HOMELAND SECURITY: New Threats, New Strategies

September 15, 2011 at 11:54 pm Leave a comment

Napolitano Outlines Changes

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says her agency has been working on ways to deal with home-grown terrorists, many of whom are individuals radicalized by the Internet.

While al Qaeda-inspired groups outside the U.S. still pose a threat to the U.S. So-called lone wolf terrorists or lone wolf actors pose “a very difficult threat to detect” because they are not part of larger networks, Napolitano said.

CBP photo by Barry Bahler

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been “devising strategies for dealing with the growth of lone wolf actors,” Napolitano said, adding that homeland security also needs to be a shared responsibility of ordinary citizens as well as government – especially to thwart lone wold attacks.

Local citizens need to report unusual activities or things that don’t look right, she said, citing the New York City street vendor who reported a van with smoke coming out of it, preventing a bombing in Times Square. Another example was the street sweeper in Spokane, Washington who spotted an unusual package before a Martin Luther King Day parade and reported it. The package turned out to be a bomb that could have killed and injured many.

Napolitano spoke at a gathering sponsored by the Aspen Institute to launch its new Homeland Security Group. The think tank has gathered a panel of Washington heavyweights to discuss and advise government on ways to improve homeland security.

The group is co-chaired by Michael Chertoff, the second head of the Department of Homeland Security, and Jane Harman, a former California congresswoman. Other members of the group include: Richard Ben-Veniste, a former member of the 9/11 Commission; Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency and the CIA, Michael Leiter, until recently the director of the National Counterterrorism Center; and James Loy, who served as Coast Guard commandant, head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and deputy Homeland Security secretary in the Bush administration.

On other topics, Napolitano said disaster relief and recovery programs were the most likely to be hurt if Congress proceeds with major budget cuts to DHS funding. The agency’s 2011 budget was $40.3 billion.

“The fight we’re in now is to get the money for the disaster relief fund. We do not have enough money, given all the number of [natural] disasters we’ve had this year, to finish out the fiscal year,” Napolitano said.

On a positive note, she said the TSA will be able to eliminate several onerous airport checkpoint practices in the near future. “The overall goal is to be able to separate passengers who are low risk from passengers for whom we have little or no knowledge or, for a variety of reasons, [passengers] we might privately denominate as higher risks,” Napolitano said.

Under new policies Napolitano explained to a Senate committee hearing Sept. 13 children under the age of 12 won’t have to removed their shoes and will be exempt from most searches when they pass through airport security checkpoints. And when they are subject to secondary screening, they won’t be patted down the way adults are. Internet videos of TSA personnel searching crying children sparked widespread complaints about the agency’s security measures – especially among some conservatives, who termed it a form of child abuse.

Napolitano cautioned that random searches of passengers – including children or old people – will have to continue to prevent terrorists from gaming the system. “If you totally exempt a group, that group will be exploited as a terrorist weapon,” she said.

TSA is also testing a new trusted traveler system that could allow passengers who supply verifiable identification information to pass through security without removing their shoes – another widespread complaint of air travelers. The practice was put in place in 2002 after an al Qaeda agent tried to ignite explosives hidden in his shoes aboard a U.S.-bound flight from Europe.

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