Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 13, 2009

House Homeland Appropriators for 111th

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 13, 2009

Membership on the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee for the 111th Congress is final. The line-up is as follows:

• Chair: David E. Price, North Carolina
• José E. Serrano, New York
• Ciro Rodriguez, Texas
• C.A “Dutch” Ruppersberger, Maryland (new to the Subcommittee)
• Alan B. Mollohan, West Virginia (new to the Subcommittee)
• Nita M. Lowey, New York
• Lucille Roybal-Allard, California
• Sam Farr, California
• Steven R. Rothman, New Jersey (new to the Subcommittee)

• Ranking: Harold Rogers of Kentucky
• John Carter of Texas
• John Culberson of Texas
• Mark Steven Kirk of Illinois (new to the Subcommittee)
• Ken Calvert of California (new to the Subcommittee)

The Dems had three members leave the Committee. They were Chet Edwards, Chaka Fattah, and Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick. Three GOPers also departed the Subcommittee: Robert Aderholt, Kay Granger, and John Peterson of Pennsylvania.

The House Homeland Security Authorizers still have work to do. CQ reported today that Chairman Benny Thompson had not yet scheduled the Committee’s organizational meeting.

We do know, however, that Rep. Jim Langevin is leaving the Homeland Committee to serve on Armed Services. Langevin was chairman of the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity and Science and Technology. Langevin founded the House Cybersecurity Caucus and will likely stay involved in the issues, but his replacement is uncertain.

The Republicans named three new members to the House Homeland Committee, which will be comprised of 21 Ds and 13 Rs:
• Pete Olson of Texas
• Anh “Joseph” Cao of Louisiana
• Steve Austria of Ohio

January 12, 2009

21st Century Wall Making Progress Along Border

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 12, 2009

The Department of Homeland Security has achieved considerable success in pursuing its daunting mission. I criticize the Department a lot, but DHS is responsible for an unwieldy mission space and is itself still undergoing significant organizational change that complicates efforts even further. Let’s face it; DHS also manages its mission under the chaotic supervision of a very vocal Congressional oversight community. It is my belief that more progress could have been made with sufficient resources (monetary and otherwise), and that the Department’s mission is actually in need of being revisited.

For several years now, DHS leadership articulated the mission in terms of five major goals:

1. Protect our Nation from Dangerous People
2. Protect our Nation from Dangerous Goods
3. Protect Critical Infrastructure
4. Strengthen our Nation’s Preparedness and Emergency Response Capabilities
5. Strengthen and Unify DHS Operations and Management

Each is a goal that needs to be pursued still, but there are ways to protect the nation that are less desirable than other ways. For example, protecting the nation from dangerous goods is achievable by significantly reducing the number of importers and goods permitted to cross into the U.S. That way, the limited resources available to CBP and other DHS authorities can be applied to a smaller problem with a higher likelihood of success. In real-world contexts, that’s an unsustainable trade off that offers too few ways to measure progress. As a result, we have other programs that seek to strike a better balance between commercial trade and travel and the important security imperative that is with us in the 21st century.

As for protecting our nation from dangerous people, the same principles apply. Yet, Congress has set aside $2.7 billion so far for the bluntest of security devices: a wall. Secretary of Homeland Security-nominee, Governor Napolitano, famously asserted “Show me a fifty-foot wall and I’ll show you a fifty-one-foot ladder. That’s the way the border works.” She is correct. A wall cannot be calibrated to respond to changes in the threat environment, natural environment, or immigration goals of our country in the same way as screening protocols at our sea ports.

Nonetheless, I thought you’d be interested in the progress being made on the wall being built between the U.S. and Mexico. CBP announced that it had completed 526 miles of the border fence as of December 12, 2008, and Chertoff said 600 miles should be complete in time for the Presidential transition.

Here is a map from CBP of the wall so far (click to enlarge):

Border Fence Status

January 9, 2009

Brennan to be Obama Homeland Adviser Under New White House Structure

Filed under: Organizational Issues — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 9, 2009

John Brennan, the former C.I.A. case officer who served as the first director of the National Counterterrorism Center, will report to Marine Gen. James Jones, the retired SACEUR/EUCOM Commander who will serve as national security adviser.

This reflects changes underway for the NSC-HSC structure at the White House. As written about here and recommended in reports from the Center for American Progress, Congressional Research Service, and elsewhere, the HSC staff will become part of an expanded National Security Council staff, which will have a second deputy (Brennan) reporting to the national security adviser (Jones) for counterterrorism and, presumeably, homeland security.

I’ll update this more later today as I get the details.

