan, the assessment predicts that the number of radical Islamists within the U.S. will increase over the next five years due partly to the ease of online recruiting means. Sullivan cites that intelligence officials foresee “a wave of young, self-identified Muslim ‘terrorist wannabes’ who aspire to carry out violent acts.”

December 27, 2008

Allison on WMD Commission Take-Aways

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Jonah Czerwinski on December 27, 2008

Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School, wrote a memo about the recently issued report from the WMD Commission. I’m still in Milwaukee, so forgive the lazy blogging these days.

To: Colleagues

From: Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Subject: Key takeaways from Report of the Congressionally-established Bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism

Established by Congress in 2007 (P.L. 110-53) pursuant to recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, the Commission recently delivered its report to the leaders of Congress, President Bush, and the Obama-Biden transition team. The Commission’s assignment was twofold: (1) to assess all of the nation’s activities, initiatives, and programs to prevent weapons of mass destruction proliferation and terrorism; and (2) to provide concrete recommendations to address these threats.

Congress appointed former Florida Senator, Bob Graham, as chair and former Missouri Senator, Jim Talent, as vice chair plus four additional Democrats and three additional Republicans. It gave us 180 days and full access to all government officials and information to fulfill our mission.

At the outset, on the advice of the chairs of the 9/11 Commission, the Chair and Vice Chair decided that we would strive for a unanimous report. That was challenging at some points, indeed challenging in the extreme. Nonetheless, we succeeded. Thus the key findings of the Report are unanimous conclusions of nine Americans, Republicans and Democrats—most of whom had some background in these areas, but were not experts, and sought to respond to the mission to the best of our ability.

We had an excellent staff who together with the Commissioners talked to more than 250 experts across the U.S. government, military, intelligence, political, and other experts, as well as counterparts in the UK, Russia, and other countries.

What does the Report say that you might not know? If I can be professorial, let me offer the following quiz:

How likely is a successful terrorist nuclear or biological attack somewhere in the world in the next five years?

Is the threat of such an attack growing, or alternatively, shrinking? Why?

Are successful weapons of mass destruction terrorist attacks inevitable? If so, should we accept fatalistically? Or is there an alternative?

Our answers:

As the first sentence of the Executive Summary states: “The Commission believes that unless the world community acts decisively and with greater urgency, it is more likely than not a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013.”

“America’s margin of safety is shrinking, not growing.” The Commission recognizes that “many thousands of dedicated people across all agencies of our government are working hard to protect this country and their efforts have had a positive effect.”

While it is unfair that having run faster, we are falling further behind, that is the consequence of a combination of failed policies, on the one hand, and adverse trendlines, on the other.

Ineffective policies have over the past eight years allowed North Korea to expand its nuclear arsenal from 2 to 10 plus a test;

Iran to go from 0 to now 5,000 centrifuges enriching uranium, with a stockpile of LEU sufficient, after further reprocessing, for Iran’s first nuclear bomb;

Pakistan to triple its nuclear arsenal at the same time the state has become extremely fragile; and al Qaeda—who attacked the U.S. successfully on 9/11 killing 3,000 people—to regroup, reconstitute its headquarters with its leadership, recruit new lieutenants to its ranks, reopen training camps, and continue plotting even more deadly attacks upon the United States and our allies.

Even more daunting is a seriously adverse trendline created by the relentless advance of science and technology, especially benign biotechnology that creates new medicines to help us cope with deadly diseases, but simultaneously empowers larger and larger numbers of people with the capacity to kill massively.

The Commission is not fatalistic. It believes that these threats can be prevented (in the case of nuclear terrorism) and managed (in the case of bioterrorism) as our letter of transmittal states:

“The intent of this Report is neither to frighten, nor to reassure the American people about the current state of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. It is to underscore that the U.S. government has yet to fully adapt to these circumstances, and to convey the sobering reality that the risks are growing faster than our multilayered defenses.”

Other takeaways:

If one maps terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, all roads intersect in Pakistan.

