Posts filed under ‘Counter Terrorism’

HOMELAND SECURITY: DHS Guardians Will Still Be On Job — Without Pay — If Funding Effort Fails

A Matter of Fairness.

Department of Homeland Security seal

Department of Homeland Security seal

If Congress fails to reach an agreement by midnight tonight (Friday, March 27), funding for the Department of Homeland Security will cease.

Pundits, politicians and analysts are quick to point out that the vast majority of DHS employees have been deemed “essential” to national security so the department will not shut down.

There will still be U.S. Border Patrol agents halting people, drugs and weapons smuggling in the Southwest and elsewhere.

There will still be Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel screening passengers and their baggage at more than 400 U.S. airports.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers will continue checking people and cargo coming into the United States on trucks, planes and ships – as well as in cars and on foot at border crossings.

The U.S. Coast Guard will continue its myriad tasks ranging from rescuing people at sea to maintaining security at the nation’s ports and harbors to enforcing maritime safety and environmental laws.

The Secret Service will continuing guarding the president and other top officials.

But the 85 percent of the department’s approximately 240,000 workers who required to report for duty if the funding stops will not be paid until Congress passes a DHS appropriations bill.

“What message does this send … that we don’t think enough of you to pay you?” an alarmed Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire asked in a CNN interview today (February 27) as both the Senate and House of Representatives tried to figure a way out of the political tangle touched off by Republicans’ objection to President Obama’s executive orders on immigration.

While some say nothing bad will happen if non-essential DHS workers are furloughed – and others argue something terrible could happen, it is obvious that there are lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who see political gain in a partial shutdown of DHS: either to make the point that the agency’s budget is bloated or to convince voters the other side don’t care about protecting the nation from terrorism in a time of mounting threats.

Following his presentation at a Border Management industry conference earlier this week, we asked Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher what a partial DHS shutdown would mean for his agency’s mission.

“It impacts our operations, no doubt,” he said. But Fisher was confidant his people could still secure the border. “It’s unfortunate if it comes to that, that they will be working without pay, but I will tell you – in terms of their commitment to border security – on that we’ll not falter.”

Transportation Security Officers will be at their posts if Dept. of Homeland Security funding is interrupted. (TSA photo via Wikipedia)

Transportation Security Officers will be at their posts if Dept. of Homeland Security funding is interrupted.
(TSA photo via Wikipedia)

At the same conference (sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement) TSA Chief of Staff Thomas McDaniels Jr. said the approximately 45,000 airport screeners exempt from being furloughed are required to report for work in the event of a funding halt. He noted the average starting salary for Transportation Security Officers, is $25,000 a year. “So we’re asking our frontline homeland security officials who are not making the most money to go without paychecks,” he said. While they are guaranteed retroactive pay once Congress can come to agreement on a funding bill, McDaniels added, “I think that’s a lot to ask of people who may be living paycheck to paycheck.” The last government shutdown to halt TSA paychecks lasted 17 days, he said, but there was no “significant attrition” after things returned to normal.

Wolf Tombe, CBP’s chief technology officer, told conference attendees that the country is confronting new threats from cyber-attacks and lone wolf terrorists, to disease outbreaks like Ebola. “The threat is evolving. We need to evolve with it, to stay ahead of it,” he said, outlining technologies his office is exploring from wearable sensors and cameras to hand launched surveillance drones to thermometers that can take an arriving air passenger’s temperature from a safe distance of 10 feet.

But if Congress fails to reach a compromise on DHS funding “all this gets shut down,” Tombe told 4GWAR “because I’m not considered essential. So my organization gets furloughed.”

February 27, 2015 at 4:07 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (February 27, 2015)

Boots on the … Air.

Information Specialist Jason Johnston/Released)

Photo by U.S. Army Specialist Jason Johnston

A U.S. Green Beret with the 1st Battalion,  10th Special Forces Group salutes his fellow soldiers while jumping from a C-130 Hercules aircraft over a drop zone in Germany, Feb. 24, 2015. 

