Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 11, 2013

The President’s Budget

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Philip J. Palin on April 11, 2013

You can read the proposed FY2014 Budget here. The President has teed-up $39 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Homeland Security, a decrease of 1.5 percent over the most recently enacted budget.

Under the specific heading for the Department of Homeland Security I was struck by the use of the following phrase, “[This budget]… continues a commitment to core homeland security functions, such as transportation security, cybersecurity, and border security.”  Sounds like DHS is conceived mostly as a boundary-maintaining agency, where boundaries assume a variety of forms.

Reviewing the full document it is interesting how much of what I consider homeland security is mostly part of budgets other than the Department of Homeland Security, especially the National Intelligence Program, Department of Health and Human Services, and even the Department of Transportation.  Starting on page 14 give a particular look at the section on “Building a 21st Century Infrastructure.”

There are other elements worth future attention.  I have several emails out asking questions.  What questions does the budget proposal prompt by you?


On Thursday April 11 Secretary Napolitano testified before the House Appropriations committee.  A video is available from the committee website.  Her prepared testimony is available here.  Following are three excerpts that I found interesting.  These are simply in the order that I encountered them in the testimony.

In support of the Administration’s Campaign to Cut Waste, DHS strengthened conference and travel policies and controls to reduce travel expenses, ensure conferences are cost-effective, and ensure both travel and conference attendance is driven by critical mission requirements. During 2012, DHS issued a new directive that establishes additional standards for conferences and requires regular reporting on conference spending, further increasing transparency and accountability. The Department’s FY 2014 budget projects an additional 20-percent reduction in travel costs from FYs 2013–2016.

I understand why this is being done, but it is in my judgment a cause for real regret and almost certainly a case of being penny-wise and pound foolish.  Given the DHS mission there is a need for more travel, engagement, and discussion with state, local and private sector stakeholder… not less.

The Budget re-proposes the National Preparedness Grant Program (NPGP), originally presented in the FY 2013 Budget, to develop, sustain, and leverage core capabilities across the country in support of national preparedness, prevention, and response, with appropriate adjustments to respond to stakeholder feedback in 2012. While providing a structure that will give grantees more certainty about how funding will flow, the proposal continues to utilize a comprehensive process for assessing regional and national gaps; support the development of a robust cross-jurisdictional and readily deployable state and local assets; and require grantees to regularly report progress in the acquisition and development of these capabilities.

Everyone who I have talked to yesterday and today — both advocates and opponents of the NPGP — say there is no chance of it passing Congress.

Following from the testimony is the five-mission overview the Secretary has been repeating mantra-like for awhile now.  I was not a big fan of this at first, but with repetition it is beginning to have its desired affect.

Mission 1: Preventing Terrorism and Enhancing Security – Protecting the United States from terrorism is the cornerstone of homeland security. DHS’s counterterrorism responsibilities focus on three goals: preventing terrorist attacks; preventing the unauthorized acquisition, importation, movement, or use of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials and capabilities within the United States; and reducing the vulnerability of critical U.S. infrastructure and key resources, essential leadership, and major events to terrorist attacks and other hazards.

Mission 2: Securing and Managing Our Borders – The protection of the Nation’s borders—land, air, and sea—from the illegal entry of people, weapons, drugs, and other contraband while facilitating lawful travel and trade is vital to homeland security, as well as the Nation’s economic prosperity. The Department’s border security and management efforts focus on three interrelated goals: effectively securing U.S. air, land, and sea borders; safeguarding and streamlining lawful trade and travel; and disrupting and dismantling transnational criminal and terrorist organizations.

Mission 3: Enforcing and Administering Our Immigration Laws – DHS is focused on smart and effective enforcement of U.S. immigration laws while streamlining and facilitating the legal immigration process. The Department has fundamentally reformed immigration enforcement, focusing on identifying and removing criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety and targeting employers who knowingly and repeatedly break the law.

Mission 4: Safeguarding and Securing Cyberspace– DHS is responsible for securing unclassified federal civilian government networks and working with owners and operators of critical infrastructure to secure their networks through risk assessment, mitigation, and incident response capabilities. To combat cybercrime, DHS leverages the skills and resources of the law enforcement community and interagency partners to investigate and prosecute cyber criminals. DHS also serves as the focal point for the U.S. Government’s cybersecurity outreach and awareness efforts to create a more secure environment in which the private or financial information of individuals is better protected.

