Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 26, 2009

Tough days ahead

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 26, 2009

National weather patterns are stacking up for a treacherous few days. Tornadoes in the south, blizzards in the western mountains and high plains, floods in the far north. There is a chance for a major tornado outbreak.  The blizzard could be “epic” according to some forecasters.  Flooding is projected to break prior records.   It is worth scanning Weather.com’s top stories for what’s ahead in the next 48 hours.  Maybe Secretary Napolitano was not so concerned about the weather in Port Arthur, as she was concerned to be in D.C. to deal with what is unfolding.

UPDATE: Tornado in Mississippi, blizzard in Colorado, a volcano exploding in Alaska, and flooding in North Dakota (note involvement of US Coast Guard in North Dakota response. The National Guard is, of course, in the thick of things too).

House Budget Resolution

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Philip J. Palin on March 26, 2009

Last night the House Committee on the Budget reported out its framework for the 2010 budget.   The formal budget resolution is available as a pdf.

Here’s the resolution’s  language related to Homeland Security:


It is the sense of the House that because making the country safer and more secure is such a critical priority, the resolution therefore provides robust resources in the four budget functions — Function 400 (Transportation), Function 450 (Community and Regional Development), Function 550 (Health), and Function 750 (Administration of Justice) — that fund most nondefense homeland security activities that can be used to address our key security priorities, including—
(1) safeguarding the Nation’s transportation systems, including rail, mass transit, ports, and airports;
(2) continuing with efforts to identify and to screen for threats bound for the United States;
(3) strengthening border security;
(4) enhancing emergency preparedness and training and equipping first responders;
(5) helping to make critical infrastructure more secure and resilient against the threat of terrorism and natural disasters;
(6) making the Nation’s cyber infrastructure resistive to attack; and
(7) increasing the preparedness of the public health system.

I don’t have time this morning to do the math. I have to go attend to my personal budget (make some money). If you do the math, please send it along to the rest of us using the comment function.

As of 9:30 (eastern) this morning not all of the links on the Committee website are working.  If a graphic link is not working scroll to text links at the bottom of the page.

Mueller: National security is FBI focus

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Investigation & Enforcement,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on March 26, 2009

In testimony yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director, Robert Mueller, emphasized, “In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks, counterterrorism became our top priority, and it remains our top priority today. Indeed, our top three priorities – counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and cyber security – are national security related.”

These are not the only priorities pushed by every Senator.  As reported in this morning’s New York Times,  “At issue is whether the country is well served by assigning nearly half of the F.B.I.’s 12,000 agents to terrorism and intelligence work, as has been the case since shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. That debate has gained steam since the economic crisis, with lawmakers and others criticizing the F.B.I. as not putting enough resources into bank, mortgage and securities fraud, and pointing out that some of the most significant actions have been taken by state prosecutors, rather than federal ones.”

Mueller agreed that the FBI has a role to play in investigation of  financial and securities fraud. “While the FBI is surging to mortgage fraud investigations, our expectation is that economic crimes will continue to skyrocket.”   (Read more from ABC News.)

But the FBI Director tried to redirect most of his answers back to the terrorist threat and the need to renew the Patriot Act. According to the Washington Post,  “Mueller told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee he hopes that the reauthorization of two provisions would be far less controversial than in previous years. One of those provisions, which helps authorities secure access to business records, ‘has been exceptionally helpful in our national security investigations,’  he said. In response to a question from  Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), Mueller said that his agents had used the provision about 220 times between 2004 and 2007. Data for last year were not yet available, he said. The measure allows investigators probing terrorism to seek a suspect’s records from third parties such as financial services and travel and telephone companies without notifying the suspect.”

Meanwhile… on the Northern Border

Filed under: Border Security,General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 26, 2009

“It’s a real border, and we need to address it as a real border,”  Secretary Napolitano told a Brookings Institution audience yesterday.  The Toronto Globe and Mail reports, “Her goal seemed to be to throw a bucket of reality on anyone who hoped that the arrival of Barack Obama’s new administration would herald a loosening of new restrictions on cross-border traffic.”

The Republic of Texas v. United States

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending,Homeland Defense — by Philip J. Palin on March 26, 2009

Secretary Napolitano has canceled today’s scheduled trip to Texas.  She was to have joined Governor Rick Perry in Port Arthur.  A bit before 10:00 pm (eastern) last evening the DHS press office announced the decision, “due to bad weather predictions for tomorrow. The inclement weather would prohibit Secretary Napolitano from being able to take her trip as planned to fully assess recovery and rebuilding efforts from hurricanes Ike and Gustav.”

