Posts tagged ‘Homeland Security’
Mystery at Sea
A Beijing-bound Malaysian Airlines jet carrying 239 passengers and crew is missing, and aircraft and naval vessels from at least four nations have mounted a massive search in the South China Sea.
Normally, 4GWAR wouldn’t post on such an event but an issue has arisen that has piqued our interest – and concern.
Air traffic control lost contact with Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 about an hour after it departed Kuala Lumpur. There was no indication of trouble from the Boeing 777′s crew – no distress signal – and no reported weather issues, according to the Associated Press.
Lists of passengers were posted by airport officials in China and by the airline. There were a few discrepancies in passenger names but two people said to be on the plane have come forward to say they are elsewhere in the word and very much alive. In both cases, the person in question – one from Austria, the other from Italy – said their passports were stolen in Thailand, according to Reuters.
It could be a coincidence, that two people using stolen passports could have wound up on the same flight. Maybe they were fugitives or refugees from their home countries or criminals trying to elude police or smuggle drugs. But U.S. officials are investigating whether terrorist are somehow involved, according to NBC News.
We’ll keep our eye on this still-unfolding story and our fingers crossed that this incident is not the latest in a string of attacks and attempted attacks on international air travel.
It’s Not Over, Yet
The Department of Homeland Security is warning airlines about a possible shoe bombing threat from overseas. The warning was first reported by NBC News.
While there is no specific threat, DHS said Wednesday (February 19) that it was issuing a warning based on “very recent intelligence” considered credible that assailants would try to attack passenger jets using explosives hidden in shoes, according to the Voice of America.
VOA noted it was the second time in three months that the U.S. Government had issued a warning about possible attempts to smuggle explosives on a commercial jetliner.
But USA Today reported that the warning is not related to an earlier alert about threats to planes flying to Russia for the Winter Olympic Games. The warning, which involved possible explosives concealed in toothpaste tubes, led the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to ban all liquids and gels from the carry-on luggage of passengers bound for Russia from the United States.
TSA airport screeners have been checking air passengers’ shoes since late 2001 after an attempt by a British man to set off a bomb hidden in his shoe on an American Airlines Boeing 767 flight from Paris to Miami. Richard Reid, a self-proclaimed al Qaeda operative was subdued by passengers and cabin personnel when he failed to ignite the explosives packed into his shoes. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
A former CIA official and CBS security analyst says the latest warning causes him concern. Mike Morell, a former deputy CIA director told CBS This Morning that the fact terrorists appear to be using shoe bombs again is “worrisome” because it suggests “that they may have found a way around the screening that is currently done on shoes.”
Other security experts have said that al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups are still fixated on bombing aircraft. In addition to the Reid attempt, bombs were found secreted in air cargo in Europe and the Middle East in 2010; in a passenger’s underwear on a flight bound for Detroit in 2009. And in 2006, British officials broke up an alleged plot to blow up transatlantic airliners with liquid components to be smuggled on board the aircrfaft and combined into an explosive while the plane was in the air. That led TSA to ban all liquids and gels from passengers’ carry-on luggage and then loosen the ban to allow containers carry up to 3 ounces of liquids.
Helping First Responders
Robotic systems aren’t just for helping police pursue fleeing criminals or investigate suspicious packages.
From monitoring wildfires to patrolling busy harbors, industry, government and academia are exploring how unmanned vehicles can assist emergency responders on land, sea and air.
In addition to research at the University of Hawaii and Oklahoma State University, small companies in Florida and California to big ones in Massachusetts are modifying existing vehicles to aid search and rescue operations or creating new systems with sensors focused on looking for signs of trouble far from first responders.
To learn more about this re-purposing of technology first developed to assist the military, check out our article in the latest (February) issue of Unmanned Systems, the magazine of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (subscription required).
New Boss, New Threats
WASHINGTON – The new head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says foreign jihadists streaming into war-torn Syria and self-radicalized “lone wolf” terrorists in the United States have become a top concern for him.
DHS Secretary Jeh (PRONOUNCED Jay) Johnson said the department has become “very focused” on foreign fighters heading to Syria, where foreign Islamists have radicalized and complicated the three-year civil war with the Bashar al-Assad regime. The DHS concern is what these fighters will do when they return to their home countries or travel elsewhere, indoctrinated with a violent Islamist mission.
Johnson told a Washington think tank audience Friday (February 7) that Syria was a constant topic of discussion at a recent meeting he attended with European security officials in Poland. “Syria has become a matter of homeland security,” he told the Woodrow Wilson Center in his first major public address since taking charge of the nation’s third largest cabinet-level department in December.