Mission 5: Ensuring Resilience to Disasters – DHS coordinates the comprehensive federal efforts to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate a terrorist attack, natural disaster, or other large-scale emergency, while working with individuals; communities; the private and nonprofit sectors; faith-based organizations; and federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal (SLTT) partners to ensure a swift and effective recovery. The Department’s efforts to help build a ready and resilient Nation include fostering a whole community approach to emergency management nationally; building the Nation’s capacity to stabilize and recover from a catastrophic event; bolstering information sharing and building unity of effort and common strategic  understanding among the emergency management team; providing training to our homeland security partners; and leading and coordinating national partnerships to foster preparedness and resilience across the private sector.

Hal Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee was clear in his opening statement that the President’s budget proposal would be altered.  The Chairman gave particular attention to:

“Once again, the Department has proposed to decimate Coast Guard and ICE funding that supports the men and women who bravely defend our homeland on the frontlines, in favor of headquarters pet projects and controversial research programs.”

“Once again, the budget request uses phony, unauthorized offsets to pay for critical aviation security measures.”

“Once again, the Department has failed to submit a number of plans and reports required by law, which are essential to help this Committee do its work – and do its work well.”

“And once again, this budget submission would add layers of bureaucracy to the already tangled web of agencies under your purview at DHS headquarters.”

Chairman Rogers continued in a prosecutorial — if civil — mien throughout the hearing.  Unfortunately I had a very difficult time hearing the video.  I hope this was a local problem and you do better.

Redundant from L. redundantem (nom. redundans), prp. of redundare “come back, contribute,” lit. “overflow,” from re- “again” + undare “rise in waves,” from unda “a wave”

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Technology for HLS — by Philip J. Palin on April 11, 2013

You may have seen the headlines:  Redundant Federal Programs Waste Billions (USA Today).

Or heard something similar:  Latest GAO report reveals 162 areas of redundancy across government (Federal News Radio).

Most of the broadcast news mentioned something about catfish inspectors and each military branch developing its own camouflage  uniform. Conservative or liberal — from inside or outside government — it is the kind of “news” that fails to create any new brain synapses and, probably, calcifies our current neural networks.

This lack of real thinking reflects the way information is headlined and how we typically receive the information, not what GAO is actually reporting.

The Government Accountability Office study released on Tuesday references several Department of Homeland Security practices.  In addition to a list from prior years, two more are highlighted in this most recent report:

Department of Homeland Security Research and Development: Better policies and guidance for defining, overseeing, and coordinating research and development investments and activities would help DHS address fragmentation, overlap, and potential unnecessary duplication.

Field-Based Information Sharing: To help reduce inefficiencies resulting from overlap in analytical and investigative support activities, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security and the Office of National Drug Control Policy could improve coordination among five types of field-based information sharing entities that may collect, process, analyze, or disseminate information in support of law enforcement and counterterrorism-related efforts—Joint Terrorism Task Forces, Field Intelligence Groups, Regional Information Sharing Systems centers, state and major urban area fusion centers, and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Investigative Support Centers.

I am sure any post-hoc study of  research-and-development or intelligence-gathering (even more-so intelligence creating) activities will always find a wide range of decisions and actions  hard to defend.   Any careful audit should find hundreds or thousands of hours obviously lost on following bad leads, interminable meetings, unnecessary travel, dysfunctional turf protection, and much, much more (or actually less and less).  A thorough analysis could authoritatively map how one failure led to another and another.

R&D and the intelligence process share a concern with anticipating, even creating the future.  Once we arrive at the future we can usually look back and bemoan (or self-justify) the dead-ends and circuitous paths chosen.   We may even be able to recognize how alternate — preferable? — futures were very close-at-hand, but have now receded in our wake.

Malcolm Gladwell argues that ten years and 10,000 hours are — along with other crucial inputs — prerequisites to “outlier” success.  What  would an audit at five years and 5000 hours find? What does a half-made success look like? Thomas Edison famously said, “I failed my way to success.”

In the commercial world “redundancy” is often called competition.  In biology redundancy is very closely related to diversity.  In engineering and other design applications redundancy is sometimes valued rather than maligned.

This is not to discourage DHS from looking hard at its research-and-development policies.  The improved coordination of field-based information-sharing sounds like a win-win.  But fragmentation, overlap, and duplication are not always net negatives.  Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues found that polycentric governance — featuring considerable fragmentation, overlap, and duplication — is often more effective at achieving policy goals than more centralized and “efficient” structures.