Terrorists are more likely to obtain and use a biological weapon than a nuclear weapon.

The United States and Russia have a responsibility to ensure disagreements do not interfere with preventing the proliferation and use of nuclear and biological materials.

The United States must work internationally toward strengthening the nonproliferation regime.

A senior White House position for WMD terrorism should be created.

The United States must negotiate with North Korea and Iran, but only from a position of strength.

The American people have a critical role to play in helping to protect the nation from WMD terrorism.

December 22, 2008

HSC 2.0 Still Uncertain

Filed under: Organizational Issues — by Jonah Czerwinski on December 22, 2008

The Presidential Transition Team is considering alternatives to the current national and homeland security structures in the White House. Several previous posts and reader comments here weigh in on the issue, but over the weekend the New York Times ran an article with some more insight into what may actually transpire.

Transition officials told NYT’s Peter Baker that folding the White House Homeland Security Council into the National Security Council is a real option in favor of achieving a “more efficient” policy system for the President. Furthermore, the separate “war czar” post created almost two years ago to manage the White House viz a viz Iraq and Afghanistan may be reassigned back to the national security adviser.

Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, has privately urged the PTT to keep the HSC as a stand-alone entity, according to Baker. That’s interesting since the former head of the HSC, Fran Townsend, has said that she recommended merging the HSC and NSC on more than one occasion to no avail. Perhaps it was Hadley all along who opposed it.

PTT officials stressed to Baker that President Obama still intends to make national security “a central priority regardless of how he reshapes the White House.” This is important mainly for the politics of appearance. If the new team merges the NSC and HSC in any way and some kind of terrorist attack transpires soon after, critics might point to the merger as an antecedent to letting our guard down. A claim like that would be of little merit in fact, but it could sure grab headlines.

December 19, 2008

Obama Pick for Cyber Czar Comes Into Focus

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Jonah Czerwinski on December 19, 2008

Forbes runs a story today identifying likely picks for the new position of National Cyber Adviser, which then-candidate Obama announced he would appoint to reflect his intention to “make cyber security the top priority that it should be in the 21st century. The new National Cyber Adviser, or NCA, would likely take over some leadership role for the National Cyber Security Initiative (NCSI), which DHS currently leads with support from the DNI and DOD.

The “cyber czar” post may go to Paul Kurtz, a partner with Good Harbor Consulting who joined Obama on the dais during the latter’s speech on cybersecurity at Purdue University. Paul served as senior director for the White House Office of Cyberspace Security and was special assistant to the President and senior director for critical infrastructure protection on the HSC, where he was responsible for both physical and cyber security. He has since also founded the Cyber Security Industry Alliance. Kurtz served on the CSIS Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency, which advocated shifting the center of gravity for the NCSI to the White House. Today, Kurtz works the Presidential Transition Team.

But Kurtz may decline. According to Forbes, he has told friends that he’s “reluctant to accept” the new appointment. Others in the running include Gen. Charles Croom, the recently retired head of the Defense Information Systems Agency, and now a cybersecurity executive at Lockheed Martin. Croom also Commander of DOD’s Joint Task Force – Global Network Operations.

In that role, Croom sought “to accelerate the adoption of a net-centric culture in the Department, make information a force-multiplier, aggressively defend the network, facilitate warfighter connection to all information including intelligence information, achieve agility with non DoD partners, and invest in information technology prudently.”

Much of this experience is important to implementing an NCSI, but to be national requires an artful and effective engagement of a very broad set of stakeholders the defense community doesn’t really have to enfranchise in its normal daily business. For example, the private sector is a central player in this effort. Just how much DISA dealt with the commercial sector – beyond the defense contractors – is unclear.

And in the other corner…. Forbes even suggests that Rod Beckstrom is under consideration. Rod is the current head of the DHS National Cyber Security Center, which he took over less than a year ago. Rod is a successful Silicon Valley visionary who is best known for the book he co-authored on centralized and decentralized leadership networks and behavior called The Starfish and the Spider. When he joined DHS, he had little if any experience with cyber security. Since then, its hard to point to singular successes since much of that entity’s work is classified.

