Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 20, 2009

A Small Idea About Building One DHS

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Organizational Issues,Strategy — by Christopher Bellavita on May 20, 2009


The DAILY NEWS panics over H1N1

Filed under: Biosecurity,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on May 20, 2009

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there are 276 laboratory-confirmed cases of H1N1 in the state of New York.  Most of these have been concentrated in New York City.

This morning the New York Daily News – that pillar of probity – offers the following headlines for your breakfasting and commuting pleasure:

Swine flu panic hits NYC

Swine flu panic in NYC heads into higher gear

As swine flu keeps causing panic, when will Mayor Bloomberg close the schools?

City education officials fumble creation of clear swine flu school-closing rules

These are the headlines even after H1N1 was cleared as the cause of  a widely reported infant death

Compare and contrast the reality construed by the headlines above to the reality presented by this statement from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: “Seasonal and H1N1 influenza are both present in New York City, but neither is currently causing an unusual rate of severe illness.”

Three more NYC schools are to be closed today.  According to the city health department, “Over the last five days, the city closed 15 schools in Queens (I.S. 238, P.S. 16, Q255, I.S. 5, JHS 74, P.S. 107, M.S. 158, Our Lady of Lourdes, I.S. 25, World Journalism Preparatory, Q233, P.S. 209, P9, P.S. 19 and P.S. 32) and one in Brooklyn (I.S. 318) after documenting confirmed cases of H1N1 at I.S. 238Q, and unusually high levels of flu-like symptoms in the other schools.  The Health Department continues to work with the Department of Education to assess the situation daily and make decisions regarding school closures on a case by case basis.”

There are 1499 public schools in New York City serving more than 1.1 million students.  The New York Daily News also offers this headline: Working parents scramble to find child care as swine flu outbreak closes schools.

Imagine the risk to children, the economy, and more involved in shutting down the entire school system in response to “flu-like symptoms.”

May 19, 2009

Intelligence, of all kinds, benefits from education

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Privacy and Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 19, 2009

UPDATE: The House Homeland Security Committee adopted an amended Resolution 404.  An archived webcast of about 40 minutes and related correspondence is available at: http://homeland.house.gov/Hearings/index.asp?ID=193

I am not certain, but I perceive the amendment as adopted undertakes to achieve the same functional results as the original proposal — accessing source documentation — but without utilizing a Resolution of Inquiry, what is sometimes called a legislative “nuclear option.”  (Please see the House Rules regarding a Resolution of Inquiry.)

Since this quick update on Tuesday several authorities on the rules and rituals of the House of Representatives have confirmed my interpretation of what happened in the Committee.  Making sense of liver and gallbladder entrails can sometimes be a challenge even when fully displayed. (Please see haruspices)

– + –

This morning the House Homeland Security Committee will consider a proposed Resolution of Inquiry (pdf).  If adopted this would require the Department of Homeland Security to release internal documents related to a DHS intelligence product entitled: Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.

(A copy of the report and the context for it’s original release is available by accessing a prior HLSwatch post.)

A Resolution of Inquiry is a rarely used procedure that requires prompt Committee consideration.  In this instance the proposed resolution is unlikely to be adopted.  Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson has characterized the action as a “GOP stunt.” News reports suggest the Chairman will offer an alternative approach.

The DHS intelligence product, since withdrawn, often indulges in over-broad generalization and fails to support its claims with much evidence.  Criticism of the DHS intelligence product often indulges in over-broad generalization and prefers to ignore evidence that might support the report’s claims.

Last week Secretary Napolitano, responding to questions on the matter during her budget testimony, explained, “It was not authorized to be distributed. It had not even completed its vetting process within the department. It has been taken off of the intel web sites and the lexicon that went along with it was similarly withdrawn. Neither were authorized products, and we have now put in place processes. And it turned out there were really no procedures to govern what went out and what didn’t before, and now there are.”

Vetting outputs is different than ensuring rigorous inputs. In the heated response to the mediocre or worse intelligence product, not much light has been shed on the processes that led to its compilation.  I have heard the following explanations or speculation:

  • The language and treatment was selected to match what the product’s consumers — mostly State and local law enforcement — would find helpful. (The phrase “dumbed-down” has unfortunately been used.)
  • The language and treatment was chosen to highlight a threat some DHS analysts perceive has been given too little attention. (Well, if so,  lack of attention is no longer the biggest problem.)
  • The language and treatment resulted from a rather thoughtless cut-and-paste job from various public sources of information. (For example, compare the contents of the report to Wikipedia’s entry on domestic terrorism.)

