The federal government has identified 15 homeland disaster scenarios for which it must prepare. They include everything from major earthquakes to terrorists using weapons of mass destruction,
But making lists does not equate to preparedness, according to Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland security and America’s security affairs.
The government must have plans at the ready so they can be executed effectively and rapidly in the event of an emergency, he said at a National Defense Industrial Association breakfast. Hurricane Katrina sparked detailed plans for the storm scenario, and the threat of a pandemic flu last year created a second, but so far, that is it.
“We have not planned in detail to the degree that we must for a response to the other 13 scenarios, most of which are … WMD in character,” McHale said.
Response plans for a hurricane on the scale of Katrina were not detailed until after it struck, he noted. And the storm, in his estimation, “was at the low end of catastrophic events.”
McHale sees his office at the Defense Department as a primary mover in an effort to coordinate his and other departments and agencies to come up with unified plans.
To meet that end, the Defense Department is currently writing a “draft strategic guidance statement” on each of the scenarios.
One of the elements of that planning will be the need to prepare for “multiple, near simultaneous, geographically dispersed events.” This would most likely be chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attacks, he said.
His office will “encourage and require all other [federal] departments to do the same,” McHale said. The plans will ultimately be coordinated under the Department of Homeland Security.
McHale said the Defense Department and others must move away from the “home and away” mentality for protecting the United States. This was partly why authority over affairs in North and South America was migrated to his office Oct. 1.
“We need to internationalize homeland defense,” he said. The key enabler will be coordination with allies who can provide “accurate, actionable intelligence on the approaching threat.”
In terms of identifying weapons of mass destruction before they reach U.S. borders, “I don’t think the primary solution will be technological in character,” he said.
Computer assisted intelligence that can detect anomalies in shipping containers could play key roles. However, robust information sharing will be the most effective means to thwart an attack, McHale said.
Tracking potential terrorists is a difficult proposition, even in the highly controlled environment of U.S. penitentiaries, according to a report on extreme ideologies among inmates.
“Out of the Shadows: Getting Ahead of Prisoner Radicalization” sparked a Senate hearing that asked, “Are terrorist cells forming in U.S. cell blocks?”
The report, produced by the George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute and the University of Virginia’s Critical Incident Analysis Group, argued that a lack of resources and understanding of the problem in the U.S. penal system means no one knows for certain whether there are festering beds of radicalism that could one day pose a threat to national security.
While racist and Christian extremist groups were mentioned in the report, and during the Government Affairs and Homeland Security Committee hearing, radical Islam was its main focus.
“While the federal prison system has made great strides in addressing the issue of religious radicalization and recruitment within prisons, our level of awareness and understanding is still quite limited, particularly at the level of state prisons, community corrections and local jails,” said the report’s co-author, Gregory Saathoff, executive director of the University of Virginia analysis group.
John Vanyur, assistant director of the correctional programs division at the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said his agency is committed to ensuring that prisoners under its charge are not radicalized or recruited for terrorist causes
However, of the nation’s 2 million prisoners, only 7 percent are in the federal prison system. There is no way to track radical prisoners when they are transferred between systems. Saathoff suggested an integrated computer network that could be used to track such inmates. State and local prisons also need the expertise to spot inflammatory literature and screen out religious leaders who may volunteer at such facilities and surreptitiously spread radicalism, he added. There is currently a shortage of qualified imams who can administer to Muslims inside prisons, so inmates may turn to radical forms of the religion, the report said.
The most famous case of a prisoner allegedly radicalized inside a U.S. prison is that of Kevin Lamar James, who was part of an inmate-founded group, the Assembly of Authentic Islam. A cell first formed inside New Folsom State Prison in California carried out 12 armed robberies in an effort to raise funds for attacks on U.S. military facilities, synagogues and an Israeli consulate.
Despite this case, and evidence of ongoing attempts to recruit prisoners for radical causes, Javed Ali, senior intelligence officer at the Department of Homeland Security’s office of intelligence and analysis, said such groups “while of concern and keen interest, do not yet present the level of operational threat that [is] seen in other parts of the world.”
