Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 17, 2009

Guest feature on the National Applications Office

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Privacy and Security,Technology for HLS — by Philip J. Palin on May 17, 2009

Immediately following is a guest post by Peter J. Brown, a close observer of emergency communications and satellite operations at DHS and FEMA.   The post consists of questions Mr. Brown posed to the Department of Homeland Security about five weeks ago and the answers he received last  Friday. 

According to the official DHS backgrounder the National Applications Office, “is the executive agent to facilitate the use of intelligence community technological assets for civil, homeland security and law enforcement purposes within the United States.”  For more detailed background see the NAO Charter.

NAO has attracted scrutiny, skepticism, and more for the alleged use of satellites to spy on the American people.  Last July, Charlie Allen, former Director of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, made a case for continuation of the NAO.

Peter J. Brown’s most recent published commentary on emergency communications and related matters appears in the October 2008 issue of  “Disaster Medicine & Public Health Preparedness“, a journal of the American Medical Association (subscription required).  He has also previously addressed the NAO and the National Emergency Communications Plan here at HLSwatch.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

May 17, 2009 @ 8:01 am

Thanks again to Peter and Phil! Okay here goes. First time I had seen the NAO charter and some quick comments. First would like to see a signed (by all agreement departments) version and implementation date. The document probably should have had the dignity of a Presidential signature through the HSPD process or Executive Order. Interesting that there is no legal authority for the NAO cited anywhere and the only legal authority cited in the entire document is EO 12333 which basically defines the Intel community and its role. No wonder the civil libertarians are concerned. Also exactly who in DOJ legally reviewed the document and recommended signoff to the AG would be of great interest. This is exactly the kind of document that while reflecting a great deal of hard work and coordination is defective legally and administratively probably largely because of stove-piping within the signatory departments.
Many outside the DOD community and Executive Branch probably missed the evolution of the Defense Mapping Agency (originally the Army Map Agency) into the National Geospatial Intelligence and Mapping Agency. Always wondered how this org and the NRO (National Reconnaiance Office) related. CIA suffered a huge and permanent damage to its credibility and status when the NRO and satellite intel became important. The CIA of course had earlier lost the issue on collection and eval of communications intel (NSA). IN fact unless Panetta can reinvograte an ORG that lost most of the important big games, whatever they think of their history, the CIA is not a learning organization as the Public Administration types analyze orgs.

Okay so where does this leave us. The Secretary DHS needs to get White House approval on a revised charter and OBAMA needs to give his imprimature to the NAO somehow. Also need Congressional signoff. EPA went through formal litigation on 4th Amendment illegal search litigation and while not completely familiar with it hoping some can be turned up research wise–meaning hope some practicing environmental lawyers might cite to some cases and research.
The FEMA references are interesting. Just because I ran the FEMA litigation division for over a decade wanted to reduce costs of obtaining expert witnesses and decided to start within the agency back in its formative days in 1979. At that time over 250 PhD’s employed by the agency often outside of areas of expertise. By the time I left in 1999 fewer than 30 PhD’s in the entire agency. With no disrespect intended, the Directorship of James Lee Witt, who did have training and experience, was only a high school graduate. And now again with Craig Fugate another high school grad we can all only hope in the mold of James Lee Witt. Anyhow respect for scientists and engineers in FEMA was not great. When I frequently suggested the creation of an agency wide Science and Engineering Directorate I was always looked at like the alien (lawyer) I was. Anyhow even in the largest science and engineering program in FEMA, the NFIP mapping program producing flood insurance maps for the nations, the engineers largely civil [very few hydrological or hydrolgoists despite the mapping program largely resting on stream flow data except in coastal areas] that program rejected in the mid-70’s any attempt to augment maps with remote sensing. The program to my knowledge only employed one meterologist PhD and he was soon sent back to NOAA for being too much of scientists. The mapping program in its formative years was led for the longest period of time by English and History majors–smart people-but not used to science or engineering. The program as a result paid a terrible cost. I have discussed this issue briefly in an article published in JHSEM on “FEMA’s Path to Homeland Security.” My point is this, NOAA and Interior have better science and engineering so glad they are in the mix. FEMA has no idea of privacy or civil liberties concerns except perhaps for the person interest of some of its employees (lawyers?) so the whole NAO thing
and it legal issues probably not at the forefront. Anyhow, this is a great topic, hoping for better oversight by Congress and ratification of the concept by OBAMA. Also just remembered DEA has had some 4th amendment issues also but largely in the criminal system as opposed to civil judicial Constitituional law questions like EPA. Still Constitutionally driven of course even for DEA.

