Former Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Clark Kent Ervin has emerged in recent months as one of the department’s leading critics, and one with some credibility.
He’s a self-described fiscal conservative, who came from Texas after serving as then Gov. George W. Bush’s assistant secretary of state and deputy attorney general.
Since the spring release of his book, “Open Target: Where America is Vulnerable to Attack,” he has made the rounds on television talk shows, think tank panel discussions and book signings.
His main points of contention are that the department is both under-funded, and less than the sum of its parts.
“Today, the Department of Homeland Security remains essentially a collection of variously dysfunctional components held together tenuously by little more than a common name, logo and mission statement,” he wrote in the book.
Ervin portrays himself as a crusader against fraud and waste, who had an adversarial relationship with former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge and the heads of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who failed to pass his nomination. He was eventually sworn in as a recess appointee, meaning his term expired at the conclusion of the 108th Congress.
When asked at a Brookings Institution forum if he had read Ervin’s book, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said, “No, I haven’t read it. Will I read it? I’ll have to see. It depends on what else I’ll have to read.
“In terms of under funding, I’ve never heard anybody say a department is over funded,” Chertoff said, responding to the book’s central contention. “The fact of the matter is there is not a limitless budget, and there are trade-offs that have to be made.”
“Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” is an expression heard often in Washington in recent months, usually in reference to plans to reorganize the Department of Homeland Security.
Plans to remove the Federal Emergency Management Agency from DHS have received most of the public’s attention, but a more contentious debate over the roles of two agencies, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is ongoing.
A DHS inspector general report said overlapping responsibilities have created a rivalry between the two agencies, and cooperation and information sharing is lagging. One possible solution is a merger.
The House subcommittee on management, integration, and oversight on homeland security called a hearing to discuss the matter, but right out of the gate, Chairman Mike Rodgers, R-Ala., said he was against the idea. Not surprisingly, Julie Myers, assistant secretary for ICE and Acting CBP Commissioner Deborah Spero also testified that they opposed a merger.
However, officials representing the agencies’ employees painted an even bleaker picture than the inspector general.
T.J. Bonner, president of the American Federation of Government Employees’ National Border Patrol Council, said, “It should have been clear from the outset that tasking two bureaus to enforce the same laws, with jurisdiction divided along meaningless geographic lines, would lead to massive breakdowns in communication, coordination and cooperation.”
Art Gordon, a Transportation Security Administration agent who serves as president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said a survey of 3,300 ICE officers, showed a disconnect between the agencies that resulted in “dual track investigations and duplication of effort, with little or no coordination.”
For example, CBP controls the treasury enforcement communications system, which stores information on ICE investigations. However, CBP does not enter what it is investigating into the database. So the two agencies may be working the same case without each other’s knowledge. The two agencies have completely separate chains of command, policies and procedures and management structures.
“It appears CBP is currently attempting to become self-sufficient in the investigative arena, eliminating any need to work with ICE criminal investigators,” Gordon said.
Within CBP, Bonner said merging agriculture, immigration and customs inspectors into one job for the “one face at the border” initiative was a mistake. These are each highly specialized fields, and as officers begin to retire, there will be a lack of expertise with those who remain. Furthermore, former Customs managers are running the show, alienating agriculture and immigration officers. He recommended deconstructing the agency and returning agriculture duties back to the Department of Agriculture.
Gordon recommended that task forces be established with members of the two agencies to foster cooperation. “The message from our members is simple and clear. Please fix these problems now,” he implored the lawmakers.
For the time being, it seems the deck chairs are staying put. Whether the ship is still sinking is another matter of debate.
The Transportation Security Agency is in the early stages of an effort to link the roughly 14,000 screening machines in airports throughout the nation.
The goal of the security technology integration program is to send data to a central location and create a more efficient system, TSA spokesperson Amy Kudwa told National Defense.
“There are several different data points we are looking to collect,” she said. The efficiency of officers, passenger and baggage flow, and machinery performance are all of interest. The increased knowledge will lead to better staffing models, she said.
If an X-ray machine, explosive trace portal or checked baggage-screening machine begins to wear down, a message can be sent through the network to a central location, and a technician would be dispatched.