An important factor in the analytic anemia demonstrated by the rightwing extremism report is an over-dependence on foreign and military intelligence paradigms when doing domestic risk analysis.

Foreign and military intelligence operations usually have very different purposes than criminal intelligence or all-hazards risk analysis.  Foreign and military intelligence gathering is often covert; domestic analysis should usually be overt and open.  Moreover, inside the United States Constitutional  protections — especially those of the first and fourth amendments — apply in a way that foreign and military intelligence analysts do not need to consider.

From a policy perspective these important differences are widely recognized.  But in terms of education, training, information gathering  processes, analytical procedures, and information sharing the differences are much less well-defined.  Many domestic analysts — especially with classified clearances — have come to their positions from military intelligence operations.  Their extensive military training and experience tends to trump the very modest orientation they receive for their new domestic role.

The need for education and training is especially acute among State and regional fusion centers.  A 2008 GAO survey of fusion center leadership found, “challenges obtaining guidance and training. In particular, they (fusion center officials) cited the need for clearer and more specific guidance in a variety of areas, including standards for analyst training and information-sharing policies and procedures, to help address operational challenges.”

I have never encountered a public safety official who purposefully set-out to abuse the Constitution (I expect such individuals exist, but I have not met them).  I have, however, met plenty of public safety officials — and others — who have received almost no education or training related to Constitutional protections and equally modest preparation in critical assessment of information.

I don’t know — and don’t care — who is to blame for the DHS  report.  We should all care about improving the professional development of those charged with developing such reports.


More background:

A couple of “ancient texts” that may support the argument:

Intelligence Essentials for Everyone  (Joint Military Intelligence College) is an excellent primer on military intelligence, but consider what is missing if the same skills are applied to domestic targets and purposes.

Intelligence Led Policing: The New Intelligence Architecture (Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance) helps distinguish between foreign and military intelligence and criminal intelligence.  Expansion of these principles to an all-hazards — or all-risks — context is attempted by Catastrophe Preparation and Prevention for Law Enforcement Professionals  (self-promotion alert).

Stockton confirmed by the Senate

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 19, 2009

Monday the Senate by voice vote confirmed Paul N. Stockton as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs.

May 18, 2009

WHO does NOT move up pandemic alert

Filed under: Biosecurity,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 18, 2009

Despite what appear to be community-level outbreaks of H1N1 in Japan, the WHO has not confirmed a  full Phase 6 pandemic.  

According to an Associated Press report at roughly 11:15 eastern, “WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan says the swine flu epidemic is in ‘a grace period’ with the WHO alert remaining at phase 5 out of a possible six for the last month. She told the WHO annual assembly on Monday that no one can say how long this period will last. Chan says the danger now is that the swine flu virus could mix with other flu strains and become more dangerous.”

Phase 6 differs from Phase 5 in terms of  how the disease is spreading and its geographic reach.  The WHO pandemic alert system does not attempt to communicate the virulence of the contagion. There is, however, a push for a new approach that would begin to reflect comparative impact. Some speculate that reluctance to declare Phase 6 may reflect official concern for how the public could interpret such a move.

According to Bloomberg, the number of laboratory-confirmed cases of H1N1 in Japan is growing rapidly.  Most of the new cases in Japan involve teenagers.  As has been reported in other nations, the vast majority of individual cases in Japan are presenting with mild symptoms.  The May 18 update WHO H1N1 update is available at: http://www.who.int/csr/don/2009_05_18/en/index.html

There is a growing body of evidence that young people are most susceptible to the new influenza strain. The New York Times reports, “This year’s swine flu is concentrated in those ages 5 to 24… and school outbreaks like those under way in New York and Houston are the norm.”  Sunday’s Washington Post headlined, “Age of flu victims has big implications.”

While the New York Times report (above) suggests there is probably wide-spread under-reporting in the US figures, the CDC has confirmed over 4700 cases and five deaths in 47 states.  A sixth death,  a New York teacher, was reported on Sunday.  But some are suggesting H1N1 may have played an indirect role in this death.

 Today the WHO begins it annual meeting in Geneva.  The AFP reports that, “The WHO is still considering whether to halt seasonal flu output in order to free up production capacity for large scale pandemic vaccine production.”

The online American Medical Association Journal, Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness has published open access to a collection of H1N1 related articles.

