Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 25, 2010

Severe Threats

Last week, Congress held a series of hearings on the December 25th attempted bombing.  More hearings will follow this week.   While there have been countless analysis and assessments of the hearings, here is my 17 syllable assessment:

Intelligence Failed

Technology Will Save Us

Send More Money, Please

On Friday, the United Kingdom raised its threat level from “substantial” to “severe.”  The level, made by the U.K. government upon recommendations of the Joint Terrorism Analysis Center (JTAC), “means that a future terrorist attack is ‘highly likely,’ although not necessarily imminent.” The UK threat level had been at substantial since last July, when it had been lowered after two years at the “severe” level.  The level, previous to that, had shifted between severe and critical since the July 2005 attacks on the London Underground and on a Double Decker bus.  Interesting, U.K. officials were very quick to point out that its move was not related to the December 25th underwear bomber attack, though little information and lots of speculation as to the real reason has emerged.

Also on Friday, India raised its threat level, deploying air marshals and issuing a Civil Aviation Ministry security alert to airports and airlines for the “the stepping up of security arrangements at all concerned airports and airlines following inputs received from security agencies as well as the Ministry of Home Affairs.” The alert was issued just days before tomorrow’s celebration of Republic Day, which notes the country’s adoption of a constitution (following its independence form the U.K.).

Also, on Friday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano met with members of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in Geneva regarding aviation security standards.  IATA represents approximately 230 airlines and 90 percent of the world’s air traffic. IATA raised several issues with the Secretary including industry operational capacities, better mechanisms for sharing passenger information, more input from airlines into security measures, and better international coordination between governments imposing security on the aviation industry.

These announcements came before the weekend reporting of a new video recording from Osama bin Laden claiming responsibility for the Christmas Day attempted bombing AND reports of non-Arab female suicide bombers, carrying Western passports, possibly attacking the U.S.

Collectively, this past week of events and announcements provide insight into the various challenges faced by the U.S. and its global partners in their terrorist-fighting efforts, both here and abroad.

Here are some observations:

  • Congressional Hearings: The hearings made clear that eight and a half years after 9/11, intelligence sharing, culture, and assessments still are lacking –  Commissions, Administration reorganizations, and Congressional actions not withstanding.  Whether posed as failures or challenges, it is clear that some change is needed — what that change is remains the question. Or is it simply the case that intelligence challenges are unfixable and as a nation we need to reassess how we work around them?
  • International Efforts: Despite the “homeland” in homeland security, the actions in the U.K. and India remind us that terrorism is an international issue that links us all together.  Terrorism is not only a threat against the U.S., but one that has harmed a number of our allies.   Consequently, our efforts – both on the intelligence and counterterrorism fronts – have to be bigger than the U.S.  They also have to be bigger than the Inside-the-Beltway fighting over who “owns” terrorism as an issue within the political parties.
  • Private Sector as Partner: The IATA-Napolitano meeting demonstrates that security is not  a government-only function.  The government’s efforts affect the private sector, requiring the private sector to be a key partner in any security efforts.  Add the international angle, then this partnership becomes even more complicated and in need of constant communication.  While much of the attention relating to the December 25th bombings have focused on the airlines and aviation industry, it would behoove the government and DHS to reach out (or better publicize) its efforts with others affected by security measures.  After all, it was the traveling public that diverted the underwear bomber attack.
  • Terrorists Come in Different Sizes, Colors, and Genders: The threat of people who may not “look like Al Qaeda terrorists” is one that experts and Congress have raised on numerous occasions over the past several years.  In reality, none of us know what a terrorist looks like – we just know who has attacked us in the past.  That image is constantly evolving and changing as more attacks are thwarted and responsible individuals come to light.   What’s becoming clear is that we cannot and should not rely on “profiling,” as we will be left unprepared.
  • Bin Laden as Boogie Man: Interestingly, after Bin Laden took credit for the December 25th attack, a number of U.S. intelligence agencies stepped up to adamantly discredit the claims. Does it really matter if he was behind the attacks to the average American? Well, it may or may not but there are reasons for these strong assertions.  First, if Bin Laden wasn’t involved, then there is evidence of a continued splintering of Al Qaeda and its strength, though such splintering could arguably make our terrorist-fighting efforts even more difficult.   Second,  if Bin Laden was involved, it is just a reminder that he is still out there and has not been captured or brought to justice.  Third, Bin Laden epitomizes terrorism to many average Americans and his omnipresence in all episodes that are terrorism make him an even more iconic figure to those who would follow him.
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Comment by Clinton J. Andersen

January 25, 2010 @ 10:54 am

Does anybody else feel like we spend more time and money on Congressional Hearings then we do actually fixing any of the hearings findings???