[Redundancy = Bad] is a dangerous heuristic.  Stop using it.

April 9, 2013

No Do Overs

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on April 9, 2013

Today’s post is from a Colorado firefighter named Jeff Cole.

Jeff created the video in response to a course assignment that asked him to reflect on “My place in the homeland security project, and the place of the homeland security project in my world.”

Watch the video. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better use of four minutes and nineteen seconds.


April 5, 2013

Friday Free for All

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 5, 2013

I have received several suggestions for possible topics.  I would prefer for readers to offer their questions, comments, and concerns…. and see what stimulates interest by others.  If I offer something, I feel the need to remain engaged and this Friday — and many Fridays — I need to be offline quite abit.  Come on down!

April 4, 2013

Industry Consolidation: Implications for deadly violence in the United States

Filed under: Border Security,Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on April 4, 2013

Monday the Associated Press released an investigative piece on the role of Mexican drug cartels in the United states.   According to this report,

Mexican drug cartels whose operatives once rarely ventured beyond the U.S. border are dispatching some of their most trusted agents to live and work deep inside the United States — an emboldened presence that experts believe is meant to tighten their grip on the world’s most lucrative narcotics market and maximize profits.

If left unchecked, authorities say, the cartels’ move into the American interior could render the syndicates harder than ever to dislodge and pave the way for them to expand into other criminal enterprises such as prostitution, kidnapping-and-extortion rackets and money laundering…

“It’s probably the most serious threat the United States has faced from organized crime,” said Jack Riley, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Chicago office.  MORE

(For much more detail on the Mexican drug cartels please see a March report by the International Crisis Group: Peña Nieto’s Challenge: Criminal Cartels and Rule of Law in Mexico.)

One way to view Mexican drug operations in the United States is as an increasingly concentrated source of supply for a popular and high margin consumer product. In most major US cities — and increasingly in suburban and rural areas too — the Sinaloa Cartel is the primary source while a range of street/prison gangs handle wholesale and retail sales.

According to the 2011 FBI National Gang Threat Assessment,

There are approximately 1.4 million active street, prison, and Outlaw Motorcycle Gang (OMG) gang members comprising more than 33,000 gangs in the United States. Gang membership increased most significantly in the Northeast and Southeast regions, although the West and Great Lakes regions boast the highest number of gang members. Neighborhood-based gangs, hybrid gang members, and national-level gangs such as the Sureños are rapidly expanding in many jurisdictions. Many communities are also experiencing an increase in ethnic-based gangs such as African, Asian, Caribbean, and Eurasian gangs. Gangs are responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions and up to 90 percent in several others, according to NGIC analysis.

The financial returns of the drug trade — and increased concentration of supply — is reflected in a more streamlined retail network.  This rationalization of major US regional markets is, among other results, producing what can be seen as significant Merger & Acquisition activities across the retail environment.  According to the National Gang Threat Assessment:

Mexican Drug Trading Organizations (MDTOs) are among the most prominent Drug Trading Organizations (DTOs) largely because of their control over the production of most drugs consumed in the United States. They are known to regularly collaborate with US-based street and prison gang members and occasionally work with select OMG and White Supremacist groups, purely for financial gain… The prospect of financial gain is resulting in the suspension of traditional racial and ideological division among US prison gangs, providing MDTOs the means to further expand their influence over drug trafficking in the United States… Gangs’ increased collaboration with MDTOs has altered the dynamics of the drug trade at the wholesale level. US gangs, which traditionally served as the primary organized retail or mid-level distributor of drugs in most major US cities, are now purchasing drugs directly from the cartels, thereby eliminating the mid-level wholesale dealer. Furthermore, advanced technology, such as wireless Internet and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) capabilities, has made the recruitment, collaboration, and coordination of criminal activity more efficient and lucrative, and allows direct contact between the gangs and DTOs.

One outcome of this radical shift in the supply chain for illicit drugs is the emergence of ongoing collaboration between Mexican sources, long-time African-American regional wholesalers, and several white Aryan retail networks (with lots of others in the mix).  But some suggest intense local violence — such as that experienced over recent years in Chicago — can also be understood as competition over market share.

For the most radical White Supremacist organizations this collaboration with the “lesser races” is a case of the ends justifying the means.  Drug profits are a lucrative way to fund the coming revolution… as well as the current lifestyle.  In the annual estimate of the Texas gang threat released earlier this week, the state Department of Public Safety provides this quick overview of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas:

The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) was formed as a prison gang and places its racist ideology secondary to its everyday criminal activities. ABT is not considered a significant threat to the border areas of Texas but is considered a prevailing gang that threatens Texas internally because of its involvement in violent crimes, the methamphetamine business, and frequent property crimes.