December 18, 2008

DHS, DOD Seek to Synch Reviews

Filed under: Strategy — by Jonah Czerwinski on December 18, 2008

The last two days of workshops and panels were hosted by the US Army War College in support of DHS and DOD with the intention of further exploring some of the issues that foster and support jointness between the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Since both are undertaking their respective quadrennial reviews, it seemed appropriate to embrace that context for focusing on these issues.

All proceedings were off the record, so I won’t share content. The overall gathering brought together a number of DOD organizations and commands, including OASD-HD/ASA, NORTHCOM, OUSD(Policy), the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Guard Bureau, SOCOM, SOUTHCOM, JIATF-South, USACE, and others from DOD, with several DHS component agencies (USCG, ICE, CBP, TSA, FEMA) and DHS headquarters elements such as Policy, Management, Screening Coordination, Operations Coordination and Planning, etc. By assembling entities across DHS and DOD that have equities concerned with a shared success in securing the homeland, it actually seemed like a natural fit. There was no uniform consensus, of course, but nor was there any reluctance to put forward and discuss the tough issues.

The QHSR is, in many ways, intended to be more than just a document. Its a valuable process, too. And that process of engaging – at the strategic level – federal, state, and local authorities as well as non-governmental and private sector entities with a stake in securing the homeland is a vital exercise. It paves the way for jointness merely by enabling the right conversations and identifying opportunities for coordination. Paving the way is part of the battle. Actually institutionalizing jointness or interagency coordination on that level requires more work. I think the QHSR will be central to that work, too.

December 16, 2008

DOD & DHS Convene 2-Day Workshop on “Jointness”

Filed under: Events,Homeland Defense,Organizational Issues — by Jonah Czerwinski on December 16, 2008

For the next two days I’ll be participating in a conference/workshop hosted by the Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership, entitled “DHS and DOD in Review: Ensuring We Ask the Right Questions.” We’ll join in a “strategic review of the foundational concepts of homeland security and homeland defense and validate their applicability to evolving domestic security requirements.” I sort of wish we had more than two days.

But we’ll be in good hands. Alan Cohn, DAS for Strategic Planning at DHS, and Bert Tussing, Director of Homeland Defense and Security Issues at Carlisle, will host the event. Paul McHale, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland, Defense, and Americas’ Security Affairs, will join Alan in kicking off the two-day gathering focused on the following key questions:

• What is the relationship and/or distinction between national security and homeland security, and more specifically homeland defense and homeland security?

• Are these concepts complementary, supplementary, and/or contradictory to achieving an optimal and seamless security posture?

• Have these definitions, in their current form, outlived their usefulness?

• How should DHS and DOD pursue joint capabilities?

• What is the best way to ensure coordination and synchronization, where appropriate, between and across the functional areas called out in the Homeland Security Enterprise Architecture and DOD’s Joint Capability Areas?

• How can DHS and DOD pursue interagency jointness at the operational level?

• What models of jointness could/should DHS adopt to ensure integration and coordination internally across its operating components?

• What models provide the best foundation for jointness between DHS and DOD, and with other federal, state, and local agencies?

This is an ambitious agenda for two days of work, but even scratching the surface will be productive. In fact, much of the dialogue may focus on validating or dismissing assumptions we’re all making about the ongoing effort to knit together the homeland security enterprise. Readers are encouraged to respond to these questions in comments below. Bert and Alan do read the blog.

December 15, 2008

NYT Misses the Mark on HLS

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jonah Czerwinski on December 15, 2008

Something about Peter Bergen’s op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times bothers me. He asserts that “the likelihood of a terrorist attack on the United States in [the Obama administration’s] early stages by Al Qaeda is close to zero.” I hope he’s correct, but his rationale for this optimism leaves too much unanswered.