February 27, 2015 at 1:15 am Leave a comment

HOMELAND SECURITY: Customs and Border Protection Exploring Small Drone Use

Wearable Drones.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is exploring the use of wearable sensors -- including a wrist-mounted drone -- to keep agents safe and efficient. (CBP  photo)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is exploring the use of wearable sensors — including a wrist-mounted drone — to keep agents safe and efficient.
(CBP photo)

WASHINGTON — Wolf Tombe has been the chief technology officer of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) since 2003.

He says his mission is to find or develop new gizmos that will enhance the safety of CBP’s 46,657 officers and agents and increase mission effectiveness – all while reducing costs.

“Everything is about ‘How do we train and equip our officers to do their job better?,” he told attendees at a Border Management industry conference this week.

And toward that end, he is looking at wearable technology like heart rate monitors and wearable cameras he told the conference sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement. Among the technologies CBP, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security, is considering are small unmanned aircraft, including a drone mounted on the wrist.

Such technology would meet CBP new technology requirements: enhancing officer safety, increasing mission effectiveness — and reducing costs, he said. If it does any or all of those things, “bring it in and we’ll look at it,” he told conference attendees Wednesday (February 25).

Threats to the homeland, whether a disease outbreak like Ebola or lone wolf terrorists, are evolving and “we need to evolve with them, to stay ahead of it,” Tombe said.

CBP Chief Technology Officer Wolf Tombe

CBP Chief Technology Officer Wolf Tombe

In addition to the wrist drone, Tombe said CBP was considering the benefits of small hand-launched drones that Border Patrol agents and other CBP law enforcement officers could carry in their vehicles to get a better situational picture in remote and rugged areas like the deserts of the Southwest or the big woods along the U.S-Canadian border.

“All this technology is consumer grade,” Tombe said, meaning it is generally less expensive than equipment designed for the Defense or Homeland Security departments. He said manufacturers of wearable heart rate monitors and football and batting helmets helmets equipped with impact sensors that can text a high school coach or parent need to consider their law enforcement applications.

While the wrist drone is just in the “late prototype stages” and only stays aloft for 3 to 5 minutes, Tombe said “we’ll bring it in and take a look at it.” Meanwhile, his office plans to test the efficacy of slightly larger handheld drones with DHS operational units as well as local law enforcement departments like the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.

February 26, 2015 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

HOMELAND SECURITY: Challenges Mounting for Secure Borders

Redefining “Secure Border”

Border Traffic at the San Ysidro (California) Primary Port of Entry. (Customs and Border Protection photo)

Border Traffic at the San Ysidro (California) Primary Port of Entry.
(Customs and Border Protection photo)

More than a dozen years after the 9/11 attacks showed that America needed to do a better job securing its borders, a debate continues over the best ways to manage who gets in and out of the country.

The number of U.S. Border Patrol agents has mushroomed to more than 20,000 since 2001. There have been numerous border enforcement programs like teaming Border Patrol agents with National Guard troops, flooding areas reporting high levels of illegal border entries with large numbers of Border Patrol personnel and equipment. There was even a failed program to build a physical and virtual fence along the border with Mexico — to the tune of $3.5 billion.

Now law enforcement officials are worried abou radicalized U.S.-citizens-turned jihadis coming back from fighting in the Middle East — with skills that could be used for terrorism. And Congress and the White House are embroiled in a political battle over millions of illegal immigrants already in the United States, a battle that threatens to shut down the Department of Homeland Security.

Meanwhile, Border Patrol leaders say it is time to rethink what we mean when we talk about securing the border. Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher told a Washington think tank gathering last month that a secure border — where no one can cross illegally at any time — is virtually impossible, without doubling the number of Border Patrol agents and boosting the agency’s budget by $97 billion.

Since late 2013, the agency had moved away from determining its effectiveness by counting every person it apprehends trying to cross the border illegally. Instead it has re-evaluated “what it means to secure the border,” Fisher told a border security discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Rather, the Border Patrol characterizes a secure border as one of low risk – where there is a high probability of detection coupled with a high probability of interdiction.

