Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 12, 2007

Port of Tacoma Sight of New DNDO T&E Effort

Filed under: Infrastructure Protection,Port and Maritime Security,Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Jonah Czerwinski on May 12, 2007

DHS – through the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office – is starting to test and evaluate equipment focused on the blind spots around the shipment of containerized cargo.  While this effort satisfies Section 121(i) of the SAFE Port Act of 2006, it also reflects proposals made by the Homeland Security Advisory Council in 2005 when it’s Task Force on Preventing Weapons of Mass Effect explained the importance of adopting a layered prevention strategy.  Intermodal chokepoints served as key examples for the Task Force’s argument.  Specifically, the gaps in scanning and other preventive measures needed to be in place when a target item (i.e. cargo container) transferred one conveyance (boat) to another (rail).  The Task Force considered this next layer a “critical deficiency” that required the Department’s attention.The DNDO announced yesterday that: 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will soon begin conducting multiple projects in the Port of Tacoma, Wash., to evaluate technology and concepts of operations for radiation detection that will scan cargo at various points in transfer from ship to rail.  By establishing a Rail Test Center (RTC) at the port, DHS will identify and evaluate radiological and nuclear detection solutions for intermodal rail port facilities that can be used across the country.

A major recommendation and recurring theme from the Nuclear Defense Working Group at the Center for the Study of the Presidency held that detection efforts were strongest when targets were in motion or under scrutiny already (i.e. cargo was only screened when checked, registered, or loaded, and usually at only one of those points).  Containers and other targets at rest were a glaring weakness, according to the NDWG, in need of innovative solutions that did not include scattering expensive scanners over every square inch of an airport or seaport.  The same DNDO announcement reminded me of that recommendation with this detail:

Projects being considered for further evaluation at the RTC include scanning cargo on the dock, during transport to the rail yard, entering the rail yard, in the container storage stack, during train assembly, and as the train leaves the port.

These are promising efforts, albeit nascent ones.  These are also only one part of the broader effort to reduce the threat of smuggled nucs.  Let’s hope the non-proliferation and Nunn-Lugar-type programs get the same attention.  More on that can be found at Jeffrey’s ArmsControlWonk.com.

October 17, 2006

GAO slams DNDO assessment of new radiation portal monitors

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats,Technology for HLS — by Christian Beckner on October 17, 2006

The GAO issued a report today that criticizes the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office’s cost-benefit analysis of investment in second-generation radiation portal monitors (RPMs). The report argues that this analysis does not provide a sound basis for investment in next-generation RPMs, which cost $377,000 per unit vs. $55,000 per unit for current RPMs, and according to the GAO, provide a negligible additional benefit in terms of their capabilities. From the report:

DNDO’s cost-benefit analysis does not provide a sound analytical basis for DNDO’s decision to purchase and deploy new portal monitor technology. DNDO did not use the results of its own performance tests in its cost-benefit analysis and instead relied on assumptions of the new technology’s anticipated performance level. Performance tests also showed that the ability of new radiation detection portal monitors to correctly identify masked HEU (placed next to or within another, usually more benign, radiological substance) was even more limited. According to the cost-benefit analysis and radiation detection experts to whom we spoke, masked HEU is a significant concern because it is difficult to detect. DNDO also focused the analysis exclusively on identifying HEU and did not consider in the analysis how well (either as a goal or in testing) new portal monitor technology can correctly detect or identify other dangerous radiological or nuclear materials. Furthermore, the analysis did not include the results from side-by-side tests that DNDO conducted of the advanced portal monitors and current portal monitors.

The cost-benefit analysis for acquiring and deploying portal monitors is also incomplete because it does not include all of the major costs and benefits required by DHS guidelines. In particular, DNDO did not assess the likelihood that radiation detection equipment would either misidentify or fail to detect nuclear or radiological material. Rather, it focused its analysis on reducing the time necessary to screen traffic at border check points and reduce the impact of any delays on commerce. DNDO also used questionable assumptions about the procurement costs of portal monitor technology. DNDO assumed a purchase price for current portal monitor technology that is more than twice what CBP typically pays.

The DNDO responds to these charges on pages 25-26 of the report, arguing that the testing that the GAO cited was for baselining and source selection purposes, and not intended to represent the final capabilities of second-generation RPMs. And in fairness to the DNDO, it’s inherent difficult to assess the benefits of any investment like this, since the value of any single layer in a system of protection are difficult to isolate. Nevertheless, the concerns put forward by GAO are valid, and it’s imperative that DHS not move forward with full-scale acquisition until value can be demonstrated.

April 4, 2006

DNDO sketches out a global nuclear detection architecture

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats,Technology for HLS — by Christian Beckner on April 4, 2006

At the beginning of March, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) released a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for “Exploratory Research in Nuclear Detection Technology.” Over the past month, the team that is leading the procurement have released a series of fact sheets, briefs, and powerpoints that clarify the DNDO’s intended strategy to an extent not previously discussed with such detail or clarity.

For example, this powerpoint deck (click read-only when opening) by DNDO Deputy Director Michael R. Carter expands upon his presentation last August at DHS S&T’s industry conference, and provides a top-level vision for the threats that a global nuclear detection architecture is designed to combat in slide 4:

The actual BAA provides a good companion overview of the challenges of nuclear detection today, explaining the rationale for the DNDO and singling out five key technology “areas for improvement” in the global nuclear detection architecture:

  • Robust detection and verification of shielded special nuclear material at our nations ports of entry,
  • Radiation monitoring along our unattended air, land, and sea borders,
  • In-transit monitoring of cargo and conveyances,
  • Mobile or re-locatable radiation detection and monitoring, and
  • Unattended or ubiquitous radiation detection sensing systems.

Overall, an informative set of documents that help to clear up the strategy, mission, and objectives of one of the most important (but heretofore largely opaque) parts of DHS.

July 2, 2014

QHSR: tension between HS and hs

Filed under: Congress and HLS,General Homeland Security,Strategy — by Arnold Bogis on July 2, 2014

I’m a week late to the QHSR discussion and while I don’t have any big thoughts, I do have a few small ones.

– – – – – – – –

There are some problems at the foundation of the QHSR. Issues that point to underlying confusion of what homeland security is, or at least an unclear characterization of what it should be, at the federal level. However, this isn’t the fault of the DHS staff who put together the review, but rather the direction of Congress. As readers are reminded of in the report itself, the scope of the QHSR is:

Each quadrennial homeland security review shall be a comprehensive examination of the homeland security strategy of the Nation, including recommendations regarding the long-term strategy and priorities of the Nation for homeland security and guidance on the programs, assets, capabilities,budget, policies and authorities of the Department.