Despite claims by everyone from the DNI to the SECDEF to the VP-elect to the recent WMD Commission that terrorist threats remain as serious headed into the transition to the Obama administration as they have for recent years, Bergen points to four developments that suggest to him that “the probability of a Qaeda attack on the United States is vanishingly small.” They are:

1. American Muslims have rejected the Qaeda ideology.

2. No Qaeda sleeper cells appear to reside in the United States.

3. It is much harder today for jihadist terrorists to enter the United States.

4. Measures like the establishment of the National Counterterrorism Center have made Americans safer.

Talk about fighting the last war. This reasoning can be boiled down to the following: Because the 9/11 attacks occurred, the 9/11 attacks will not take place again. I think its safe to say that reinforced cockpit doors alone will foil a repeat 9/11. But to suggest that the likelihood of an al Qaeda attack is zero is too sweeping. The four reasons Bergen gives himself are unconvincing in the following ways:

1. Our homeland and national security community is less concerned with the overt support for terrorist organizations within the U.S. than there was prior to 9/11. Overt support isn’t necessary and American Muslims don’t seem to be that much less an adversary for al Qaeda than other Americans.

2. At least Bergen acknowledges the difficulty in proving a negative, but just because we haven’t found them doesn’t mean that sleeper cells do not and will not form in the U.S.

3. Terrorist plotters are unlikely to attempt entry to the U.S. in the same brazen way that they did prior to 9/11. Watch lists and US-VISIT may be steps in the right direction, but the work is not finished.

4. Sure, the NCTC and other such organizations make Americans safer. But do they make us safe? Safe enough? This is not a realistic stasis that the government – no matter how well run – can realistically expect to come about due to the NCTC.

The Times is running a series of op-ed articles by experts about the challenges facing the incoming Obama administration. Yesterday’s was focused on “homeland security and improving our intelligence agencies.” The Times did not succeed in covering sufficient ground. Homeland security challenges were covered by Bergen in this piece and by former NSC senior director Philip Bobbitt. The latter piece focused on fine tuning the counter-terrorism piece of homeland security with a winding treatment of threats and missed opportunities.

Neither of these articles sufficiently addressed the homeland security challenges facing the Obama administration. Little, if anything, discussed the challenges of prevention, mitigation, emergency response, training, coordination of state-local-federal entities, or ongoing needs to integrate the relevant bureaucracies. These are certainly homeland security challenges facing the incoming Obama administration.

December 14, 2008

Obama Meets with National Security Team

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jonah Czerwinski on December 14, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama convenes his first national security team meeting tomorrow (Monday) in Chicago. CNN reports that meeting participants will include Vice President-elect Biden, Homeland Security Secretary nominee Gov. Napolitano, Secretary Gates, Secretary of State nominee Clinton, Attorney General nominee Eric Holder, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs ADM Mullen. I would think that General Jones, named to be National Security Advisor by the President-elect earlier this month, will attend.

What’ll be on the agenda? Probably a mix of pressing policy issues (i.e. plans for Guantanamo), overseas developments (i.e. India, Pakistan, Afghanistan), and management issues pertaining to the national security departments. That may include proposals for how to align the White House Homeland Security Council with the NSC, the fate of PATRIOT Act provisions slated for sunset, or possibly budget discussions for the departments. Will keep an eye out for details.

December 11, 2008

DHS Releases Data Mining Report to Congress

Filed under: Privacy and Security,Technology for HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on December 11, 2008

The 9/11 Commission Act included a section called The Federal Agency Data Mining Reporting Act of 2007, which requires the DHS Privacy Office, led by the Chief Privacy Officer, to report to Congress on its implementation of the Act. The Privacy Office just released its report. The new report, “Data Mining: Technology and Policy,” discusses current data mining activities, as well as those under development in the Department. It covers the following ground:

• How DHS programs satisfy the Act’s definition of “data mining”

• The Privacy Office’s public workshop, Implementing Privacy Protections in Government Data Mining (July 24-25, 2008)

• The Principles for Implementing Privacy Protections in S&T Research Projects, which are the newly-announced privacy principles, including those that involve data mining

The report focuses on three major programs:

1. Automated Targeting System (ATS) Inbound, Outbound, and Passenger modules (CBP)

2. the Data Analysis and Research for Trade Transparency System, (ICE)

3. Freight Assessment System, (TSA)

The report provides each program’s purpose and methodology, technology, legal authority, and sources of data, along with an assessment of how well the program is doing.