Homeland Security this week

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 18, 2009

Following are a few Homeland Security events for the coming week.  For more information  access the embedded links.  Please use the comment function to identify other events you would like to bring to readers’ attention.  If you are attending or monitoring any of these events, please use the comment function to report out to the rest of us.

Monday, May 18

The WHO World Health Assembly, the international organization’s governing body, opens today in Geneva.  The meeting continues through Friday.

The NDIA DHS Science and Techonology Stakeholders Conference (east) opens.  Continues through Thursday.

IDGA Conference on Cyber Security for National Defense opens.  Continues through Thursday.

Tuesday, May 19

9:30 am (eastern) CSIS panel discussion on the Smart Grid

10:00 am (eastern)  House Homeland Security Committee will meet to consider a Resolution of Inquiry related to a DHS report on right-wing extremism.

Several DHS media events are planned this week to focus attention on preparations for the forthcoming Hurricane season.   Secretary Napolitano and the just-confirmed Craig Fugate (FEMA Administrator) will kick off these efforts with a joint appearance in Florida on Tuesday.

Wednesday, May 20

10:00 am (eastern)  The Senate Judiciary Committee will conduct a hearing on border security and immigration.

2:30 pm (eastern) The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will conduct a hearing on disaster recovery.

Thursday, May 21

9:30 am (eastern) Open session of National Academy of Sciences Committee to Review the Department of Homeland Security’s Approach to Risk Analysis.  Continues on Friday, but second day is closed to the public.

Friday, May 22

May 17, 2009

DHS National Applications Office (NAO) Update

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

(The following is a guest feature. More information on the NAO and Peter J. Brown is available in a post immediately below)

Prodded by members of the House Homeland Security Committee in particular, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano initiated a review of the National Applications Office (NAO) on April 1. Among other things, NAO is designated as the chief source of satellite imagery in support of homeland security, and, state, local, and tribal law enforcement operations.

NAO is overseen by the Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis / Chief Intelligence Officer at DHS. President Obama has nominated Philip Mudd to succeed Mr. Allen in this position.

“The NAO charter, signed by the Secretaries of Homeland Security, Defense, Interior, as well as the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General, certifies that the NAO complies with all existing laws, including all applicable privacy and civil liberties standards. The NAO is prepared to begin operations to support civil and Homeland security domains. This program is another step in the right direction to leverage geospatial intelligence as we work to secure the Homeland,” stated Mr. Allen last fall.

Last November, a report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) — “National Applications Office: Certification of Compliance With Legal, Privacy, and Civil Liberties Standards Needs to Be More Fully Justified” — challenged that assertion and raised questions about unresolved legal and policy issues. Many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, government watchdog and civil rights organizations remain unconvinced that a suitable set of checks and balances are in place so that the NAO can go about effectively processing requests for satellite imagery, and then either approving and rejecting them in turn in support of law enforcement operations — engaging in satellite surveillance while upholding an individual’s civil rights, right to privacy, and other legal rights under existing law.

DHS responded late last week to a number of questions, we posed in order to help determine where things stand now. Here are the unedited responses to our questions.

— What is the status of NAO Operations today?

The National Applications Office (NAO) has not yet initiated operations. Secretary Napolitano is reviewing all aspects of the NAO program. The NAO will not begin operations until the Secretary and the other four signatories (Secretaries of Defense and Interior, AG, DNI) to the NAO Charter have approved the NAO to do so.

— Questions have been raised about “DHS Earth” and how this
project overlaps with NAO. Has DHS examined this and what is the recommendation from DHS concerning this situation?

DHS Earth provides a “Google Earth” based platform for the provision of some general layers of information that are relevant to DHS agency use.

DHS Earth is solely a dissemination method and analytic tool for some uses and users. To the extent DHS Earth has controls in place to protect individual privacy, civil rights and civil liberties, it could provide a good dissemination means for some unclassified NAO products in the future, consistent with all other proper use requirements under law and policy.

By contrast, NAO was established to meet the needs of non-traditional intelligence users by facilitating access to national intelligence capabilities by such users. NAO will also provide analytical capabilities for the many non-traditional users who do not have such specialized capabilities themselves. As a component of the federal government, NAO is necessarily bound by applicable laws, regulations, policies and procedures as it performs its mission. These multiple layers of safeguards are designed to ensure that all NAO operations respect and preserve the privacy, civil rights and civil liberties of the American public.