Soooooo…the Department of Homeland Security (let’s call it capital HS) is mandated by Congress to review the current Administration’s homeland security strategy that includes the work of other agencies (counter-intuitively, I’m going to refer to the whole enchilada encompassing what anyone might wish to include in homeland security as lowercase hs), while at the same time providing DHS-specific recommendations on force structure, authorities, budget, etc. I haven’t checked the authorizing language, but on a quick review of the last DOD QDR (which is supposedly the model for the QHSR) , it pretty much focused entirely on the last half of that charge.  There was little to no language that pointed to the concerns of their national security “partners” or the military’s analysis of the National Security Strategy. Instead it focused on questions of force structure and the impact of sequestration on the military.

In this matter, the important difference between DOD and DHS is that DOD has a long tradition, and specifically, a mature relationship with Congress.  DHS, on the other hand, seems to be generally regarded by many (if not most) lawmakers as the sole actor in the hs sphere.  The consequence being that anything that is considered a hs issue by Congress often becomes a HS issue by default.  A dumping agency.  Even if it is a topic long worked by experienced professionals elsewhere in the government.

– – – – – – – – – –

Contrasting examples of this can be seen in the chapters on bio and nuclear threats. At it’s creation, I do not believe any of the agencies or offices brought to DHS a primary role in either arena (outside of FEMA’s responsibility post nuclear attack).  But in the wisdom of a few, since that time the agency has grown both an Office of Health Affairs (OHA) and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO).

I can see the utility of a health office for the protection of the DHS workforce, not unlike the equivalent in DOD.  Perhaps over time they develop particular expertise to contribute to the larger efforts of the government as a whole.  Instead, projects such as the never-quite-right Biowatch placed them in a bureaucratic competition with agencies with long-standing expertise in public health, such as the CDC (the center of biosurveillance), and those newer offices with a concentration of expertise and responsibility, like ASPR (ESF-8 lead, partner in the National Disaster Medical System, and the government developers of new medical countermeasures through BARDA). The QHSR seems to acknowledge this, as it stresses a whole of government approach to public health and bioterrorist threats. DHS went hs rather than HS in addressing biological threats.

The reverse is true for nuclear terrorism. After identifying the issue and stressing the importance due to the possible consequence of such an attack (if this is so important to HS you’d think FEMA would have gotten it’s act together by now regarding planning for such an event…but I digress), the QHSR takes an entirely parochial view of the subject.

We prioritize a sustained, long-term focus on preventing nuclear terrorism through two foundational capabilities: (1) nuclear detection and (2) nuclear forensics. These capabilities are aimed at preventing our adversaries from developing, possessing, importing, storing, transporting, or using nuclear materials.

In stark contrast to bio-events, nuclear terrorism can and must be prevented.  And that prevention is likely not to occur along the pathways of the “Global Nuclear Detection Architecture” or due to forensic capabilities. It happens because while large, the amount of special materials required for a nuclear terrorist attack are finite, thus possible to secure or eliminate at the source.  Hoping that THE major plank in preventing such an attack is detection of very hard to detect materials with the cooperation of others sitting along a spectrum of competence, corruption, and cooperation would be unwise.

I am not suggesting detection and forensics are unimportant, only that they are secondary to securing and eliminating fissile material.  Yet the QHSR focuses on these capabilities because that is what the DNDO does.  So DHS went HS for addressing the nuclear terrorism threat.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

One last small quibble with the Review: why did they have to include a “Black Swans” section?  I don’t mean addressing potential future events that could have a significant impact on homeland security.  Rather, why did they have to attempt to co-opt the term itself?  Hasn’t the mess everyone has made with “resilience” taught us anything?

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the book “The Black Swan” that popularized the term, summarizes the attributes of these events: “rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability.” The QHSR has already violated the third attribute, and their list of four potential Swans have been previously suggested and analyzed elsewhere.  They are neither unforeseen or unexpected.

Personally, I’d prefer to think of Natalie Portman when considering Black Swans.

July 9, 2012

Biowatch: A Homeland Security Nightmare?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on July 9, 2012

This past weekend the LA Times published a scathing story on the Biowatch program.  A few select quotes from former federal, state, and local public health leaders:

“I can’t find anyone in my peer group who believes in BioWatch,” said Dr. Ned Calonge, chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment from 2002 to 2010.


“The only times it goes off, it’s wrong. I just think it’s a colossal waste of money. It’s a stupid program.”


“It is not realistic to undertake a nationwide, blanket deployment of biosensors,” the advisory panel, named the JASON group, concluded.


“In the senior-level discussions, the issue of efficacy really wasn’t on the table,” recalled Reeves, who has since retired from the Army. “It was get it done, tell the president we did good, tell the nation that they’re protected.… I thought at the time this was good PR, to calm the nation down. But an effective system? Not a chance.”


“The idea behind BioWatch — that you could put out these ambient air filters and they would provide you with the information to save people exposed to a biological attack — it’s a concept that you could only put together in theory,” Calonge said in an interview. “It’s a poorly conceived strategy for doing early detection that is inherently going to pick up false positives.”


Biologist David M. Engelthaler, who led responses to several BioWatch false positives while serving as Arizona’s bioterrorism coordinator, is one of the many public health officials who see it differently.

“A Homeland Security or national security pipe dream,” he said, “became our nightmare.”


(By the way, when your comic-book sounding, super-smart advisory panel called the “JASONS” doesn’t think its a good idea, maybe….it’s not a good idea…just sayin’.)

The failing of the system, if one can call it that, is two fold:

Detecting an attack requires a system that is not only discriminating but also highly sensitive — to guarantee that it won’t miss traces of deadly germs that might have been dispersed over a large area.

BioWatch is neither discriminating enough for the one task nor sensitive enough for the other.

And before he brings this up in the comments, longtime commenter and sometime blogger Alan Wolfe (and others) has commented that this program was destined to fail as it aimed to apply a military battlefield detection mindset to the civilian realm.  Doesn’t appear he (and they) were so far off:

The system’s inherent flaws and the missing scientific work did not slow its deployment. After Bush’s speech, the White House assigned Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Reeves, whose office was responsible for developing defenses against chemical and biological attacks, to get BioWatch up and running.

Over the previous year, Reeves had overseen placement of units similar to the BioWatch samplers throughout the Washington area, including the Pentagon, where several false alarms for anthrax and plague later occurred.

Based on that work and computer modeling of the technology’s capabilities, Reeves did not see how BioWatch could reliably detect attacks smaller than, for example, a mass-volume spraying from a crop duster.

Nevertheless, the priority was to carry out Bush’s directive, swiftly.

I could keep quoting from this extensively investigated article.  It is definitely worth your time reading.

What is disturbing is that there is an effort in Congress to combine the office responsible for Bioshield, the DHS Office of Health Affairs, with the people responsible for paying for radiation detectors that don’t work, DNDO.  No, really:

In a little-noticed section of the legislative report that accompanies the fiscal 2013 homeland security spending bill, the House Appropriations Committee calls on DHS officials to develop a plan to consolidate the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office and the Office of Health Affairs.