A challenge for the homeland security community has been the reactive nature of the privacy-related efforts undertaken. Often the Privacy Impact Assessments and other measures are conducted after a technology is developed. Many in the broader policy community and industry have begun suggesting that privacy protections be made a part of technologies, or that technologies be developed for the sole purpose of protecting privacy.

The Privacy Office’s public workshop on Implementing Privacy Protections in Government Data Mining assembled academics, government researchers, policy and technology experts, and privacy advocates this summer to discuss the privacy issues associated with government data mining. One of the outcomes of the workshop was an effort by the Privacy Office and DHS S&T to develop privacy principles that could be embedded in S&T’s research and development projects involving data mining.

This effort led to a set of Principles for Implementing Privacy Protections in S&T Research, which S&T has agreed will govern “new research performed at S&T laboratories, S&T-sponsored research conducted in cooperation with other Federal government entities, and research conducted by external performers under a contract with S&T.”

Many thanks to reader WRC for sending in the notice about this report’s release.

December 9, 2008

Whither HSC: A Call for Proposals

Filed under: Organizational Issues — by Jonah Czerwinski on December 9, 2008

As covered here, the WMD Commission joined the chorus of those questioning the appropriate fate or future of the White House Homeland Security Council (HSC). Even the Congressional Research Service joined in with a report questioning the statutory legitimacy of the HSC.

This ongoing debate has heard from such experts on the issue as P.J. Crowley, a former NSC staffer now at the Center for American Progress, and CSIS’s David Heyman, also a former White House staffer. David told CQ that “We should abolish the HSC and it should be subsumed by the National Security Council.” I wish he would just say what he really thinks….

P.J. is equally suspicious of an NSC-HSC dichotomy:

“It doesn’t make sense to have an Iraq policy where you are creating terrorists disconnected from a homeland security policy where you are supposed to be able to defend against them.”

Even when the Iraq war comes to an end, there still will be strong support for consolidating the NSC and HSC organizations at the White House. But what do you think?

The next Administration is surely planning to come down on the issue one way or another. I’d like to get HLSwatch readers to offer their two cents. You can be as pithy and to the point as Heyman, or be as deliberative as CRS. If you agree that the HSC should be altered, be specific about what changes are necessary. For example, install a new Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security? Simply shift all HSC directorates to an expanded NSC? Redefine the role of the National Security Advisor?

All opinions welcome, just submit them via the Comment link below.

December 8, 2008

DHS Issues 73 Terms in Official Lexicon of Homeland Security

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jonah Czerwinski on December 8, 2008

DHS is in the process of building an Integrated Risk Management Framework to gather, integrate, analyze, and communicate information about risk in order to prioritize efforts and resources.

A newly released DHS Risk Lexicon is designed to support the Integrated Risk Management Framework by defining a standard set of definitions for DHS risk management. The DHS Risk Lexicon provides definitions for 73 terms deemed fundamental to homeland security risk management.

The Intra-Departmental DHS Risk Steering Committee (RSC) established the Risk Lexicon Working Group with membership from across DHS to produce this Lexicon to “advance an integrated approach to risk management for DHS.” The RSC is chaired by the U/S NPPD (Jamison) and administered by the Office of Risk Management and Analysis. Following is a chart from the Lexicon report that attempts to simplify the process.


