Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 14, 2013

State of the Union and implications for the state of homeland security

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on February 14, 2013

Neither the phrase “homeland security” nor the Department of Homeland Security were explicit in Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, but topics that regularly appear on the homeland security agenda were prominent:

Mitigation of Natural Disasters:

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.

Resilient Infrastructure and Private-Public Relationships:

Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire: a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and internet; high-tech schools and self-healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America – a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina – has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs. And I know that you want these job-creating projects in your districts. I’ve seen you all at the ribbon-cuttings.Tonight, I propose a “Fix-It-First” program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children. Let’s prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America. And let’s start right away.

(On Tuesday the President also signed-out Presidential Policy Directive 21: Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience which sets out a renewed approach to herding several distinct species of very wild cats.)

Border Security and Immigration:

Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my Administration has already made – putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history, and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years. Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship – a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally. And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.

International Counterterrorism:

Today, the organization that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self. Different al Qaeda affiliates and extremist groups have emerged – from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa. The threat these groups pose is evolving. But to meet this threat, we don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali. And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans. As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight. That is why my Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.

Cybersecurity:

America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks. We know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mail. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy. That’s why, earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy. Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.

Gun Violence:

It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans – Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment – have come together around commonsense reform – like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.

The Department of Homeland Security will be significantly involved in the border protection and immigration issue.  Cybersecurity is a high priority for DHS.   The new cyber executive order reaffirms an important role for the Secretary of Homeland Security.   Several DHS components — especially FEMA — have seats at the disaster mitigation table.   There is DHS related resilience work in which I am personally involved that seems promising.  The critical infrastructure effort is… well, critical.

But it seems to me unlikely the Department of Homeland Security or anyone primarily identified as a “homeland security professional” will emerge as the principal change-agent on any of these priorities.   We will occasionally contribute to  – and often impede — the process of change.  I would be amazed to see “homeland security” in the forefront of shaping policy and strategy for any of these issues.

I have some pet theories to explain homeland security’s lack of leadership, but would be interested if you agree or disagree… and why?

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6 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 14, 2013 @ 2:52 am

Nice analysis Phil and questioning!
First, probably way too late on climate change with CO2 headed to 400 parts per million. And defective analysis of border and immigration issues since the bulk of it tied to Mexico and the Carribean and Central America. But hey we continue to pretend we are in control when we are not.
As to cyber security we have failed to build security into systems that are now critical. And yes both parties continue to pretend that critical infrastructure will be adequately funded and maintained even with a WALL STREET that sucked the marrow out of the bones of the country to build mansions in the Hamptons.

Well the asset strippers are not just in Wall Street but also the public domain with K-12 underfunded by at least 30% and Higher Ed on its way to internal destruction by the profit motive and the greed of the administrative class and lack of basic research while the DoD mechanism continues to pretend it can survive the transition from gasoline wars to the cyber world.

I always thought the loss of David Halberstram was much more important than many realized. Not just his
Best and Brightest book but also the Reckoning. It is all out there just lacking analysis and synthisis by those who might.

A FEMA that promotes disasters rather than mitigates and reduces them and has beheaded its analytical capability even while employing streams of policy analysts that are incapable of understanding that like HS functions, EM is conducted largely outside FEMA.

And a President who largely oriented to a dying profession–the legal one– and community organization for a con

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 14, 2013 @ 3:06 am

Continued:
And community organization in a country that has done a good job of destroying its communities–vainly strives to grasp the levers of power even while in his second administration the winds of war and and collapse grow stronger.

How exactly has Obama not been Bush light? And now it does appear his SCOTUS appointments will become the major test of his successful or unsuccesful time in office.

Over the last several months I watched again all the episodes of the WEST WING a tv series that won a number of awards. What struck me this time was how much the self-importance and egos and hubris of the characters protrayed–accurate depictions of certain Washingtonians IMO– impacted the policy development and politics of the concepts displayed as crucial to governing. Basically the shortfall in those who can govern I now blame fully on the political class with NO exceptions as to party.