So what’s a few million dollars among federal agency programs designed to detect threats that don’t actually detect any threats?

What’s really wrong with this picture is that it detracts from efforts that truly decrease honest-to-goodness bio, rad, and nuclear threats.  Preparedness, response, and recovery should be emphasized for the bio and rad threat, while securing fissile material should be the main goal in defeating the nuclear threat.  These are real risks and threats that will outlive the current and near-future iterations of Al Qaeda.  Yet the solutions aren’t that expensive or difficult to implement.

March 19, 2012

Being sent to the minors can be a good thing – even in homeland security

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Organizational Issues — by Arnold Bogis on March 19, 2012

As most fans of baseball could tell you, Washington Nationals prospect Bryce Harper is a potential star in the making.  He took his GED to leave high school early and enrolled with a junior college to jump start his professional baseball career.  At the age of 16 he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  In 2010 he was picked first in the baseball draft by the Nationals, switching positions from catcher to right field to speed his arrival to the major leagues.  Going into this year’s spring training, one of the most discussed story lines was whether he would be sent back down to the minor leagues to begin the season or break camp with the Nationals.  The baseball-obsessed community (of which I count myself a member) now has an answer:

The Nationals optioned 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper to Class AAA Syracuse, ending his longshot pursuit to make the opening day roster. Harper will play mostly center field at Syracuse, with some right mixed in, and the Nationals see him as a center fielder when he reaches the majors this season. The position represents a shift for the Nationals, who have been trying to solve a long-standing center field issue.

News that will undoubtedly disappoint a legion of sportswriters (who may only be second to political reporters in regards to trying to stir the pot with stories that stretch credulity). Yet to serious baseball analysts, the idea of promoting such a young player with such great future prospects so soon didn’t make sense.  In essence, the team would be trading a full year in the future when Harper is at the height of his skills for a few months this season when his production is likely only to be marginally better than the expected replacements.  On a cost/value basis, optioning him to the minor leagues for at least a few months makes sense.

If only most homeland security programs could be so analytically managed.  Too often, especially in the years immediately following 9/11, programs and initiatives were approved and funded without serious thought or analysis of details, capabilities, and consequences.

One specific example is the Biowatch Program that aims to quickly detect any pathogens released in a terrorist attack.  Nuclear and biological terrorism were (and remain) big concerns after 9/11 and this program aimed at achieving quick recognition of such an attack that would allow relevant agencies at all levels to begin to respond before the first cases are identified in the emergency room.  The problem has been that the technology never lived up to the promise of the program–filters that required manual replacement each day, added to a delay in getting results from the laboratory tests.

The story is that the situation is improving, but one is left to wonder if a push for prevention above all other potential measures for dealing with the same issue, such as syndromic monitoring and improved communication capabilities between emergency rooms/hospitals and public health officials, could not have provided a better capability at this point for responding to an attack or outbreak of a natural pandemic.

Along the same lines would be many of the difficulties experienced by the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) in DHS.  Analysts with deep experience in the issue of nuclear terrorism have long recognized that securing weapons and fissile material is the sweet spot for this particular problem.  Detection technologies artfully deployed can play useful roles in deterrence and occasionally detection of illicitly trafficked material.  However, they are not an answer to this threat by themselves.  While never officially characterized as such, DNDO efforts often seemed as grasping at technological solutions to diplomatic problems.

In other words, the nuclear terrorism problem could only be marginally affected by detection technologies, while efforts at securing fissile material worldwide represents the real game.  But the “away” game is much messier than the “home” game, and less attractive to officials who believe we should only rely on ourselves for our own security.

Each of these examples deserve their own posts (or papers) to properly characterize their pros and cons. What I imagine as a potential lesson learned is that both initiatives deployed equipment and programs before their time.  Early detection of biological and radiological/nuclear materials is a more than constructive goal, and one that seems not too far out in the future (to a point). But the push following 9/11 for these capabilities resulted in deployment of technology that more likely than not damaged the prospect of future use.  Rushing ahead when the technology wasn’t ready will have innoculated local officials in the usefulness of future systems.

Put another way, will systems exhausted of responding to false alarms now react differently in the near future even if improved technology is in place?  Or, in the language of baseball, why waste a few years early in the development of a significant player if it will truly have an impact in the short term future?


March 2, 2012

366 Homeland Security Words

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christopher Bellavita on March 2, 2012

The Electronic Privacy Information Center posted a copy of a document titled “Department of Homeland Security, National Operations Center, Media Monitoring Capablity, Desktop Reference  Binder” (or MMCDRB for short).

The headline of the EPIC story: EPIC Obtains New Documents on DHS Media Monitoring, Urges Congress to Suspend Program

The reaction to the “desktop reference binder”  included such monochromatic headlines as:

Words to get your website on a government watch list – Social media monitoring!

Homeland Security has its eye on your Metro tweets, D.C. riders

The Department of Homeland Security Is Spying On Your Social Media Updates

Why is the government monitoring social media networks?

The DHS surveillance of OccupyWallStreet (Ok, different, but related.)

DHS Monitoring Of Social Media Under Scrutiny By Lawmakers

The Department Of Homeland Security Is Searching Your Facebook And Twitter For These Words

There is a lot that can be written about this manual and the complex issues illustrated by almost every section of the 40 page document.  But that’s not what I want to write about. I want to write briefly about the search terms in the manual.


One can always get a good 50 minute discussion going in a graduate seminar by asking “What is Homeland Security?”

The question can be addressed through a variety of inquiring systems (meaning ways of gathering and processing information about a question):

Deductively —  by starting from general principles

Dialectically — focusing on the conflicts  in homeland security

Abductively — basically hunches and guesses

Idealistically — Including ideas from as many perspectives as possible

Pragmatically — an open systems, do-whatever-works approach

– or Detour and Access — beating around the bush, gaining access to homeland security by detouring around messy issues

No doubt there are other inquiring systems.  Let me mention one more.

One unintended, albeit minor, consequence of the MMCDRB is to assist with an inductive answer to the what is homeland security question.


Induction is about generating abstractions by aggregating specific instances.  If deductive inquiry starts with principles and moves to data. Inductive inquiry starts with data and moves to principles, or at least propositions.

Without getting into the many (serious) problems of inductive inquiry, one can take the current list of “key words and search terms” in the MMCDRB, mix up the pieces — in this case alphabetically — and get a snapshot of how broad homeland security has become in the last decade.

Try it for yourself. There’s a story, a controversy, a fear, a mission or a budget in every word.

