Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 11, 2014

What the President said about evil and counterterrorism

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 11, 2014

Thirteen years ago this morning nineteen young men carried out a horrific attack on the United States.

The 911 Commission wrote it “was a day of unprecedented shock and suffering.”

Our shock might have been less if we had given greater collective attention to a range of precursor events, including the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings,  the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the Bojinka plots of the early 1990s.

If — most of us would say, when — we are attacked again we may suffer as much, but it will not be a shock.

Last evening the President of the United States spoke to us for a bit more than thirteen minutes.  He explained that we will, once again, take action in Iraq — and this time in Syria too — to preempt another attack here at home.

Here are two aspects of the President’s message worth highlighting, especially for those with a particular interest in homeland security.  Each serve to frame the President’s strategic understanding — accurate or not — regarding the threat at hand.  Last night the President said,

… we continue to face a terrorist threat.  We can’t erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm.  That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today.  And that’s why we must remain vigilant as threats emerge.  At this moment, the greatest threats come from the Middle East and North Africa, where radical groups exploit grievances for their own gain.  And one of those groups is ISIL — which calls itself the “Islamic State.”

Please notice the problem originates with evil in the world.  The problem is set-in-motion by small groups (plural) of killers. The problem is amplified by the ability of these small groups to manipulate unjust situations for their evil purposes.

Yesterday I heard John Brennan, the CIA director, call ISIL “evil incarnate.”  The President also said, “ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple.  And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.”

Our current problem-focus is only one of many such groups.  We ought expect that whatever our success in this case, there will be future cases requiring our response.

The President outlined a multilateral, collaborative, and regionally-oriented approach that involves both US leadership and considerable, even preconditional, US restraint.  All of this is worth further analysis.  I will let foreign policy and national security bloggers, reporters and pundits do most of this.

For our purposes the second aspect worth particular attention is when the President said, “Our objective is clear:  We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.”

He might have offered the same operational descriptions without applying the label.  The label is important.

To really hear last night’s meaning, we need to study the speech given at West Point on May 28.  In those more extended remarks the President said,

For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America at home and abroad remains terrorism. But a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable.  I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy — drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan — to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold.

And the need for a new strategy reflects the fact that today’s principal threat no longer comes from a centralized al Qaeda leadership.  Instead, it comes from decentralized al Qaeda affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused in countries where they operate.  And this lessens the possibility of large-scale 9/11-style attacks against the homeland, but it heightens the danger of U.S. personnel overseas being attacked, as we saw in Benghazi.  It heightens the danger to less defensible targets, as we saw in a shopping mall in Nairobi.

So we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat — one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin, or stir up local resentments.  We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us… Our actions should meet a simple test: We must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield.

What we are hearing and beginning to see is the most dramatic execution yet of this “comprehensive and sustained” CT strategy. It has already been unfolding in Yemen, Somalia, Mali and elsewhere.  I perceive it has important — and to date, not much discussed — domestic corollaries.

Evil persists.  Small groups caught up in evil can do great harm.  Terrorist potential is amplified by authentic injustice, oppression, and grievance.  We ought take care that our response does not gratuitously inflame this potential.  But we are called to act, as best we can, against sources of evil.

If this is true in Raqqa, is it true in Rockford?  If it is true in Mosul, is it true in Memphis?

In another post — or more than one — it is worth thinking together about the accuracy of this worldview. Is it helpful?  Is it skillful?  But this is what I have heard.  What about you?

March 26, 2014

Dirty bombs a left/right issue: left or right of boom

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on March 26, 2014

One of the headlines to emerge from the recently concluded Nuclear Security Summit concerned dirty, not nuclear, bomb material:

Twenty-three nations participating in the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands this week said they intend to comply with international guidelines regarding the security of so-called “dirty bomb” material.

The parties to the multilateral statement — including the United States and countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East — pledged to secure all their most dangerous “Category I” radiological sources under guidelines set out by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency. Specifically, they vowed to follow the IAEA “Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources.”

Radiological sources are those that, if paired with conventional explosives, could form a “dirty bomb” that disperses radioactive contamination over an area, but which cannot produce a nuclear detonation akin to an atomic bomb.

Matt Bunn, already referenced once today, isn’t accepting all this apparent progress on face value:

Bunn, however, criticized the transportation gift basket, which does not require the participating countries to utilize any specific security measures. He told Global Security Newswire that the transport-security pledge “is as weak as dishwater,” and he took exception to its suggestion that “the security record of civilian transport of nuclear materials has been excellent” historically.

“Essentially what it means is just that the shipments have not been seized by terrorists so far,” Bunn said. “It used to be legal to send plutonium by regular mail, and the industry complained loudly when the [U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission] started requiring any armed guards at all.”

Yet what he or other critics of the agreement failed to mention is that it is entirely focused on what is referred to as “left of boom.”  These are the prevention, occasionally encompassing preparedness, measures focused on preventing a dirty bomb attack in the first place.

Nuclear terrorism is a left of boom problem.  The part of a nuclear attack terrorists cannot achieve themselves is making the required fissile material.  While a large amount of nuclear weapons-usable fissile material exists (the vast majority in the U.S. and Russia), it is a finite amount that can conceivably be locked down or eliminated.

If a nuclear explosion goes off, you and everyone else in the world will know.  If an attempted attack “fizzles,” it will still result in government action that will make the 9/11 reaction seem tame.  Preparing to respond to a nuclear detonation is important, but once it goes off officials are basically relegated to cleaning up.

A dirty bomb is mostly a “right of boom” issue.  It is incredibly helpful to reduce the access to the potentially worst dirty bomb ingredients, such as cesium, by eliminating or drastically reducing their use in medicine and industry, as well as increasing transportation security standards.

However, unlike a nuclear explosion, the bar to detonating a dirty bomb is extremely low.  Simply add any radioactive material, which exists in countless forms for countless uses in countless fields, to an explosive device and voila!…Wolf Blitzer will be interviewing former administration officials about how this dirty bomb could have happened.  Didn’t we agree to get rid of this stuff at the last nuclear security summit?!?

I jest.  To a point. It is important to secure or eliminate the most dangerous radiological sources.  However, unlike with nuclear terrorism, it will not be possible to accomplish this for ALL radioactive substances.  And the the end product of any dirty bomb is panic and fear of lingering radiation that results in economic damage.  Basically an own goal or touchback if officials and the media emphasize the presence of ANY radiation following an attack, regardless if it included cesium or another isotope considered dangerous (for which these new suggested regulations are attempting to increase the security) or something just barely radioactive that can be measured by local officials on their Geiger counters – if they aren’t simply registering the already existing background radiation.

So what to do?  Concentrate on preparedness, response, and especially recovery.

  • Don’t focus public messages on prevention, but instead on preparedness. 
  • Emphasize the low risk nature of the threat; point out the lack of radiation injuries resulting from Three Mile Island and Fukushima.
  • Prepare succinct talking points for officials in case of a dirty bomb attack.
  • Officials should become comfortable downplaying the fear of radiation.  This should also be instilled in first responders.
  • First responders should have clear, exercised plans for dealing with any radiation-related incident.
  • Federal officials should transfer money from expensive efforts at prevention to developing new technologies for cleaning up.

The only people likely to die in any dirty bomb attack are those injured by the explosion.  The worst damage is caused by a fear of radiation.  The ability to decontaminate an urban area will deter potential dirty bombers in the future.

As long as the experts, currently in and out of government, do not go on cable news to expound on the over-hyped danger of dirty bombs.

April 24, 2012

Cybersecurity Awareness and Capacity Building: Some learning objectives

Filed under: Cybersecurity,Education — by Christopher Bellavita on April 24, 2012

Sunday and Monday’s Homeland Security Watch posts reminded me how little I know about cyber fill-in-the-blank issues.  I know more than I did a year ago. But every time I hear or read something from someone who actually understand cyber issues, what I believe I know becomes a much smaller fraction of what I think I could know.

This week’s posts also reminded my of a “cyber awareness” course syllabus a friend sent to me last June when I was trying to make sense of the cyber domain.  The best I can figure out, the 20 page syllabus came from someone named “Paul Herman” at Florida State University.  I have not been able to verify that.

I bring this up for two reasons.

First, this is cyber week on homeland security watch, and I agreed to write something about cyber, severely underestimating how much time it would take to write something coherent about Susan Brenner’s 2009 reminder that “Article I § 8 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the “Power To . . . grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal,” and how we might want to consider using that Constitutional authority to encourage “cyber-privateers to deal with cybercriminals.” (See also this related entry on the Morgan Doctrine blog; [and thanks for the idea, KS].)

Second, when I first saw “Paul Herman’s course syllabus” I remember being impressed with how much territory it covered, and how it actually included “learning objectives.”

The syllabus helped me map my own preliminary cyber learning agenda.  I pass a very small portion of it (topics and learning objectives) along today, with the hope it might help someone develop his or her own agenda for learning about (or maybe teaching) this still emerging homeland security issue.

Thank you, “Paul Herman,” whoever you are.

——————

Module 1: The Importance of Cyberspace

Much like globalization writ large, those states and societies that catch the cyberspace bus will tend to move forward, while those that miss it will tend to be left behind.