“We would be able to manage a situation before we came to a hard stop,” Kudwa said.
Software upgrades will be sent through the network to save the expense of dispatching technicians to hundreds of airports, she added.
Three contracts have been awarded in the first phase of the program; all to the primary vendors of the screening machinery: Smiths Detection, GE Security and Rapiscan Systems. An award for the enterprise manager, which will be in charge of monitoring and transmitting data, is expected this summer, she said. The program has received a little under $2 million in funding so far, she said.
As the nation debates how far the National Security Agency can or should go in the realm of domestic eavesdropping, two noted professors have cautioned against giving the secretive organization too much credit.
Steven Bellovin, a computer science professor at Columbia University, says it is simply beyond the NSA’s ability to monitor every phone call and every Web download.
“You cannot possibly collect everything,” he told a gathering of military writers .
One Internet service provider, for example, has several nodes, each with the ability to handle 10 gigabits per second. The highest commercial off the shelf storage disks in the market can hold 300 gigabits. One disk would be filled within 15 minutes, he claimed.
“Even NSA can’t collect that much data,” he said. “Even if there was one spot where you could collect it all, they can’t possibly store it.” It would be prohibitively expensive even by government standards; in the hundreds of billions of dollars, he added.
It’s important to understand the difference between law enforcement surveillance versus intelligence surveillance, he said. Law enforcement is usually looking at individuals and involves court- issued warrants. Intelligence surveillance is more akin to a security sweep. They are looking for patterns.
“The best intelligence in the world can never give you proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. Signals can be faked, and modern encryption codes are difficult and expensive to crack. Terrorists also know in general how to avoid detection. Messages can be carried by hand, and routines changed, he added.
With data mining, the NSA can only look for patterns and anomalies that may provide a “hint” that something is going on. Proof positive that there is a terror plot in the works is for law enforcement to uncover, he said.
Matt Blaze, associate professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania, has worked as a consultant checking out the vulnerabilities of many of the wiretapping technologies used by law enforcement. Many of the programs have serious security flaws, he said.
One common technology in use by police to tap regular phone lines for the past 40 years can easily be tricked into logging calls that were never made. He even found a way to send a signal back to a police station that could shut off the tape recorder.
“Someone who understands how the system was designed can very straightforwardly set it to record different numbers than you are actually dialing,” Blaze said.
It was assumed after 9/11 that the private sector would spend its own money to beef up security to protect its assets against the threat of terrorist attacks.
That assumption was wrong, according to a Council on Foreign Relations report, “Neglected Defense: Mobilizing the Private Sector to Support Homeland Security.”
With industries such as health care, energy, food supply, transportation and telecommunications in private hands, the need is acute, but leadership and incentives from the U.S. government, particularly the Department of Homeland Security, have not been forthcoming, the report argued. Such industries are likely targets of terrorist attacks, it added.
“The White House and Congress wrongly presume that market mechanisms on their own will provide sufficient incentives to provide the necessary level of security in the absence of decisive federal leadership and involvement,” said the report’s authors, Stephen Flynn and Daniel Prieto.
The White House issued the “National Strategy for Homeland Security” in 2002, which stated that “sufficient incentives exist in the private marketplace to supply protection.”
That reasoning is deeply flawed and showed a lack of understanding about the diverse nature of the industries involved, the authors contended. “Private companies will pursue investments that make sense for their core businesses and offer greater returns that alternative investments,” they said. If a company chooses to make a security investment out of patriotic reasons, there is no guarantee it will be sustained, especially if competitors don’t follow suit.
DHS is still too disorganized, under funded and under staffed to lead the way. An adversarial relationship between the public and private sectors also forms a barrier to cooperation.
The report recommended that the government:
• Improve information sharing with the private sector and hold government officials accountable for implementing such plans;
• Establish tax incentives to promote investments in security in the highest risk industries and provide liability protection for those that do so;
• Fully integrate private sector players in exercises responding to catastrophic events.
“Closer collaboration between the federal government and the private sector to address the threat of terrorism will make the nation more secure,” the report said.