Key Words and Search Terms

1.         2600
2.         Abu Sayyaf
3.         Afghanistan
4.         Agent
5.         Agriculture
6.         Agro
7.         Agro Terror
8.         Aid
9.         Air Marshal
10.       Airplane (and derivatives)
11.       Airport
12.       Al Queda (all spellings)
13.       Al-Shabaab
14.       Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)
15.       Ammonium nitrate
16.       AMTRAK
17.       Anthrax
18.       Antiviral
19.       AQAP (Al Qaeda Arabian Peninsula)
20.       AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb)
21.       Arellano-Felix
22.       Artistics Assassins
23.       Assassination
24.       Attack
25.       Authorities
26.       Avalanche
27.       Avian
28.       Bacteria
29.       Barrio Azteca
30.       BART
31.       Basque Separatists
32.       Beltran-Leyva
33.       Biological
34.       Biological infection (or event)
35.       Biological weapon
36.       Black out
37.       Blister agent
38.       Blizzard
39.       Body scanner
40.       Bomb (squad or threat)
41.       Border
42.       Border Patrol
43.       Botnet
44.       Breach
45.       Bridge
46.       Brown out
47.       Brush fire
48.       Brute forcing
49.       Burn
50.       Burst
51.       Bust
52.       Cain and abel
53.       Calderon
54.       Canceled
55.       Car bomb
56.       Cartel
57.       Cartel de Golfo
58.       Center for Disease Control (CDC)
59.       Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
60.       Chemical
61.       Chemical burn
62.       Chemical fire
63.       Chemical Spill
64.       Chemical weapon
65.       China
66.       CIKR (Critical Infrastructure & Key Resources)
67.       Ciudad Juarez
68.       Closure
69.       Cloud
70.       Coast Guard (USCG)
71.       Cocaine
72.       Collapse
73.       Colombia
74.       Communications infrastructure
75.       Computer infrastructure
76.       Conficker
77.       Consular
78.       Contamination
79.       Conventional weapon
80.       Cops
81.       Crash
82.       Crest
83.       Critical infrastructure
84.       Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
85.       Cyber attack
86.       Cyber Command
87.       Cyber security
88.       Cyber terror
89.       DDOS (dedicated denial of service)
90.       Deaths
91.       Decapitated
92.       Delays
93.       Denial of service
94.       Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
95.       Dirty bomb
96.       Disaster
97.       Disaster assistance
98.       Disaster management
99.       Disaster medical assistance team (DMAT)
100.    DNDO (Domestic Nuclear Detection Office)
101.    Dock
102.    Domestic nuclear detection
103.    Domestic security
104.    Drill
105.    Drug
106.    Drug Administration (FDA)
107.    Drug cartel
108.    Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
109.    Drug trade
110.    Drug war
111.    E. Coli
112.    Earthquake
113.    Ebola
114.    Eco terrorism
115.    El Paso
116.    Electric
117.    Emergency
118.    Emergency Broadcast System
119.    Emergency Landing
120.    Emergency management
121.    Emergency response
122.    Enriched
123.    Environmental terrorist
124.    Epidemic
125.    Erosion
126.    ETA (Euskadi ta Askatasuna)
127.    Evacuation
128.    Execution
129.    Exercise
130.    Explosion (explosive)
131.    Exposure
132.    Extreme weather
133.    Extremism
134.    Facility
135.    Failure or outage
136.    FARC (Armed Revolutionary Forces Colombia)
137.    Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS)
138.    Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
139.    Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
140.    Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
141.    First responder
142.    Flood
143.    Flu
144.    Food Poisoning
145.    Foot and Mouth (FMD)
146.    Forest fire
147.    Fort Hancock
148.    Fundamentalism
149.    Fusion Center
150.    Gang
151.    Gangs
152.    Gas
153.    Grid
154.    Gulf Cartel
155.    Gunfight
156.    Guzman
157.    H1N1
158.    H5N1
159.    Hacker
160.    Hail
161.    Hamas
162.    Hazardous
163.    Hazardous material incident
164.    Hazmat
165.    Help
166.    Heroin
167.    Hezbollah
168.    Home grown
169.    Homeland Defense
170.    Homeland security
171.    Hostage
172.    Human to ANIMAL
173.    Human to human
174.    Hurricane
175.    Ice
176.    IED (Improvised Explosive Device)
177.    Illegal immigrants
178.    Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE)
179.    Improvised explosive device
180.    Incident
181.    Industrial spill
182.    Infection
183.    Influenza
184.    Infrastructure security
185.    Interstate
186.    IRA (Irish Republican Army)
187.    Iran
188.    Iraq
189.    Islamist
190.    Jihad
191.    Juarez
192.    Keylogger
193.    Kidnap
194.    La Familia
195.    Law enforcement
196.    Leak
197.    Lightening
198.    Listeria
199.    Lockdown
200.    Looting
201.    Los Zetas
202.    Magnitude
203.    Malware
204.    Mara salvatrucha
205.    Marijuana
206.    Maritime domain awareness (MDA)
207.    MARTA
208.    Matamoros
209.    Meth Lab
210.    Methamphetamine
211.    Metro
212.    Mexican army
213.    Mexicles
214.    Mexico
215.    Michoacana
216.    Militia
217.    Mitigation
218.    MS13 or MS-13
219.    Mud slide or Mudslide
220.    Mutation
221.    Mysql injection
222.    Narco banners (Spanish equivalents)
223.    Narcos
224.    Narcotics
225.    National Guard
226.    National infrastructure
227.    National laboratory
228.    National Operations Center (NOC)
229.    National preparedness
230.    National preparedness initiative
231.    National security
232.    Nationalist
233.    NBIC (National Biosurveillance Integration Center)
234.    Nerve agent
235.    New Federation
236.    Nigeria
237.    Nogales
238.    North Korea
239.    Norvo Virus
240.    Nuclear
241.    Nuclear facility
242.    Nuclear threat
243.    Nuevo Leon
244.    Organized crime
245.    Outbreak
246.    Pakistan
247.    Pandemic
248.    Phishing
249.    Phreaking
250.    Pipe bomb
251.    Pirates
252.    Plague
253.    PLF (Palestine Liberation Front)
254.    PLO (Palestine Libration Organization)
255.    Plot
256.    Plume
257.    Police
258.    Pork
259.    Port
260.    Port Authority
261.    Powder (white)
262.    Power
263.    Power lines
264.    Power outage
265.    Prevention
266.    Public Health
267.    Quarantine
268.    Radiation
269.    Radicals
270.    Radioactive
271.    Recall
272.    Recovery
273.    Recruitment
274.    Red Cross
275.    Relief
276.    Resistant
277.    Response
278.    Reynose
279.    Reyosa
280.    Ricin
281.    Riot
282.    Rootkit
283.    Salmonella
284.    San Diego
285.    Sarin
286.    Scammers
287.    Screening
288.    Secret Service (USSS)
289.    Secure Border Initiative (SBI)
290.    Security
291.    Service disruption
292.    Shelter-in-place
293.    Shootout
294.    Shots fired
295.    Sick
296.    Sinaloa
297.    Sleet
298.    Small Pox
299.    Smart
300.    Smuggling (smugglers)
301.    Snow
302.    Social media
303.    Somalia
304.    Sonora
305.    Southwest
306.    Spammer
307.    Spillover
308.    Standoff
309.    State of emergency
310.    Storm
311.    Strain
312.    Stranded/Stuck
313.    Subway
314.    Suicide attack
315.    Suicide bomber
316.    Suspicious package/device
317.    Suspicious substance
318.    SWAT
319.    Swine
320.    Symptoms
321.    Taliban
322.    Tamaulipas
323.    Tamiflu
324.    Tamil Tiger
325.    Target
326.    Task Force
327.    Telecommunications
328.    Temblor
329.    Terror
330.    Terrorism
331.    Threat
332.    Tijuana
333.    Tornado
334.    Torreon
335.    Toxic
336.    Trafficking
337.    Transportation security
338.    Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
339.    Tremor
340.    Trojan
341.    Tsunami
342.    Tsunami Warning Center
343.    TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan)
344.    Tuberculosis (TB)
345.    Tucson
346.    Twister
347.    Typhoon
348.    U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS)
349.    U.S. Consulate
350.    United Nations (UN)
351.    Vaccine
352.    Violence
353.    Viral Hemorrhagic Fever
354.    Virus
355.    Warning
356.    Watch
357.    Water/air borne
358.    Wave
359.    Weapons cache
360.    Weapons grade
361.    Wildfire
362.    WMATA
363.    World Health Organization (WHO and components)
364.    Worm
365.    Yemen
366.    Yuma