Perhaps the signs of a gender evolution in the political class with more nuturing and less testerone gives some hope.

Washington becomes more and more isolated from any reality that does not reflect the lobbying of someone including various nation-states that more and more have tied their fates to US. China must have leaders who cannot sleep at night not because they ride a tiger in their own domain but because of the vast instability and incompetence and downright stupidity displayed in the USA to which they owe all at this point in time.

Yes the American century of 1945 origins will be a completely discarded notion by 2045 but we do wander on pretending we know where we are going or trying to go.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 14, 2013 @ 8:40 am

Thanks Phil for knocking out the duplication of comments.

As to your request in the post: “I have some pet theories to explain homeland security’s lack of leadership, but would be interested if you agree or disagree… and why?”

Part of it is definitional. Part programs,functions and activities housed in DHS. Part the backgrounds of the Secretaries DHS and their lack of knowledge of Washington, policy and programmatic formulation at the federal level, and partly based on deep deep politicization of the department and reliance on contractors.

And most of all blame the Congress that refuses to recognize the need to reorganize for domestic and civil security and largely operates in almost total ignorance of federalism aspects of HS.

Hey just a start but thought you should know my beginning thoughts.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

February 17, 2013 @ 11:25 pm

Well, in reading this great post and the respected comments herein, it is apparent from the perspectives shared that the future looks challenging and far more unsettling than most perceive. Let’s hope this newer generation will do better for we as a generation have a budget deficit at $16.5 trillion and growing and growing and no one too interested in saving our beloved Republic!

Comment by Ken Chrosniak

February 19, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

Our beloved Republic is already lost, and not within the normal 250 year span of Rome and Great Britain. As to global warming; not sure, and really not a U.S. issue only, as it must be engaged and solved with the cooperation of even greater polluters of the planet,- China, for instance. Good luck there.
As for Bills comment about the promise of less testosterone-laden politico’s, I need only to point out the Pelosi’s and Feinsteins of the congress to really turn one on to a hopeless feeling.
I believe the debt issue is criminal, and that we have burdened not only the ‘newer generation’, but also those that follow with an unbearable debt.

Comment by Ken Chrosniak

February 19, 2013 @ 3:35 pm

Even though there exists grace and beauty all around us, we are incessantly bombarded with negative 24/7/365 news, — mostly negative. While I hesitate to add more angst to your life in these unprecedented and anxious times, near the end of this somewhat caustic and cautionary ‘conversation’ I’ll give you a glimmer of hope on what positive action you can take. My perspective is from a private citizen and former soldier, formed from the ‘soft’ foundation of a history/english major and not a scientist (actually it’s an advantage). This is a very complicated problem set with many moving parts that affect you directly, up to our very survival as a sovereign nation. To try and get your arms around the problem, it’s important to get a good picture of the condition of your country.

There now exists a clear and present danger to you, your family and your community; and by-the-way the country also, and taht is the loss of sustained electric power. This has recently been confirmed and announced by SECDEF Panetta and DHS’s own Napalitano. As of now, only teh Department of Defense has initiated plans for survival from a catastrophic breakdown of our electric grid over multiple regions of America. DHS has don notning substantive to alert and prepare the American people. While the U.S. government (specifically DHS) has the ability to provide you with critical information on the condition of your country for your survival and well-being; to date, they have deliberately chosen not to do so. After all, it is an election year (2016), and we don’t want to scare the voters.

All of us are totally dependent on electricity; we literally cannot survive without it. Our extremely tenuous electric grid, comprised of hundreds of vulnerable power extra high voltage (EHV) transformers and over 200,000 miles of aged transmission lines, is the ‘circulatory system’ that runs our country and touches every aspect of your life such as water pressure for daily use, sanitation and fighting fires; your cell phone; the Internet (that makes it possible for the doctor to order Insulin for your child); the supply chain to deliver that Insulin to you; pumping systems to cool the nuclear power plant core rods and spent fuel pools; Wall Street and ATM’s; medical services; all forms of transportation; oil refinery production; refrigeration; military installations and defense industrial bases; your social security/pension check, and virtually all types of emergency communications used by Fire, Police, and EMS to name just a few.