“Border security is not an end state to be achieved and revisited every five years,” Assistant Chief Michael Schroeder told the audience. “It’s a continuous struggle,” he added. Schroeder is the author of an explanatory paper, published by the Border Patrol, detailing how and why it developed the low-risk idea in its 2012-2016 U.S. Border Patrol Strategic Plan. Instead of arrest statistics or measuring resources like number of agents or the size of the agency’s budget, the Border Patrol had to develop “a preliminary set of risk indicators”  to analyze risk along U.S. borders.

Fisher is slated to be one of the government and industry speakers this week at a Border Management Summit in Washington Tuesday and Wednesday (February 24-25). You can learn more at the website of the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement, the conference sponsor.

Two CBP Predator surveillance drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). (Customs and Border Protection  photo)

Two CBP Predator surveillance drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
(Customs and Border Protection photo)

The Border Patrol is using technologies like moveable ground radar, biometric identification obtained from first-time illegal border crossers and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to acquire more data on border activity and shifts from past patterns. The situational awareness provided by UAS “is something we’ve never had before. It’s led us to the metrics we have today,” according to Schroeder.

Apprehensions of people trying to cross into the United States illegally are down to 1970 levels. So the Border Patrol is using intelligence and analysis to predict where the high risk areas are — and when and where to move law enforcement resources when drug, gun and people smugglers change tactics.

But a recent report by the DHS inspector general’s office (OIG) casts doubt on the value of border surveillance by unmanned aircraft — and the information they gather.

For starters, the report contends CBP has yet to prove the value of its UAS program while drastically understating the costs. The OIG’s second audit of the program since 2012, found the effort by CBP’s Air and Marine Office “still has no reliable method of measuring its performance” and that its impact on stemming illegal immigration has been minimal.

“We see no evidence that the drones contribute to a more secure border , and there is no reason to invest additional taxpayer funds at this time,” said DHS Inspector General John Roth.

February 23, 2015 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

COUNTERTERRORISM: Obama Strategy for Countering Violent Extremist Groups

Long War Strategy.

President Barack Obama and National Security Adviser in the Oval Office. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama and National Security Adviser Susan Rice in the Oval Office.
(White House photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama says the United States is not at war with Islam. Rather,  “we are at war with people who have perverted Islam,” he told officials from more than 60 nations at a three-day summit on countering violent extremism that ended Thursday (February 19).

The White House called the Washington gathering — following a wave of recent terrorist attacks in Canada, France, Australia and Denmark — to develop an international coalition to wage an ideological battle against violent extremist organizations such as the so-called Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) in parts of Syria and Iraq, and radical Islamist groups like Boko Haram in West Africa and al Shabaab on the Horn of Africa in the eastern part of the country.

Among the tactics proposed was delivering a strong message to young people to counter the propaganda and recruitment efforts of extremist groups through social media. “We must acknowledge that groups like al Qaeda and ISIL, are deliberately targeting their propaganda to Muslim communities, particularly Muslin youth,” Obama said, adding: Muslim communities, including scholars and clerics therefore have a responsibility to push back, not just on twisted interpretations of Islam, but also on the lie that we are somehow engaged in a clash of civilizations; that America and the West are somehow at war with Islam or seek to suppress Muslims; or that we are the cause of every ill in the Middle East. ”

As a step in that direction, Obama said the United States was joining with the United Arab Emirates (UAE, a Gulf State), to create a new digital communications hub to work with religious and civil society and community leaders to counter terrorist propaganda.

Obama also called on foreign leaders to cut off funding “that fuels hatred and corrupts young minds.” He also called for free elections, religious and ethnic tolerance.”We have to address the political grievances that terrorists exploit.” But a number of the countries represented at the meeting, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Uganda, are far from democratic and tolerant, the New York Times noted.

And conservatives and Republicans criticized Obama’s emphasis on expanding human rights, religious tolerance and peaceful dialogue. “The solution here is not expanded Medicaid. The solution is the full force of U.S. military power to destroy the leaders of ISIS,” Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican and possible presidential candidate told Politico. “They have declared war … jihad on the United States. Jihad is another word the president doesn’t say.”