Nevertheless, in light of “homegrown” terrorists who have carried out attacks in Madrid and London, the department has formed a team to investigate “how, why and where radicalized ideas and beliefs develop over time in the United States.”
The investigation carried out regional assessments in the California and New York/New Jersey areas first — and has moved on to examine “nodes” in the Midwest and Washington, D.C. area. The nodes can be any entity that individuals come into contact with during the radicalization process. They can include physical institutions, virtual online communities, charismatic individuals, written and recorded material or shared experiences, he said.
“Prisons, and the spread of various interpretations of Islamic extremist beliefs within them, in particular have emerged as a key issue of interest,” Ali said.
As is the case in many fields in the homeland security and defense industry, the nuclear material detection world has an acute shortage of research scientists.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office is taking a proactive approach by setting up the academic research program to encourage undergraduates and graduate students to pursue the relatively esoteric discipline.
The goal is to generate new ideas, while simultaneously developing the next generation of nuclear detection scientists.
“It’s very hard to hire people with nuclear experience,” said Joel Rynes, program manager at DNDO’s office of transformational research and development.
A workshop to discuss how the program should be implemented was held Sept. 22, and included members of academia and interested federal agencies. The program will seek to be multi-disciplinary by drawing in astrophysicists, nuclear engineers, members of the radiological medical instrumentation fields, as well as nuclear policy analysts.
“We want to have long term faculty involvement,” Rynes said.
The department may fund research projects that will help the office overcome some of its technological hurdles, while allowing students to write a thesis.
Members of the intelligence community have been using the popular Wikipedia software to create their own secure information sharing forums, according to a senior intelligence official.
Wikipedia is a popular Web site that allows users to create entries in a massive online encyclopedia. Participants can create, then add, edit or delete entries. The software has been adapted for use among intelligence agencies, with the notable difference that users have security clearances and are subject matter experts.
Richard Russell, deputy assistant director of national intelligence for information sharing and customer outreach at the office of the director of national intelligence, said it is the “exact same software.”
“Intellipedia,” as it is called, allows analysts to create a subject, then add their knowledge or documents to the “collaboration space,” he said at a conference sponsored by the Association for Enterprise Integration.
Intellipedia was created so “analysts in different agencies that work X or Y can go in and see what other people are doing on subject X or Y and actually add in their two cents worth ... or documents that they have,” Russell said.
“What we’re after here is decision superiority” not information superiority, he said. “We have to get inside the decision cycle of the enemy. We have to be able to discover what they’re doing and respond to it effectively.”
On a more open scale, the intelligence community recently collaborated with Health and Human Services to set up a “sensitive, but non-classified” avian flu portal that can be used by interested parties. Such forums are relatively easy to set up because 90 percent of the information on the subject is unclassified.
The National Guard stood up six teams this year to assist the defense industry in assessing its critical infrastructure needs.
The purpose is to seek out single points of failure that could shut down manufacturing in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack, said Lt. Col. Tom Leonard, chief of the mission assurance branch, J-3 future operations division at the National Guard Bureau.
The Guard is uniquely qualified for the job since its units are based in the communities they serve, he said.
“The [Defense Department], in my mind, has not been as quick to act on this topic as [it] should have been,” Leonard said at the Infragard conference. The National Guard created the program on its own and the teams are currently conducting pilot assessments. “We are probably a year ahead of the Department of Defense on this,” he added.
The joint requirements oversight council identified the need to carry out such risk assessments.
One example is the case of the Army base at Fort Polk, La., which lost power for three days in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita last year. The single point of failure was a substation two miles down the road that flooded.
“That was an eye opener… you’ve got to look outside the wire,” he said.
The six units are in New York, West Virginia, Georgia, Colorado, Minnesota and California. The program will have to meet the approval of the joint requirement validation board before it can be expanded to all 50 states and the territories, Leonard said.
Reports will be shared with the companies involved and the Defense Contract Management Agency. Local first responders will be briefed on the results so they can understand where these critical infrastructures are located, Leonard said.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to grow this program to help in the critical infrastructure arena,” Leonard said.
Reported by Stew Magnuson
Please email your comments to SMagnuson@ndia.org