Learning Objectives:
When you complete this module you should be able to:
• Define Cyberspace and Cybersecurity
• Recognize the centrality of cyberspace to contemporary life
• Recognize the inherent vulnerabilities of utilizing cyberspace
• Differentiate the key sub-dimensions within the overall cybersecurity subject area

Module 2: Invasion of Personal Privacy

Increasingly, individuals’ confidential records and affiliations are stored or expressed on the Internet.

Learning Objectives:
• List the types of personal data that are increasingly connected to the Internet
• Comprehend the visibility of many personal behaviors on the Internet
• Conclude that this type of personal exposure entails risks to individuals

Module 3: Sexual Exploitation / Predation

The Internet lends itself to taking advantage of the physically and emotionally most vulnerable members of society.

Learning Objectives:
• Evaluate the impact on children of their forcible sexual depiction
• Evaluate the impact on women’s status in society
• Analyze the potential for predatory actors on the Internet to misrepresent themselves and lure other gullible participants into dangerous rendezvouses and relationships

Module 4: Disgruntled Insiders

Severe damage is arguably more likely to be done to your organization by persons who legitimately belong there than by external hackers.

Learning Objectives:
• Determine if unhappy employees in an organization are prone to stealing or destroying information assets as a type of revenge or justice seeking
• Determine if unhappy employees in a factory or supply chain are susceptible to being recruited to alter or degrade information and communication technology (ICT) products
• Assess the implications of the … WikiLeaks case

Module 5: Personal Financial Theft

The heist of digitized currency is probably the most prevalent cybercrime in the world.

Learning Objectives:
• Recognize the ease and frequency with which credit card numbers are stolen
• Recognize the susceptibility of financial data, including bank accounts, to being stolen
• Discover that stolen financial account data is sometimes sold to other criminals, or used to blackmail / extort victimized institutions.

Module 6: Corporate Espionage

Building competitive, innovative economies – aided by theft if need be – is probably more conducive to national security than is amassing armaments.

Learning Objectives:
• Estimate the magnitude of the value of stolen Intellectual Property (IP)
• Identify the different types of actors involved in stealing IP
• Explore the potential for commercial competitors to try to ruin one another’s reputation
• Assess the implications of a recent high-vis corporate penetration

Module 7: Violent Extremist Collaboration

Violent extremists bolster one another in cyberspace and exchange tricks of the trade.

Learning Objectives:
• Recognize how extremist groups and individuals can use cyberspace to incite violent impulses
• Recognize the availability of weapon and explosive device designs on the Internet
• Recognize group tactic sharing and operational attack planning on the Internet

Module 8: Critical Infrastructure Disruption

For ease of operation, many of the services citizens count on – utilities/energy, transportation, and financial markets – are increasingly accessible from the Internet.

Learning Objectives:
• List critical infrastructures
• Explain control systems, and illustrate their importance via the recent Stuxnet case
• Interrelate critical infrastructures and how failure in one might cascade

Module 9: National Security Espionage

In the U.S. case, Pentagon and State Department computer systems are probed thousands of times daily.

Learning Objectives:
• Recognize that the Internet provides nation-states and their intelligence agencies with vastly expanded capabilities to furtively acquire information.
• State some of the military and diplomatic advantages that would come from effective espionage.

Module 10: Information Operations / Cyber War

Cyber war is a force multiplier that developing nations will increasingly want to take account of.

Learning Objectives:
• Recognize that information operations can interfere with critical infrastructure, which is the logistical mechanism for mobilizing in a crisis
• Recognize that degraded targeting data make smart bombs dumb
• Observe that small nation-states are often the target of information operations during a confrontation (as illustrated by Estonia and Georgia opposite Russia in 2007 and 2008, respectively)

Module 11: Summary Patterns

This is a bigger problem than most people realize. Critical infrastructure is increasingly regulated in cyberspace, and such infrastructure is essential for an effective response to any emergency – natural or manmade.

Learning Objectives:
• Deduce or recall examples of how the aforementioned subdivisions of cyber security are nested or interrelated.
• Explain how cyber insecurity can have systemic – economic and/or political – effects
• Recognize that even developing states are not insulated from high-tech cyber concerns

Module 12: Technical Digression

…[It] must be realized that at bottom line, cyber security is heavily a function of computer science / network administration.

Learning Objectives:
• Describe how the leading types of malicious software (malware) work
• Describe the leading techniques exploiters use to trick Internet users.
• Identify several information technology (IT) best practices that aim to blunt computer exploitation

Module 13: A Policy Framework for Cyber Security

While governments alone cannot ensure cybersecurity, they can put in place a policy framework that facilitates it.

Learning Objectives:
• Articulate a case for states to formulate a national cyber strategy
• Explain the connection between legislated authorities and regulatory activities
• List key national cybersecurity institutions
• Identify sources of international / multilateral support

Module 14: A Culture of Cybersecurity

Societal features external to government IT programs contribute to a broad milieu of cyber safety.

Learning Objectives:
• Assess the adequacy of national science and technology (S&T) education
• Examine the adequacy of national business culture for fully incorporating cyber vulnerability into risk management formula
• Comprehend the need for civil society bodies to credential properly trained information security professionals

July 15, 2011

Text, subtext, and terrorism

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 15, 2011

The purpose of strategy — sez me — is to generate comparative advantage to deal with uncertainty.  The source of uncertainty — enemy, adversary, competitor, lover, child, weather, markets, or the innate complexity of the universe — is one influence on choosing a strategy.  But in many cases strategy is less about a specific source of uncertainty and much more a matter of capacity and opportunity.  We choose to do what we can do.

As of June 29 the United States has a new National Strategy for Counterterrorism.  This document replaces — or perhaps builds upon or clarifies or updates — the 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism.  There is considerable continuity.

The 2006 document states:

Today, the principal terrorist enemy confronting the United States is a transnational movement of extremist organizations, networks, and individuals – and their state and non-state supporters – which have in common that they exploit Islam and use terrorism for ideological ends. This transnational movement is not monolithic.  Although al-Qaida functions as the movement’s vanguard and remains, along with its affiliate groups and those inspired by them, the most dangerous present manifestation of the enemy, the movement is not controlled by any single individual, group, or state.  What unites the movement is a common vision, a common set of ideas about the nature and destiny of the world, and a common goal of ushering in totalitarian rule.  What unites the movement is the ideology of oppression, violence, and hate. Although its brutal tactics and mass murder of Muslims have undermined its appeal, al-Qa‘ida has had some success in rallying individuals and other militant groups to its cause. Where its ideology does resonate, the United States faces an evolving threat from groups and individuals that accept al-Qa‘ida’s agenda, whether through formal alliance, loose affiliation, or mere inspiration.

The new document states:

The preeminent security threat to the United States continues to be from al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates and adherents… In addition to plotting and carrying out specific attacks, al-Qa‘ida seeks to inspire a broader conflict against the United States and many of our allies and partners. To rally individuals and groups to its cause, al-Qa‘ida preys on local grievances and propagates a self-serving historical and political account. It draws on a distorted interpretation of Islam to justify the murder of Muslim and non-Muslim innocents. Countering this ideology—which has been rejected repeatedly and unequivocally by people of all faiths around the world—is an essential element of our strategy…  Adherence to al-Qa‘ida’s ideology may not require allegiance to al-Qa‘ida, the organization. Individuals who sympathize with or actively support al-Qa‘ida may be inspired to violence and can pose an ongoing threat, even if they have little or no formal contact with al-Qa‘ida.

There is a source of uncertainty, tension, and conflict that we call al-Qa’ida.  We also acknowledge important aspects of uncertainty beyond al-Qa’ida.  These relate to historical, ideological, economic, political and religious complexities that al-Qa’ida, its affiliates and adherents draw upon and can exploit.

Neither the 2006 strategy nor the new strategy give much detailed attention to these deeper sources of uncertainty.   This reflects, I perceive, both a lack of consensus as to the nature of the deeper uncertainties and a lack of confidence in the ability of the government of the United States to positively engage these profound complexities.

So we do what we can do — or hope we can do — including:

  • Protect the American People, Homeland, and American Interests,
  • Disrupt, Degrade, Dismantle, and Defeat al-Qa’ida and Its Affiliates and Adherents,
  • Prevent Terrorist Development, Acquisition, and Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction,
  • Eliminate Safehavens,
  • Build Enduring Counterterrorism Partnerships and Capabilities,
  • Degrade Links between al-Qa’ida and its Affiliates and Adherents, and
  • Deprive Terrorists of their Enabling Means.

Each of these bullets are subtitles within the new strategy and each receive a long paragraph’s explanation. These are ambitious, difficult, but practical and measurable goals.  Choices are made.  Priorities established.  These each and all strike me as reasonable.  Elsewhere in the document there is a shout-out to resilience in case these efforts fail.

In the midst of the prior seven is the following goal with its own long paragraph.

