Posts tagged ‘Homeland Security’
Cold War Frozen?
The United States and Cuba are ending more than 50 years of suspicion and hostility with both countries agreeing to resume diplomatic relations for the first time since 1961, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday (December 17).
There are many angles to this story, good news for banks and maybe American automakers and U.S. antique car collectors and connoisseurs of fine rum and Cuban cigars – and baseball, don’t forget baseball.
But here we’re wondering what the security implications are. Will Venezuela lose another supporter in Latin America? Will Russia? And will this aid the war on drugs? Last year, at a Countering Transnational Organized Crime conference in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. Marine Corps General John F. Kelly, the head of U.S. Southern Command, said one of the biggest ideological opponents of the United States in the Western Hemisphere was also one of the biggest allies in the war against illegal narcotics.
Kelly noted that nearly all the navies and maritime police units of U.S.-friendly nations in the region are cooperating in the battle against drug trafficking “but of all the partners we deal with, the Nicaraguans are probably our most effective allies in Central America,” even though “we don’t like them and they don’t like us.”
Despite the political and ideological differences between the two countries, Kelly said he wanted to “give a shout out” to the Nicaraguan Coast Guard and Navy for their aggressive policing of the littoral (shallow) waters, which forces drug dealers out on to the open sea where they are more vulnerable to U.S. surveillance.
Protecting the Border — and Everywhere Else.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is responsible for protecting Americans from terrorism, transnational organized crime and natural disasters, but new threats continue to spring up.
In the past year, DHS confronted unexpected challenges like the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa and the massive influx of illegal immigrants, most of them children unaccompanied by adults.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson recently cited his biggest threat concerns. One is the lone wolf, self-radicalized gunman with no known connection to terrorist groups. Johnson said that is the threat he worries about most because it’s the hardest to detect and “could happen on very little notice.” The recent attacks on uniformed soldiers in Canada and police in New York City underscored the danger. Johnson also has concerns about Americans returning from fighting in Syria and the Islamic State, radicalized by Islamist extremists and armed with the skill sets to commit mayhem.
Those threats, and ways to deal with them, were discussed Oct. 6-9 at a homeland security conference in Washington sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA).
Officials from one of DHS’s biggest components, Customs and Border Protection, said congressional budget cuts require them to look for equipment and technology that will help them do their job with less people and, for less money. “We’re about managing risk now,” said U.S. Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher.
Wolf Tombe, CBP’s chief technology officer outlined several areas where new technology could help. Tombe said DHS was dealing with massive amounts of data from biometric identification systems like fingerprints.
“The real ideal capability is to use all of them – fingerprints, facial recognition and iris scan – to see if they all match” the people presenting themselves for entry into the United States at airports, seaports and land border crossings, Tombe said. Right now fingerprints are the core biometric technology. Facial recognition “is in its early stages” of use and iris identification and verification “is being evaluated,” he added.
“The U.S. border is tens of thousands of miles and it is impossible to cover with a human presence alone,” Tombe said. Cross-border tunnels used by drug, gun and people smugglers are getting bigger and more sophisticated with lighting and their own sensors and communications, Tombe said, adding that CBP “would much rather send a robot” to investigate a tunnel than endanger an officer.
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The Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) holds its annual meeting and trade show this week in Washington starting Monday.
Thousands of visitors in and out of uniform are expected to visit the Washington Convention Center Monday through Wednesday to hear Army leaders and experts talk about where the Army is going and where it should be going in the future.
Speakers include Army Secretary John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno.
The exhibit halls will be filled with all manner of armored vehicle, unmanned aircraft systems, combat gear, communications and sensor technology and smalls arms and protective clothing.
New this year in the exhibit hall: a Homeland Security Pavilion where the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will have a display and companies and organizations offering products and services to support the homeland security mission will be showing their wares.
Since 4GWAR views itself as a counter terrorism blog focusing on the intersection of homeland security and asymmetric warfare, we’ll be taking special interest in this new feature at AUSA.
Enemies, Foreign and Domestic — and Biologic.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says the violent extremist group known as ISIL (or ISIS), poses a “potential threat” to the United States but he is also worried about homegrown lone wolf attackers driven to violence by radical Islamist propaganda.
Following an address Thursday (October 9) on border security and immigration at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Johnson called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — “a dangerous terrorist organization” that has killed U.S. citizens and threatened to attack the West.
