McCain and Obama differences on intelligence


John McCain and Barack Obama agree that the next president needs to shake up U.S. spy operations. That’s where the similarity ends.

Whoever wins Nov. 4, the next president must overhaul a $47.5 billion intelligence effort, spread through 16 agencies, that’s still struggling seven years after failing to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks and six years after wrongly concluding that Iraq had WMD.

The latest challenge involves revamping a 2004 law that was supposed to repair flaws exposed by 9/11 and Iraq, national security analysts say. The law established a new office led by a director of national intelligence, or DNI, to oversee the CIA and other intelligence operations. So far, the law has added a layer of bureaucracy without giving the director – currently former NSA Director Mike McConnell – enough authority over agencies’ budgets, national security analysts say.

“The DNI is still very much a work in progress, and a lot people are thinking it’s not working,” says Mark Lowenthal, former CIA assistant director for analysis and production. The next president must get it right, because U.S. spies face an array of threats besides terrorists and hostile countries like Iran and North Korea, advisers from both campaigns say.


Obama and McCain representatives on DHS and transition

From Government Security News:

Representatives of both presidential campaigns participated in an interesting seminar on the DHS transition program in Washington last Wednesday, hosted by Clark Kent Ervin, the director of the homeland security program at the nonprofit Aspen Institute and the former (and first) inspector general at DHS.

Rachana “Ruchi” Bhowmik, who covers the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for Senator Obama (a member of that panel) represented her boss at the seminar.

C. Stewart Verdery, Jr., a former assistant secretary of DHS for policy and planning and now a Washington lobbyist went out of his way to note that though he was sitting behind the microphone, he was not “formally” representing McCain’s campaign at the seminar.

National Guard likely to get stronger voice in next Presidential administration

The National Guard appears likely to get a stronger voice in policy making and decision making in the next Presidential administration, regardless of which candidate takes office.

Addressing the annual conference of the National Guard Association conference on consecutive days (September 21st and 22nd, respectively), John McCain and Joe Biden both called for a greater role for the National Guard.

Senator John McCain called for “a national leadership that respects and treats our adjutant generals as partners in national homeland security policy making, rather than impediments and intruders.”

Senator Joe Biden went further, noting that 52% of the returning veterans from Iraq are guardsmen and reservists, and advocating that with the National Guard carrying such a burden, the head of the National Guard deserves a seat at the table with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Likely candidates for the next Homeland Security Secretary

CQ Politics considers who the most likely Cabinet picks will be for both McCain and Obama.

The people cited as possible Secretary of Homeland Security are:

For McCain:

  • Frank Keating, CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers.
    • Experience: 2-term Governor of Oklahoma, head of Secret Service, head of Customs, head of INS, FBI agent, state and federal prosecutor.
  • Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts
    • Experience: Governor of Massachusetts, CEO of the Salt Lake City winter Olympics, CEO of Bain Capital, a private equity investment firm, 3rd ranked 2008 Republican Presidential hopeful.
  • Robert C. Bonner, Partner at law firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher
    • Experience: Head of customs, head of DEA, federal prosecutor, and federal judge.

For Obama:

  • James Lee Witt, CEO of his own consulting firm
    • Experience: FEMA director and reformer under Clinton
  • Raymond W. Kelly, New York City Police Commissioner
    • Experience: NYC Police Commissioner during first World Trade Center bombing, Undersecretary of Treasury for Enforcement, Head of Customs under Clinton, credited with making the NYPD counterterrorism division one of the best in the world.
  • Janet Napolitano, Governor of Arizona
    • Experience: Arizona chief federal prosecutor, Arizona Attorney General, led Arizona to develop first Homeland Security strategy of any state
    • Update 10/18: See also this article in the Phoenix Business Journal

For more qualifications and expected focus of each possible candidate, read the full article.

Clues on Homeland Security from the debate

From HSToday:

“In an important vote of confidence for the continuity of the homeland security enterprise, both presidential candidates committed themselves to bolstering that security during their debate Friday night.”

Presidential candidates answers about plans to combat bioterrorism

Excerpt from Nature magazine article: US election: Questioning the candidates:

Barack Obama accepted Nature’s invitation to answer 18 science-related questions in writing; John McCain’s campaign declined. Here are Obama’s answers to additional questions that did not appear in our print magazine. Wherever possible, Nature has noted what McCain has said at other times on these topics.

What would you do that would make America less vulnerable to bioterrorism in 2012 than it is today?

Obama: It’s time for a comprehensive effort to tackle bioterror. We know that the successful deployment of a biological weapon — whether it is sprayed into our cities or spread through our food supply — could kill tens of thousands of Americans and deal a crushing blow to our economy. Overseas, I will launch a Shared Security Partnership that invests $5 billion over 3 years to forge an international intelligence and law-enforcement infrastructure to take down terrorist networks. I will also strengthen US intelligence collection overseas to identify and interdict would-be bioterrorists before they strike and expand the US government’s bioforensics programme for tracking the source of any biological weapon. I will work with the international community to make any use of disease as a weapon declared a crime against humanity.

And to ensure our country is prepared should such an event occur, we must provide our public-health system with the surge capacity to confront a crisis and improve our ability to cope with infectious diseases. I will invest in new vaccines and technologies to detect attacks and to trace them to their origin, so that we can react in a timely fashion. I have pledged to invest $10 billion per year over the next 5 years in electronic health information systems to not only improve routine health care, but also ensure that these systems will give health officials the crucial information they need to deploy resources and save lives in an emergency. I will help hospitals form collaborative networks to deal with sudden surges in patients and will ensure that the United States has adequate supplies of medicines, vaccines and diagnostic tests and can get these vital products into the hands of those who need them.

We also have to expand local and state programmes to ensure that they have the resources to respond to these disasters. I will work to strengthen the federal government’s partnership with local and state governments on these issues by improving the mechanisms for clear communication, eliminating redundant programmes and building on the key strengths possessed by each level of government. I introduced legislation that would have provided funding for programmes in order to enhance emergency care systems throughout the country. I will build on America’s unparalleled talent and advantage in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields and the powerful insights into biological systems that are emerging to create new drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic tests and to manufacture these vital products much more quickly and efficiently than is now possible. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has failed to take full advantage of the Bioshield initiative. Because of the unpredictability of the mode of biological attack, I will stress the need for broad-gauged vaccines and drugs and for more agile and responsive drug development and production systems. This effort will strengthen the US biotech and pharmaceutical industry and create high-wage jobs.

McCain, in response to a ScienceDebate2008 question about a potential H5N1 avian influenza epidemic, outlined a four-part strategy to deal with pandemics or deliberate biological attacks; key aspects are preparedness, communication, surveillance/detection and response/containment. In terms of specifics, he called for more research into next-generation automated sensors to detect biological agents and real-time information sharing with first responders.