Today’s weather forecast for Port Arthur reads, “Variable clouds with scattered showers and thunderstorms, mainly during the afternoon hours.  A few storms may be severe. High 78F, Winds SSE at 10 to 20 mph.  Chance of rain 40%.”

The storm warning of most concern may be more political than meterological.  While the trip was scheduled to examine hurricane recovery, whaddaya want to bet the border might  be brought up?

One month ago Governor Perry asked the Secretary for, “… an additional 1000 Title 32 National Guard positions… along with six OH-58 helicopters equipped with Forward Looking Infrared Radar for night operations.  These resources will be utilized only in Defense Support of Civilian Authorities (law enforcement).”  Perry’s letter and some contextual comments can be accessed on the Office of the Governor website. 

The request for sending 1,000 troops to the border, “is under active consideration in the Defense Department and will depend on several factors,”  Napolitano is quoted as saying in the Latin American Herald Tribune.   In a Wednesday interview the Secretary explained, “It’s a decision that must be made with much caution because, as President (Barack) Obama has already said, we don’t want to militarize the border. We want to lead (the anti-drug fight) with the civil authorities and that’s what we’re doing.”

In Texas and other border states, this issue is being played as an example of  federal restraint limiting local authority.  In yesterday’s  Dallas Morning News blogsite  there was a spirited discussion (or at least an exchange of views).  One of the blog contributors, signing in as True Texan, wrote, “I’ll side with a Texan versus a Washington insider EVERY TIME when it comes to the safety and protection of Texas. Obama doesn’t live here and doesn’t know what’s going on. He, like the other Ivory Tower dwellers, are insulated from reality, especially the reality of the Texas border.” 

I expect the Governor’s political operatives are not unhappy with True Texan’s characterization.

As is so often the case, reality can be complicated.  Notice that in his letter the Governor is requesting 1000 Title 32 National Guard positions.  This is a reference to the ever popular Title 32 of the United States Code.  The Governor already has authority to deploy any Texas Title 32 forces.  This is explicit in several sections of the Code (and the US Constitution), including Chapter 9, Section 907, “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed as a limitation on the authority of any unit of the National Guard of a State, when such unit is not in Federal service, to perform functions authorized to be performed by the National Guard by the laws of the State concerned.”

But if the Governor deploys on his own authority, he will need to pay for the deployment with state dollars.  What he is really requesting is not federal permission to use Texas troops, rather he is requesting federal funding for those troops.  To Governor Perry’s credit he has pressed the Texas state legislature to continue funding extraordinary costs associated with the State’s role in border security.  But 1000 troops and six helicopters can eat up millions more very quickly.

Related news coverage KFOX El Paso, Dallas Morning News (editorial),  the Daily Telegraph, and the American Forces Press Service.

(Last evening Mr. William R. Cumming, a regular contributor to HLSwatch, was kind enough to respond to my request for his read on the situation.  From 1979 to 1999 Mr. Cumming was on the staff of the FEMA General Counsel.  As Mr. Cumming wrote me, “… looks like (it’s) really all about money.”)

UPDATE: In her Wednesday meeting with the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, Secretary Napolitano demurred regarding additional funding focused on the Southern Border.

March 25, 2009

Mexican drug (war)lord arrested

Filed under: International HLS — by Philip J. Palin on March 25, 2009

Several media are reporting that Mexican authorities have captured the suspected chief of the Sinola drug cartel.   See more from CNN, Bloomberg, BBC, and for readers of Spanish La Cronica and El Universal.

Cyber controversy craves context

Filed under: Cybersecurity,General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 25, 2009

Shortly after 9:00 (eastern) this morning Stephanie Condon filed a great piece with CNET.  The news lead is Senator Susan Collins’ letter to DHS requesting the sun and the moon (and all dark matter in between) in terms of cyber-security documentation.  It is some of the continuing fall-out from Rod Beckstrom’s dramatic resignation.  But Ms. Condon’s reporting goes well beyond the immediate controversy and provides political and policy context.  Read it on the CNET website.

Napolitano Testimony

Filed under: Border Security,International HLS — by Philip J. Palin on March 25, 2009

In formal testimony filed this morning with the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, Secretary Napolitano highlighted the following:

The US should recognize that the border violence is the outcome of necessary actions being taken by the Mexican government against the drug cartels.

DHS and the federal government as a whole is being proactive in supporting the Mexican government and minimizing threats to the United States from an overflow of violence.