He added that the terrorist threat “is increasingly decentralized” as al Qaeda’s leadership has been killed, captured or driven farther into hiding. But “the threat has evolved” has evolved into al Qaeda offshoots like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa’s al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Johnson, former Pentagon general counsel under Defense Secretaries Robert Gates ands Leon Panetta, said another major concern to U.S. security officials is the so-called “lone wolf,” a home-grown self-radicalized terrorist behind incidents like the Fort Hood shootings and the Boston Marathon bombing. “They may be the hardest to detect,” Johnson said of home grown terrorists, because they have little – if any – connection to international terror groups and may done nothing to drawn the attention of the FBI or local police. “It is the thing I worry about the most,” Johnson said.
UPDATES WITH: Attempted airline hijacking to Sochi; Update on DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson speech; and new last item on probe of possible terrorism attack on California power station
Threats Real and Imagined
One day before the official opening of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games on Sochi, Russia, concerns continue to rise over security in and around the Black Sea resort town.
ABC, CNN and other news outlets have reported that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a bulletin to airlines – particularly those coming to Southern Russia from Europe and Asia – to be aware that terrorists might hide bomb-making ingredients inside common toothpaste tubes.
DHS would only say publicly that it “regularly shares relevant information with domestic and international partners.” At a speaking engagement in Washington Friday (February 7) DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said the agency “within the last 48 hours,” issued advisories “based on an abundance of caution.” He did not detail the nature of the advisories.
The advice was believed aimed at foreign carriers. Thousands of police and military are posted in and around the Olympic venue creating what President Vladimir Putin has promised will be a “Ring of Steel” to protect athletes, officials and spectators.
Meanwhile, a man who claimed he had a bomb and wanted an Istanbul-bound airliner diverted to Sochi was subdued and arrested by Turkish authorities when the flight crew instead landed in Istanbul. The Pegasus Airlines flight from the Ukrainian city of Kharkov had 110 passengers. None were hurt, although the alleged hijacker — who did not have a bomb — may have been injured during his arrest, according to some reports. Here is how the Russian media played it.
Islamist militants in southern Russia’s turbulent Caucasus Region have threatened to attack the games and nerves were rattled by two suicide bombings in December at a train station and aboard a bus in nearby Volgograd that killed 34 people. Russia has battled Chechen separatists in the Caucasus since the days of the czars.
While Secretary of State John Kerry says his department isn’t telling Americans not to go to the 17-day (Feb. 7-23) event, but the State Department advises visitors to stay alert and be cautious. The U.S. Defense Department has sent two U.S. Navy ships to the Black Sea to assist with evacuation or communications in the event of a terrorist attack.
Meanwhile, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Counterterrorism (START) is out with a new report, according to the Homeland Security News Wire, that assesses the risk of terrorism at Sochi based on the patterns of past terrorism attacks in Russia since 1992 as well as the history of terrorism and the Olympics going back to 1970. START is based at the University of Maryland.
The report indicates “that there is no consistent increase or decrease in the frequency of terrorist attacks during the Olympics,” the report’s author, Erin Miller, said in the introduction. And that suggests “efforts to reinforce security are generally effective at mitigating any potential threats that may exist,” added Miller, who is program manager for the Global Terrorism Database.
Click on the photo to enlarge image to see location of Sochi, Ukraine and Istanbul on the Black Sea
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Jeh Johnson, DHS UPDATE
Speaking of Homeland Security, the new head of the department, Jeh Johnson, delivered his first major public address Friday (February 7) at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington think tank.
Johnson said the department has become “very focused” on foreign fighters from the U.S., Canada and Europe heading to Syria to fight in that battered country’s three-year-old civil war. DHS is concerned about what these fighters will do when they return to their home countries, after being indoctrinated with a violent Islamist mission.
The DHS Secretary said this new threat was a constant topic of discussion at a recent meeting he attended with British, French, German, Italian and Polish security officials in Krakow, Poland. “Syria has become a matter of homeland security,” he added. For a more detailed post, click here.
Johnson, former General Counsel at the Defense Department, was sworn in on December 23, as the fourth Secretary of Homeland Security – the third largest Cabinet department. His address will be followed by a short question and answer session with Wilson Center President Jane Harman on Johnson’s priorities for the Department.
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Terrorism or Vandalism?
There’s a bit of a controversy out in California where somebody shot out 17 giant power transformers that supply electricity to Silicon Valley last April. The event, which surfaced in articles by the Wall Street Journal and Foreign Policy magazine, lasted some 19 minutes starting at 1 a.m. April 16, 2013.
According to the Journal, power company officials had to divert power around the site to avoid a blackout and it took utility workers 27 days to make repairs and bring the station back on line. Foreign policy sais at least 100 rounds were fired from a high powered rifle.
At about the same time, someone also cut telephone cables at an AT&T underground unit.