The al Qaeda splinter group has seized territory in Syria and Iraq, executed prisoners, kidnapped women and terrorized Kurdish, Yazidi and Christian minorities in the areas it controls. The group is also known as ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and IS, for Islamic State.
Noting ISIL’s “very slick” social media and propaganda skills, Johnson added: “They represent a very significant potential threat for which we have to be vigilant.” But he refuted reports that that ISIL/ISIS fighters has been apprehended trying to cross illegally into Texas from Mexico. Johnson said four people were apprehended on the border who said they were members of the Kurdish Workers Party, which is fighting ISIL in Syria (and ironically, considered a terrorist group by the United Sates for its autonomy-seeking attacks in Turkey). Nevertheless, the four were arrested, detained and will be deported, Johnson said.
In a question and answer session at the Washington think tank, Johnson said he worries about Westerners who travel to the Middle East to fight in Syria’s civil war, and return to the United States or countries accorded U.S. visa waiver privileges with a radical jihadist ideology and weapons training. But Johnson said he is also concerned about domestic-based lone terrorist acts “inspired by the social media” of radical groups. “In many respects, that’s the terrorist threat I worry most about because it’s the hardest to detect and it could happen on very little notice,” Johnson said.
To counter violent extremist propaganda the Department of Homeland Security has launched community outreach programs, seeking help from leaders in U.S. communities with large Muslim populations.
Despite a surge in women travelling with children and unaccompanied minors, Johnson says the number of foreigners trying to enter the United States illegally is down since 2000 and the number of them being apprehended by the Border Patrol is up, but DHS isn’t easing up on border security efforts.
He announced several initiatives across the department — including the creation of three new task forces — to direct the resources of Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Coast Guard in three areas: the ports and maritime approaches in the Southeast, land borders in the Southwest and California and a standing joint investigative task force to support the other two.
Asked about the Ebola virus crisis in West Africa and its appearance in the United States and Spain, Johnson said DHS officers will be taking the temperatures – with non-contact thermometers of all arriving airlines passengers coming from the three African countries hardest-hit by Ebola: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Additionally, he said there would be more active screening of the estimated 150 people a day who come to the United States by air from those countries. The temperature screening will start this weekend at Newark, JFK, Dulles, Los Angeles and Atlanta airports.
More Eyes in the Sky.
UPDATES with links to background information, photo of Multi-role Enforcment Aircraft.
WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security’s aviation chief says he would like to add a ninth tethered surveillance balloon to the radar-equipped, counter narcotics warning system along the southern U.S. border.
Randolph Alles, head of Customs and Border Protection’s Air & Marine Office, says he’d like to anchor the balloon, known as a tethered aerostat, on an island off the Southern California coast near the Mexican border — but it all depends on future funding, he told a homeland security conference Tuesday (October 7).
The low band radar-equipped Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) costs about $35 million a year to operate. “That’s not enough to keep the system going at current speed,” Alles told the Homeland Security Week conference sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA).
TARS was created in the 1980s by U.S. Customs – then part of the Treasury Department – to interdict cross border narcotics traffickers using small, low-flying airplanes. The lighter-than-air aerostats, once tethered to the ground by a cable, are stationed between 12,000 and 15,000 feet above the ground. The Defense Department took over the program in the 1990s and last year it was turned over to CBP, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Six of the current eight aerostat sites are located along the Southwest Border at Yuma and Fort Huachuca, Arizona; Deming, New Mexico; Marfa, Eagle Pass, and Rio Grande City, Texas. There are also two additional sites monitoring the Caribbean — in the Florida Keys and Puerto Rico. Alles said it would cost about $15 million to acquire a new site and the aerostat, sensors and support equipment – not counting annual operating costs.
Alles, an assistant CBP commissioner and retired Marine Corps major general, says TARS needs a radar upgrade. While the system on board now is fine for tracking airplanes, he wants to get a maritime radar that can track vessels approaching the United States on the water.
The radar replacement is just one of the plans Alles has for improving sensors on all of CBP’s aircraft and maritime vessels. A 10-year capitalization program draws to an end in 2016. Alles said he and Air & Marine staff are working on a new recapitalization plan.