— Regarding the NGA Support Team (NST) embedded within DHS which facilitates NGA’s collaboration with DHS, what role does – or will – the NAO play with the NST in developing an effective and elastic common operational picture (COP) for local law enforcement as part of the Homeland Security Information Network?

Through the NST, NGA will partner closely with NAO to support the information requirements of NAO customers. In addition, NGA has a long-standing history of providing geospatial intelligence to both federal government and non-federal government customers. It has well-established, time-tested procedures in place for ensuring that it meets its customer needs in the best way possible, within all legal and policy boundaries. Through the NST, NGA is sharing its corporate knowledge and experience with NAO to ensure that NAO also acts efficiently, legally, and properly in all its operations.

Under current law, NAO is precluded from working on law enforcement issues until the Secretary has certified that NAO meets all applicable privacy and civil liberties standards, and that certification has been reviewed by GAO, with results communicated to the Congress. NAO future plans are premised on handling customer requests and providing requested information through the mechanisms that customers use, and not creating new delivery methods. NGA, through the NST, will be a key partner in meeting that objective.

— And how does this COP-related activity relate or tie into broader efforts at DHS to ensure that layered geospatial visualization supports critical infrastructure protection at the local level via an open architecture-based and enterprise-based approach accessed across all components of DHS?

The National Operations Center (NOC) is in charge of the DHS COP. If the NOC requests geospatial support from the NAO, those requests will be handled consistent with all legal, privacy, and civil rights/civil liberties concerns and guidelines.

— Is the current satellite imagery analysis capability of the FEMA Mapping and Analysis Center deemed adequate? If not, what is being done to address this situation? How is the uncertainty surrounding NAO impacting FEMA in this regard?

NAO’s current status has not had a direct impact on FEMA’s capabilities because FEMA is directly serviced by NGA and others for current imagery needs.

— Can you comment on the status of the proposed shift of the Civil Applications Committee from Interior to DHS?

The Civil Applications Committee (CAC) itself will not shift from
Interior to DHS. The functions of the CAC will transition to the NAO, per the requirements of the NAO Charter. The NAO charter spells out that when these functions shift, the CAC and its Charter will sunset and the former CAC functions would be fully integrated into the NAO.

— Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued an RFI for Multi-role Enforcement Aircraft (MEA) last year. Is there a mechanism in place whereby the imagery and other sensor data gathered by DHS aircraft or Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) is shared with local law enforcement?

The MEA and UAS programs fall under CBP – please contact the CBP Public Affairs office at 202-344-1780. (Update: In early May, CBP issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for up to 40 MEA’s for use by CBP’s Air and Marine Office. The goal is to procure commercially-available turboprop aircraft primarily for maritime and ground surveillance missions as well as for tracking other aircraft. The RFP requests MEA support for other missions as well.)

— Is the growing conflict along the US – Mexico border changing the debate over NAO or triggering any discussion of possible changes to NAO or the (potential for) imagery-sharing raised in Question #8?

The Secretary has made no decision regarding NAO missions at this time.

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.

UN report on Disaster Risk Reduction

Filed under: International HLS,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on May 17, 2009

Today the United Nations released a Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction.  In it’s preface the report sets out:

Drawing on detailed studies, this Global Assessment urges a radical shift in development practices, and a major new emphasis on resilience and disaster planning. Floods, droughts, storms, earthquakes, fires and other events, when combined with ‘risk drivers’ such as increasing urbanization, poor urban governance, vulnerable rural livelihoods and the decline of ecosystems, can lead to massive human misery and crippling economic losses. The risks posed by global climate change and rising sea levels carry additional grave implications for how we will live in the near future. While we cannot prevent natural phenomena such as earthquakes and cyclones, we can limit their impacts. The scale of any disaster is linked closely to past decisions taken by citizens and governments – or the absence of such decisions. Pre-emptive risk reduction is the key. Sound response mechanisms after the event, however effective, are never enough.

Related reports by the BBC and the New York Times.

May 15, 2009

Friday round-up of stray stories

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 15, 2009

The New York Times scooped its competition reporting Dr. Thomas Frieden, New York City’s health commissioner, will be nominated by President Barack Obama as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Health investigators are trying to figure out why swine flu has spread erratically — moving quickly through a few schools but slowly elsewhere — after an outbreak closed three more New York schools. The decision on Thursday to shutter the schools follows an outbreak that left an assistant principal in critical condition and sent hundreds of kids home with flu symptoms, in a flare-up of the virus that sent shock waves through the world last month,” reports the Associated Press.