The RSC is the risk governance structure for the Department, formed to ensure that risk management is carried out consistently and compatibly throughout DHS. The RSC is made up of three tiers:
Tier I: Component Heads
Tier II: Individuals at the sub component level
Tier III: Action Officers

The RSC also oversees a number of working groups, including the RLWG. The RLWG is responsible for building the DHS Risk Lexicon and managing the meanings contained within it. RLWG members are the subject matter expertise deal with the terminology itself and the arduous process of reconciling key concepts across disciplines. The Risk Management and Analysis office (RMA) leads the overall management of this effort. To round out the hierarchy, there is actually a “DHS Lexicographer” located in the Office of the Executive Secretariat.

You can always find the most current version of the DHS Risk Lexicon via the DHS Executive Secretariat homepage on DHS Online. If you don’t have access to it, here is the current lexicon list:


December 5, 2008

More Insight Into the Next Administration’s HLS Priorities

Filed under: Strategy — by Jonah Czerwinski on December 5, 2008

Readers will recall the dearth of attention given to homeland security during the presidential campaign. In part, this was a welcome absence. It reflected some level of consensus on the issues between the candidates, but it also indicated a lop-sided focus during the campaign on kinetic aspects of combating terrorism (notwithstanding the significant attention given by candidate Obama to soft power mechanisms). However, now that the election is over, there is an abundance of discussion about whither homeland security policy, the Department of Homeland Security as an organization, the future of certain of its component agencies, and the question of how the White House will be organized to lead the mission at a variety of levels.

To cut through a lot of the conjecture, David Heyman and Ethan Wais decided to issue a white paper simply entitled “Homeland Security in an Obama Administration.” The paper cites a group of the most pressing questions the new team must answer:

• What is the right vision for protecting America against terrorism? Are we in a global war on terror? Does the government have to be right 100% of the time and the terrorist right only once? If we fight terrorists abroad, will that protect us from having to face them at home?

• How should government be structured to best manage the nation’s homeland security enterprise? Should the White House Homeland Security Council be preserved or subsumed into the National Security Council? Where and how should cross-cutting issues like preventing nuclear, cyber or biological terrorism be managed? Should FEMA remain part of DHS or become a free-standing cabinet-level agency?

• What is the best way to control the border? What is the optimal combination of physical fences and virtual ones? Do we need more guards at the border, or more officers for interior enforcement? Does the country need comprehensive immigration reform?

• How can the federal government better engage the private sector and the American public in preparing for catastrophic emergencies or other plausible disasters?

• What should be the U.S. policy on foreign ownership of critical infrastructure? What is the U.S. strategy for engaging foreign partners in homeland security?

• Given the many new missions and intelligence operations since 9/11, as well as new Attorney General guidelines to clarify the role of the FBI, what is the right architecture for how the federal government manages and implements its domestic intelligence programs? What are the appropriate rules, guidelines, and requirements for domestic surveillance and intelligence collection across the government? Who should oversee the process? Should the U.S. establish its own version of MI5?

• Three provisions of the Patriot Act are up for reauthorization next year. Should they be reauthorized?

Two sections worth looking to first are “The Obama Presidency—What the Next Administration Will Do” and “Reality on the Ground: Speed Bumps and Overcoming Inertia.”

In the former, David and Ethan dedicate a portion of the report to unpacking the President-elect’s public statements to explain how he and his team will likely craft an agenda focused on prevention, protection, preparedness, and response, as well as a number of references to processes – i.e. the QHSR – that need to unfold in order to add any more specificity to the analysis.

In the latter, the co-authors rightly focus on several key challenges irrespective of policy directions chosen. They include the human capital, IT and management infrastructure, interagency coordination, and enfranchising the American public as a real partner in securing the homeland.

December 4, 2008

WMD Commission Reports Out

The WMD Commission released today its public report to the President and Congress. Commissioners briefed President Bush and this afternoon briefed Vice President-elect Biden and Secretary-designate of Homeland Security Napolitano before they hosted a conference call with a few bloggers to discuss their new report.

The WMD threat is dynamic, as are our abilities to defend against it or defeat it. However, the threat is evolving in ways that open new vulnerabilities or further expose existing ones. The challenge, Commissioners told us, is to better direct today’s efforts with more coordination from the White House and to focus new resources on those worsening vulnerabilities. It is the Commission’s view that nuclear and bioterrorism represent the most pressing of these vulnerabilities. There’s a noticeable demotion of chemical and high explosives in the WMD threat embraced by the report.