The FBI doesn’t think it was terrorism, according to the Journal but FP quotes a former PG&E executive as saying that’s exactly what it was. Whatever, the motive, according to an NPR piece on the controversy, the attack got the attention of the public utility industry and some companies told the Journal they are reviewing their security measures.
A Good Start
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which oversees private and commercial aircraft operations, has chosen six sites to test the best ways for introducing unmanned aircraft into the crowded National Airspace.
The sites are located in six states: Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Virginia and Texas. The entities – three universities, an aiport and two state governments were all picked for their climate, research facilities and air traffic conditions. “In totality, these six test applications achieve cross-country geographic and climatic diversity and help the FAA meet its UAS research needs,” the FAA said.
Congress has ordered the FAA to develop a program for the safe introduction of commercial unmanned aircraft, usually known as unmanned aircraft systems or UAS – although most people call them drones – into the already crowded National Airspace System by 2015.
Currently only government, industrial and academic UAV operators are allowed to fly them in highly restricted air zones — mostly for research — once they have received a certificate of authorization (COA). The COAs limit when and where they can fly their drones. Hobbyists may fly a small UAS no higher than 300 feet above ground and must always maintain visual contact with the drone. No commercial drone activity is allowed at this time although proponents say they would be useful for monitoring traffic during a mass evacuation, crops and livestock, wild animal migration, forest fires, oil and gas pipelines, Arctic sea ice and emergency response operations.
As we noted in November, the FAA has issued its initial plans, or roadmap, for integrating UAS into U.S. skies, but the process is expected to take 15 years.
UAS supporters worry that the outrage raised by U.S. drone strikes against militants and terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere — that have led to civilian casualties — has made the American public leery of drones flying overhead. There is also concern about privacy and other civil rights being violated by a camera-equipped UAS flown by law enforcement or intelligence agencies. That worry is largely driven by last summer’s revelations of covert cell phone and email meta data gathering by the National Security Agency.
So the Aerospace States Association, the American Civil Liberties Association and other groups have developed suggested guidelines for state laws concerning drones that will protect civil liberties without pulling the plug on an industry with the potential to create thousands of jobs and add billions of dollars to the national economy.
And the companies that provide services ranging from translators to aircraft for humanitarian aid and relief organizations are exploring how UAS might help them with security and finding refugees or survivors of natural and man-made disasters in undeveloped countries, according to the programs and operations director of the International Stability Operations Association.
Shooting at LAX
A shooting at an airport security checkpoint in Lose Angeles has left one Transportation Security Agency (TSA) officer dead, wounded two other TSA agents and a bystander, according to the Los Angeles Times and other news outlets.
Panic and hysteria spread through Los Angeles Airport’s (LAX) Terminal 3 Friday (October 31) following gunfire that killed 39-year-old Gerardo Hernandez. He was the first TSA employee killed in the line of duty since the agency was created shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Police chased down and shot the suspected gunman in the leg and head. He is being treated for his injuries at an area hospital. He was identified as Paul Anthony Ciancia, 23, originally from New Jersey. Authorities are still trying to determine why Ciancia pulled a semi-automatic rifle in the security lane and began shooting.
Federal authorities charged him with murder of a federal officer and committing violance at an international airport. Both crimes are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole or the death penalty, the New York Times reported.
The incident disrupted air travel at the nation’s third busiest airport for hours. The disruptions had a ripple effect across the United States and elsewhere around the world as police searched the airport to make sure the gunman had no accomplices or had left booby traps in the busy transportation hub.
Authotrities said Ciancia had no apparent links to any terrorist group but the attack underscored the threat posed by a lone wolf gunman – whatever the motive.
Drug Gang’s Super Tunnel
U.S. officials in California have uncovered a tunnel running under the U.S.-Mexico border from Tijuana to San Diego – packed with marijuana and cocaine.
The tunnel stretched for the length of six football fields end-to-end and had lighing, ventilation and an electric rail system, officials said. The tunnel, which authorities described as a “Super Tunnel” was 35 feet below the surface, four feet tall and three feet wide. U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy told reporters it was built by Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, CNN reported.
Three people are in custody charged with drug trafficking. If convicted they face mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years in prison, according to Reuters.
Members of the San Diego Tunnel Task Force — numerous tunnels for smuggling people, drugs and weapons have been discovered between the United States and Mexico in recent years – found the subterranean passageway Wednesday (October 27) night in the course of a long-term investigation, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Authorities also seized about 325 pounds of cocaine along with more than eight tons of marijuana associated with the would-be operators of the tunnel, San Diego TV Station XETV reported.
It was the eighth large-scale smuggling tunnel discovered in the San Diego area since 2006, according to ICE. In total, federal authorities have detected more than 75 such tunnels in the last five years, mostly in California and Arizona.
