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.

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Report: Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism

The bi-partisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism released a long-awaited report on December 4th about the current state of the WMD threat against the U.S..  The report received fairly wide coverage in both the main-stream press and on the Internet.  I’ve summarized information from a number of sources here; I haven’t read the full report yet myself, but I’ll update this post again after I’m finished reading it.

Summary:

The report:

  • States that the odds are greater than ever that the world will see an attack using a biological or nuclear weapon in the next five years.
  • Criticizes Bush administration domestic and foreign policy.
  • Offers wide-ranging recommendations on controlling biological agents and containing nuclear proliferation.
  • Offers recommendations for Congress to solve problems with oversight and funding.
  • Singles out Pakistan as the top security priority for the United States.

Recommendations:

Here are many of the key recommendations in the report:

  • Overall Terrorist Threat:
    • Work with Pakistan and other countries in the region to eliminate terrorist safe havens through military, economic and diplomatic means.
    • Secure nuclear and biological materials in Pakistan.
    • Counter and defeat extremist ideology.
  • Biological Terrorism:
    • Call an international conference of countries with major biotechnology industries to promote biosecurity.
    • Strengthen global disease surveillance networks.
    • Press for universal adherence to the Biological Weapons Convention.
  • Nuclear Terrorism
    • Constrain a nascent nuclear arms race in Asia.
    • Take steps to prevent Iran and North Korea from possessing uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing capabilities.
    • Set strong penalties for violators who withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
    • Strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency.
    • Employ further counter-proliferation efforts.
    • Work with Russia to secure its nuclear materials.
  • Presidential Oversight:
    • Create a new post in the White House to oversee government efforts to prevent a WMD attack.
  • Congressional Oversight:

    • Empower the Homeland Security panels in the House and Senate as the sole oversight committees for these issues (as opposed to the 16 House committees and 15 Senate committees that share jurisdiction on these issues now).
    • Create a new Intelligence Appropriations Subcommittee to fund both national and military intelligence.
      • From CQ Politics: Congress ignored similar recommendations from the original 9-11 commission, which issued its report in mid-2004.

Criticisms:

There has been some skepticism and criticism of the report, and a down-playing of the report conclusions, both by homeland security veterans and members of Congress.  Much of the criticism stems from the reports’ tone of urgency and lack of emphasis on explosives and other low-tech threats.  As mentioned in Homeland Security Watch, “There’s a noticeable demotion of chemical and high explosives in the WMD threat embraced by the report.”

Official Reactions:

Senate: In a hearing Thursday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee indicated a willingness to consider legislation to strengthen safety and security at private and federal laboratories that work with deadly biological pathogens.  Read here for more details on the committee hearing.

UPDATE 12/22: Chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, Joseph Lieberman (ID-CN) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME) announced plans to introduce legislation to tighten oversight of high containment laboratories around the country that could handle deadly biological pathogens.  Click here to view the press release.

Bush Administration: Despite the report’s criticisms of US policies, the White House welcomed what it said was proof of Bush’s strong security record.  “Under President Bush’s leadership, extensive progress has been made on securing the world’s weapons of mass destruction and protecting our citizens from a WMD attack,” White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

Obama Administration: There is some expectation that many of the reports’ recommendations will be accepted and implemented by the Obama administration.  As reported by CQ Politics: “Several of the commissioners have advised the Obama campaign or transition, and several recommendations square with Obama’s policy views. Among the panel members, Wendy Sherman is a national security “team leader” in Obama’s transition, and Richard Verma serves on his defense transition team.” The Boston Globe reported that President-elect Obama will probably implement the recommendation for creating a position of WMD anti-proliferation chief at the White House, citing three unnamed Obama advisers.

Overall Summary:

The report will probably influence homeland security policy and funding for the next 4 years.  Diplomatically and militarily, expect an increased focus on Pakistan.  In the U.S., expect greater focus and spending on defense against biological attacks, including new legislation and rules to prevent pathogens from falling into terrorist hands through labs.  Consider preparing plans and grant requests to improve detection of and response to biological attacks.  Expect an increase in R&D funding for technology to detect and identify biological threats and verify adherence to nuclear and biological non-proliferation agreements.

Links:

Additional articles and posts about the report:

Cyber caucus aims for consistent oversight of cyber related issues

From the Activity On the Hill column in the Infragard National Members Alliance Newsletter:

A Cyber Caucus was established by Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI 2nd) & Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX 10th) to pull together all of the various committees that have some type of oversight related to information security or technology. The goal is to make sure many of our legislators are aware of the issues and to enable consistent oversight of cyber related issues.

DOJ tweaking new rules on national security cases

The Justice Department, in a nod to concerns that Americans could be investigated in terrorism cases without evidence of wrongdoing, said Tuesday it will tweak still-tentative rules governing FBI national security cases before they are issued.

The Justice Department says the guidelines will merely streamline existing authorities used in criminal and national security investigations. But critics call them a broad expansion of FBI powers that could result in racial, ethnic or religious profiling without any evidence of a crime.

Not all of the planned changes were outlined during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, but Assistant Attorney General Elisebeth Cook said they would include limits on the length and kinds of investigative activities used in monitoring demonstrations and civil disorders.

The short hearing came as three Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee demanded “bare-minimum” civil rights protections for U.S. citizens and residents as the FBI expands its power to seek out potential terrorists.

Cybersecurity report & recommendations due in November

The Commission on Cyber Security for the 44th Presidency, recently gave a “sneak peak” of some of their recommendations to a House homeland security subcommittee.  DHS has rejected many of the recommendations offered during the hearings (see also this post by Robert D. Jamison, DHS Under Secretary National Protection & Programs – look down the page for the post on Sept 20).

[UPDATE: Members of the subcommittee take up the recommendations from the Commission and urge the U.S. to go on offensive in cyberwar]

[Update 10/16: Robert Jamison, DHS Undersecretary of the National Protection and Programs Directorate rebuts a GCN editorial on this subject]

The Commission is scheduled to release the final report and recommendations in November (1 year after it was formed).

See Also:

GAO Delivers Report Critical of DHS Information Sharing

The GAO delivered a report on DHS progress toward Homeland Security information sharing.  The report was mostly critical of DHS, though some industry observers say it was too critical, not giving DHS enough credit for what they’ve accomplished.

Congress Gets Report Card on Homeland Security Information Sharing

Testimony of Charles E. Allen before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment

Senate Committee questions progress of DHS nuclear programs

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee questions the progress and future of 2 DHS programs: Advanced Spectroscopic Portal monitors (ASP) and Cargo Automated Advanced Radiography System (CAARS).

Congress questions Homeland Security’s approach to nuclear detection

[Update: See also: GAO recommends more scrutiny of ASPs]