The Commission, mandated by Congress, is a follow-on to the 9/11 Commission. And this Commission’s recommendations are just as sweeping. The WMD Commission urges such steps as:

• Undertake a series of mutually reinforcing domestic measures to prevent bioterrorism

• Undertake a series of mutually reinforcing measures at the international level to prevent biological weapons proliferation and terrorism.

• Work internationally toward strengthening the nonproliferation regime, reaffirming the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.

• Undertake a comprehensive review of cooperative nuclear security programs, and develop a global strategy that accounts for the worldwide expansion of the threat and the restructuring of our relationship with Russia from that of donor and recipient to a cooperative partnership.

• Stop the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons programs.

• Work with the Russian government on initiatives to jointly reduce the danger of the use of nuclear and biological weapons.

• Reform, reorganize, and consolidate the NSC and HSC structures.

• Congress should reform its oversight both structurally and substantively to better address intelligence, homeland security, and other national security programs.

• Accelerate integration of effort among the counterproliferation, counterterrorism, and law enforcement communities to address WMD proliferation and terrorism issues.

In the post-9/11 Commission era, such as it is, all Commissions and task forces deal with a new high-water mark in terms of publicity sought and impact measured. Parts of the WMD Commission report are written with this in mind (not least of which is the report’s title). As a result, vagueness or hyperbole clouds the message on some serious points. For example:

“This time we do know. We know the threat we face. We know that our margin of safety is shrinking, not growing. And we know what we must do to counter the risk.”

We’ve spent about $500B on homeland security alone since 9/11. Is this investment failing to keep even a bad situation from getting worse?

Impose “a range of penalties for [Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty] violations and withdrawal from the NPT that shift the burden of proof to the state under review for noncompliance.”

Does this mean that a nation accused of proliferating nuclear weapons is guilty until proven innocent?

The Commission strongly endorses the creation of a senior White House advisor whose sole responsibility is to serve as the President’s advocate and overseer of the policy nexus between WMD proliferation and terrorism. The position of senior advisor could readily be placed within the National Security Council structure. Alternatively, such an advisor could be placed within the office of the Vice President or made the head of a separate White House office.

The last time the Vice President’s office was in charge of assessing the risk of a nexus between terrorism and WMD…well, you get the point.

Let’s be clear: The Commission doesn’t mean to assert that we have near nothing to show for the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on homeland security. (Although Commission co-chair Bob Graham did state in the interview that we are “less safe today than we were.”)

And the Commission probably doesn’t endorse converting the NPT regime into a gotcha game of guilt and suspicion. Nor does the Commission really believe that the Office of the Vice President needs to serve a role like it did between 9/11 and the Iraq war.

In fact, the Commission actually stands for several initiatives and investments already on the table or already underway. Their recommendations make sense because, in a way, they’ve been made before and we already accept them. Hopefully, they’ll get the influx of Presidential prerogative these recommendations deserve.

Also check in on Armchair Generalist for more reflection on this report. Jason was one of the other bloggers on the call.

December 2, 2008

What Awaits Dems at DHS Part III: HSIN

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,State and Local HLS,Technology for HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on December 2, 2008

A story in yesterday’s Boston Globe entitled, “Homeland Security in Disarray” prompted this next installment in our series of posts on specific programs at DHS that need the next Administration’s attention. Our series, “What Awaits Dems at DHS,” continues with a look at the ever expanding Homeland Security Information Network.

The Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) is a computer-based counterterrorism communications system intended to connect all states and tribal areas and 50 major urban areas with access to sensitive but unclassified (SBU) information.

HSIN is intended to enable the collection and dissemination of SBU information between federal, state, and local agencies through real-time interactive connectivity with the National Operations Center at DHS. While the senior official in charge of this program was intended to be Undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis Charlie Allen, he has largely delegated the program to Admiral Rufe, Director of the DHS Operations Directorate. General Dynamics is the prime contractor for the HSIN.