Mr. Joseph McClelland, Director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) expressed further concern that private power utilities are not truly prepared to handle a catastrophic EMP event, and stated that the effects of such an event would be profound on the entire national grid system. Most crucial are the 350 plus large EHV transformers that are vulnerable to all threats; and there are little to no replacements on-hand; and, worst of all, they are not made in the US! Each requires significant design configuration, which takes nearly two years to make, and significant transportation support to put in place. Worst case (remember to always plan for worst case), we will not be able to order nor have the capability to deliver them for multiple years.

It’s difficult to effect change in a person or group through fear alone; and my intent is not to. But weren’t we vividly reminded most recently of our archaic and delicate electric grid as a result of hurricane Sandy in NY and NJ, and before that the Derecho storm that hit the Baltimore-DC-Philadelphia corridor? Fortunately we had fire and EMS service for these desperate times within the regional area to help. Driving to New York City on Friday afternoon just two days before Sandy hit, I passed a convoy of utility trucks (cherry pickers) headed east. They were being repositioned as a result of pre-existing plans for assistance. However, in the event of a simultaneous ‘multi-regional catastrophic’ event, that support can’t will not be available from neighboring regions as they will experience similar problems plus road/traffic congestion, and limited to no communication capability (especially the tenuous 911 system). The real downer here is that most likely there won’t be a power source to work with if they do arrive.

Also, remember this past spring when the Earth experienced an X5 level solar flare (coronal mass ejection)? While it did some harm (mostly to GPS and communications), many factors precluded it from hitting us ‘head on’; but mainly pure luck. While solar events occur often, with the most sensational one’s occurring in 1859, 1923, 1989 and 2001, a massive solar event occurring now would totally destroy modern electronics and leave us “in the dark” for months, if not years. NASA Goddard Space Center and many national solar experts have predicted increased solar activity between now and 2014, with a significant peak activity during 2013.

Have you also been told that there are manmade threats existing to the electric power grid, in addition to solar flares and devastating Sandy-type storms? No, probably not. One is an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) generated from a high-altitude nuclear burst which will destroy outdated and vulnerable high voltage transformers (of which power utilities have critically low spares) and the tenuous transmission system. Let me add to these threats the insidious risk of a coordinated cyber and physical attack on our power generation plants and critical infrastructures. That’s right, most likely all these threats are unknown to you as your local, state and federal leaders have not prepared you for the effects of these catastrophic high-impact/low-frequency events. Taken individually, each threat could result in long-term failure of the electric grid. To give you some perspective, a 2001 congressionally mandated EMP commission of eminent scientists (after an eight year study) concluded in 2008 that over 2/3rds of our population would perish within one year of a nation-wide “grid-down” event.

A recently declassified 2007 National Academies report on power grid vulnerabilities stated that cyberattacks, unlike natural disasters, probably could not cause lengthy blackouts. That was not true then, and it’s certainly not true now. DHS is fully aware that a cyber attack on the power system could affect large regions of the country for weeks or even months. The result would be significant societal unrest (you can use your imagination here) and helplessness. Has DHS alerted you to that fact?

Your First Responder community is not aware of this also, and assistance will not be guaranteed or will be severely compromised as your National Fire Service and fire academies have not addressed this problem-set, and have not developed or exercised plans to protect you. Nor has the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). They have not developed plans or exercise scenarios, or provided guidance to firefighters concerning any long-term power outages plans for emergency service or police. While it’s well-known that DHS, FEMA and state emergency management offices have excellent “All Hazard” (so called) plans ‘on the shelf’, and conduct exercises for local and regional disasters, there are no existing plans or exercises for a prolonged blackout lasting months or years (involving multiple regions in the continental United States), which will surely result in a tremendous loss of life over time. The closest plan might be the worst case scenario outlined in the recently published National Preparedness Report (March 30, 2012, page 5), where FEMA encourages each local community (of 5-7 million or so) to be ready to handle as many as 260,000 medical casualties beyond the means of ‘government’ help. DHS should develop plans to facilitate command and control (situational awareness), and encourage localized awareness and empowerment. Areas of concern to you first responders out there are how much of a surge capability do you have in your organization? Will you continue to report for duty while your family survival concerns are heightened?

