Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 29, 2014

Homeland security and the State of the Union

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on January 29, 2014

I think it’s fair to say that this year’s State of the Union address had even less directly related homeland security content than the last. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as beforehand everything indicated an economic heavy speech. It was still there, however, if you look hard enough.

For those of you possibly concerned by the lack of the phrase “homeland security” anywhere in the speech, rest assured that “national security” received only one mention. I am not sure there are any lessons to be derived from the paucity of homeland or even national security issues. The United States remains the strongest, most secure nation on Earth.  Perhaps it is just time that we realize that fact.

What little there is I’m going to divide up among three tiers.  Tier 1 are those issues directly dealt with by the homeland security enterprise and those with impacts on that community.  Tier 2 are topics that can have second or third degree impacts.  Tier 3 are much broader, societal resilience issues. Feel free to disagree about my sorting.  I still have second thoughts.

But first a few side notes:

  • The cable news stations are treading dangerously close to parody with their hours of pre-speech analysis.  It is beginning to have a Super Bowl-all-day-programming-filled-with-inane-segments feel to it.  Add to that the amount of time spent on the Oscar/Grammy-like red carpet segment showing the arrival of members of Congress, though they definitely skewed older and conservatively dressed.  Though I’d bet the First Lady could rock the red carpet.
  • More time was spent on the arrivals than the impact of the winter storm down South.  Thousands of people are stuck on the roadways in Atlanta alone with hundreds of schoolchildren sheltering in place overnight and CNN was able to tear itself away from post-speech analysis for a good five minutes. Thank god for the Weather Channel.
  • The White House labeled last night’s speech the “most accessible and interactive SOTU yet.”  Sure, you could watch it online or just look at the handful of slides they provided with additional information on particular topics.  And of course there was Facebook, Twitter, and other social media links for sharing with your friends.  But would it have killed them to simply post the text of the speech in a readily available location?  I searched around for a while, gave up, and Googled it.
  • The important trivia for the night: Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz was the Cabinet Secretary chosen not attend the speech but instead spend the night in a secure, secret location to ensure continuity of government in case of catastrophe on the Hill.  The odd thing is that last year then Secretary of Energy Steven Chu was the designated Cabinet official.  Is the thinking that physicists will do very well as a near dictatorial leader following the elimination of the rest of government?  Or are they just more likely to be bored with the speech?

Tier 1

Infrastructure:

Moreover, we can take the money we save from this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes — because in today’s global economy, first- class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure. We’ll need Congress to protect more than 3 million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer.

Immigration:

Finally, if we’re serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement — and fix our broken immigration system. (Cheers, applause.) Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted, and I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: When people come here to fulfill their dreams — to study, invent, contribute to our culture — they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody. So let’s get immigration reform done this year.

Gun violence:

Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day. I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say “we are not afraid,” and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters and our shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.

Terrorism:

If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al-Qaida. For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country.

The fact is that danger remains. While we’ve put al-Qaida’s core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved as al-Qaida affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world. In Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable these networks. In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks. Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses and combat new threats like cyberattacks.

We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us — large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.

So even as we actively and aggressively pursue terrorist networks, through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners, America must move off a permanent war footing.  That’s why I’ve imposed prudent limits on the use of drones, for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence.

That’s why, working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that privacy of ordinary people is not being violated. And with the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals and setting an example for the rest of the world.

Nuclear security:

American diplomacy has rallied more than 50 countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles.

Tier 2

Energy (as we continue to reduce our reliance on foreign sources of energy, our strategic relationships should change in a fashion that reduces our vulnerabilities):

More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world, the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years.

The “all the above” energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today America is closer to energy independence than we have been in decades.

And even as we’ve increased energy production, we’ve partnered with businesses, builders and local communities to reduce the energy we consume. When we rescued our automakers, for example, we worked with them to set higher fuel efficiency standards for our cars. In the coming months I’ll build on that success by setting new standards for our trucks so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump.

Climate change (a topic not directly worked by most federal homeland agencies, for example see the Recovery Diva’s recent post on the challenges facing FEMA, but many states and coastal cities are taking the risks very seriously):

But we have to act with more urgency because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.

But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.

Iran (a nuclear Iran would not be in the national interest of the U.S., but it would not represent an existential threat; the danger would not be a direct attack but rather further proliferation in the Middle East and the risk of poor control of weapons or materials; there is little evidence, and much academic work that concludes the contrary, any state would voluntarily hand over a nuclear weapon to a terrorist organization):

As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium.

It’s not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify every day that Iran is not building a bomb. And with our allies and partners, we’re engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. (Applause.)