Counter al-Qa‘ida Ideology and Its Resonance and Diminish the Specific Drivers of Violence that al-Qa‘ida Exploits. This Strategy prioritizes U.S. and partner efforts to undercut al-Qa‘ida’s fabricated legitimization of violence and its efforts to spread its ideology. As we have seen in the Middle East and North Africa, al-Qa‘ida’s calls for perpetual violence to address longstanding grievances have met a devastating rebuke in the face of nonviolent mass movements that seek solutions through expanded individual rights. Along with the majority of people across all religious and cultural traditions, we aim for a world in which al-Qa‘ida is openly and widely rejected by all audiences as irrelevant to their aspirations and concerns, a world where al-Qa‘ida’s ideology does not shape perceptions of world and local events, inspire violence, or serve as a recruiting tool for the group or its adherents. Although achieving this objective is likely to require a concerted long-term effort, we must retain a focus on addressing the near-term challenge of preventing those individuals already on the brink from embracing al-Qa‘ida ideology and resorting to violence. We will work closely with local and global partners, inside and outside governments, to discredit al-Qa‘ida ideology and reduce its resonance. We will put forward a positive vision of engagement with foreign publics and support for universal rights that demonstrates that the United States aims to build while al-Qa‘ida would only destroy. We will apply focused foreign and development assistance abroad. At the same time, we will continue to assist, engage, and connect communities to increase their collective resilience abroad and at home. These efforts strengthen bulwarks against radicalization, recruitment, and mobilization to violence in the name of al-Qa‘ida and will focus in particular on those drivers that we know al-Qa‘ida exploits.

The intent of this paragraph is to move beyond treating symptoms and get to the heart of the problem.  With the possible exception of the sentence underlined (my underline), does this policy stance strike you as much more defensive than offensive?  Is this the sort of problem we mostly have to defend against and wait out?

Maybe the offense is being handled outside of CT per se. In explaining the new strategy John Brennan cautioned, “Our strategy recognizes that our counterterrorism efforts clearly benefit from—and at times depend on—broader foreign policy efforts, even as our CT strategy focuses more narrowly on preventing terrorist attacks against our interests, at home and abroad.”

Today Hillary Clinton begins an eleven-day round-the-world tour.  She will visit Turkey, Greece, India, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and China and engage in plenty of multilateral meetings along the way.  Writing in The Guardian Simon Tisdall offers, “But paradoxically, this diplomatic tour de force may unintentionally highlight the apparently inexorable decline of American power and influence.”

In this context, it is relevant that Public Diplomacy is on the GAO list of High Risks and Challenges.   This means, in my dictionary, its a tough and important job with a very uneven track record of success.

In the Department of State’s Congressional Budget Justification for Public Diplomacy we read:

The FY 2012 request includes a $6.2 million dollar investment for the creation of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communication (CSCC) which is tasked with leading a U. S. Government wide rapid guidance and communication effort to counter violent extremism.  As stated in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), the CSCC will coordinate, orient, and inform whole-of-government communications activities targeted against violent extremism to audiences abroad.  The QDDR also acknowledges that the Center will work closely with the Secretary‘s Coordinator for Counterterrorism or its proposed successor Bureau of Counterterrorism, as well as the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice‘s National Security Division, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies responsible for information programs related to counterterrorism.

Clearly the CSCC is only one small part of how we might put forward a “positive vision of engagement”.  But I will note the last time I heard, one predator drone cost $4.5 million.  The new reaper drones cost about $13 million each. Perhaps even in these tough times the CSCC might be worth an investment equivalent to two predators or even one reaper?  Apples and oranges some will complain.  Apple seeds and dragon’s teeth I am inclined to reply.

December 1, 2008

Obama to Name National Security Team

Filed under: General Homeland Security,International HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on December 1, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama is expected to name five members of his senior national security team today, representing a centrist set of leading experts. They are former SACEUR Jim Jones as national security adviser, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano for Secretary of Homeland Security, Sen. Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State, and Susan Rice as UN Ambassador. The President-elect also is expected to retain Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. See this post for more on Governor Napolitano as the likely DHS Secretary.

Of the nominees, I’ve only met General Jones, the former Marine four-star. When he was SACEUR and head of EUCOM, I was at NATO in 2006 as part of work for the Center for the Study of the Presidency. I was leading the staff work for a study that began in 2004. That project identified options for the U.S. to bolster its homeland security initiatives through engaging multilateral institutions like NATO. Dave Abshire, president of CSP, led our team, which included Max Angerholzer of the Lounsbery Foundation, Ambassador Gary Matthews of USIP, and former CSP Executive VP Jay Parker. General Jones talked with us for two hours.

While I expected only a cursory review of priority issues at NATO and a perfunctory acknowledgment of homeland security issues as being relevant to alliance workings, General Jones engaged us in a sweeping dialogue and provided a comprehensive explanation of trends and tensions across the Alliance that reached far beyond NATO’s immediate geography. He described the importance of reconciling EU-NATO interests and authorities, options for engaging Middle East nations and Mediterranean states, as well as the political forces behind several setbacks in pursuit of better global consensus post-9/11. This was clearly more than a unified combatant commander. He was already a national security advisor, just an under-employed one.

Apparently, both McCain and Obama sought Jones’ advice during the campaign. Jones hasn’t always agreed with candidate Obama. He chaired the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq in 2007 and said a deadline for troop withdrawal would be “against our national interest.” Of course, a lot has changed since then. Jones also served as president and CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy, which is part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Additional notes:
Gates will be able to get to work immediately as the first defense secretary held over by a new president since he will not have to undergo Senate confirmation.

Susan Rice, a specialist on Africa, advised Obama during the campaign and is a protégé of Madeleine Albright, President Clinton’s secretary of state.

Napolitano has won an early endorsement from…Senator McCain. Considered a moderate Democrat, McCain said last month about Napolitano “I hope she is quickly confirmed.”

May 22, 2008

International Security and Business Communities Take on Cyber Threat

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Jonah Czerwinski on May 22, 2008

Seven NATO nations signed documents last week formally establishing a Cooperative Cyber Defence (CCD) Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Talin, Estonia. The International Multilateral Partnership against Cyber-Terrorism (IMPACT) will convene at least 30 governments at its summit this week.

NATO’s new CoE will conduct research and training on cyber warfare and have a staff of 30, half of them from sponsoring countries Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Spain.

The agreement to form NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defence CoE comes a year after a major cyber attack on Estonian government and private sector institutions. NATO’s Defense Ministers called for the development of a NATO cyber defense policy at their October 2007. The policy was adopted earlier this year.

The policy includes a Cyber Defence Management Authority that will manage cyber defense across all NATO’s communication and information systems and could support individual allies in defending against cyber attacks in the event of an Article V (mutual defense) request.

On the other side of the world, a new public-private partnership will meet in Malaysia to bring together government leaders and industry to address global cyber security. The International Multilateral Partnership against Cyber-Terrorism (IMPACT) received about $30 million in funding from the government of Malaysia and is currently convening its multilateral summit with about 30 governments represented.

April 15, 2008

Panel Seeks to Integrate CT and Security Assistance, Sans DHS

Filed under: International HLS,Strategy — by Jonah Czerwinski on April 15, 2008

Readers may recall the February 28, 2008, post that described ways in which we could work with other countries to build their counter- and anti-terrorism capacity through existing multilateral mechanisms to gain better cooperation overseas. The Center for Strategic and International Studies yesterday rolled out their new report that delves into the same topic with a focus on how the State Department and Pentagon ought to be better integrated in executing security assistance programs. While interagency coordination is the goal, and the report makes significant gains in this direction, there no mention of the Department of Homeland Security and its overseas presence serving a role.

csis-report-1-2008.jpg

The explicit recommendation in the paper is to rebalance the roles of State and DOD in carrying out “preventative civilian foreign and development policy instruments.” In doing so, the authors of the report, Kathleen Hicks and Stephen Morrison, recommend a better engagement of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and international NGO’s. Congresswoman Susan Davis, Congressman Geoff Davis, former DOD CFO Dov Zakheim, and president and CEO of CARE USA Helene Gayle spoke on the panel that convened at the Capitol to introduce the paper’s findings.

The aspects of the report most relevant to this blog deal with counter terrorism capacity building. The report suggests that “joint strategic planning and coordination” ought to occur between State, DOD, and USAID. The report offers solid recommendations for accomplishing this, but includes no mention of the role of the federal agency most involved with civilian efforts to combat terrorism: the Department of Homeland Security. The panel expressed doubt that DHS could contribute much to the mission due to its own lack of organization. The moderator even questioned whether the topic has anything to do with the new report.

It is no surprise that DHS does not immediately come to mind when considering an international strategy. However, this one, focused on civilian capacity for combating terrorism with reduced role for DOD, is incomplete with out DHS. And while DHS may not yet be up to the task, let’s make it so. The February 28, 2008, post offers some specific options.

Much of the CSIS report focuses on critical details about how things work now and where the drivers of the problems actually exist. For example, it describes the potential of USAFRICOM, the use and misuse of CERP funds, and the lessons learned from Provincial Reconstruction Teams. It is clear that an interest remains in attempting to reassert the role of the State Department’s regional Assistant Secretaries in the context of powerful country ambassadors and unified combatant commanders (formerly CINCs). There is a call for joint regional planning entities to better integrate these roles.

cinc-state-report.jpgricpic.jpg

For more on this topic, see the 2001 report on Forward Strategic Empowerment: Synergies Between CINCs, the State Department, and Other Agencies. The report is the product of a taskforce led by former Army Chief of Staff Shy Meyer and former Undersecretary for Political Affairs Tom Pickering.

March 31, 2008

Int’l Security Summit Misses HLS Opportunity

Filed under: Events,International HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on March 31, 2008

As described on this blog before, the U.S. can better engage multilateral entities, such as NATO, ASEAN, and the EU, to work with important countries in pursuit of the shared interest in combating terrorism and protecting civilian populations.