For fire protection alone, agencies of the DHS should ensure that fire apparatus manufacturers produce hardened fire engines, ladder trucks, heavy rescue vehicles and ambulances that can withstand an EMP (hopefully, including a robust E1 HEMP). DHS must produce plans for recovery and maintaining situational awareness and encourage local, state and regional preparation of plans to assist recovery efforts, and regularly exercise those plans. DHS should also ensure development of training material/courses for First Responders (fire, police and EMS) on operational procedures during and after the loss of power, develop an EMP attack consequence assessment tool to perform planning analysis and training (in order to set aside and protect critical equipment), ensure essential 911 communications are hardened and redundant (the 911 system was compromised during the recent Derecho event on the east coast), and enhance mutual aid relationships for time of need.

None of the above is being accomplished right now, as many fire and police chiefs have no idea what to do relative to the catastrophic (if not tragic) effects of having little to no electricity for very prolonged periods of time, over multiple regions of the country simultaneously. Go and ask your local fire chief to explain the effects of an electromagnetic pulse on his/her department or the loss of electricity (no water pressure) for a long time, and see what she or he has to say. You can then waste more time by asking your police chief the same thing.

Thinking of the military “cavalry coming over the hill” after the blackout? Forget it. Again, plan for the worst case! You won’t be able to count on the military for help because just as you, they too are heavily dependent for support from their surrounding community electric grid which powers all military posts including their crucial defense industrial base. Nor do they train or conduct exercises in an EMP environment or the loss of electric power for sustained periods. Again, they are wired to the same grid you are. Think on one more negative; what will be on the mind of military personnel (here and overseas) after a prolonged period of time of no power? Could it be their families? What will be their ‘level of readiness’ with little to no contact and certain doubt? While the DoD is working this issue aggressively, time is of the essence.

Another area devoid of planning in a grid down event is the effect on nuclear power plant back-up power (batteries and generators) for coolant controls to keep the core and spent fuel pools (which may store numerous discarded rods from the core) cool and temporarily safe. Interesting note: the August 2003 blackout that affected over 90 million people and portions of northeastern U.S. and Canada also shut down over 500 power generating plants, with 22 of them nuclear power plants! To keep the core rods and spent fuel pool cool, batteries last about 12-48 hours at best. Generators, if they start to begin with (remember Fukushima?) will eventually run out of fuel (~30 days) with resupply highly questionable (don’t forget refineries and the transportation system will be affected also). Once generators run out of fuel, venting of Cesiun-134 from the spent fuel pools will occur first, and in little time a compromised core. Let this fact sink in: a nuclear power plant can only be restarted by a full-up external power source; it cannot ‘Black Start’ itself.

Need some good news that is an excellent example of a viable Public-Private (industry) partnership to save lives? In the Spring of 2012 a plan was proposed to ‘hard wire’ (EMP proof) a military installation located in VERY close proximity to a hydroelectric generating plant. This hydro plant has very attractive attributes: it’s a renewable source of energy that cannot be shut down by lack of a source (H20); it has maintained the Analog system (as opposed to the vulnerable ‘cyber hack-able’ Digital system); and has the distinction of being the only power generating plant remaining operational during the 2003 Northeast blackout. And best of all, it can re-start itself (if needed), and can facilitate a black start a downed nuclear power plant! No negatives were noted during the initial study. So what has been done with this basic proposal? Absolutely nothing. But if/when completed, it could be a great cookie-cutter model for other hydroelectric plants in our nation, and could provide the military and surrounding community an extended runway, the capability to receive/store repositioned aircraft, a civilian and military command center, a viable support system for military and civilian emergency services, and a capability to receive, stage and prepare for onward movement of life-sustaining goods, and more (bound only by one’s imagination). And the cost? Let’s say considerably less than the recent ‘Cash-4 Clunkers’ debacle. This project was stalled during the election cycle, buy maybe we can get it going now. Oh yes, one reminder; it can facilitate a re-start of a downed nuclear power plant!