The list is not final.  The manual notes, “As natural and manmade disasters occur, new search terms may be added.”


February 14, 2011

Happy Budget Day – Quick Overview

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on February 14, 2011

The President’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget has been released this morning.  The proposal provides $309 million above the 2010 enacted levels (.7 percent increase) for the Department of Homeland Security, bringing DHS’ budget to$43.2 billion.  Here is a quick assessment of the proposal:

Border Security

As expected, there is a focus on border security, with 300 more additional CBP officers proposed for passenger and cargo screening and expanding pre-screening operations at foreign airports and land ports of entry. The budget includes $132 million for E-Verify program.

On border technology, DHS wants $242 million to “acquire technologies that will complete the optimum border security technology lay down in three sectors in Arizona. This technology initiative is tailored to the unique needs of each border region—beyond the prior, one-size fits-all approach—and will result in the faster deployment of security technology, better overall coverage for situational awareness and agent protection, and ultimately a more effective and efficient deployment strategy.”  This is the agency’s post-Sbinet proposal though many details remain unknown without the more information that will likely come in the next few week in the detailed budget documents and oversight hearings.   The request also includes $55 million to support Northern Border technology systems.

Grant Programs

The budget provides $3.8 billion for state and local programs. Six grant programs are eliminated and merged into broader State and local risk-based grant programs. Among the programs cut are the Emergency Operations Center Grant Program and Inter-City Bus Security Grant Program. More details to come.


Includes an $82 million increase to support deployment of up to 1,275 Advanced Imaging Technology screening machines at airport checkpoints.   The budget also includes $273 million in funding to support explosive detection systems at airports.  The budget also  proposes $58 million for transportation security vetting and credentialing. There is also $12.4 million for an expanded watchlist vetting initiative.  In keeping with TSA Administrator Pistole’s comments recently on the need for a comprehensive approach to aviation security that includes behavioral analysis, the FY2012 budget requests $236.9 millon for 3,360 behavior detection officers, including 350 new positions.  The budget also proposes to increase the aviation passenger security fee by $1.50 per enplanement.

Coast Guard

The Coast Guard benefits significantly from the proposed budget.  The Administration proposes $358 million to construct six more Fast Response Cutters and$130 million to construct two more Maritime Patrol Aircraft.  The budget also includes$65 million for the Rescue 21 search and rescue communications system.

Administrative Cuts

More than $450 million in cuts to “consulting and professional service contracts as well as reduction in travel, printing, supplies and advisory services.”


DHS continues to focus attention on cybersecurity, with more than $459 million going to support the National Cybersecurity Division.  The request includes $233.6 million to “expedite the deployment of EINSTEIN 3 to prevent and detect intrusions on computer systems and to upgrade the National Cyber Security Protection System, building an intrusion detection capability and analysis capabilities to protect federal networks.” Interestingly, the  request includes $1.3 million to “enable DHS to coordinate national cyber security operations and interface with the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) National Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Meade, Maryland.’

Summary  Table

Click here to see a Summary Chart of DHS Budget Proposal for FY 2012.   Most components will see some increase from FY2010, though the following see some decreases:  TSA, FLETC, NPPD, FEMA, and DNDO.

January 6, 2011

Nuclear News: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on January 6, 2011

The Good

Potential ingredients for a terrorist nuclear bomb have been secured:

“Under extremely tight security, Ukraine has sent 110 pounds of highly enriched uranium, a significant portion of its Soviet-era stock, to Russia for disposal or storage, officials announced Friday.

The material, taken from research reactors, was moved by plane in December in specially designed casks as part of President Obama’s effort to reduce the chances that nuclear material might be diverted or stolen.

Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovich, agreed at a meeting convened by Mr. Obama in April to give up his country’s highly enriched uranium, which can be used to build nuclear weapons. In May, Ukraine shipped 123 pounds of highly enriched uranium by train to Russia, and officials said they hoped that the rest of the country’s stock would be exported by the end of 2012.”

This is yet another example of success for a low cost-high reward program.  Securing potentially vulnerable stocks of fissile material, particularly HEU, is the most effective way to prevent nuclear terrorism.  While a low probability event, the danger of such an attack will continue to exist as long as vulnerable caches of fissile material remain.

In other good news, a new repository for low-level radioactive waste may open:

“A Texas commission Tuesday set in motion the importation of low-level radioactive-waste from 36 other states, a move long sought by the nuclear-energy industry and long opposed by environmentalists.

The Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission, which manages the state’s radioactive-waste dump, voted 5-2 to approve rules governing the process for accepting the out-of-state material.”

“The site will permanently store low-level radioactive waste—contaminated materials and equipment from nuclear plants, research laboratories and hospitals. The material includes everything from parts from dismantled nuclear-energy plants to booties worn by scientists working in labs where radioactive materials are present. More highly contaminated waste, such as spent fuel from power plants, wouldn’t be stored at the site.

The waste will be stored at the 1,338-acre site in concrete-reinforced underground units.

States are responsible for handling low-level radioactive waste produced within their own borders, but space for it is limited. And the three disposal sites for it in the U.S. don’t take all kinds of materials within the low-level category or can only take waste from certain states. That leaves 36 states without a permanent storage place.”