In researching further details of what NATO has to offer, I decided to highlight here the Alliance’s Partnership Action Plan against Terrorism (PAP-T). The Partnership Action Plan against Terrorism deserves attention by this year’s NATO Summit, taking place this week in Hungary. The PAP-T involves nearly forty countries through NATO’s Partnership for Peace program and NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue. Participating countries agree on the level of their participation individually with NATO. PAP-T facilitates intelligence sharing and cooperation in areas such as border security, terrorism-related training and exercises, the development of capabilities for defense against terrorist attacks and for managing the consequences of attacks. The PAP-T takes a pragmatic approach and focuses on:

Consultations and information sharing

Operations and exercises

Assisting Partners’ efforts against terrorism

Targeting terrorist finances

Civil emergency planning

Cooperating with other international organizations

Science and environment

With the heads of State and Government from the 26 NATO nations, 24 Partners, and other representatives from international institutions meeting in Bucharest this week to discuss NATO enlargement and operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo as part of NATO’s biannual summit, the dearth of counterterrorism issues on the agenda is worth noting. Readers are encouraged to send in any comments with details about the Summit that actually do address this topic.

February 25, 2008

Forge a New Currency of Counterterrorism Cooperation Through NATO

Filed under: International HLS,Organizational Issues,Strategy — by Jonah Czerwinski on February 25, 2008

A post here earlier this week detailed a conference on homeland security taking place in the Middle East next month. I suggested the U.S. should be more proactive in engaging that region on such issues as protecting civilians as a means to bridging a perception gap about the threat of terrorism made worse by the Iraq war, among other things. That we have an attaché attending the conference in Abu Dhabi, whereas the British and Spanish are dispatching senior officials, represents an important missed opportunity.

Some readers – only half joking – thought we wouldn’t have much to say of value at the conference anyway. We have a lot to gain from sharing what we do know about protecting the homeland, especially with governments in that region. However, doing so would benefit greatly first by deploying multilateral mechanisms for engagement. NATO is ready for such a role.

NATO’s unique map of nearly sixty countries represents the only multilateral consultative environment in the world wherein the U.S retains a significant – albeit underutilized – political advantage. Creative U.S. leadership of NATO in the 21st century can foster a better consensus between the U.S. and the many other countries within that framework for how to combat the evolving threat posed by terrorism. This would include a targeted mix of security cooperation efforts, deeper dialogue on counterterrorism best practices, and capabilities training. Ultimately, such leadership would serve as the basis for greater cooperative efforts in crucial regions that serve U.S. security and foreign policy interests.

While the very purpose of NATO was questioned after the Cold War ended, many observers expected the post-9/11 security environment to offer the Alliance a lifeline, if not a renewed raison d’etre. Ultimately, uneven U.S. engagement of NATO in Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), combined with the deterioration of U.S.-European relations in the lead up to and conduct of the Iraq war, fed doubts about NATO’s relevance as the 21st-century security environment took shape. Without an engagement of NATO that redeploys the non-military legitimacy and outreach of the Alliance, the U.S. risks finding its cooperative security options unnecessarily limited when they are needed most.

The first seven years of the war against terrorism demonstrated the importance of developing trust and confidence with non-traditional allies, namely those in the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. U.S. national and homeland security interests would benefit from developing innovative security assistance relationships here as it would garner more confidence and trust among countries that, while not pro-American, have not assumed entrenched anti-American positions. NATO offers the potential to assist in developing capabilities for counterterrorism (defeating terrorists) and antiterrorism (protecting civilians) as the new currency of cooperation.

The current level of political engagement of NATO by the U.S. obliges Western policymakers to pursue a less unified – and suboptimal – approach to working with important countries in the Mediterranean and Middle East, which includes approximately fifteen countries within NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperative Initiative. The U.S. can focus resources that reinforce a relatively pro-American political environment without forcing nations of the region to choose between the U.S. and Europe or spurn regional allies by appearing overly pro-western if we engage them through such consultative mechanisms as the Med/D and ICI.

This initiative would enable the development of policy options to help pursue U.S. homeland security and counterterrorism interests while cultivating a more productive dialogue between the U.S. and critical countries in the Mediterranean and Middle East. This includes maximizing or augmenting current NATO programs such as the Program of Work on Defense Against Terrorism, NATO Security Through Science, and the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center. Each of these efforts contributes greatly to U.S. interests. Yet the U.S. has allowed or even led efforts to cut funding of some of these most essential programs.

Certain perennial challenges would complicate an effort by the U.S. to recalibrate engagement of NATO in this way. First, EU leadership remains reluctant to encourage members also belonging to NATO to support a more substantive NATO role in protecting civilians as well as troops. This “EU Bloc” in NATO can be formidable: France, Belgium, and Germany, among others, regularly obstruct efforts to broaden NATO’s non-military engagement. France routinely objects to – and almost as often succeeds in preventing – proposals at NATO to focus its existing capabilities on homeland security requirements.

This proposed initiative should identify ways for the U.S. to neutralize – or at least offset – unnecessary competition with the EU. One model might employ the NATO “Quad,” whereby political directors from Germany, France, UK, and the U.S. work together on an ad hoc basis to identify shared objectives and negotiate acceptable solutions on a wide range of security concerns through NATO. The tensions surrounding the Iraq war left the Quad to languish, but U.S. leadership to reinitiate this dialogue could generate useful progress.

A second problem is in Washington: Disunity between the U.S. Homeland Security Department’s objectives and the Departments of State and Defense further complicates the use of NATO for these purposes. After more than three years since its creation, DHS runs few, if any, coordinating efforts with State or Defense at the U.S. NATO mission.

Failure to change course from the currently constricted approach to NATO risks denuding this historic alliance that has served American interests for over fifty years, while severely limiting U.S. freedom to develop broader consensus in the war against terrorism, deeper cooperative engagement with the Middle East and Mediterranean region, and a more durable dialogue with the nearly sixty countries under NATO.

October 29, 2007

Secure Freight Initiative Recruits UK, Pakistan, Honduras

Filed under: International HLS,Port and Maritime Security,Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Jonah Czerwinski on October 29, 2007

Port terminals at the UK, Pakistan, and Honduras are the first of a batch of countries to sign up for DHS’s current phase of the Secure Freight Initiative (SFI). SFI screens US-bound maritime containers for nuclear or other radiological materials. It is unclear whether the agreements, protocols, equipment, and other requirements put in place to screen for nuclear threats will be put to use for other valuable security and trade purposes.

SFI is part of the DHS response to fulfilling the Security and Accountability For Every (SAFE) Port Act of 2006, which requires non-intrusive scanning for nuclear material on 100% of all maritime containers headed for the U.S. Data from these inspection systems informs the National Targeting Center in its assessment of what seems threatening enough to warrant added scrutiny. SFI almost entirely focuses on the nuclear threat. Jay Ahern, CBP Deputy Commissioner, said “…preventing a nuclear weapon or dirty bomb attack has to be one of our highest priorities. This initiative (SFI) advances a comprehensive strategy to secure the global supply chain and substantially limits the potential for terrorist threats,” said CBP Deputy Commissioner Jayson Ahern.

The “comprehensive strategy to secure the global supply chain” suggests much more than just detecting smuggled nuclear material. Subsequent phases of SFI may reveal a more robust – and much needed – program to view the global supply chain more strategically. The tools being developed and put in place for the nuclear threat, including bilateral and multilateral agreements, can provide significant leverage for bringing more security to the global trade flows. Illicit trafficking – not only of nuclear material – is always a threat in some way to some legitimate party. And the transparency that a program like SFI could generate promises the potential to do much more that detect loose nucs.

The kind of vulnerability these global flows confront carry with them a global concern for their resilience and protection, as well as their economic viability. Imagine if the Secure Freight Initiative and the Advanced Trade Data System were combined with the Proliferation Security Initiative. That would align many of the efforts and interests of DHS, DOD, DOE, State, and the Department of Commerce. It would also reflect a more “comprehensive” approach to a shared concern between the U.S. and her overseas partners – many of whom are reluctant partners – in securing global trade against both terrorism and general threats to economic efficiencies that these global flows attempt to maximize.

NOTE: Thank you for accommodating my absence while I was away. HLSWatch is back up and running.

June 11, 2007

Hearts, Minds, and the Homeland

Filed under: International HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on June 11, 2007

Ever wonder what happened to public diplomacy?  “Hearts” and “minds” clogged the talk shows’ airwaves and pundits pontificated about soft power until an Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy was finally appointed in July 2005.  I think they still hate us out there, but the closest Washington gets to public diplomacy nowadays is proclaiming the limits of a “military solution.” 

Changing hearts and minds starts with one thing: shared interests.  If we can identify that shared interest, then nothing should stop our diplomats and others from taking it and running with it as far as possible.  The problem these days is that shared interests are too often viewed as rare, and resident primarily among the willing coalitionists.  We are missing a great opportunity. 

The most widely shared interest among nations (albeit with a few exceptions) is the protection of their civilian populations.  That’s what homeland security is for.  The U.S. happens to be a late comer to this game, but we’ve dumped more treasure and energy into the antiterrorism pursuit that any other nation.  Today, we’ve made significant progress in a wide range of capabilities crucial to protecting against terrorism attacks on our civilian population.  We ought to do a better job of sharing those capabilities with others, especially reluctant partners facing the political turmoil and violence threatened by terrorism. 