State and local law enforcement in the border states are essential to the effort and a focus of DHS support.

Supporting Mexican law enforcement is another crucial feature of DHS support.

Stopping arms smuggling across the border from the US to Mexico is a priority.

DHS is working with DOD and other federal agencies to be prepared for unlikely but worst case scenarios.

The complete prepared testimony is available from the DHS website.  I could not attend the hearing.  A friend had agreed to monitor the webcast, but this hearing evidently was not webcast.  Anyone who was there, please add your report using the comment function.

Looks like Eileen Sullivan may have filed her AP story from the hearing room.  In any case, it is the first coverage I can find.  Shortly before 3:00 pm CNN posted its coverage of the hearing.

Red River Valley, at least it’s still frozen

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 25, 2009
NWS flooding forecast for lower 48

NWS flooding forecast for lower 48

This morning in Grand Forks, ND, the temperature is 22 degrees.  The weather forecast is for a high of 24 degrees and the accumulation of two to four inches of new snow.

The below freezing temperature is good news. This will delay the snow melt. The additional snow pack means even more flooding eventually. 

The really bad news for Grand Forks and the region is the ten-day forecast that inches above freezing temperatures next week. Farther south, balmy Fargo, ND is expected to break into serious melting temperatures – 35 to 38 degrees – by the weekend.  This will send snowmelt into the north-flowing Red River where natural dams of ice contribute to the flooding.

The National Hydrologic Assessment, released last week, predicted, “Major flooding is expected along the entire Red River of the North, with major to near record flooding expected at Fargo, ND and major flooding in the Grand Forks area. With flood severity in the basin contingent upon the timing and rate of snow melt, tributaries such as the Sheyenne River and Wild Rice River in North Dakota are expected to have major to near record flooding.”

Above is today’s 48 hour flood forecast for the Continental United States.  The purple squares represent 25 river gauges showing major flooding.

UPDATE: In Wednesday afternoon reports CNN is telling – and showing – more on the implications of the forecast.  The photographs make the situation seem much more real for those enjoying warmer – and less liquid – conditions.

SECOND UPDATE: The Weather Channel has an interesting story on blasting ice jams on the Missouri River. But you do have to suffer through a commercial to see it.

Mexico moves to the front-burner

Filed under: Border Security,International HLS — by Philip J. Palin on March 25, 2009

Since at least December 2006 the Mexican government has been engaged in an intense struggle with criminal cartels that control shipping and distribution of drugs to US customers.  It is a furious and deadly fight.  This week Washington D.C. took serious notice.

This is not the first notice.  In September 2007 Colleen Cook at the Congressional Research Service prepared a very helpful primer on the, then, five major cartels.  A few years ago the New York Times started an online archive dedicated to Mexican drug trafficking.  The stories go back to 1990.  There are plenty of other examples of sober testimony, earnest effort, and even strategic engagement.

But this week Mexican border violence became a “numero uno” issue in a city accustomed to spinning many plates on long poles. 

Yesterday DHS and Justice announced a  range of new border security initiatives.   Punctuating the priority, senior officials from State, Justice, and DHS appeared together in the White House briefing room to meet with reporters. At 9:30 this morning the same trio will testify on the topic.  Today Secretary of State Clinton begins a two-day visit to Mexico.  Both Napolitano and Attorney-General Holder will be making trips to Mexico in the next two weeks.  The President will be in the Mexican capital on April 16-17.

Confirming the issue’s new front-burner status, yesterday morning the White House made explicit how it is going to be very much involved, “Because this effort has so many facets, the U.S.-Mexico relationship and our efforts to help address the increase in violence in Mexico are being coordinated at the White House through the NSC and HSC.” (See the complete White House statement.)

UPDATE: In its afternoon lead story the New York Times is reporting on Secretary Clinton’s remarks on arriving in Mexico City: Clinton Admits US Demand Feeds Mexico’s Drug Trade

FEMA and the Continuum of Care

Filed under: Organizational Issues — by Philip J. Palin on March 25, 2009

Monday afternoon DHS announced that management oversight of the Mississippi Long Term Recovery Office (LTRO) in Biloxi, Miss. will be moved to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regional office in Atlanta, Ga. 

DHS news release quoted Secretary Napolitano for a justification, “This signifies all of the progress that has been made in Mississippi. Office consolidation will lead to faster decision making and smoother and more efficient operations as we move forward. It’s an important step in finishing the rebuilding effort and getting residents back on their feet even faster.” 