Obviously there are always legitimate environmental concerns when it comes to the location of radioactive waste repositories.  Due to a lack of specific information regarding this particular site, I am not considering that in regards to my “good” value judgment about this development.  Instead, I am concentrating on the fact that there is a dire need for such a depository.  While not solving the problem of nuclear power plant spent fuel storage that was intended for the Yucca Mountain site, it does help address the need to centralize and secure lower-level radioactive material most likely to be used in a dirty bomb.

The Bad

The Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) within DHS has finally completed their “nuclear detection architecture” assignment:

“The Domestic Nuclear Detection Office delivered its long-awaited “strategic plan” for the global nuclear detection architecture to Capitol Hill on Dec. 20, according to DNDO chief Warren Stern. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano signed off on the plan that same day.”

“The 31-page document defines the goals of the architecture, including detecting nuclear and radioactive materials; communicating information to relevant agencies and officials; and coordinating with those partners to “minimize gaps and also remove overlaps,” according to Stern, who was appointed to his post by President Obama last August.”

This is not bad as much as perhaps a continuing tragedy of misplaced priorities.  Nuclear detection capability can be useful, but to date the return on investment is small.  Despite the best of intentions, DNDO has yet to demonstrate an ability to exert much influence over any pieces of the “architecture” that it does not directly own.

“In addition, the interdepartmental road map outlines the roles of a number of federal branches in preventing terrorists from detonating a nuclear or radiological device inside the United States, he said. Participating entities include the Defense, Energy, Justice and State departments, the U.S. national intelligence director and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”

“He added that while the detection office intends to have its implementation plan developed by the third quarter of this calendar year, there is no deadline for the other departments to complete their documents, nor are officials required to submit those plans to Congress.”

DNDO/DHS has control over detection activities at the border.  The Department of Energy, through programs like the Second Line of Defense, holds sway overseas.  Domestically, while DNDO provides a wide range of assistance, it is still up to local and state authorities to decide their level of participation in radiation detection programs.

There is also the matter of resources.

“The office has received roughly $4 billion in funding since its inception, according to a Government Accountability Office statement released last year. Some of that money went toward expanding existing programs at other DHS components, including deploying radiation portal monitors at U.S. points of entry.”

Current technology is unlikely to detect HEU and only has a slightly better chance of finding plutonium, so for the most part the system is useful for finding potential dirty bomb ingredients.  What if some of the money directed towards detection was instead focused on decontamination/recovery?  What would be the point of terrorists attempting to use a dirty bomb if the technology existed to clean up afterward?

Perhaps nuclear/radiological detection is the missile defense of homeland security.  By that I mean it is a very useful capability to develop, one that in limited circumstances currently adds value, but also is seen as something of a technological panacea to problems that can be addressed through other means.

The Ugly

The recent assassination of Pakistani governor Salman Taseer has implications beyond the political.  Steve Coll, blogging at the New Yorker, explains the nuclear connection:

“Pakistan’s Personnel Reliability Programs, as they are known in the nuclear security trade, involve not only evaluating the suitability of bodyguards for governors but also the management of the country’s swelling stockpile of fissile materials and nuclear bombs. Taseer’s betrayal should give pause to those officials in Washington who seem regularly to express complacency, or at least satisfaction, about the security of Pakistan’s arsenal.”

If true, this might be representative of  serious cracks in Pakistan’s nuclear security.  It is not only the risk of their nuclear weapons falling into terrorist hands that we have to worry about.  Pakistan is currently working to expand their arsenal, exposing increasing amounts of fissile material to insider threats.

January 27, 2009

HSPD Update Part II

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 27, 2009

In the spirit of one of yesterday’s posts concerning the HSPDs from the Bush Administration, this update highlights HSPD 14, 17, and 18.

I worked on the process to draft HSPD 14, which established the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office in 2005. (The DNDO began work in mid-2004.) I was one of several involved in the effort to accelerate and integrate national efforts to combat the smuggled nuclear weapons threat. This included dedicated professionals from the national labs, experts from the intel community, Hill staffers, service labs, DHS leadership, and White House staff (mostly OVP and HSC).

The SAFE Port Act authorized DNDO into law with language very similar to HSPD 14. Much of this directive could be overtaken by the establishment of a new White House advisor on all things nuclear (MPC&A, detection, nonproliferation) as then candidate Obama indicated he would do. Section 1 of this PD is worth keeping regardless, but Sections 2-3 are dedicated to establishing and empowering the DNDO, which the President may choose to alter. In my opinion, some changes are necessary.

Section 4 of HSPD 14 assigns nonproliferation R&D and dual-use counter-proliferation and counter-terrorism nuclear detection R&D to the Secretary of Energy. See the forthcoming report of the Stimson Center taskforce on the nation’s nuclear research and weapons labs for guidance on how this role could be separated from the Department of Energy, which should be responsible for energy in general, not nuclear weapons. Sections 5-8 (interagency coordination with the DNDO) are all dependant on whether the DNDO continues to exist.

HSPD 17 deals with the Nuclear Materials Information Program (NMIP). I believe this PD is still classified. The NMIP is an information management system that consolidates all-source information about global nuclear materials and their security status. This would be useful for the Global Nuclear Detection Architecture, but it is unclear how much of this Program is available to DHS or other agencies involved in nonproliferation, counterproliferation, and counterterrorism efforts.

NMIP also orders the establishment of a national registry for identifying and tracking nuclear material samples that are held throughout the U.S., which would be directly beneficial to the charter of the DNDO under HSPD 14. The Securing the Cities Initiative actually claims to do this “identifying and tracking” as part of its mission.

Mitigating illness and preventing death are the principal goals of medical countermeasure efforts, which are designed to address bio-, nuc-, and chemical terrorism. HSPD 18 – Medical Countermeasures Against Weapons of Mass Destruction – requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to lead the research, development, testing, evaluation, and acquisition efforts related to this directive. This also includes an interagency coordinating activity, a strategic plan, a private sector engagement effort, and “a strategic, integrated all-CBRN risk assessment that integrates the findings of the intelligence and law enforcement communi¬ties with input from the scientific, medical, and public health communities.”

All efforts related to this policy as it pertains to WMD, however, are assigned to the Secretary of Defense. All CBRN activities include vague roles for the interagency (i.e. leverage, ensure, facilitate). Perhaps Secretary Napolitano’s reviews will include the outputs of this PD and weigh in on a specific role for DHS.

September 24, 2008

Congress Moves to Fund Homeland Security

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on September 24, 2008

The House will consider a large spending bill to bridge fund the federal government through March 6 with $39.9 billion for Homeland Security, which $2.3 billion more than the president requested and represents about a six percent plus-up over FY 2008’s $37.7 billion enacted.

The Homeland Security Appropriations bill once again rejects the President’s proposal to cut $2 billion from the homeland security grant programs, including assistance for State and local law enforcement and other emergency responders to prevent, prepare for, and respond to natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and other emergencies.

Indeed, the bill includes $4.2 billion for First Responder and Port Security Grant Programs, $2 billion above the President’s request and $24 million above 2008. Substantial increases are also in CBP, Border Protection, ICE, maritime security, aviation security, cyber security, and FEMA management, among others.