WHO has moved quickly to debunk the suggestion that H1N1 is the result of a “laboratory escape,” the New York Times is reporting.  To read the full WHO statement on this matter, please access a transcript of the May 14 media briefing.  The explanation begins on the bottom of page 1 and continues onto page 2. The WHO has also  produced a helpful review of current indicators of H1N1’s severity.

As aggressive military operations continue and the refugee count approaches 1 million, some cracks are appearing in the Pakistani national consensus regarding tough action against the Taliban.  DAWN reports that, the leader of a current coalition party has said beginning military operations in Swat “was a mistake.”

As reported here yesterday by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, the White House has formally announced its decision to preserve FEMA’s place in the Department of Homeland Security.  But a Thursday House hearing to make the case for an independent FEMA went ahead.  The Committee’s Summary of Subject Matter is available online.  The prepared testimony of five witnesses can also be accessed through the Committee’s website.

Please scroll down for detailed coverage of four DHS budget-related hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday.  A transcript of the Secretary’s oral summary for the House Homeland Security Committee is worth a glance.  The Secretary’s five strategic priorities are being repeated and repeated and repeated…

Thursday Secretary Napolitano made her first visit to USNORTHCOM’s headquarters in Colorado Springs.  The local newspaper’s coverage suggests the Secretary’s recent performance as Principal Federal Official for H1N1 response has reminded some of Catherine the Great.  “The nation’s czar of defense against terrorist attacks and responses to natural disasters had her first peek Thursday at the nation’s nerve center for homeland security. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano visited Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base,” reports the Colorado Springs Gazette.  Here’s hoping Gen. Renuart never reminds anyone of Prince Potemkin.

The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission is now making available uncorrected transcripts of the hearings.  Transcripts for the first five days are now online.

Today, May 15, is the first day of Pacific Hurricane Season which runs through November 30.  The Atlantic season opens on June 1.

A new issue of the Jounal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is available online.

May 14, 2009

Homeland defense: a Pandora’s box of unanswered policy questions

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Homeland Defense — by Philip J. Palin on May 14, 2009

Presidential nominees receive a set of questions from “their” Senate Committee in advance of testimony.  In all but a few nominations — for example, supreme court justices — both questions and answers are rather pro forma. 

Pro forma does not mean unimportant.  The questions serve as markers for the Committee — or individual members — to signal their priorities.  For oversight committees the written Q&A is the beginning of a give and take that will continue while the nominee holds the position.

Many of the questions recently asked of Paul Stockton,  the President’s nominee for Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs, related to roles within DoD, between DoD and the Department of Homeland Security, relationships with the National Guard, with the States, and so on. This collection of questions and answers highlights the complicated matrix of players, authorities, and responsibilities that make up homeland security. Today, for example, Secretary Napolitano is in Colorado Springs meeting with General Gene Renuart the head of USNORTHCOM.

The Committee questions I found most interesting are collected below.  In the original document these questions are scattered, but taken together may suggest a pattern of concern by the Committee.  In this case the questions — and their ongoing implications — may be more important than any current answer.

The Secretary of Defense has issued guidance to establish 3 CBRNE Consequence Management Response Forces (CCMRFs) by October 1, 2010. Please provide your understanding of the roles and capabilities of the CCMRFs. Do you have any concerns about the ability of the Department to implement the Secretary’s direction to create the three CCMRFs on the prescribed schedule?

If confirmed, what would be your role with regard to the oversight, training, and employment of the CCMRFs?

Concerns have been raised about CCMRFs having a possible peacetime role that is inconsistent with other laws (such as Posse Comitatus). Do you agree that the purpose of CCMRFs is as a DOD support element for CBRNE incidents, and not for peacetime or civil disturbance missions?

There is currently considerable debate about the role the National Guard should play in defending the Homeland and in providing civil support assistance in Homeland security missions. The Commission on the National Guard and the Reserves recommended that the National Guard and Reserves be given “the lead role in and form the backbone of DOD operations in the homeland. Furthermore, DOD should assign the National Guard and Reserves homeland defense and civil support as a core competency consistent with their warfighting tasks and capabilities.” What role do you believe that the National Guard and Reserve should have in Homeland defense, as compared to the Active Component?

The Department of Defense has a mission to provide support to other federal agencies in the event of a domestic incident that requires a federal response, if directed by the President or the Secretary of Defense. The Posse Comitatus Act prohibits military personnel in a federal status from engaging directly in domestic law enforcement “except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress.” Use of National Guard personnel in a state status is not prohibited by this act, but the use of military personnel, including the National Guard in a Federal status, is prohibited.