January 8, 2009

Why End Terrorist Attacks Before Preventing Them?

Filed under: International HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 8, 2009

President Bush’s outgoing Homeland Security Adviser, Ken Wainstein, told an audience this week that Mumbai-style attacks could happen “in any American city.” A well written piece in the UK Reuters explains the growing concern amid the counter-terrorism community that the brazen assault on civilians in tourist centers attractive to Westerners could be a sign of what’s to come.

Since 9/11, most analysis of the terrorist threat has been focused on al Qaeda’s apparent focus on catastrophic and high-casualty attacks on the unarmed. As a result, analysts have suggested that low-intensity assaults with automatic weapons or car bombs are less likely than attacks on the scale of 9/11, or worse.

However, attacks like those on the rail systems in Madrid, the nightclub in Bali, the mass transit system in London, and now the hotels and urban centers of Mumbai, among others, suggest a shift that has been underway from targeting military and government entities toward more vulnerable “soft targets” populated by civilians.

The three days of gun-and-grenade attacks on Mumbai killed 179 people. “That’s the kind of thing that is all too realistic anywhere in the world,” Wainstein said to the group assembled for an event at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee holds a hearing this afternoon (1300 EST) on the Indian government’s response to the Mumbai attacks and what is needed to prevent such an attack here in the U.S. Scheduled witnesses include:

• Charles E. Allen, Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis and Chief Intelligence Officer , U.S. Department of Homeland Security

• Donald N. Van Duyn , Chief Intelligence Officer, Directorate of Intelligence, National Security Branch, Federal Bureau of Investigation , U.S. Department of Justice

• The Honorable Raymond W. Kelly, Police Commissioner, City of New York

You can watch a webcast of the hearing here.

According to Senator Lieberman:

“We need to understand the implications of some of the tactics used successfully in these attacks. For example, we know that the attackers traveled undetected from Karachi to Mumbai by boat. What are the implications of this attack from the water for our own homeland security here in the United States? We need to look at the targets of this attack and determine whether we are doing as much as we should be doing to appropriately protect our own “soft” targets, a term given to facilities that are not traditionally subject to a high level of security, such as nuclear power plants and defense installations, and that would include hotels, sports arenas, and shopping malls. While there are practical limits to protecting soft targets in an open society, it is imperative that we take smart, cost-effective security measures, through means such as security awareness training, exercises focused on soft targets, and improved information-sharing about potential threats. And we need to examine how we can strengthen our homeland security cooperation with the Government of India and other allied governments in the wake of this attack.”

Another challenge is that the killers that perpetrated the Mumbai attacks used easily obtained automatic rifles, grenades, and GPS devices.

Wainstein suggested the Mumbai assaults indicate the value of sharing better information and intelligence with hotels and other similar facilities. However, this focus misses a larger point that the Senate hearing may also miss. Rather than focus on ways to defuse or end rampages on urban civilian populations, it is important first to understand how to prevent them.

Delegitimizing terrorist acts – especially those that murder unarmed civilians – cannot be accomplished by intelligence and police work alone. The Senate hearing’s title states that it is focused on how “to prevent such attacks in the United States.” To do so would require hearing from authorities from the region (i.e. India, Pakistan) and experts in root causes of terrorism and political extremism. Today’s hearing is important, but it should follow a focus on what it takes to prevent another Mumbai, London, Madrid, or Bali.

January 7, 2009

Welcome Back a Fellow Blogger

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 7, 2009

John Solomon is back. He is the author of incaseofemergencyblog.com and I’ve known John through the DHS roundtables. John’s blogging is valuable for its insight about the first responder policy issues and community of interest. This week, he came back on line after disengaging to undergo treatment for a health condition. Check out his new post here.

Welcome back, John.

Lieberman Boosts Napolitano Nomination

Filed under: Congress and HLS,General Homeland Security — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 7, 2009

One day after Republican ranking member Susan Collins met with Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, Chairman Joe Lieberman had his sit-down with the nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security. Yesterday morning, Lieberman emerged from his 47-minute session with Governor Napolitano to make clear that she is “a superb nominee for a critically important department.” Among the praise, he cited specific credentials. “She has had law enforcement experience as a former Attorney General and she is the governor of a border state.”

Thanks to reporting from Dan Fowler at CQ and information from Seamus Hughes of Lieberman’s Committee staff, we have some insight into how the next Secretary of Homeland Security will be treated in her nomination hearing, which is tentatively scheduled for January 15, 2009.

