Event: House HS Hearing with Janet Napolitano

The House Committee on Homeland Security will be having a full committee hearing on Wednesday Feb 25, with DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano as a witness. I may have a chance to attend this hearing in person. If so, I’ll post a separate entry on it after the hearing.

Event:    House Homeland Security, Full Committee Hearing
Date:     Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Time:     10:00am
Location: 311 Canon House Office Building
Witness:  Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security
Register: Registration not needed, but you may want to arrive early to get a seat.
Advertisements

House passes law to improve sharing of threat information

From the Associated Press:

Legislation passed by the House Tuesday (H.R. 553) would require DHS to produce a declassified version of threat information for state and local first responders who don’t have the security clearance to view classified material.  The measure would also require portion marking, where certain classified parts of a document might be blacked out but the rest of the information would remain unclassified.

Steven Aftergood, a secrecy expert with the Federation of American Scientists, said the Harman bill sends an important message that classification should not be a barrier to keeping local officials informed about threats.  But he said the bill doesn’t cover the CIA or the Pentagon, the biggest sources of classified data. “This is not the systemic change that we need but it is an urgent part of the larger problem and I hope it will elevate classification reform in the administration agenda.”

The bill, which passed by a voice vote, passed the House in the last session of Congress but wasn’t taken up by the Senate.  The bill now goes to the Senate.  I’ll update this post as the bill status changes.

New bill calls for quarterly reports from DHS grant recipients

From Government Security News:

A bill that would require recipients of homeland security grants to file quarterly reports to Congress on precisely how they spent those funds has been filed by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and co-sponsored by five other congressmen.

The measure, H.R. 625, was introduced on Jan. 21 and referred to the House Homeland Security Committee. It is intended to provide greater transparency on how DHS grant monies are actually expended.

I’ll update this post when the status changes.

Napolitano sails through confirmation hearing

Updated 01/16 21:00 EST

Janet Napolitano completed her confirmation before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Thursday without any real challenges, garnering praise and vows of support from every member of the committee, including both Republican members.  Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) said that he will move to have Napolitano confirmed by the full Senate as soon as possible after President-elect Obama’s inauguration next week, and said that seating Napolitano was “as important as seating the secretary of defense to the security of our country.”

When asked what her top priorities for DHS are, Napolitano gave three:

  1. Create a unified vision and culture for the department.
    • Give the departments people and offices the sense that it’s a single agency rather than an agglomeration of organizations.
  2. Bring together the “best and brightest” personnel.
    • She also touched on DHS’ low morale, and said she wanted to create “real career paths” that will allow people to rise in the ranks.
  3. “Complete the work of the transition.”
    • Basically, complete the hand-offs, and get people up-to-speed and down to business quickly.

Some other areas emphasized during her testimony included interoperability, border security and immigration, and FEMA’s relationship with DHS.  She also said she was committed to ensuring that DHS communicate better with the public.

Regarding FEMA, both Lieberman and Susan Collins (R-ME), the ranking Republican member of the committee, urged Napolitano not to reorganize DHS and not to remove FEMA from DHS.  Napolitano hasn’t publicly taken a position on FEMA’s relationship wtih DHS, but she has reportedly been asking members of Congress for their views on it, and she pledged to actively study it.

Summary: She’ll get confirmed easily, possibly as early as January 21st.  She appears to have a good working relationship with the member of the committee, which may enable her to be more effective, at least as long as the honeymoon lasts.  Expect interoperability and border security to get increased focus and resources, and expect some changes in immigration enforcement.

DHS IG Report: DHS’ role in fusion centers

The DHS Office of Inspector General issued a report last week on “DHS’ Role in
State and Local Fusion Centers”.  The report was issued in response to a request from U.S. Representative Bennie G. Thompson, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

The report reviews successes and challenges in detail, and makes 7 recommendations.  The DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (DHS I&A) is the organization in DHS responsible for fusion centers, and the report states that I&A agreed with all 7 recommendations, and “has proposed plans and taken action that, once fully implemented, will reduce a number of the deficiencies…identified.”