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently warned of an impending Cyber Pearl Harbor attack that could result in an electric breakdown with cascading failure of critical infrastructure (power generating plants) across the nation. But here’s more good news. DoD is leaning forward in the foxhole for your survival as plans are developing for “islands of power”, micro-grids if you will, to provide sustained power to a number of military installations (and possibly defense industrial base facilities) consisting of solar, wind, and other varied sources of power to provide at least 20% of essential need. Also, a new bipartisan House Resolution 762 encourages local communities to begin the process of doing the same thing in every local community, namely making 20% of what is needed locally such as power and food, so they can withstand a grid collapse. Support this effort by contacting your federal legislative leaders to support H.R. 762.

It is a basic tenet of sound military planning that a commander’s staff must plan for the worst case situation, and the same should be true for disaster planning. This is where your government at all levels is failing you. Strategically our Congress and Senate are neutered, and are of no help. For the past two years Congress had the chance to pass bills such as House Resolution 762 and the Shield Act HR 668, but they failed to do so (picture my shocked look!). So, I strongly encourage you to contact your federal representative to support the re-write of these bills that will hopefully surface again in the 2013 Congress. Additionally (just for the fun of it), contact your local, county, and state representatives and ask them what they are doing to make your community more resilient in the case of an EMP or prolonged electric grid blackout. Trust me; they won’t be able to answer you.

It is unfathomable that you have not been told of these threats by your leaders; especially the one agency entrusted to keep you informed and secure. That’s right, the DHS. The threat from either a natural or man-made EMP is very real, and inevitable, as stated by two Congressional EMP Commission reports, as well as studies performed by the National Academy of Science on grid vulnerabilities, the Northern Electric Reliability Corporation, the NASA Goddard Space Center, the recently declassified (finally by DHS) National Research Council study entitled “Terrorism and the Electric Power Deliver System”, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and many more.

Unfortunately (here I am again with the bad news), the time needed to “fix” the grid even if the SHIELD Act bill passes soon will be years, so it is prudent now for you to prepare for a prolonged blackout by storing essential supplies for your own and your family’s survival. Do not continue to think in the false terms of the 72 hour mantra as DHS states! Try to prepare and stock provisions within your financial means to do so, for as long a term as you are financially able to — preferably a year or more.

The bottom-line is that your leaders at all levels, and the electric industry, have been negligent in not making recovery a priority, or even developing scenarios and exercises to deal with a complex catastrophic event involving a long duration power blackout over several regions of our country at the same time. For our own survival, and for the survival of our children and our nation, we and our government-must act now. By reading this, you have taken a step forward that many others may be willing to take also. If you remember nothing else from this message, remember that in the end you are inevitably on your own.

Strategically our Congress and Senate are neutered, and are of no help. In 2012 Congress had the chance to pass House Resolution 762 and the Shield Act HR 668, but they failed to do so (again, picture my shocked look!). So, I strongly encourage you to contact your federal representative to support the re-write of these bills that will hopefully surface again in the 2013 Congress. Even more essential, go to the EMPact America website at: empactamerica.org. Consider joining (at no cost) this dedicated non-profit, non-partisan group which will not take any contributions and exists only to prepare individuals and communities to survive and work together (unlike some representatives which receive donations from the electric industry). Remember, there are fellow citizens out to help guide and inform you; and no, it’s not the DHS. Lend your expertise to help others; — prepare your family and community. Most importantly, talk to your leaders and demand that they do their job. Remember the power of one; you! As FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur recently stated, “the time for studies is over, it’s time to act” in protecting the power grid that is the nervous system of the country.

My perspective is that of an active volunteer- firefighter, ambulance company member, active participant in EMPact America, and also the FBI sponsored InfraGard.

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