Alles’ goal is to integrate sensors with all CBP aviation platforms, including the P-3 Orion and Dash 8 fixed wing aircraft, Blackhawk helicopters and the Predator unmanned aircraft system. But so far, only $44 million is being sought in the next federal budget for two more King Air 350 twin-engine Multi-role Enforcement Aircraft, equipped with wide area marine search radar with air search capability and a ground moving target indicator..
Homeland Security Week.
Border management and immigration, cyber security and emergency response and disaster relief will be among the topics discussed as the four-day Homeland Security Week conference opens Monday (October 6) at th Washington Convenion Center.
Government officials scheduled to attend include U.S. Border Patrol Chief Michal Fisher, Randolph Alles, the head of the Air and Marine Office at Customs and Border Protection and the chief technology officer at the Department of Homeland Security, Wolfe Tombe. Experts from government, academia and industry will be participating in panel discussions and roundtable sessions. Companies in a wide range of the security industry including thermal imaging, radar, video cameras, law enforcement equipment and information technology security will be in the exhibit hall.
Maritime security, battling transnational organized crime — particularly in the areas of narcotics and money laundering — and weapons of mass destruction will also be discussed at the event, sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA)
Your 4GWAR editor will be there catching up with old colleagues and sources. Here’s a story we got out of last year’s event.
9/11 2001 and 2014
UPDATES with additional Obama remarks, criticism by Sens. McCain and Graham, Middle East coalition agreement and maps of Iraq and Syria by the Institute for the Study of War
It’s the 13th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania that left nearly 3,000 dead, hundreds injured and untold numbers traumatized by an surprise attack from a little known, but vicious, enemy.
Now America is gearing up to battle extremist terrorism again.
In a televised address from the White House Wednesday night (September 10) President Barack Obama outlined plans to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the violent militant group that calls itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The extremist group has emerged from the Syrian civil war to rout Iraqi military units and seize a swath of northern Iraq. The group, also known as ISIL (for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has killed captured prisoners, threatened non Sunni Muslims like Shia and Yazidi with extermination, killed two American journalists in gruesome videos and forced Christian Iraqis to convert to Islam, flee the country or be killed.
“ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents. And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim,” Obama said in his 14-minute address. He added: “And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor by the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.”
The president outlined a strategy for eliminating ISIS, which critics claim has taken too long to evolve and doesn’t go far enough. Obama said he was sending 475 more troops to Iraq to serve as advisers and trainers of Iraqi forces. That would bring the number of American troops there to more than 1,500 — just a few years after the United States withdrew combat troops from the war-shattered country. Obama also promised more airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL in Syria as well as Iraq, a step he has declined to take in the past. Since August, the United States has launched 150 airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL targets in Iraq. The United States has also been dropping cargo pallets of food, water and other relief supplies to Iraqi refugees hiding in the mountains.
“Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven,” Obama said, noting U.S. actions against al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Somalia. He also stressed that the additional forces will not have a combat mission. “We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq,” he pledged.
But if ISIS/ISIL is left unchecked it could pose a treat to the Middle East and beyond, including the United States. American intelligence agencies believe that thousands of foreign nationals, including Europeans and some U.S. citizens have flocked to Syria over the last three years to fight against the Assad regime and other rebel groups. There is concern that those fighters, now battled-tested and exposed to extreme radical ideology, could return to their home countries and launch terrorist attacks. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson made that point back in February.
Obama called on Congress to authorize and fund the training and equipping moderate Syrian rebels. He also said the United States will work with partner nations to redouble intelligence and counter terrorism efforts to prevent a terror attack by ISIS/ISIL in America. Lastly,Obama to keep support relief efforts for the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have fled their homes to avoid persecution by ISIS/ISIL. Obama pledged to head a coalition of partner nations to battle the threat. “Already, allies are flying planes with us over Iraq; sending arms and assistance to Iraqi security forces and the Syrian opposition; sharing intelligence; and providing billions of dollars in humanitarian aid,” Obama said.
Shuttle diplomacy by Secretary of State John Kerry has born fruit. Leaders from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and the Gulf Cooperation Council – an alliance of the Sunni Arab Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – have pledged to “stand united” against “the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant,” according to The Guardian website.
But the British newspaper notes there are several thorny issues such as whether the Assad regime will allow coalition warplanes into its airspace to bomb ISIS/ISIL and whether U.S. advisers will enter Syria with the retrained rebels. There are also questions about what role pro-Assad Russia will play as well as Shia-majority Iran, which sees ISIS/ISIL as a threat on its border.