Here’s a summary of the recommendations:

  1. Improve responses to Requests for Information, and identify designated points-of-contact between I&A and fusion centers for information needs.
  2. Expand training courses, including adding additional course locations (not just Washington D.C.), and exploring online training.
  3. Integrate all relevant I&A division roles and responsibilities into the fusion center program.
  4. Review and increase assignments of DHS staff to fusion centers.
  5. Develop measurable performance standards for the fusion center program, and justify continued costs.
  6. Improve interconnectivity among the multiple unclassified and classified information systems used to share and obtain information from fusion centers.
  7. Explore funding options and identify sufficient resources for the fusion center program.  This includes providing staff to the State and Local Program Office to oversee and manage the program.

Regardless of intent, whether or not any of these recommendations are implemented will ultimately come down to funding.  To this end, recommendations #4 (increase DHS staff assigned to fusion centers), #6 (improve interconnectivity among systems), and the 2nd half of #7 (providing staff to oversee and manage the program) are probably the least likely to be implemented in the near future.  But expect funds for some or all of these to be requested in the DHS FY2010 budget.

Executive order on lab biosecurity

President Bush issued an executive order last week establishing a working group to review biosecurity at U.S. labs and issue a report to the President within 180 days with “recommendations for any new legislation, regulations, guidance, or practices for security and personnel assurance” and “options for establishing oversight mechanisms.”  The order covers “federal and nonfederal facilities that conduct research on, manage clinical or environmental laboratory operations involving, or handle, store, or transport biological select agents and toxins.”

Insufficient biosecurity at U.S. labs was highlighted in the report from the Commission on the Prevention of  WMD Proliferation and Terrorism released last month.  In response to that report, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs indicated it may introduce legislation to strengthen lab security as well.

There is considerable overlap in purpose between the new working group and the Senate committee efforts, and the Commission has undoubtedly done some of the investigative work outlined in the executive order.  So the new working group may serve more as a platform to ensure executive branch agency cooperation and input into new legislation than as an actual investigative body.

DHS lessons learned from Mumbai attacks

DHS Under Secretary Charles Allen (DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis) testified last week before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, discussing both the lessons DHS learned from the November terrorist attacks in Mumbai, and the information sharing efforts of DHS with regard to the attacks.

Although committee testimony can sometimes be a bit dry, Allen’s testimony is relatively short and offers some insight into DHS policy direction, so you may want to read it.  Here are some highlights:

Prevention and Deterrence:

  • Previously disrupted plots (and previously identified targets) may resurface.
    • Reducing security protection leaves attackers an opening, no matter how much time has passed since the intial threat.
  • A determined and innovative adversary will make great efforts to find security vulnerabilities and exploit them.
    • Think like attackers to identify our weak points before they exploit them.
  • Security must be unpredictable for the adversary, but predictably responsive to those it is meant to protect.
  • Target knowledge was paramount to the effectiveness of the attack.
    • DHS is working on programs to help detect pre-attack surveillance.
  • “Low tech” attacks can achieve terrorist strategic goals-and can be dramatically enhanced by technology enablers.
    • Note: The attackers may have used wireless devices from hostages to monitor and interfere with the response against them.

Response and Recovery

  • Response to a similar terrorist attack in a major U.S. urban city would be complicated and difficult.
  • A unified command system is of paramount importance if governments are to respond to terrorist attacks quickly and effectively.
  • Public-private interactions are crucial and must be developed before an incident occurs.
  • Threat Information must be quickly and accurately conveyed to the public.
    • But he stressed DHS has procedures and practices to balance this with the need to ensure attackers can’t use the information to further their attack goals.
  • Training exercises that integrate lessons learned are critical.
    • Future national exercises will include Mumbai-style attacks.
  • We must protect the attack sites to collect intelligence and evidence to identify the perpetrators.
    • Proper evidence collection must be incorporated into training, planning, and response.

Note: Several reports were cited in the testimony, almost all marked For Official Use Only (FOUO), so they’re not available to link to.  If you would like access to any of these reports, I suggest you either contact your local fusion center or information sharing center, or contact I&A directly (they may point you to a regional organization that can properly vet you as having legitimate need to see the document).

Final Note: Controlling Wireless Information

Use of wireless devices by attackers is already being targeted from a technology standpoint (The NYPD expressed interest in jamming or intercepting wireless signals at the same hearings).  I expect this to become a hot topic, and I expect it to be addressed from an infrastructure & policy standpoint as well (giving responders some measure of control of private wireless infrastructure during an attack).  A combination of both would be necessary to deny attackers information they could use without interfering with the wireless information responders need, so watch for some policy debate on this issue.