The meeting was a two-way street. While I thought that this would be an opportunity for Lieberman to learn more about the nominee’s positions, it appears that a good portion of the time was spent outlining the committee’s Homeland Security agenda for 2009. Fowler reported that during his meeting with Napolitano, Lieberman said the two discussed his committee’s priorities for the coming year, including a DHS authorization bill. Lieberman views the bill “as a way for this Committee to state conclusions about the resource needs of the Department and policy changes.”

The two also discussed combating weapons of mass destruction, rail and transit security, chemical security, and cybersecurity.

Indeed, cybersecurity appears to have been a shared priority. “We all worry that in the case of a real conflict, parts of our country, our government, could be incapacitated by cyber attacks — so there’s a lot going on in our government to defend us from cyber attack,” Lieberman said. He continued, suggesting his committee will look at “how we’re organizing that defense and what the role of the Department of Homeland Security should be on that.”

See this post for a few suggested topics that would be appropriate for sussing out the future Secretary’s positions.

Lieberman also explained that Napolitano will develop “a first rate management team” and endeavor “to meld together” DHS as a more unified entity. As for restructuring, looks like FEMA’s position is still an open question.

January 6, 2009

National Biometrics Plan Countdown

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Privacy and Security,Technology for HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 6, 2009

The White House issued President Bush’s final Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD-24) on June 5, 2008. Entitled “Biometrics for Identification and Screening to Enhance National Security,” HSPD-24 provides a framework to align Federal executive departments and agencies in the “collection, storage, use, analysis, and sharing of biometric and associated biographic and contextual information of individuals.”

The PD tasks multiple agencies – led by the AG – with developing an implementation plan by June 2009. DHS has a significant stake in coordinating federal use of biometrics. DHS is the steward of the Biometric Storage System. DHS runs the Screening Coordination Office. DHS operates the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which conducts 135,000 national security background checks, including the collection of 11,000 sets of fingerprints, every day.

On Jan 27-28, 2009, NDIA convenes its Biometric Conference 2009, which is intended to bring together stakeholders (including federal implementers) to address challenges of successfully implementing HSPD-24, along the lines of the following:
• Policy development
• Existing and planned U.S. Government programs
• Examples of commercial application of biometrics to address mission critical business goals
• Enabling technologies
• Initiatives within the international community
• Challenges to achieving true interoperability and information sharing.

NDIA states that the conference’s goal is to develop a “mutual understanding and cardinal direction for possible solutions wherein jurisdiction gaps are closed, technologies are interoperable and policies are cohesive.”

For more one the conference, check out the agenda here.

January 5, 2009

Collins to Meet with Napolitano Today

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 5, 2009

Welcome back. And thank you for allowing this blog to indulge is a greatly enjoyed break over the holidays. I hope you all had a chance to disengage a bit, too. Now on the Watch:

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) is reportedly meeting this afternoon with Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, President-elect Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security. As ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Collins will use the meeting as an opportunity to discuss the upcoming nomination hearing for Napolitano, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 15.

Napolitano has been a popular governor, with approval ratings hovering around 60 percent. And her proactive approach to securing Arizona’s border by deploying National Guard troops at the state’s expense has been lauded by both political parties. However, Arizona is tied for last in disaster preparedness among states, according to an annual report released last month by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The report, “Ready or Not? Protecting the Public’s Health From Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism,” gave Arizona a passing score on only five of the 10 benchmarks related to health-related emergency response.

Collins is likely to focus instead on certain key positions the nominee brings to DHS. For example:

Napolitano opposes plans to build hundreds of miles of new fencing along the Mexican border. In one of her best quotes, she says “You show me a 50-foot wall, and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder.” What does this mean for the Secure Border Initiative?

The department wastes billions on poorly managed contracts, like SBInet, the Homeland Security Information Network, and USCG’s Deepwater. What management imperatives does Gov. Napolitano plan to bring to DHS?

DHS’s morale is among the lowest in the federal government. How does she plan to address this problem and the ongoing challenge of integration and culture development at the Department?

President Bush issued 24 Homeland Security Presidential Directives on everything from how the White House is organized for homeland policy (HSPD-1) to combating WMD (HSPD-4) to terrorist screening (HSPD-11) to cyber security strategies (HSPD-23). How does the new DHS leadership view these as being superseded or amended?

I’ll update this post throughout the day as more information comes in (and after this meeting ends).

Thanks to Senator Lieberman’s office for letting me know that he plans to hold his own meeting with nominee Napolitano tomorrow morning. There’s a chance I might be able to head over to the Hart building afterward to ask a couple questions. If so, I’ll let you all know what I learn.

« Previous Page