I think it is great that the U.K. was able to raise their security level. With our threat level staying the same for a number of years I think it really means nothing to practically everybody at this point. The U.K. will have to treat the raised threat level like the military treats FPCON Delta; they can only remain in it for a short period of time. Regardless of the threat not being imminent, if it stays in “severe” for too long it will start to lose value with the people.

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 26, 2010 @ 3:12 am

Great post Jessica. My take is complicated but find it most interesting that the “airplane as bomb” strategy is so imbedded into the terrorism psychology, mythology or whatever. Clearly any time you put a huge metal contain filled with people in the air it is a threat that it will not come down safely even on its own.

As we approach the Superbowl, I always remember a book and movie called “Black Sunday” published perhaps 40 years ago now wherein a WMD and superbowl are the theme. Clearly collections of humanity do not just occur in aircraft but apparently “FLY US” remains a predominant theme in the world of AQ!

Comment by christopher tingus

January 26, 2010 @ 11:20 am

The German-led EU and especially the French need to excel in their daily security procedures and detailed ops for AQ and whomever else will be further challenged and newly adopted governmental procedures will heighten tensions in the European neighborhoods and capitals – with the Vatican playing its political role in this and it, too should not take AQ or anyone else for granted – There is much pending from European readiness or lack of….

As I have mentioned before from here on Main Street USA where here in the bluest of blue Beantown sent a message of clarity to the good ‘ol boys potraying our distatse for the continuing politicizing instead of getting down to business, whether its AQ or anyone else with a cause, a commitment, this ongoing slaughter, the outright murdering of folks who couldn’t catch the ear of any political leader in any of these countries incljding our own, the message is that the mass murder of innocents, no matter who, is a cowardess act and the suicide bombers killing is not a way to win friends and keep them….

Despite the proponents of a good economy by Spring, the “experts” who had no idea we would be in this global meltdown still have no idea and from what I see and hear around the globe these days, it isn’t religion and acts of murder – terrorist attacks on one’s mind, but the economy, food on the table which preoccupies most….

The Europeans will incite the Muslim and vice versa fror neither can live together peacefully it seems and respecting differemces, however in this good ‘ol USA, jobs, jobs and more jobs, are what must be done by you Mr. Presdent for your broken promises after your first full year especially by those who voted for is your priority Mr. President – jobs, jobs, and more jobs – infusion of governmental monies into infrastructure – transit -building new transit systems –

Isn’t it interesting that when I reached out to Wall Street these past six weeks to ask that $100 million-$300 million in revolving funding be identified to enable be to assist a consortium of Canadian and US companies to utilize their proven skills and address -numerous – much needed $50-$250 million waste water treatment and quality water purification projects throughout Africa, real projects, profitable projects and thus far, the reply, we are too busy to consider these type of projects – my reply….too busy writing bonus checks in your incestuous ambitions to care for Wall Street, but not to give a clean glass of water to a child…what greed and what demise these fellas will bring to so many and as far as the kid without a clean glass of water, well, clasping the hand with others that truly care, these projects will be addressed and the dignity of an individual afforded by the compassion of another truly caring…

The UK alert seems quite necessary and especially throughout Europe, the war will worsen and a tough stance must be brought to bear if the west is considered serious in its commitment to stand tall for civilized mankind versus the evil which pervades so many of the corrupt who have serious agenda. Oh…by the way….it is time for Iran to be given a calling for their malicious and evil ways are an inevitable threat to civilized way as we have known….

Christopher Tingus
Harwich, MA 02645


Comment by Federale

February 4, 2010 @ 6:12 pm

No, terrorists are primarily Muslim, mostly Middle-Easterns and overwhelmingly male. Targeting our screening efforts at that profile is much smarter than random screening.

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