FEMA regional offices typically manage post-disaster recovery operations, but following Hurricane Katrina, LTROs in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas were created under the Gulf Coast Recovery Office. Offices in Texas and Alabama have already transitioned back to regional management. FEMA continues to operate its Louisiana office.

On March 5 and 6, Secretary Napolitano visited Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf coast  promising “to speed up some projects that have been in the works for too long,” according to MSNBC.  On March 11, DHS announced the creation of the Unified Public Assistance Project Decision Team that, according to a news release, is “designed to facilitate the decision-making process between FEMA and the State of Louisiana.”

The New Orleans Times-Picayune explains there has been a  “protracted struggle between FEMA and state and local officials in Louisiana about how much rebuilding work qualifies for FEMA dollars under the federal Stafford Act…”

In a September the GAO told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee that, “While receiving millions of dollars in federal assistance, state and local governments bear the main responsibility for helping communities cope with the destruction left in the wake of major disasters.” (The complete GAO testimony on Disaster Recovery is available from the GAO website.)

Which begs the question, is FEMA best suited for managing long-term recovery?  This has certainly become one of its many roles.  Despite recent efforts by Secretary Napolitano to say otherwise, FEMA is widely perceived as the institutional equivalent of the paramedic  responding to a 911 call, the acute care team caring for a crash victim in the emergency room, the physical therapist providing long-term rehabilitation, and the insurance provider processing  financial claims for all this care.  And, oh by the way, FEMA is supposed to play primary care physican, diet counselor, and  exercise coach in its prevention, mitigation and preparedness roles.

In private life I would  be skeptical of a single medical office that attempted this full range of care.  At the very least, I would want to be sure that each of the functions were carefully organized, well-funded, supported with state-of-the-art technology, and staffed by the very best specialists proudly displaying certificates of their regular engagement in high-level professional education.  I would want to be served by the Mayo Clinic.  Does the analogy hold?

March 24, 2009

New UK Counter Terror Strategy

Filed under: International HLS,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on March 24, 2009

Earlier today the UKs Home Office released a new counterterrorism strategy.  The strategy is detailed and explicit.  The complete report to Parliament and the people is available from the Home Office website.

The CT strategy builds on existing government policy initially developed in 2003.  In particular it continues to highlight 4 P’s (as in mind your Ps and Qs): pursue, prevent, protect, and prepare.  According to the document the British government will undertake and encourage its partners to undertake:

  • a Pursue strategy which uses new resources to investigate and disrupt terrorist networks here and overseas and to prosecute those responsible
  • a Prevent strategy rolled out since last year that reaches more people – nationally, internationally and locally – than ever before, and which reflects our better understanding of the causes of radicalisation
  • a Protect strategy which will further strengthen our borders, consolidate work on our critical national infrastructure and improve the protection of the crowded places where we work, live and play
  • a Prepare strategy that will enable us to respond effectively to new threats, and to recover from any terrorist attack faster than ever before.

The new strategy arguably gives greater attention than before to the risk of CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive) threats perpetrated by relatively small groups of terrorists.

In public comments earlier today the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, gave particular attention to so-called “soft schemes” to prevent terrorism through more effective and positive community engagement.

The CT policy is well-calibrated with the broader British strategy of resilience.   Further, as with last year’s first time release of a national Risk Register, the CT policy attempts to be especially clear in terms of the government’s analysis of the threat and choices being made to counter the terrorist threat.

This is headline news tonight in the UK.  Please see the Telegraph, the Times, and the Guardian for examples.

Border Security: Setting the Stage

Filed under: Border Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 24, 2009

Late this morning (Tuesday) the Department of Homeland Security announced several actions focused on improving security along the Mexican border.  According to the DHS news release, these include:

  • Increasing ICE’s Border Enforcement Security Task Forces (BEST), from 95 to 190, at a cost of $5.7 million; triple the number of intelligence analysts working at the border, at a cost of $3.3 million; and increase ICE Attaché personnel, agents working in troubled areas in Mexico such as Ciudad Juarez and Hermosillo, by 50 percent, from 24 to 36 agents, at a cost of $650,000. 
  • ICE will add 50 agents and officers assigned to Criminal Alien Program Violent Criminal Alien Sections, located in the five Southwest border field offices, adding 50 agents and officers, at a cost of $2.3 million; as well as increase the number of agents designated as Border Liaison Officers, who work to create cooperative relationships between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement authorities, from 10 to 40.
  • DHS will also send new technology to the border, bolstering Secure Communities biometric identification deployment at locations at the highest risk for violence committed by criminal aliens, at a cost of $95 million, and implementing 100 percent southbound rail screening using non-intrusive inspection equipment to detect anomalies in rail cars.
  • CBP will enhance resources at ports of entry, moving more Z-Backscatter mobile X-ray units, used to help identify anomalies in passenger vehicles, to the Southwest border. CBP is deploying 100 Border Patrol agents to augment outbound inspections at ports of entry, where they will implement more high-tech screening devices, 12 new deployments of teams of “cross-trained” canines that can detect both weapons and currency, and eight additional Law Enforcement Tactical Centers—hubs of information sharing between CBP and local enforcers.
  • Upgraded License Plate Readers, which help identify suspected smugglers’ vehicles, will be installed on 52 out of 110 outbound lanes, at a cost of $13 million total. In addition, three Mobile Response Teams of 25 CBP Officers each will be deployed to the Southwest border. And up to $59 million in remaining fiscal years 2006-08 Operation Stonegarden funding will be made available to enhance state, local and tribal law enforcement operations and assets along the border. 

Secretary Napolitano is scheduled to testify tomorrow on Mexican border security before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.  Excellent related story available from Matthew Johnson at Congressional Quarterly.

The complete DHS news release is available from the Department’s website.

Flood season starts strong

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 24, 2009

Still days from its expected crest, flooding along the Red River and its tributaries is already disrupting rail shipments and prompting evacuationsColleges and schools have canceled classes to allow students to help with sandbagging and other preparations.   The combination of melting snow and sustained precipitation is expected to cause unusually bad flooding by the end of this week.   Many residents of the upper Midwest have still not recovered from devastating 2008 floods.

UPDATE: Late Tuesday story from CNNSECOND UPDATE: President Declares Major Disaster in North Dakota

al-Marri returns to Peoria courtroom

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Legal Issues,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on March 24, 2009

On Monday, nearly six years after being removed from the jurisdiction of US courts, alleged terrorist Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri appeared before US District Judge Michael Mihm.  Arrested by Peoria police and on the edge of being brought to trial, the Bush Administration had declared al-Marri an enemy combatant and removed him into military custody.  On February 26 a Federal Grand Jury returned new indictments against al-Marri.  The Obama administration has restored the suspect to civilian custody.  Yesterday al-Marri entered a plea of not guilty.  The trial is expected to take several weeks.

More from the Peoria Journal Star and New York Times.

Insiders reading list for homeland security, what’s missing?

Filed under: Organizational Issues,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on March 24, 2009

Over the weekend a few stalwarts of homeland security noticed they were regularly referencing the same written documents.  A quick inventory found that the nine of them shared five core documents:

Forging a New Shield: The report of the Project on National Security Reform proposes a fundamental shift in how we think about and organize our national security system.  Some vigorously disagree with the PNSR, but all respect the thinking and intent.

Safe at Home: P.J. Crowley’s suggestions for reform of the Homeland Security system.  Whether they liked it or not, everyone agreed this document – and P.J. – would be influential with the new administration.

Protecting Americans in the 21st Century: The National Homeland Security Consortium’s White Paper on reforming federal relations with non-federal partners.  There was uniform amazement that so many organizations could even agree on a title, much less substantive content.

The 9/11 Commission Report was a sort of secular old testament for those around the table.  One participant argued not old testament, but King Lear or Macbeth.

Because one of them had brought along copies of the new Markle Foundation report Nation at Risk they were all familiar with this proposal for improved information sharing.

All but two of the nine were intimate with DOD Joint Doctrine for Homeland Defense and all seven of those said to be on the look-out for the new Army Field Manual 3-28 on Civil Support Operations.  Some HSPDs, the National Response Framework, and other artifacts of  official guidance were claimed by six of the nine.

Sharing documents faciliates discussion and sharpens points of disagreement.  Because the discussants share these documents they could use conceptual and explanatory short-cuts with each other.

But the nine – by the end of the weekend they called themselves the “supremes” – also noticed that the documents lacked a shared vision or common strategy. Most of the documents recommended important operational reforms, but reforms toward what end?  The nine’s discussion had also reflected this absence, this lack of positive and explicit purpose.

Several suggested that Steve Flynn’s work on resilience might fill-the-gap.  One pulled up the White House webpage on homeland security.   Most agreed the preamble to the Constitution was a good beginning, but the  implications for homeland security need strengthening and elaboration. 

A retired military man offered, “Got my tactics down.  Constantly improving my operational capacity.  Even have some pretty solid strategies.  I just don’t have any way to define victory.”

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