I wrote about this in a paper for the Center for the Study of the Presidency in 2005.  In suggesting NATO is a sunk cost that could be engaged better by the U.S. to meet more relevant threats, my point was that the global pursuit of homeland security could help to combat the global discontent with the West, and the U.S. in particular.  NATO is an easier starting point for the U.S. because there we still have a significant amount of political influence with the governance structure in place to combine resources focused on mutual security.   Here’s an excerpt from that paper: 

NATO’s unique map of nearly sixty countries represents the only multilateral consultative environment in the world wherein the U.S retains a significant – albeit underutilized – political advantage.  Creative U.S. leadership of NATO in the 21st century can foster a better consensus between the U.S. and the many other countries within that framework for how to combat the evolving threat posed by terrorism.  This would include a targeted mix of security cooperation efforts and deeper dialogue on counterterrorism best practices.  Ultimately, such leadership must serve as the basis for greater cooperative efforts in crucial regions that serve U.S. security and foreign policy interests. 

The first five years of the war against terrorism demonstrated the importance of developing trust and confidence with non-traditional allies, namely those in the Mediterranean and Middle East.  U.S. national and homeland security interests would benefit from developing innovative security assistance relationships as it would garner more confidence and trust among countries in those regions that have not assumed entrenched anti-American positions.  NATO offers the potential to assist in developing capabilities for counterterrorism (defeating terrorists) and antiterrorism (protecting civilians) as the new currency of cooperation.

NATO already pioneers a set of targeted programs for this purpose, including the Program of Work on Defense Against Terrorism, the Mediterranean Dialogue, Security through Science, the NATO Counter-terrorism Technology Development Programme, and their partnerships through the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center. 

Other options exist for developing capabilities and a shared understanding of the threat posed by terrorism and other 21st century dangers.  The U.S. should take a leadership position by exporting the best practices, capabilities, and even technologies to countries susceptible to both the threat of terrorism and anti-western sentiment, which is not restricted to the Middle East. 

A promising recent example is a small scale partnership that led the Dominican Republic to develop its port and maritime trade infrastructure in ways that both secure the infrastructure and better facilitate vital trade.  The U.S. joined with the support of SOUTHCOM and the U.S. Coast Guard. 

The director of the International Harbor Security Program in the Atlantic said according to this release that “since 2004 Dominican Republic has utilized mechanisms and procedures in harbor security, and even managed to have the sanctions lifted, which had prevented the country’s ships to use U.S. ports freely.” 

Now the DR is being encouraged to share those practices, know-how, and basic return-on-investment rationale with neighboring countries.  It could be a sign of what’s come if the U.S. actively joins the effort on a broader scale.

December 7, 2006

Secure Freight Event – Transcript

Filed under: — by Christian Beckner on December 7, 2006

December 7, 2006

Remarks by THE SECRETARY of the DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY MICHAEL CHERTOFF, UNDER secretary OF ENERGY FOR NUCLEAR SECURITY, AMBASSADOR LINTON BROOKS AND UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR ARMS CONTROL AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ROBERT JOSEPH

Nebraska Avenue Complex
Washington, DC
1:05 P.M. EST

DEPUTY SECRETARY JACKSON: Good afternoon, welcome. Welcome to our guests, our distinguished guests from government and from industry. I’m Michael Jackson, the Deputy Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. I’d like to introduce our three guests in just a moment, but here’s our approach today. The Secretary and our colleagues from Energy and State will have brief opening comments, and then we’ll take questions. After a little bit of time, the Secretary will have to move to another engagement. I’ll stay here and help moderate any additional questioning, which will also give us an opportunity to hear from some of our industry colleagues as well, if you have questions for them.

So without further ado, let me start by introducing Ambassador Linton Brooks, who is our Under Secretary for Nuclear Security at the Department of Energy, and Under Secretary Bob Joseph, who heads Arms Control and International Security at the Department of State. And without any need of introduction, Secretary Michael Chertoff of DHS.

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: Thank you, Michael. Good afternoon, everybody. I’m delighted to welcome Ambassador Brooks and Under Secretary Joseph to this conference. I’m delighted to see the Ambassador of Pakistan. We have other representatives of the diplomatic community, as well as from the shipping community — terminal operators, shipping lines — all present as we announce the first step in our Secure Freight Initiative.

As we’ve discussed in the past, one of the most important priorities at the Department of Homeland Security is protecting Americans from a weapon of mass destruction. And there’s no weapon of mass destruction that is more formidable than a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb, radiological device. So it becomes critical to make sure that these kinds of devices and this kind of radioactive material does not make its way into the United States.

Since September 11th, our Department, the Department of Energy, the Department of State and other of our interagency partners have taken some very significant steps, in partnership with the private sector and with our allies overseas, to counter the danger of a weapon of mass destruction coming in through the threat vector of maritime commerce.

It’s been very important in this effort to have the cooperation and support of foreign governments, shipping companies, carriers and terminal operators. And again, I’m pleased that they have representatives here today.

Also very important has been our partnership with Congress, a bipartisan partnership. And I’m delighted to note that earlier this year, a bipartisan effort in Congress resulted in the passage of the Safe Port Act, which institutionalizes the work that we are undertaking to secure our ports and our cargo.

In particular, I want to thank members of the House and Senate Homeland Security committees and the Senate Commerce Committee for their leadership in this port security effort. I want to single out individually a number of people, specific members, such as Senators Collins and Lieberman from the Homeland Security Committee in the Senate; Congressmen King and Thompson from the House Homeland Security Committee; Senator Stevens and Inouye from the Senate Commerce Committee; and Representatives Dan Lungren and Jane Harman, who played pivotal roles in moving the Safe Port Act to a successful conclusion.

Now let me tell you what we’ve done, as part of a comprehensive program, because no one element of the program stands alone. It’s the combination of elements that give us real port security.

We’ve dramatically strengthened overseas inspections of cargo bound for the U.S. through our Container Security Initiative, which places our ability to inspect cargo overseas at the port of departure, rather than waiting for the cargo to enter the United States.

Our Container Security Initiative is now active in 50 ports overseas, accounting for over 80 percent of all cargo destined for the United States.

We’ve also increased our ability to assess cargo for risk and to resolve potential security threats through our National Targeting Center and through increasing the information we obtain.

Through the Department of Energy’s Megaports Initiative, we’ve partnered with foreign governments to enhance their capabilities to scan containers for special nuclear and other radioactive material. And here in the United States, we are working to deploy radiation portal monitors so that as we speak, roughly 80 percent of all containers coming into the United States is going through scanning devices for radiation. By the end of next year, we will be at virtually 100 percent.

A big part of our effort, of course, is working with the private sector. Through the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, and working with new global maritime security standards, we have elevated the standard of maritime security for the entire globe. And at the same time, we’ve remained faithful to our pledge to balance the need for security with the economic need to have a global and robust trade capability that makes a system in which we all get to prosper together. We do not want to destroy our ports in order to save them. What we want is security that protects our people and facilitates international commerce.

So against this background, today we are launching a new initiative, which we are calling Secure Freight, that will build upon all of these elements to increase the measures we have in place to protect against a weapon of mass destruction.

I first talked about a vision of this Secure Freight Initiative in July of 2005 when I gave a speech reviewing the survey that we had undertaken in the Department about all of our security measures.

At that time, I talked about the need to gather, fuse and analyze more complete information from the global supply chain so we could get a more specific capability to target cargo that is high risk.

As part of that, though, we need to have an automated system that scans as much as we possibly can for the kind of dangerous nuclear material that we all worry about. And to the extent we can get that scanning to take place overseas, even before the containers are loaded on the ships, we add additional measures of protection to those we are already putting into place at home.

And since, again, trade is international, this is the kind of overseas effort that can only be undertaken as a partnership. It is not the kind of effort that can be done unilaterally. And so today’s vision of going forward with Secure Freight is a testament to our ability and our commitment to work multilaterally with our partners all around the world — whether it be Pakistan or the United Kingdom or Central America or Singapore or Oman.

So, under phase one of Secure Freight, the U.S. government is delighted to say that we have reached agreement to place radiation portal monitors, radiography machines — which are basically big x-ray machines — and optical character readers in an initial set of six foreign ports.

Now let me translate that into plain English. What that means is we are going to build an automated system, and as part of that system, a container will enter into a lane of traffic. It will have its unique number scanned into a computer. It will go through a radiation detection monitor that will detect any emanations, radioactive emanations, from the container. It will then move through what is, in effect, a giant x-ray machine, which will look to see if there’s any shielding or any anomaly in the container that’s visible from scanning from outside. All of this will be integrated together to give the operator, a Customs and Border Protection official, a picture of whether there is a threat inside this container.

By having it automated, we can guarantee that 100 percent of the containers that run through that system will, in fact, be scanned for precisely the kind of material that we worry about.

Now, we’re going to begin with ports, such as Port Qasim in Pakistan, Puerto Cortes in Honduras, and Southampton in the United Kingdom, as well as the port of Salalah in Oman, Singapore, the Port of Singapore, and the Gamman Terminal in Port Busan in Korea. In these ports, and in the case of the first three, with respect to all the containers coming to the U.S., an integrated suite of exactly the kind of equipment I have explained — detection equipment, x-ray equipment and optical scanners — will scan containers that are destined to come to the United States, and we’re going to do that with respect to 100 percent of the containers destined for the U.S. in Pakistan, in Honduras and in Southampton, England. This will fulfill the requirements set out by Congress in the Safe Ports Act to scan 100 percent of cargo in three foreign ports.