The bill cuts funding in some areas, too. For example, US-VISIT is losing $90 million of its request until DHS can produce required expenditure plans. DNDO, alays a target of Congressional scrutiny, gets $50 million below the president’s request due to continued procurement delays.

The House Appropriators take an addition step to identify key policy concerns they have going forward. These include the following:

Oversight: Requires DHS submit plans on how it will implement: Deepwater; the Security Border Initiative; National Cyber Security Initiative; Next Generation Networks program; US-VISIT; and the Automated Commercial Environment.

Federal Protective Service: Requires at least 900 FPS police to protect Federal buildings and requires GAO to review FPS needs after GAO found staff cuts left federal buildings vulnerable to crimes and terrorist attacks.

Principal Federal Official (PFO) Positions: Limits the appointment of PFOs during declared disasters or emergencies to eliminate confusion that can occur when these positions overlap with FEMA’s responsibilities.

DHS Personnel System: Prohibits DHS from implementing a new personnel system.

National Applications Office: Prohibits DHS from using satellites for other than existing purposes until DHS submits and GAO reviews an explanation of its legality. GAO recently raised questions about the strength of internal controls for DHS’ proposed approach.

US-VISIT Air Exit Program: DHS is required to complete two pilot programs before proceeding with its biometric air exit plan.

The president didn’t make out too badly though. He secured over $303 million in earmarked funds as part of this stopgap funding. You can see all the earmarks here.

July 24, 2008

Nuclear Forensics Gets European Attention

Filed under: Organizational Issues,Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Jonah Czerwinski on July 24, 2008

The Euroscience Open Forum 2008 taking place in Barcelona, Spain, is covered in a short UPI story highlighting the Forum’s focus on nuclear forensics, which is the science specializing in nuclear threat detection.

Nuclear forensics cuts across the entire mission space from deterrence and dissuasion, to detection through consequence management, to attribution and response. It is a core part of the mission of combating smuggled nuclear weapons.

Speaking at the Eurpean Forum, Gabriele Tamborini of the European Commission Joint Research Center Institute for Transuranium Elements told UPI that the threat posed by nuclear terrorism has become a serious field of study.

“Nuclear forensics may provide information on the history, the intended use and possibly on the origin of nuclear material.”

“This scientific discipline is at the interface between physical science, prosecution, non-proliferation and counter-terrorism.”

For our part, the U.S. has formed the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center (NTNFC) under the DNDO. It represents an important reorganization.

While the Department of Homeland Security is not responsible for the entire spectrum of nuclear forensics, the NTNFC is a step forward in two clearly needed capabilities:
1. Across the government, unify various competencies and programs that are focused on aspects of the forensics mission.
2. Develop, enhance, and maintain technical forensics capabilities for pre-event needs.

The FBI provides the Deputy Assistant Director at the NTNFC, and it also provides a senior liaison from the FBI lab. The Department of Defense and the Department of Energy both provide detailees.

The Forensics Center also has a Working Group, made up of members from each relevant federal agency and members of the intelligence community, which meets regularly. There is an “Interagency NTNF Program & Budget Crosscut” under development to help align relevant programs and harmonize budget requests. Lastly, the NTNFC – and the DNDO in general – work with interagency partners in planning and executing exercises that support the research, development, and deployment of technologies, as well as shared concepts of operations.

June 5, 2008

Interview w/ DHS Screening Coordination Office at S&T Conference

Filed under: Organizational Issues,Technology for HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on June 5, 2008

The DHS S&T Stakeholders conference taking place this week is a sprawling array of panels, booths, displays, and coffee breaks. Nearly one hundred speakers by my estimate, and perhaps one thousand attendees. The event is sometimes organized along the paradigm of bugs, bombs, borders, bodies (people), business, and buildings.

Today’s panel discussion under the Bodies channel was chaired by Sharla Rausch, head of the Department of Homeland Security’s Human Factors Division. Her panelists represented TSA and the Screening Coordination Office. I interviewed the Associate Director of the SCO, Patricia Cogswell, after the panel adjourned and asked about what’s on the horizon for the SCO because it’s a unique kind of office with a strategic, cross-DHS mission.

First, a bit about the SCO. It was born in the FY06 President’s Budget Request as part of a program consolidation effort, and was followed up in FY07 as part of a program coordination effort. Note the difference. Rather than have the SCO absorb programs, it now coordinates them. Today, the SCO is part of the DHS Policy Directorate.

Its director, Kathy Kraninger, is technically an Assistant Secretary of Policy. Of the SCO’s two Associate Directors, Patty Cogswell mainly handles the SCO’s Credentialing Framework, Immigration Reform/USCIS Transformation, FBI Name Checks/IAFIS, the Information Sharing Council, and matters dealing with biometrics and DHS’s IDENT program. I understand the lead-up to yesterday’s announcement of the Pre-Travel Authorization Program for Visa Waiver travelers has kept the SCO rather busy.

Screening is actually a rather specific term for DHS with a discrete definition. A DHS briefing obtained by HLSWatch defines screening as “the process of identifying, enrolling, and checking applicants to determine their eligibility for entry into the US, or access to privileged travel and transportation programs.” Given the added scope of such things as USCIS benefits, the “access” scope might be broadened to include immigration benefits.

To give you an idea of the SCO’s purview, consider these numbers:

DHS component agencies:

    Process over 1.2 million travelers at the border, including over 630,000 aliens,
    Screen over 1.8 million domestic air travelers,
    Process 30,000 applicants for immigration benefits, and
    Conduct 135,000 national security background checks relating to immigration benefits.
    Credentials 750,000 workers requiring unescorted access to facilities and maritime vessels (through the TWIC program)

Today the SCO also serves as something of a budgetary pilot program itself by planning its requirements and budget needs through 2014. A Department-wide 5-year budget planning process is likely a far way off still. In its coordinating, its clear from Patty’s portfolio alone that this relatively small office has its hands in almost everything. We discussed today the ways in which SCO supports the CIO, CFO, and USCIS.

Other issues on the horizon surely include the forthcoming presidential transition. The SCO, like other offices (DNDO, ONA, Operations Coordination) will face a change in the presidency that could bring a change in priorities that’ll demote or devolve such things as screening coordination. Were that to be proposed, it would seem the SCO could count on champions from across the agency to speak to its value and utility.

Here’s another thought on that: If the budget is looking five years out, then it ought to be reflective of the Quadrennial (four-year) Homeland Security Review. Since the next Administration will inherit a draft QHSR, among other things, it would make sense for that document to be explicit about this priority.