What is your understanding of the legal issues and authority associated with using National Guard and Reserve personnel in security roles within the United States?

In your opinion, does the Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C. § 1385) or chapter 18 of title 10, U.S.C. (which regulates the use of the armed forces in support of civilian law enforcement and related activities) require amendment to deal with the present homeland security situation?

Under what circumstances do you believe that it is appropriate for the Department of Defense to provide assistance to law enforcement authorities in response to a domestic terrorist event? What about a non-terrorist event?

None of these are new issues.   Most of the issues are far from having a consensus answer.  Many of these questions are a kind of Pandora’s box of policy problems for ongoing attention.  Raising the question is helpful to keeping the issue on top of the list for both the Committee and the nominee.  Trying to provide an entirely complete answer, especially in public session, would open the box and release an army of curses on  the Committee and — especially — the nominee.  This is usually understood by all involved.

On Tuesday, though, Senator McCain found Mr. Stockton’s answers to some of the Latin America related questions “lacking.”  Here, perhaps, is an example:


In the past few years, Bolivia has experienced extreme political unrest and, lately, President Morales has taken some positions that could complicate U.S. relations with Bolivia. How do you assess the situation in Bolivia and, if confirmed, how would you seek to accomplish the goals of combating drug trafficking and enhancing military engagement goals?


The situation in Bolivia is of concern. I have not had the opportunity to review the existing DoD plans, approaches, and actions for Bolivia. If confirmed, one of my priorities will be to review such plans, approaches, and actions and make recommendations to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.

I understand a new set of answers to the questions of interest to Senator McCain will be provided. The lid on Pandora’s box will, however, be kept closed and the nominee will be confirmed to the position for which he is highly qualified.  Along the way the ranking member and his staff has made a point regarding their role in oversight, the minority’s continuing place in the process, and the ranking member’s own place.

The complete original set of advance policy questions and answers can be found at the Senate Armed Services Committee website (pdf).

Heyman emphasizes preparedness for catastrophe

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 14, 2009

In Wednesday testimony to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, David Heyman, the President’s nominee for Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security (Policy), emphasized the need for catastrophic risk-readiness.

The following is excerpted from his prepared statement:

In the realm of homeland security, we may face challenges— naturally-occurring disasters and deliberate attacks—so large, they require the full force of our nation—of our cities, states, and federal government—to come together to respond. We face a continuing terrorist threat that is both nimble and dynamic. It exploits the seams of our society, operating in the gaps between bureaucratic notions of foreign and domestic, state and federal, civil and military. To counter these threats, I believe we must have in place a truly national homeland security enterprise—one that is as agile and seamless as those who seek to harm us, and as capable and responsive as needed to prevent, protect against, and, if needed, rapidly recover from all hazards, natural and deliberate. If I am confirmed, I will work every day to meet these challenges, and to help develop a national culture of preparedness that focuses on building more self-reliant communities and individuals. We must institute a greater real-time situational awareness capacity, which means better information sharing consistent with privacy and civil liberties. We need also need to institute a national risk-based planning capability. And we must extend and bolster our capacity at home, by working closely with our international partners abroad.

Mr. Heyman’s complete remarks and an archived webcast can be found on the Committee’s website.

Second Day of Congressional DHS Budget Hearings; FEMA stays in

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Immigration,Preparedness and Response — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on May 14, 2009

Yesterday, Secretary Napolitano appeared on Capitol Hill for a second consecutive full day of hearings on the FY2010 proposed DHS budget.   In the morning she was on the House side, testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee. In the afternoon, she switched over to the Senate and testified in front of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

During the hearings, Secretary Napolitano faced pointed questions on the elimination of funding for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) and the 60% cut to Fire Act grants  (See my May 8th posting below assessing the Homeland Security Budget Numbers for more information on these cuts).   On SCAAP,   Members put her in awkward spot of having to defend a cut to a program that is 1) not within her Department and 2) that she had supported while Governor and Arizona.   The Secretary noted that the program – as well discussion of its elimination – falls with the Justice Department’s purview and refocused the discussion on what is in her jurisdiction – DHS’ efforts to address the flow of illegal immigration into the country.   As noted in my earlier posting, expect SCAAP funding to be partially, if not fully, restored by the appropriations committees in the FY2010 spending bills.