For what it’s worth, most of my personal contacts in Federal and Texas law enforcement do not believe the recent assassination of Kaufman County, Texas prosecutors will actually be traced to the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas — as frequently mentioned in recent days — much less the killing of the Colorado prisons director.  The assassination yesterday of a West Virginia sheriff has, however, spurred concerns related to copy-cat killings.

“While I don’t think they were involved this time, I’m sure,” said one long-time DEA official, “the drug-lords are watching very carefully how this all plays out. “

April 2, 2013

“I am homeland security.”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on April 2, 2013

Today’s post was written by Veronica Epley.  Veronica is a homeland security analyst.  She is also an artist. She created the sculpture pictured at the end of this post.


I am homeland security. I prevent, respond, recover, deter, monitor, mitigate, advocate, facilitate, cooperate, evaluate, confiscate, activate, aid, assist, assess, administer, implement, complement, rescue, screen, classify, justify, quantify, unify, indemnify, inspect, detect, protect, direct, suspect, advise, revise, compromise, train, maintain, manage, confer, defer, defend, inform, inspire, influence, educate, investigate, communicate, collaborate, coordinate, legislate, validate, vaccinate, regulate, execute, prosecute, prohibit, exhibit, confine, align, arrest, attest, fund, grant, gather, share, shelter, warn, welcome, keep out, remove, detain, deport, import, export, transport, support, report, research, review, rethink, rebuild, advise, revise, devise, develop, deconstruct, exercise, analyze, strategize, publicize, immunize, and break ice on frozen waterways. I am Ridge/Chertoff/Napolitano/and the next Secretaries, plus the 240,000 Feds they lead, the armies of contractors they hire, and the Presidents they answer to. I am thousands more from State and local governments that have been working homeland security since before the 9/11 attacks and before the mission had this name. I am tribes and territories. I am firefighters and law enforcement, public health officials, mayors, governors, EMTs, and white hats. I am advisors, academics, councils, counselors, consultants, and canines. I am waterworks, ball parks, and the grid, and owners and operators and security specialists who safeguard critical infrastructure and cyber security, and the millions more whose jobs support those vital functions. I work at headquarters and I work around the corner. I am air marshals and antidotes. I am guards, gates, guns, and guidelines. I am competence and intelligence and arrogance. I am vigilant and vulnerable. I am the Congress that controls the power and money, and their staffs, and their constituents. I am many thumbs in an enormous dike. I am the passengers who take off their shoes and the bloggers who ask “Are we really any safer?” I am technology and look for solutions. I am art and look for more questions. I shimmer in the sunlight and slide through the shadows, ever watchful. I am soul. I am sanctuary. I am an endless catalog of characters.

I am the monster. I am an ever-adaptive adversary. I am snakes with box cutters on a plane. I am flood and drought, hurricane, tornado and earthquake, ice storm, snow storm and storm surge. I alarm, aspire, conspire, inspire, instigate, delegate, watch, wait, hate, outrage, panic, petrify, terrify, target, taunt, plot, provoke, scheme, hurt, harm, hide, conceal, kill, show up, blow up, disturb, disrupt, destroy, and devastate. I am terrorists and fanatics and ills of all ilk. I am plague, ricin, anthrax, avian flu, and foot and mouth disease. I am threatened. I am threatening. I am fear and dread. I am drug traffickers and human traffickers and people just looking for better opportunities on the other side of the border. I am the crazy shooter in a movie theater, the crazy shooter at Fort Hood, and the guy who flew a plane into the IRS building as a tax protest. I am the lone wolf and the wolf pack, immoral and amoral. I am chemistry, biology, and nuclear physics gone wild. I am dirty bombs and pipe bombs. I am contraband and IEDs and danger, danger, danger. I am violent extremists. I am insiders and foreigners, here and there. I am aging infrastructure that doesn’t need a reason to fail. I am hackers who hack to steal and do harm and hackers who hack just because they can. I am surveillance and surprise. I am a trickster, a shifter. I am weather and whether. I am a hybrid, the integration and the intersection of accident and evil intent. I, too, am an endless catalog of characters. I am global. I am local. I am constantly changing. I am uncertainty. I am coming, and you don’t know when or where.

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