But we’re going to do more than that. We’re going to go beyond the minimum. In Singapore, in the Republic of Korea, and in Oman, where we have three very large container ports, we are going to conduct limited deployments of this suite of equipment in some of the terminals.

In addition, we’re going to continue to work with the terminal operator in the Port of Hong Kong to follow their pilot program with respect to a similar system, and to refine that program to see how we can continue to advance along this pathway of doing integrated screening and scanning overseas.

Collectively, through these six ports that we are now beginning this Secure Freight operation in, over seven percent of all U.S.-bound shipments will be scanned overseas before they even come to the United States. And again, I want to reiterate, we are still on target to hit our 100 percent or virtual 100 percent goal in the United States by the end of next year.

Now, to get this job done, we’ve had to work very closely with our private sector partners and with our foreign governments, because the installation of the equipment and the operation of the equipment has to be done in partnership with host governments and in cooperation with shippers and terminal operators. And of course, in doing this, we’re going to be using some cutting-edge tools and integrated systems, as well as some proven technology already deployed in United States ports.

The way the systems works is this: The sensor and image data collected by the equipment I’ve described — the x-ray machines and the radioactive detection equipment, is going to be transmitted in virtual real-time to CBP inspectors — that’s Customs and Border Protection inspectors — located, in many instances, at the foreign port itself, and in every instance, at our national targeting center here in the United States. This data will be fused and analyzed under the supervision of our Customs and Border Protection officials so that we can assess whether there is anything in the container that is a threat, and, if so, identify that container as one that should be pulled out of the line and inspected more closely to resolve the question.

If the scanning systems indicate that there is a concern, the specific container, which we will have identified through the optical scanner, will be pulled from the line, and we will make sure an inspection is conducted before that container continues its travel to the United States.

Now, there’s one point I want to make 100 percent crystal clear: We will not outsource our security. Therefore, it is pivotal to this system that for every container, the determination about what is inspected and the decision that a particular question has been resolved will be made 100 percent by U.S. government officials — Customs and Border Protection officials — either on the scene locally or here at the National Targeting Center.

Of course, the actual inspection itself, physical inspection that takes place of course will have to be operated by the local police authorities who have the legal authority to do the inspection. But we will make sure that with people on the scene, and, in many cases, with streaming video that allows us to actually see the inspection, American customs officials satisfy themselves about the security of any container before that container is allowed to continue on course to the United States.

And let me be clear: If we are not satisfied that our security concerns have been met overseas, we will not allow that particular container to be loaded on a ship or to come into the United States of America.

This Secure Freight effort overseas is a significant step forward in a general strategy that will enable us to identify and protect against radiological or nuclear threats well in advance of the time they arrive at our shores. It will allow the host governments overseas greater visibility into potential dangerous shipments in their own ports, and it will help assure Americans that we are doing everything humanly possible, using cutting-edge tools, to keep dangerous materials outside the United States.

Ultimately, this system of partnership — government-to-government and public to private sector — will be a powerful template for a global system that will be stronger and more effective in harmonizing risk reduction for the international maritime trade community. This is a perfect example of an area in which global cooperation and international activity can raise security standards and trade efficiency around the globe. We want to be hospitable to world trade. We want to be very inhospitable to terrorism and to dangerous nuclear materials.

Now, because Secure Freight represents a true multi-agency partnership with the Department of Energy and the Department of State, as well as other government actors, this effort is going to be funded jointly, through a roughly $30 million amount of funding contributed by the Department of Homeland Security for radiography equipment, and another $30 million from the Department of Energy for radiation portal monitor installation. And I want to thank Secretary Bodman and Secretary Rice for their full partnership and enthusiasm for this major international security effort.

So now I’m going to turn to Ambassador Brooks to add a few words.

AMBASSADOR BROOKS: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. The Department of Energy is obviously honored to be part of this important step. Secretary Bodman has asked that I express his apologies. He has been called to a meeting with the President, and there are very few people who trump you, Mr. Secretary, but it turns out the President is one of them.

But he wanted to be here because we see this as so important to overall U.S. security. As Secretary Chertoff mentioned, we are providing $30 million to support the first phase of Secure Freight. And under this first phase, the United States will integrate data generated by detection equipment, along with images from the x-ray systems that you heard discussed. And it’s this integration that is the important new aspect here.

Now, this is the latest step in the continuing efforts under the President’s leadership to fight nuclear terrorism. The effort involves all aspects of the U.S. government. Under Secretary Joseph, who will follow me, has been personally involved in conceiving and bringing to fruition many of the overall international initiatives.

I come at this and my organization comes at this from a different perspective. I run the part of the Department of Energy National Security Administration that works national security issues, including nonproliferation and particularly keeping the most dangerous material in the world out of the hands of the most dangerous people in the world.

And so for more than a decade, we’ve focused starting initially at improving security. We’ve improved security at about 80 percent of the weapons and material sites in the Russian Federation, and then we moved from there to improve security at the land borders, and then under the Megaports approach, to improve security at ports. And that’s where we meet our partners from the Department of Homeland Security, first through the Container Security Initiative, and now through this new over-arching Secure Freight Initiative.

And we believe that this is a wonderful next step. It will take what we have done — both departments have done in the past — it will build on it to a new level by combining different detection technologies. You can circumvent anything, but you can’t circumvent everything. And that is the key to this integrated approach.

But while I’m very proud of the technology, because the technology lets us ensure automation and a hundred percent throughput, technology is not all the answer. The real answer is close cooperation — close cooperation with the governments represented in this room, close cooperation among agencies, close cooperation between the public and private sector. And we believe that this initiative will lead to strengthening the overall security of the global supply chain.

So we hope these first deployments will serve as a model. We’ve worked closely with the Department of Homeland Security putting this initiative together, drawing on our complimentary areas of expertise. And we believe that the initiative Secretary Chertoff has described to you will deepen and expand our partnership, but much more importantly will deepen and expand our security.

Thank you very much. And I’ll be followed by my colleague, Under Secretary Bob Joseph.

UNDER SECRETARY JOSEPH: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, Mr. Under Secretary, Mr. Ambassador, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of Dr. Rice, let me thank the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy for their leadership in making a reality of the Secure Freight Initiative. This is a very important step in the overall strategy that the President has put together to fight what is perhaps the preeminent threat that we face as a nation, and that is a terrorist with a nuclear weapon.

Let me also, of course, thank all of the foreign representatives who are here today for their participation, because as the Secretary said, this is a fight that we are in together. This is a threat to the entire international community. It’s not simply a threat to the United States. And, in fact, it is an international responsibility to take these types of steps to defend ourselves against the threat from nuclear terrorism.

In October, the United States and Russia co-hosted a meeting in Morocco with 11 other countries to put in motion a new initiative, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. At that inaugural meeting, we agreed on a statement of principles. And I would just point to three themes that were very prevalent in that meeting and in those principles, three themes that are reflected in the Secure Freight Initiative.

The first is, as I mentioned, this is an international fight. This is a fight that we must wage together. The consequences of one successful act — whether it be a terrorist with a nuclear weapon or a terrorist with a dirty bomb — are so profound that we must do everything we can to deter and defeat the threat.

Second, the importance of detection. Being able to detect the movement of fissile material or radioactive material is absolutely essential to our overall success. And here, again, the Secure Freight Initiative will add an important capability in our overall posture.

And finally, as the Secretary mentioned, the public-private partnership aspect of the Secure Freight Initiative is one that we have to, I think, use as a model in many other areas dealing with the overall posture for combating nuclear terrorism.

Again, thank you very much for your leadership, and we look forward to working with all of the countries here today and others in the future in this important adventure. Thank you.

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: And now we’ll be happy to take some questions. Pete.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you talked a little –

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: Nice tie, by the way.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. You talked about the timeline for the radiation portal monitors here by next year. What’s the timeline for devices like this at ports overseas, first of all for the limited deployment in Singapore, the ROK, and Oman, and then in the rest of the ports?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: I think the first two that we’re going to go operational in will be in Pakistan and in Honduras. Those are scheduled to go operational in February of ’07. That’s just in the matter of two to three months. I think in Southampton, we’re due in June or July of ’07. And then the others are scheduled during the course of ’07. As we bring these online and we actually see how they work in a true operational environment, that will give us additional insight into how we can continue to expand the program.

And I don’t want to leave you with the impression that we’re going to put our pencils down at this point. We’re continuing to work with other countries to see if we can expand the program. But we did want to get rolling because the actual operational experience is going to be very helpful as we adjust the program over the next year.

QUESTION: But is it — do you have a long-term goal to try to get this in at least the same 50 ports that have the CSI for example?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: I don’t think we’ve set a specific goal for a couple of reasons. First of all, the physical layout of each port is a big element in the challenge of this program. Some ports are physically laid out in a way that can accommodate this kind of machinery and allow the containers to move through the line. There may be some ports where that’s not physically possible.

So I can’t tell you that we have a fixed percentage. I don’t think it’s possible, for example, to reasonably say 100 percent. But if we could do 30 percent at some point, and then 70 percent here in the United States, that would still be a significant step forward.