Victims Identified, Review Ordered
The 12 victims of Monday’s mass shooting incident at the Washington Navy Yard have been identified. The three women and nine men ranged in age from 46 to 73.
The alleged shooter, 34-year-old Aaron Alexis of Fort Worth, Texas was also slain Monday during a running gun battle with police. He was identified as a former Navy reservist and a civilian employee of an information technology subcontractor who recently started working at the sprawling Navy facility.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus today (September 17) ordered a “rapid review” of Navy and Marine Corps security procedures. Mabus said he ordered the review of “every Navy and Marine Corps base in the United States to ensure that we live up to our responsibility of taking care of our people.”
The review by a Navy admiral and a Marine Corps general is due back on Mabus’s desk by Oct. 1 — two weeks after the Navy Yard shootings.
Late Monday night Washington police ruled out reports of a second gunman, saying Aaron had acted alone. A motive for the shootings, that also wounded three people, has not been determined.
According to the Washington Metropolitan Police, these are the names of the victims:
- Michael Arnold, 59, Lorton, Virginia
- Sylvia Frasier, 53, Waldorf, Maryland
- Kathy Gaarde, 62, Woodbridge, Virginia
- John Roger Johnson, 73, Derwood, Maryland
- Frank Kohler, 50, Tall Timbers, Maryland
- Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46, Waldorf, Maryland
- Vishnu Shalchendia Pandit, 61, North Potomac, Maryland
- Arthur Daniels, 51, Washington, DC
- Mary Francis Knight, 51, of Reston, Virginia
- Gerald L. Read, 58, Alexandria, Virginia
- Martin Bodrog, 54, Annandale, Virginia
- Richard Michael Ridgell, 52, Westminster, Maryland
Workplace Crime or Terrorism?
UPDATES with DC officials saying at least 12 killed at Washington Navy Yard shooting attack today, FBI taking over investigation
Twelve people were killed during a chaotic mass shooting incident at the Washington Navy Yard, Washington city officials this afternoon (September 16).
“At this time it appears we have 12 fatalities,” Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray told a press briefing near the sprawling Navy facility. “We have no known motive,” he added. The suspected gunman was also killed but his identity and the circumstances surrounding his death were not disclosed.
DC Police Chief Kathy Lanier said at least 12 dead were confirmed and “a few others” were wounded. Previously officials said four people were wounded and taken to area hospitals. Lanier said the FBI was now heading the investigation.
Lanier also said police were still seeking information on two other possible shooters. She shocked an earlier briefing when she announced that “we potentially have two other shooters that we have not located.” She said there was no confirmation yet that there were other shooters but witnesses said they saw two other people with guns. One was described as white male wearing a khaki/tan military style uniform with a beret and a handgun. The other was described as a black male in olive drab military style clothing with a long gun.
Officials at Med Star Washington Hospital Center said three of the wounded — a Washington police officer and two women — were being treated for gunshot wounds they were expected to survive. Lanier said her department deployed multiple active shooter teams within seven minutes after receiving the first 9-1-1 call from the Navy Yard at 8:15 a.m.
Flights at nearby Washington National Airport were grounded for a few hours and security was beefed up around Capitol Hill following the incident. There were no incidents at either location. “As far as we know this is an isolated incident,” Gray said.
According to earlier reports from local TV stations as well as the Washington Post at least 12 people were shot – including two law enforcement officers – in and around the Navy facility in Southeast Washington on the Anacostia River.
An early statement from the Naval District Washington said an active shooter was reported inside Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Headquarters (Building 197). “Several people were injured and there are reports of fatalities,” according to the statement. NAVSEA employees — which normally number about 3,000 workers — have been ordered to shelter in place, the Navy said.
Television images showed U.S. Park Police and Maryland State Police helicopters lowering baskets to retrieve people – presumably wounded – from rooftops in the area. Multiple ambulances, police cars, armored vehicles and fire trucks can also be seen in the video footage. Later images showed hundreds of Navy Yard workers exiting the facility proffering ID with their hands raised.
Many streets in the area were blocked off and nearby subway stations and schools were closed due to the incident. The Navy Yard is also near the stadium that is home to the Washington Nationals baseball team.
As we mark the 12th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, we’re reminded of the continuing tension between gathering all the information needed to protect the United States from another attack and safeguarding the privacy and civil liberties of the people being protected.
Two seemingly unrelated events this year — the Boston Marathon bombing and the revelation of far reaching U.S. domestic spying programs – underscore the nagging problems a constitutional democracy faces while trying to protect itself.
The 9/11 Commission Report, issued by a blue ribbon panel following the 2001 attacks, recommended restructuring the U.S. Intelligence Community to eliminate structural barriers to performing joint intelligence work. “The importance of integrated, all-source analysis cannot be overstated. Without it, it is not possible to ‘connect the dots,” the Commission Report stated.