February 4, 2008

Domestic Anti-“Dirty Bomb” Effort Covered in the Washington Post

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats,State and Local HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on February 4, 2008

The Department of Homeland Security program to partner with major cities in an effort to defend against the use of dirty bombs and covert nuclear attacks, called Securing the Cities, received rare coverage in the press yesterday. The Washington Post’s Spencer Hsu was invited to New York City by Richard Falkenrath, NYPD’s deputy commissioner for counterterrorism. You may recall Falkenrath as the Harvard instructor and then White House staffer who joined up after 9/11 with the Office of Homeland Security. Falkenrath today occupies a perch unlike any other and was probably interested in spreading the word about the City’s efforts to defend against rad/nuc and bio threats. (Spencer ran an earlier story on anti-bioterrorism, too.)

The Securing the Cities Initiative (STC) is operated by the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office with a budget of about $40 million this year. Supporters of the program suggest that it makes straight forward sense that we invest in technology and techniques that will help avert an attack on a major city with something as deadly and disruptive as a dirty bomb. Critics argue that efforts like STC throw bad money and bad money in a futile effort to defend against a terrorist tactic that should be defeated far away from any U.S. city, if it can be defended against at all.

I’m cited in the story as a member of the former group because I believe that the U.S. is uniquely equipped with the innovation and budget to make significant progress in defeating the threat of dirty bombs and covert nuclear attacks. I do not believe that domestic defense should be pursued at the expense of vigorous nonproliferation efforts that should reduce the likelihood of an attack overall. The two efforts are equal parts of a comprehensive approach.

And STC is more than an effort to design and deploy detectors throughout New York City. In addition to improved training and information sharing for state and local authorities, STC also works to secure the sources of domestically available radiological material that could be misappropriated for use in a dirty bomb.

Think of STC as the Nunn-Lugar aspect the DNDO mission. In the same way that such Cooperative Threat Reduction programs endeavor to work with Russian nuclear facilities to keep “loose nukes” and poorly guarded nuclear material from being stolen by terrorists or black marketeers, STC works with hospitals that – for medical procedures – routinely use Cesium-137 or Strontium 90, both potentially deadly isotopes, to enhance their stewardship and protective measures to secure these dangerous sources.

We covered this program last year in a post that includes supporting material. This post also speaks to the issue. For further reading, consider checking Charles Ferguson’s report, “Preventing Catastrophic Nuclear Terrorism“, or his article in Foreign Affairs, entitled The “Four Faces of Nuclear Terror and the Need for a Prioritized Response,” in addition to Michael Levi’s new book On Nuclear Terrorism. (NB: I still have to read Michael’s new book, but I sure look fwd to it.) My friend Jeffrey Lewis runs the best blog on the overseas aspects of this issue.

February 1, 2008

DHS Small Vessel Security Summit Outlines Concrete Recommendations

Filed under: Port and Maritime Security,Strategy — by Jonah Czerwinski on February 1, 2008

DHS convened a major National Small Vessel Security Summit late last year, and the after action report is now available. While I first considered small boat security to be about as niche a topic as is possible (with more public affairs appeal than public policy), this report shows a heck of a lot of work went into the effort of making the event productive and relevant on a national scale.  The report was prepared by the Homeland Security Institute and, at 122 pages, is a daunting read. Especially with so few pictures. HLSWatch readers get the cliffs notes.  Main recommendations of the effort are as follows:

1.  AIS tracking technologies should not be required for vessels under 65 feet in length until the technology is perfected (read: likely never), the cost of such technology significantly reduced (read: paid by the Feds), and until law enforcement has the ability to track and respond to all vessels in the maritime domain (read: moveable goalpost). RFID technology or other OnStar-like monitoring features can be used in the meantime.

2.  The National Homeland Security Strategy needs a component that represents a National Small Vessel Security Strategy based on a layered defense. (Echoes of the WME Task Force.) This strategy should not, the report explains, focus on deterring a specific type of terrorist attack but should enhance the overall safety and security of the maritime domain. Rightly, the forum recommends that the strategy provide for guidance in coordination with international partners.

3.  Licensing, registration, or tracking of small boats used by private individuals should be accomplished by DHS with the lightest of touch. Failing to do so will be costly, ineffective, and rood (it will “alienate the small vessel operator”).

4.  State, local, tribal, and territorial maritime law enforcement entities need additional funding because, in addition to “other public safety and security missions,” this is too much.

5.  Establish a universal hotline telephone number, similar to the National Response Center 1-800 number, for the boating community to use in reporting suspicious activities and emergency situations.

6.  States could add a boat operator credential — like those required for tractor trailer or school bus drivers — to their state driver licenses. This could lead to a national boat registry for use by law enforcement agencies.

7.  The U.S. should enhance international cooperation and intelligence sharing with “our foreign counterparts,” especially Mexico, Canada, and countries of the Caribbean because these nations are the most likely departure points for a small vessel terrorist attack from overseas.

8.  More fusion centers! The report explains that conference participants felt that additional fusion centers would enable stakeholders to better share, analyze, and disseminate intelligence to with the USCG, CPB, U.S. Navy, the Harbor Master and state and local law enforcement agencies.

9.  Permanent Employment of the DNDO Act: Conference participants believe that federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement agencies should be “provided with nuclear detection devices so they can detect radioactive signatures on small vessel and in cargo.” The rest of this language is worth reprinting:

The cost of such equipment requires federal guidance and oversight. In addition, the federal government should develop RAD/NUC detection devices with a stand-off capability in order to provide detection without directly impacting small vessel operators. The federal government should also consider placing nuclear detection devices on commercial vessels in a partnership to increase the chance of detecting a nuclear device or nuclear material before it reaches a major U.S. port or population center. Lastly, the federal government needs to strengthen counter-proliferation initiatives with our foreign counterparts to prevent shipments of WMD, their delivery systems, or related materials from reaching the U.S. maritime domain.

January 17, 2008

Transition Report and Borders Study Released from DHS Advisory Council

Filed under: Border Security,Organizational Issues — by Jonah Czerwinski on January 17, 2008

This week, the Administration Transition Task Force reported out to Secretary Chertoff and the overall Homeland Security Advisory Council on its recommendations for how the Department leadership can prepare for and manage the first transition for DHS.  Its a rather skeletal report at 9 pages (the remaining 18 pages are appendixes), but it represents the beginning of a very worthwhile process of managing what will surely be a challenging transition. 

 Many people, even the Secretary, are advocating for a depoliticized transition that focuses on the mission.  This report speaks to that with some detail.  Other efforts to manage the HLS transition are underway at the DNDO, the HSC, and even by contractors of DHS (namely the Council on Excellence in Government).


The “Secure Borders Open Doors Advisory Council” — more easily referred to as the SBODAC — also reported out.  This report can be downloaded here. 

UPDATE: Thanks to reader William Cumming for identifying the related story in today’s Washington Post.  Stephen Barr interviews acting Deputy DHS Secretary Paul Schneider about how the Department is gearing up for the transition.  Check out William’s comment on this post for more.

Next Page »