QUESTION: The Democrats will now control Congress. The Democrats supported mandating 100 percent screening. It’s likely to come up again now that they’re in control. How would you feel if early next year they put a mandate on you that you have to have 100 percent screening? Are you ready to handle that?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: The question is really not are we ready to handle it. The question is, what do our foreign partners say. One can mandate that we have to have 100 percent of this deployed in foreign ports. It requires the agreement of the foreign country. It takes two to tango, and it takes two to enter into a bilateral international agreement.

Certainly, I share the aspiration of working cooperatively to get as much of this overseas as we can. But I have to be candid and say that if somebody says, well, you have to make it 100 percent and the foreign country doesn’t agree, that’s not a mandate that can be carried out. So this is one of those areas where you hear a lot of talk about international cooperation and respect for our foreign partners. And I think respect for our foreign partners indicates that we have to do this in a cooperative way.

But certainly I’d love to see us do this in as many ports as we can reach agreements in, and as we can practically do, given the real constraints of time and space — and without sacrificing our operational control.

QUESTION: So you would be opposed to a legislative mandate from Congress that would be within five years 100 percent globally?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: I think what I’d say is you’ve got to — it’s going to take foreign governments to agree to this. I don’t have any reason to believe that foreign governments will feel obliged by a U.S. law if they’re not otherwise inclined to work with us. So I certainly don’t want to have the United States appear to be bullies in the international arena, or saying to other countries, my way or the highway. I’d much rather get the support, as we’ve gotten in Congress for what we’re doing, continue to move forward. I’m more than happy to continue to report to Congress on our progress. I would certainly like to see as many countries as possible sign on to it. But again, it’s got to be cooperative. And we certainly can’t sacrifice our operational control over the process. I won’t do this — I won’t agree to do this with another country if the terms and the conditions the other country sets down, for example, compromise our ability to have the last word on security — because we’re not outsourcing our security.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you’re well aware of the controversy of when it was learned that Dubai Ports World was going to buy and operate some U.S. ports.

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: Yes, I remember a little bit about that.

QUESTION: Many people, including many elected officials, deemed that it was a security risk to have a foreign government and a foreign-owned company so intimately involved in something involving U.S. national security. What can you tell us about Dubai Ports World’s involvement in this initiative? What will they be doing? And you can hear the critics already — they’re going to say, here we go again. What is different about this?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: Well, let me start by saying that Congress has mandated by law that we do this. And I think that the act passed almost overwhelmingly. So Congress has overwhelmingly said, we want you to begin a program of doing scanning overseas. So anybody who disagrees with that is basically saying we should disregard Congress’s law.

Second, I want to be completely clear about the role that Dubai Ports World or any terminal operator is going to play in this. The total authority to decide go or no-go as to whether something is loaded rests with the U.S. government. The operational authority under which inspections will take place overseas will rest with the host government.

Obviously, we want the cooperation of the terminal operator. I believe Dubai Ports World operates the terminal in Southampton, England. And that’s a great example. It will be the British government and the British authorities that exercise their authority under this program in Southampton. And it will be pursuant to instructions and decisions that we make about what ought to be inspected or not. So I think, in short, this is — the entirety of the control over the authority rests with — or the decision-making rests with us. The authority exercised in the case of Dubai Ports World will be the British government, with whom we obviously have a very close relationship. And this is specifically pursuant to an overwhelmingly endorsed mandate from Congress to do this.

The bottom line is this: If you want to do security overseas, which everybody seems to want to do — they seem to want to have it overseas as the preferred method, you got to work with foreign governments and foreign companies because they own the ports. So I think we’re going to take the direction of Congress. We’re doing this in a way that I said rule one is we don’t outsource security. And I think it’s going to be another powerful layer in security that’s going to protect this country.

QUESTION: Can you just talk about — how accurate is this radiation detection equipment that we’re going to be installing? I thought we were not yet at the phase where we had the next generation of detection equipment that actually –

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: There is a next generation. The value of the next generation is that it’s much more precise. And what it does is it allows us to resolve innocuous or innocent readings much more easily. The current equipment tends to alert for more things that are really problematic, and so it makes it a little bit harder to resolve.

So the next generation of equipment will allow for greater efficiency and greater speed. But we have with the current equipment the ability to detect gamma and neutron emissions. When you add to that the x-ray equipment — and there’s a fancy word for it, which I can never pronounce, radiography — when you add the x-ray equipment, that will help us identify if, for example, they’re shielding because we’ll see a density or an anomaly in the container itself. And it’s the combination of these two systems which really dramatically enhances our ability to identify containers that we need to inspect.

At the end of the day, though, here’s the kicker: When in doubt, we pull it out. And then we open it up and we look at it. And this is basically a way of selecting among the millions of containers that are on the way to the U.S., those that require a closer look.

QUESTION: Quickly, is there any estimate of what percentage of what percentage of — what was the error rate?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: There’s not such a thing as an error rate. There are innocent hits. In other words, there are certain kinds of material that have natural radiation. And so, therefore, sometimes you get a container, you get a radioactive hit, and it’s an accurate hit, it turns out there’s an innocent explanation.

So one of the advantages of pairing it up with the x-ray is it will allow us to separate some of the wheat from the chaff. Also, when we have hits, we have analysts who can take some of the information back — it’s electronically transmitted back to the lab. And there are ways to read it that allow us to separate what we know is benign types of radiation from questionable radiation. And again, if there’s a doubt, you resolve it by opening it up.

So it’s not an error, the question is whether we’re hitting false positives.

QUESTION: If in doubt, pull it out; who then does the inspection?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: Inspection is done under the authority of the home country where the port is, with their police or customs authorities. We often have our own people on the scene. Sometimes if we don’t have our people there, we have vetted nationals of the country in question who are present during the opening, and in many cases they’ll have cameras, and they’ll actually stream video back to us at the National Targeting Center so we can see what happens. And again, I’m going to leave you — I’m going to drill this point home — in the end, the go, no-go decision rests with our guys sitting in a CBP office. And if they have any doubt about how this has been resolved, they’re going to say time out, it doesn’t come in.

QUESTION: What is the approximate cost for a full installation of one of these integrated series of devices? Who picks up the check for it, and what is the additional amount of time per container for going through the entire sweep?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: I think the Deputy may be able to answer the cost question a little bit more specifically. I’ve seen it operate. It doesn’t take — the whole point of this is it’s got to move pretty quickly, and when I went to Hong Kong they were able to drive the trucks through — reasonably, within a matter of a minute or so. It didn’t add a lot of additional time to take it through the process.

The operational issue which has made this so challenging has been precisely that — you don’t want to make every container a five-minute exercise, or that’s going to be the end of the whole port. So we’re confident that we can move the throughput in a way that’s quick enough that it’s not going to impede the ordinary flow. But that’s one of the challenges as we roll this out further, to make sure that the physical layout of the port is such that we can move the containers through without slowing them up.

Now, in terms of the cost per item, I don’t know whether — do you have a cost estimate?

DEPUTY SECRETARY JACKSON: When you’ve seen one port, you’ve seen one port. It will vary depending upon the port. We have looked at sort of a maximum of $10 million investment for the initial phase here, when you combine the Department of Energy’s investment and our investment, and then there’s an investment in the infrastructure to gather the data, multiplex it and send it back to the United States.

QUESTION: Ten million dollars per copy, or $10 million for all six?

DEPUTY SECRETARY JACKSON: No, $10 million for a port is the maximum end of what we’ve looked at investing. But, again, I’m going to tell you —

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: That’s why we’re going to have $60 million.

DEPUTY SECRETARY JACKSON: — that there’s a fair bit of variation, depending upon the circumstances, the number of lanes, et cetera. We’ll —

QUESTION: And the United States pays for it, in the foreign countries?

DEPUTY SECRETARY JACKSON: In phase one, we are paying for the equipment to be installed, for the gathering of the data, and the resolution of the alarm data to be sent to the appropriate local officials.

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: I do want to add, though, that the foreign government will have to pick up the tab for the personnel who do inspections or move — if we do identify something to be inspected, they’re going to have to put foreign customs personnel and police personnel and pay for them to work with us in doing the inspection. So there’s a foreign cost, or a cost borne by the foreign country, as well.

November 20, 2006

APEC meeting: homeland security on the agenda

Filed under: International HLS — by Christian Beckner on November 20, 2006

Homeland security-related issues figured prominently on the agenda of the APEC ministerial meeting in Vietnam last week, building on related work at these meetings over the past several years. The joint statement from the ministerial meeting contains a lengthy discussion of ongoing work on counter-terrorism, pandemic influenza, and emergency preparedness issues among APEC member nations. There are a number of interesting programs and activities mentioned in the document, such as the Asian Development Bank’s Regional Trade and Financial Security Initiative, APEC work on “Mitigating the Terrorist Threat to the APEC Food Supply”, and a Regional Movement Alert List (RMAL) pilot between the United States, Australia and New Zealand, described as “a world first in real time multilateral travel document data exchange.” There are also descriptions of a number of supply chain security initiatives – an issue of particular importance in the Asia-Pacific region.

It’s difficult to judge any one of these programs in isolation, but collectively, I think they serve an important and necessary purpose, building and strengthening the web of ties among nations and government agencies on homeland security issues, in a way that ultimately improves the security of all participating nations.