These negotiations will be difficult; they may not succeed. We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and we’re clear about the mistrust between our nations, mistrust that cannot be wished away. But these negotiations don’t rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.

Tier 3

The majority of the speech was focused on jobs, education, and healthcare.  There are vast ideological differences on how to advance all three, but all are vital for the long term resilience of our society.

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8 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 29, 2014 @ 5:53 am

Thanks Phil! A useful summary! Was it Lincoln that sent a short note to Congress on SOTU? Perhaps a useful idea.

And if we [the USA] are the strongest and most powerful nation on Earth exactly how we using that strength and power to make a better world and country?

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

January 29, 2014 @ 6:47 am

Nice job, Phil. thanks.

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

January 29, 2014 @ 6:48 am

Oops. Thanks go to Arnold.

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 29, 2014 @ 7:38 am

Hey Arnold apologies. Given the President spends 2/3rds of his time on military issues and foreign policy what do you think of the portions of SOTU devoted to these concerns?
And BTW I expect a major financial meltdown by fall!

Is this a lucky or unlucky President?

Comment by Christopher Tingus

January 29, 2014 @ 9:59 am

Homeland Security and the State of the Union —

Engaged in a skype cc last week with leading energy experts from Denmark discussing the energy sector where much of my professional time is focused especially in the oil and gas sector internationally, but also domestically in the Bakken, I marveled at the infrastructure improvements and vast bridge and rod construction now lining Denmark and Sweden, but also the commitment to wind energy, kindly see:

“In Denmark, families were offered a tax exemption for generating their own electricity within their own or an adjoining comm. By 2001 over 100,000 families belonged to wind turbine cooperatives, which had installed 86% of all the wind turbines in Denmark, a world leader in wind power. Wind power has gained very high social acceptance in Denmark, with the development of community wind farms playing a major role.

In 1997, Samsø won a government competition to become a model renewable energy community. An offshore wind farm comprising 10 turbines (making a total of 21 altogether including land-based windmills), was completed, funded by the islanders.[7] Now 100% of its electricity comes from wind power and 75% of its heat comes from solar power and biomass energy.”

“And if we [the USA] are the strongest and most powerful nation on Earth exactly how we using that strength and power to make a better world and country?” – William Cumming

Bill is as he is pretty much always, right on the mark and whether one has loyalty to Democrat part or Republican party, as an Independent voter and an American a d while appalled at the failures of the White House and the same ‘ol, same ‘ol – politicizing and ideological rhetoric” which at least is not in sync with at least 50% of the populace and further, disgusted as well with a Republican party, engaged in int’l business affords introduction to defense and government as well as leading businessmen globally and as now an elder, I am tired of the same ‘ol politics and the rampant corruption seen globally, but more important at home.

Listen, when it comes to Homeland Security, who’s kidding who…this Presidency and this administration and both sides of the aisle are responsible for Benghazi, not only Ms. Hillary and her flinging hands in the air and saying, “What difference does it make” – she and John Kerry and the failure of so many we have “entrusted” by precious vote to lead, to make our country safe and strong, economically sound, retaining prominence in stature, We look like a bunch of idiots and last night’s empty rhetoric again and the intentional avoidance and dismissal by the AG and so many others in office of our Constitution and these threats of Pen and phone in hand” –

….listen fellas, thank God for the devoted folks at NSA and our military for the weakness we have exemplified has allowed the “KGB Putinites” and the thugs in Tehran as well as the Germans to take advantage of such outright weaknesses. Germany has been manufacturing and sending billions, yes, billions of weapons into the Middle East promoting their agenda quite successfully in nurturing a new Confederate of Middle East States while the supposed most powerful country in the world allows the terrorist organizers and perpetrators of “Benghazi” for example, t sip wine at the local hotel!

Homeland Security and the State of the Union – give us a break here on “Main Street USA” – we are a step away from disaster in so many ways and case in point, our electric grid – bills are sitting in Congress and never getting to the President’s desk for consideration and signature –

I ask why not because while I have stated that Executive Orders are one of our gravest threats to our governing w/checks and balances, the next on my agenda which the President failed to mention and both sides of the aisle care to dismiss so handily when we are so, so vulnerable. This is a national emergency in urgency to address and all we hear is the same failed policies and while we fail so blatantly, our arch enemies who I consider Germany as well, well Kindly read the following:

By Huma Khan
@humaik
Follow on Twitter
May 31, 2011 5:05pm
ABC News’ Huma Khan reports: The United States is ill-prepared to deal with a cyber attack on the nation’s electric grid, one of the biggest national security threats facing the country today, lawmakers warned.
“The sobering reality is this vulnerability, if left unaddressed, could have grave, societal-altering consequences,” Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee today. “We face a menace that may represent the gravest short term threat to the peace and security of the human family in the world today.”
Experiments by federal agencies in recent years have shown that cyber spies have intruded the U.S. electric system, and that it’s increasingly susceptible to attacks by hackers and foreign governments.
The weakness in the system, some lawmakers argue, can also be exploited by terrorist groups like al Qaeda, which are advancing their technological capabilities.
“We know there are many many PhDs inside al Qaeda, whether we like it or not,” said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “They are very technically sophisticated.”
Administration officials today admitted that nuclear reactors specifically are less secure than in the past, and smart grids – new digital electricity networks that are being promoted around the country – are more exposed than traditional systems. Because the new internet-protocol based systems utilize commercial software over the internet, they make the system more vulnerable. Coordination between agencies is also lacking, some say.
“Yes, threats are greater. Undoubtedly,” said Joseph H. McClelland, director of the Office of Electric Reliability at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “When it comes to national security… the process is too slow, it’s too open and it’s too unpredictable.”
Several bills have been introduced in Congress to tackle the issue, but none has made it to the president’s desk.
The GRID Act, introduced a year ago, aims to give FERC the authority to issue rules and procedures to protect the nation’s grid without prior notice or hearings. It would also expand the Energy secretary’s powers over such matters and require the Defense secretary to prepare a plan identifying emergency measures and procedures that would need to be taken in the case of a cyber attack. The president would have the authority to order and authorize immediate emergency measures without Congressional approval.
The “pay-as-you-go” legislation wouldn’t cost taxpayers any money over the next ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Another related bill, the SHIELD Act, would make it a crime for a person to knowingly disseminate classified information related to U.S. intelligence activities.
Earlier this month, the White House released a more comprehensive cybersecurity plan calling for industries vulnerable to cyber attacks, like electricity, to create plans that would make their computer systems more secure.
“Our critical infrastructure – such as the electricity grid, financial sector, and transportation networks that sustain our way of life — have suffered repeated cyber intrusions, and cyber crime has increased dramatically over the last decade,” the report stated. “Our nation is at risk. The cybersecurity vulnerabilities in our government and critical infrastructure are a risk to national security, public safety, and economic prosperity.”
Industry leaders say there should be more federal standards that protect against such threats, but have pushed back against increased government involvement in the electric sector, especially in the corporate arena.
“Government authority to deal with cyber emergencies is needed,” stated a written testimony by Gerry Cauley, president and chief executive of North American Electric Reliability Corp. But “additional authority to address grid security vulnerabilities is not necessary.”
Others questioned whether FERC is equipped to handle the new responsibilities it would be given under the GRID Act.
“We question whether FERC has the technical or intelligence-handling expertise to exercise such a broad new authority,” Barry Lawson, associate director at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, told lawmakers. “Operationally, this new authority could result in the establishment of potentially conflicting or different cybersecurity standards in the U.S. and Canada.”
The renewed warning by lawmakers comes the day Wall Street Journal reported that the Pentagon would declare computer sabotage from another country an act of war. The story cited the Pentagon’s cyber strategy report, which is due to be released in a few weeks.
When asked about the story today, Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said, “A response to a cyber incident or attack on the U.S. would not necessarily be a cyber response … All appropriate actions would be on the table if we are attacked in cyber.”

The bills that are in Congress addressing our electric grid whether threat from solar or adversary must be addressed now – this is our “Main Street USA” Homeland Security concern among others not discussed in the State of the Union – only more politics and folks, we are in much danger as each day passes from an inept Congress, Senate and Executive White House.

God Bless America!

Christopher Tingus
Harwich (Cape Cod), MA 02645
chris.tingus@gmail.com

Comment by Arnold Bogis

January 29, 2014 @ 11:07 pm

Bill, actually it seems that Woodrow Wilson was the first President to appear in person since 1801: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/01/28/when-the-state-of-the-union-was-controversial/

Your question about using our strength and power depends through what ideological lens one looks. Some say not enough, some say too much, very few say just right.

And this SOTU was heavily weighed toward jobs, the economy, and other domestic concerns. Not much at all about foreign affairs.

Mr. Tingus, out of curiosity would you be in favor of higher taxes to support improving our infrastructure and energy development in the Denmark model? I personally would, but many object to increasing government spending and I’m sure Denmark hasn’t achieved what is has solely through the private sector.

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 30, 2014 @ 2:00 am

Thanks Arnold and how do you measure strength and power?

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 31, 2014 @ 12:52 am

Was Snowden mentioned in the SOTU?

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