Comment by christopher tingus

May 17, 2009 @ 6:00 pm

It was some five years past when I had the opportunity to hear from a small group of Chinese officials and businessmen who met me here in Boston to discuss commerce project opportunities and during our conversation, these gentlemen emphasized the importance that from the top down, most of its government officals boasted a science and engineering discipline whereas as they pointed out that most of our leadership here in this great nation was trained in the respected profession of law. In fact, here in Boston, it has often been said that if one looked out the window at passerbys, most would be attorneys.

The point is that with cybersecuirty concerns as well as so many other technical issues Mr. President, it is time for our country to prioritize funding and support for the scientific community and to encourage our youth to look to the sciences for professional
pursuit though much ime has been wasted.

Thank goodness for all the folks and their enlightened commitment in discipline at NSA, an agency which plays such an integral role in assuring our well being despite the politicizing and self-agenda on both side of the aisle.

As a mere citizen, what is going on with the CIA and reports that it lacks unity and organization of commitment and today’s report that the Vice President disclosed the secure location of the Vice President’s bunker….

This is all so disconcerting and confusing to those of us who I refer to as Mr. & Mrs. Joe Citizen who entrust all choosing to serve public service in whatever capacity to fulfill their oath to this beloved nation which keeps darkness from overspreading the disadvantaged no matter where located.

Mr. President, the clock is ticking. From us the citizens who must be vigilant and require clarity and a government enjoining all to potray integrity and an understanding that every dollar in expenditures must be prioritized. We are so heavily in debt. The Chinese are moving ever so closely to turning its cheek to the dollar making its value far less and plummeting our country, the beacon of hope to so many into a third world status.

We are weary and do not want to move towards socialistic programs of the Pelosi-Frank mentality, but rather reinvest in this nation. We are resilient. We are entrepreneurial in spirit. We are proud to be American and as always willing to stand tall in behalf of those unde the oppression of rthless and cunning dictatorships.

To hear that those involved in our government whether at FEMA or in any other agency has shown lack of respect to scientists and engineers is absurd. We must reinvst in these men and women and calsp their hand inviting them to join the ranks and help us to overcome what is becoming very scary to us on the street. In many of our localities, cutbacks in local and state budgets are compromising public safety response. We do not veen know if we will get proper and timely response on a 911 call.

In reading this contribution by the most respected William Cumming and other blog contributions, coupled with reading the news and watching the networks and Sunday morning news programs, let’s get this act together and quickly. Let me restate the fact that even with the new administration, Mr. & Mrs. Joe Citizen are worried by the trillions of dollars printed by the central bankers and less and less monies available to the American family for even the basics.

FEMA, DHS HQ, and all agencies, utilize your experienced resources, prioritize your concerns and by the way, revive a civil defense program as integral to our overall preparedness. Government by the people and for the people, a people very werll versed and trained in many disciplines ready to act on behalf of our country.

With guns sale spiralling, our right to protect ourselves and our family for all lawful purposes and to stop anyone from harming us or loved ones depicts a nation and its populace prepared to stand tall and defend our rights and the Blessings bestowed to us in our covenant with the Lord.

We expect honor and efficiency in oversight by the government and we deplore all who choose to place self-agenda before the interests of the majority.

Christopher Tingus
Harwich, MA 02645 USA

*Also, where are the others reading this very important and informative blog who should be willing to step forward and contribute their thoughts, concerns and experience in suggestions as to how we can overcome the serious issues confronting and threatening our security, our very existence as a Republic!

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 18, 2009 @ 8:17 am

I recently commented in another forum that the reason many lawyers becoming politicians is boredom with lawyering. Also as Chris points out they are avialable in legions.

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