On Fire Grants, Members  – in all four hearings – expressed concerns about the cuts. While some of the money was transferred over to SAFER Grants (recruitment and hiring), Members remain committed to providing fire departments with equipment purchasing funds.  The Secretary did attempt to address this issue by mentioning funding in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka stimulus bill), but that argument did not appear to convince Members to support the cuts and movement of funds.  Rob Margetta at CQ Homeland Security has a good description of Member reaction in his story detailing the hearings.

Speaking of first responders, the White House formally notified Congress yesterday that FEMA will remain within the Department.  This was reinforced during the hearings yesterday when Secretary Napolitano was asked about whether FEMA would stay in DHS.   Perfect timing for a decision, as the Senate yesterday confirmed FEMA’s new Administrator, Craig Fugate, after Senator David Vitter (R-LA) dropped his hold on the nomination.  Vitter dropped his hold after he received a letter from FEMA committing to working on solutions that meet the needs of those affected by disasters.  Word is that Administrator Fugate reports to duty on Monday.  With hurricane season only a few weeks away, this appointment (and the decision to keep FEMA in DHS) is both timely and critical.

Interestingly enough, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee is holding a hearing this morning at 11 am on “an Independent FEMA.”  The hearing will focus on  FEMA “and how it has functioned since its placement in the Department of Homeland Security.” DHS is not slated to testify but it should be interesting to hear what the panelists say about the White House decision, especially in light of Chairman Jim Oberstar’s (D-MN) push for an independent FEMA.  He and other T&I Members introduced H.R. 1174, the FEMA Independence Act of 2009, back in February.

May 12, 2009

Secretary Napolitano on the Hill to Support the Budget

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on May 12, 2009

Secretary Napolitano took to Capitol Hill today for a double-header  of hearings defending the Department of Homeland Security’s FY2010 budget request of $55.1 billion ($42.7 billion in appropriated funding) . It was the first day in a two-day series of hearings before the 4 homeland authorizing and appropriations committees.  On today’s schedule:  the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee and the Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee.  Tomorrow, the Secretary will appear before the House Homeland Security Committee and the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

The message at the two hearings today was rather straightforward:  The Department will continue to take an all hazards approach to homeland security and there will be increased focus on collaborations with partners across the federal, state, local, Tribal, private sector, and intergovernmental spectrum. The Secretary identified the top five priority areas for the fledging agency.

First,  Guarding Against Terrorism – the budget request demonstrated, she said, an increased interest in “detecting explosives in public spaces and transportation networks, helping protect critical infrastructure and cyber networks from attack, detecting agents of biological warfare, and building information-sharing partnerships with state and local law enforcement that can enable law enforcement to mitigate threats.”

Second, Securing the Border – Given the Secretary’s former career as a border state governor and her expressed interest in fighting the increased violence along the border, this priority is anything but a surprise.

Third, Enforcing immigration laws – If Comprehensive Immigration Reform ever becomes a plausible reality this year, the Secretary will be a key player with a seat at the table.  Until that happens, however, the Secretary is keeping the Department focused on strengthening eligibility verification systems,  cracking down on criminal aliens, and expediting legal immigrant applications.

Fourth, Improving responses and recovery for disasters  – Whether Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will stay in or leave DHS is a heated issue that has garnered tremendous interest on the Hill and among experts. For now, it is in and Secretary Napolitano made it clear that DHS remains dedicated to ensuring a functioning and successful FEMA.

Fifth, Building One DHS.  As an agency spread across town, with senior leadership relegated to the boondocks of D.C., the Secretary rightly promoted consolidation efforts, as well as the move to integrate much of the agency to St. Elizabeth’s campus.

During the question and answer period, Secretary Napolitano faced a grilling on immigration-related issues.  In the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, Chairman Price, for example, focused on the deportation of criminal aliens and building a stronger Immigrations an Customs Enforcement (ICE).

She also answered a number of questions on cybersecurity, which kept coming up and up again.  The Secretary stressed the need for less stovepiping and more coordination.   Expect cybersecurity’s importance to continue to grow, esp. after the White House issues its 60 day review of the nation’s cyber efforts.  As noted in tomorrow’s Washington Post, the struggle to create  a cyber czar,  is being fought over by the National Security Council and the National Economic Council.

Secretary Napolitano also took a grilling on TSA-related issues and the right-wing extremist report that caused a stir a few weeks ago.