June 2, 2006

Blix Commission releases “Weapons of Terror” report

Filed under: Biosecurity,Investigation & Enforcement,Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Christian Beckner on June 2, 2006

The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission led by Hans Blix (not to be confused with the Silberman-Robb WMD Commission) released its final report yesterday, “Weapons of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Arms.” The release of the report was covered in stories by The Guardian, UPI, and the AP. From the latter story:

A study led by former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix called Thursday for outlawing nuclear weapons and reviving global cooperation on disarmament, including security guarantees to curb the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.

As long as any nuclear, chemical and biological arms remain in any country’s arsenal, “there is a high risk that they will one day be used by design or accident,” the two-year probe by the independent Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission concluded.

Despite the end of the Cold War, the stocks of such weapons remain “extraordinarily high” including 27,000 nuclear weapons, about 12,000 of them still actively deployed, the commission said.

The commission made 60 recommendations to free the world from nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

Other media commentary focused on comments by Blix criticizing the United States for its missile defense system and its general lack of leadership on counterproliferation.

Pages 154-55 of the report are the most relevant to homeland security, discussing the impact of efforts related to the “control of movement of goods”:

The difficulties of preventing proliferation-related activities hiding under the cover of legitimate commerce led the United States in May 2003 to launch the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which focuses on interdicting and seizing illicit shipments while in transit. By September 2003, the United States had assembled a coalition consisting of 10 additional states (Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom), which agreed to a Statement of Interdiction Principles. Since then, many additional countries have joined this initiative, including all members of the EU and the G8.

Described by one of its architects as an ‘activity’ rather than a ‘treaty-based bureaucracy’, the PSI has encouraged greater international cooperation in undertaking interdictions, including joint participation in a number of exercises organized in different regions. Its participants have stressed that the interdiction activities will be undertaken in a manner that is consistent with international law.

It is difficult, however, and perhaps somewhat premature to assess the value of the PSI, as little concrete information has so far been made available to the public about its application, beyond press releases about interdiction exercises and official claims that it has been a great success. Although the initiative has gained the support of a large number of states, it has also generated concerns among critics who prefer a more multilateral approach, tied more closely to the treaty regimes and the UN Security Council.

The launch of the PSI marks the first time that states and organizations have cooperated to improve the security of the full supply chain for goods in international trade. Efforts have also been made in recent years to control the movement of thousands of large shipping containers that travel through world commerce each day. Such efforts have led to new capacities and cooperation for outbound inspection (for export control enforcement), and inbound inspection (for threat reduction), and control of goods and individuals at borders. Technology is being sought to make this process as nonintrusive as possible. The World Customs Organization (WCO) is also working to secure and protect the international trade supply chain from being used for acts of terrorism or other criminal activity.

I’m glad that the report includes this finding; too often these “homeland security” concerns are ignored by the counter-proliferation community. I disagree with the concern about the fact that the PSI is not multilateral, but Blix is correct to demand more transparency into the PSI so that its performance can be publicly gauged. The report then makes the following recommendation in response to this finding:

All states should conduct audits of their export control enforcement agencies (customs, police, coast guard, border control and military) to ensure that they can carry out their tasks effectively. States should seek to establish a universal system of export controls providing harmonized standards, enhanced transparency and practical support for implementation. Members of the five export control regimes should promote a widening of their membership and improve implementation in view of current security challenges, without impeding legitimate trade and economic development.

That sounds like an appropriate long-term goal for export control and cargo security.

March 6, 2006

Conference examines transatlantic dimensions of homeland security

Filed under: International HLS — by Christian Beckner on March 6, 2006

The Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) hosted a conference last week on “International Aspects of Homeland Security.” The conference featured presentations by a number of members of Congress and academics on various dimensions of international cooperation within the broad scope of homeland security. The Center’s website is in the process of putting these presentations online at this link.

The Center also released a monograph in conjunction with the event, entitled “Transforming Homeland Security: U.S. and European Approaches”; the full-text PDF of the report is available at this link. The report provides a valuable overview of the challenges of transatlantic cooperation on homeland security, a set of recommendations addressed at tackling them, and a deeper dive in the book’s chapters on a number of key issues.

The introduction notes six top-level challenges associated with international (and in particular, US-European)cooperation on homeland security:

  1. Divergent perspectives on the definition of “homeland security”;
  2. Differences in the perception of terror-related risk;
  3. The viewpoint within the U.S. that homeland security is an issue of “war and peace”, and in Europe is an issue of “crime and justice”;
  4. Concern within Europe about American intentions when it “pushes borders out” as part of homeland security initiatives;
  5. Organizational incoherence and misalignment in both the United States and Europe;
  6. The spillover from other foreign policy issues such as the war in Iraq.

The introduction also includes a number of interesting recommendations that respond to these six challenges. For example, the report suggests the idea of shifting the definitional scope of homeland security to a broader notion of “societal security”:

The modern concept of “societal security” retains the core principle of total defense—the need for a comprehensive societal effort— while widening the notion to embrace a broader, all-hazards approach to risks and threats. Instead of mobilizing civil society to assist the military in the face of external attack, the military is now one element to be mobilized as part of an overall response to major societal disruptions, including—but not limited to—terrorism.

The report also suggests the need for more “networked” approaches to defeating terrorism:

But traditional alliance mechanisms or government-to-government relationships are inadequate to the challenge of globally networked terrorism. It will take a network to beat a network. A key premise of transformed homeland security is networked defense: traditional structures must be supplemented by an overlay of informal networks that offer a denser web of preventive efforts. Since most of the critical infrastructures that terrorists might want to destroy or disrupt are linked to global networks, it is vital to include citizens and companies in any new regime. This will require governments to define national security more in societal than statist terms and to move beyond traditional “public diplomacy” and “outreach” activities for NGOs toward more effective public-private networks….

Transformational homeland security will depend increasingly upon new forms of cooperation among state and non-state actors. In the international sphere, such efforts have been led almost entirely by institutions that are neither nation states, regional unions, multilateral organizations, or international organizations, but rather informal networks of law enforcement agencies, regulators, and the private sector. Such “international non-organizations” such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the Egmont group or the Lyon Group can make a difference by setting standards and attacking nodes of terrorist or criminal activity.

This networked approach and outlook needs to be inculcated into everything that the Department of Homeland Security does on an international basis; state-to-state meetings and accords have their role, but they are far from sufficient. This perhaps all sounds a bit theoretical, but I think it’s a critical success factor for the long-term effectiveness of the war on terror.

January 24, 2006

Steve Flynn: port security is a “house of cards”

Filed under: Port and Maritime Security — by Christian Beckner on January 24, 2006

Steve Flynn of the Council on Foreign Relations has a new article in the Far Eastern Economic Review that makes a strong argument on the need for governments around the world to do more to protect the port and cargo security domain from the threat of terror:

…the days when policy makers could take safe transportation for granted are long past. The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and subsequent attacks on Madrid and London show that transport systems have become favored targets for terrorist organizations. It is only a matter of time before terrorists breach the superficial security measures in place to protect the ports, ships and the millions of intermodal containers that link global producers to consumers.

Should that breach involve a weapon of mass destruction, the United States and other countries will likely raise the port security alert system to its highest level, while investigators sort out what happened and establish whether or not a follow-on attack is likely. In the interim, the flow of all inbound traffic will be slowed so that the entire intermodal container system will grind to a halt. In economic terms, the costs associated with managing the attack’s aftermath will substantially dwarf the actual destruction from the terrorist event itself.

Flynn discusses the various programs developed since 9/11 (many US-led) to improve port security: the Container Security Initiative, the National Targeting Center, C-TPAT, the ISPS code, the Department of Energy’s Megaports Initiative, et al. But he argues that these programs are insufficient, and do not adequately address the threats that we face:

Ostensibly, the flurry of U.S. government initiatives since 9/11 suggests substantial progress is being made in securing the global trade and transportation system. Unfortunately, all this activity should not be confused with real capability. For one thing, the approach has been piecemeal, with each agency pursuing its signature program with little regard for other initiatives. There are also vast disparities in the resources that the agencies have been allocated, ranging from an $800 million budget for the Department of Energy’s Megaport initiative to no additional funding for the Coast Guard to support its congressionally mandated compliance to the ISPS Code. Even more problematic are some of the questionable assumptions about the nature of the terrorist threat that underpin these programs.

In an effort to secure funding and public support, agency heads and the White House have oversold the contributions of these new initiatives. Against a backdrop of inflated and unrealistic expectations, the public is likely to be highly skeptical of official assurances in the aftermath of a terrorist attack involving the intermodal transportation system. Scrambling for fresh alternatives to reassure anxious and angry citizens, the White House and Congress are likely to impose Draconian inspection protocols that dramatically raise costs and disrupt crossborder trade flows.

Flynn then makes a persuasive case that the risk management approach pursued by the United States for cargo is inadequate given the lack of meaningful intelligence about cargo moving through the system, and argues that using C-TPAT certifications as a key input into the risk assessment process is dubious, given the voluntary nature of compliance, the possibility of an insider threat, and the fact that terrorists only have to be “successful” once.

He concludes the article with a set of recommendations:

  • New partnerships between the US, EU, and ASEAN to promote third-party audits of ISPS and World Customs Organization compliance.
  • The creation of a new multilateral auditing organization for cargo security.
  • The rapid adoption of ISO standards for container tracking and integrity monitoring.
  • Government endorsement of innovative container screening technology piloted in Hong Kong in the last two years.

Overall, a good piece (worth reading in full) from Flynn on an important issue that requires renewed attention and initiative on a global basis.