Sources with oversight responsibility of HSIN cite disconnects between DHS and its state and local partners who are the intended consumers of HSIN content. Critics explain that the Department never adequately defined the requirements for HSIN with the end user’s needs in mind. Today, the content, technical interoperability, and user interface of HSIN are impractical for the state and local officials intended as its users. An advisory council established to overcome these challenges (the HSIN Advisory Council, or HSIN-AC) issued a report to the Secretary of Homeland Security with recommendations for enabling the HSIN to meet its obligation to states and localities. DHS took the unprecedented decision to issue a rebuttal to the advisory council’s findings.

The Department has already spent $91M in 2008 on HSIN. They are asking Congress to spend an additional $60M on its current trajectory. A report by the DHS Inspector General about the HSIN program is expected to be issued soon.

But HSIN is also on auto-pilot while its successor is being developed. DHS has begun a replacement program called “HSIN Next Gen,” which is intended to provide better security and information-sharing capabilities that the current HSIN platform. It will also consolidate the number of systems within DHS that share SBU information.

As part of a four-phase implementation, DHS plans to begin shifting current HSIN users to the new network beginning in May 2009. DHS intends to continue to use the existing HSIN with the goal of terminating its use in September 2009 when HSIN Next Gen is to be fully completed. DHS estimates it will cost $3.1 million to operate and maintain HSIN between now and its planned September 2009 termination. That’s minor league compared to its successor. DHS issued a task order this summer to acquire, deploy, operate, and maintain HSIN Next Gen for as many as five years at an estimated contract value of as much as $62 million.

December 1, 2008

Obama to Name National Security Team

Filed under: General Homeland Security,International HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on December 1, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama is expected to name five members of his senior national security team today, representing a centrist set of leading experts. They are former SACEUR Jim Jones as national security adviser, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano for Secretary of Homeland Security, Sen. Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State, and Susan Rice as UN Ambassador. The President-elect also is expected to retain Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. See this post for more on Governor Napolitano as the likely DHS Secretary.

Of the nominees, I’ve only met General Jones, the former Marine four-star. When he was SACEUR and head of EUCOM, I was at NATO in 2006 as part of work for the Center for the Study of the Presidency. I was leading the staff work for a study that began in 2004. That project identified options for the U.S. to bolster its homeland security initiatives through engaging multilateral institutions like NATO. Dave Abshire, president of CSP, led our team, which included Max Angerholzer of the Lounsbery Foundation, Ambassador Gary Matthews of USIP, and former CSP Executive VP Jay Parker. General Jones talked with us for two hours.

While I expected only a cursory review of priority issues at NATO and a perfunctory acknowledgment of homeland security issues as being relevant to alliance workings, General Jones engaged us in a sweeping dialogue and provided a comprehensive explanation of trends and tensions across the Alliance that reached far beyond NATO’s immediate geography. He described the importance of reconciling EU-NATO interests and authorities, options for engaging Middle East nations and Mediterranean states, as well as the political forces behind several setbacks in pursuit of better global consensus post-9/11. This was clearly more than a unified combatant commander. He was already a national security advisor, just an under-employed one.

Apparently, both McCain and Obama sought Jones’ advice during the campaign. Jones hasn’t always agreed with candidate Obama. He chaired the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq in 2007 and said a deadline for troop withdrawal would be “against our national interest.” Of course, a lot has changed since then. Jones also served as president and CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy, which is part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Additional notes:
Gates will be able to get to work immediately as the first defense secretary held over by a new president since he will not have to undergo Senate confirmation.

Susan Rice, a specialist on Africa, advised Obama during the campaign and is a protégé of Madeleine Albright, President Clinton’s secretary of state.

Napolitano has won an early endorsement from…Senator McCain. Considered a moderate Democrat, McCain said last month about Napolitano “I hope she is quickly confirmed.”