Overall, the Secretary gets an A for her efforts today.  The Department is coming of age and appears focused on its core missions under her.  What remains to be seen, however, is whether Secretary Napolitano will remain at the Department to see through the budget implementation.  She has been identified as a potential Supreme Court nominee.

Monday fifth quarter play-by-play

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 12, 2009

“We (DHS) will become, in effect, the non-DoD locus for cyber security,” Napolitano said. “It makes sense to have a DoD focus and a non-DoD focus, and I think that’s functionally where it’s going.” (More from the Washington Post) The Post is also reporting that the Cybersecurity Review is still being reviewed and may not be released until next week.

Today’s Washington Times headlines, China blocks US from cyber warfare.  While Global Security Newswire quotes the head of the US Strategic Command as saying a cyber attack could justify nuclear retaliation. “I think you don’t take any response options off the table from an attack on the United States of America,” he told reporters during a Defense Writers Group breakfast… “Why would we constrain ourselves on how we respond?”

Secretary Napolitano’s prepared budget testimony to the the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is available from the DHS website. UPDATE: Prepared testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee is now available.

Senator Vitter has released his hold on the nomination of Craig Fugate, reports the Associated PressUPDATE: Fugate was confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday night.

Reuters is reporting from the afternoon CDC brief a total of 3009 cases of H1N1 across forty-five states.  This afternoon Talk of the Nation featured Dr. Anne Shuchat (CDC) and Dr. Howard Market (U of Michigan) in what NPR tried to make into an after-game show, but the guests insisted the game was still in the first quarter.  You can listen to the 30 minute call-in program at the NPR website

A respected scientist has speculated about the possibility of H1N1 emerging from a “laboratory escape,” Bloomberg is reporting.

A high wind watch has been posted for the Santa Barbara area beginning at 6:00 pm local time. Severe storms are forecast for the Midwest and South for Wednesday and Wednesday night.

A Miami jury has convicted five of six accused of plotting terrorist attacks on the Sears Tower and other locations.

Please check out a fine piece of reporting – and use of the web to enhance original reporting – by Robert Mackey in the New York Times, “A Grand Conspiracy Theory from Pakistan.”

The May issue of Homeland Security Affairs is available online.

In this morning’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to consider the nomination of Paul Stockton as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs, ranking member Senator McCain raised a concern.  While praising Dr. Stockton’s background in homeland security and homeland defense, the Senator noted that the nominee’s background in the “equally important” area of Latin American defense policy “appears to be lacking.”  There is a rumor that the ranking member announced his opposition to the Stockton nomination. That is not what was said.  This blog will provide more on this hearing  and related Homeland Defense issues on Thursday morning.

I am in California client meetings all this week.  Given the nature of the meetings and the time differences, posts will be early or late, but seldom in-between.

Swat is not Waziristan

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on May 12, 2009


Swat is the northern most green.  North and South Waziristan are the most southern greens.  There is roughly 200 miles between the areas.

Pakistan’s military has demonstrated significant capacity in retaking Buner.  The current operation in Swat is nothing short of all-out war.  A senior Pakistani security official says, “the operation will continue until we wipe out Taliban from the areas.”

The very aggressive operations North of Islamabad are in stark contrast with years of tolerating  tribal, Taliban and al-Qaeda control of Waziristan along Pakistan’s shared border with Afghanistan.  It is there that US drone attacks have focused.

Since mid-April  militants operating out of Swat have taken action understood as directly threatening the Pakistani state.  The newspaper DAWN, explains, “the situation seems to have changed now after the Swat militants apparently shot themselves in the foot by going back on their commitment on the peace deal even after their main demand for the Sharia regulation was met, virtually rejecting Pakistan’s constitution and its superior courts, and continuing barbaric killings and other activities to enforce their own brand of Sharia that only caused revulsion at home and abroad.”

Despite the extraordinary human cost of the current campaign, Pakistani political sentiment — within both the military and the broadest base of civilians — seems to support the current campaign to eradicate Taliban militants to the North.  But prospects for a similar effort in the West seem unlikely.

SECOND UPDATE:  Well, the Pakistani President begs to differ with my conclusion.  On May 17 he told the Sunday Times, “We’re going to go into Waziristan, all these regions, with army operations. Swat is just the start. It’s a larger war to fight.”

UPDATE:  On May 13 the BBC produced a new map displaying the current state of play in Northwest Pakistan.  Please visit the BBC website for many more helpful details than are shown below. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8046577.stm


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