Critics like Cruz have also complained that Obama doesn’t use terms like “Muslim,” “Islamic” or “jihadist,” when talking about Middle East terrorism. The White House says its part of strategy to avoid giving credence to the IS doctrine that the West is at war with Islam.

February 20, 2015 at 12:58 am Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Libyan Beheadings; Egyptian Response; Stormy Med Region; Nigeria-Boko Haram Update

Libya-Egypt.

Libya (CIA World Factbook)

Libya
(CIA World Factbook)

Violent Islamist extremists in Libya released a video purporting to show the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians Monday (February 15) and the Egyptian government responded swiftly — launching air strikes against the group’s training camps and weapons caches in eastern Libya.

Egypt’s airstrikes “on now threaten to drag it deeper into Libya’s messy internal conflict at a time when Cairo is already straining to revive a battered economy and suppress its own domestic Islamist insurgency — centered in the Sinai Peninsula but now also fighting under the banner of the Islamic State,” the New York Times notes.

Egypt has been intervening in Libya for months, backing one of the two rival coalitions that claim to represent the country’s legitimate government since the fall of strongman Muammar el Qaddafi in 2011. As militants in both Libya and Egypt develop closer ties, Cairo has become increasingly concerned about instability in Libya spilling over to its own Sinai peninsula, says Jane Kinninmont
a Chatham House senior research fellow on the BBC website.

*** *** ***

Turmoil in the Mediterranean

While Egypt mounts bombing raids against a Libyan Islamist group affiliated with the so-called Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL),  Libya is asking  the United Nations Security Council to lift an arms embargo so that it can deal with the IS group and other militants.

Two rival militia coalitions are battling for control over Libya and its vast resources, including nearly $100 billion in financial reserves, untapped oil deposits, and a long Mediterranean coast facing Europe. The worsening security situation has increased fears that the country’s warring militias may side with IS militants.

Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Dairi of the Libyan group recognized by most nations as the legitimate government of the strife-torn country, said that it would help the government build its army and deal with “rampant terrorism,” the BBC reportsEgypt said it supported Libya’s request at an emergency session of the UN council on Wednesday (February 18). Egyptian officials have also suggested that a US-led bombing campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq could be extended to Libya.

The growing chaos in Libya has alarmed countries in Southern Europe, which have been dealing with an influx of migrants fleeing violence in North Africa and the Levant.

Italy issued its strongest warning yet about the danger of the Islamic State establishing a stronghold in Libya that would threaten Europe’s security and the stability of neighboring states, according to AFP (via Al Arabiaya).

Addressing parliament on Wednesday (February 18), Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said there was an “evident risk” of IS fighters in Libya forging an alliance with local militias or criminal gangs currently engaged in a multi-sided battle for control of the country.

A British anti-extremist group says Islamic State militants are planning to take over Libya as a “gateway” to wage war across the whole of southern Europe, The Telegraph reported.

Letters written by IS supporters have revealed that jihadists hope to flood the north African state with militiamen from Syria and Iraq. They will then sail across the Mediterranean posing as migrants on people trafficking vessels, according to plans seen by Quilliam, the British counter-extremist think tank.

The fighters would then run amok in southern European cities and also try to attack maritime shipping, according to the Telegraph and The Independent.

Tunisia in Africa (CIA World Factbook)

Tunisia in Africa
(CIA World Factbook)

And in neighboring Tunisia, government officials are vowing a “strong and violent response” after suspected militants linked to al-Qaeda killed four Tunisian police officers near the Algerian border, according to the Voice of America website.

About 20 rebels attacked security forces at a checkpoint in the country’s mountainous Kasserine region overnight. A Tunisian official attributed Wednesday’s shootings to the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, which was implicated in the killings of at least 14 Tunisian soldiers last year in the same area.

*** *** ***

Boko Haram-Nigeria

West Africa’s violent extremist group, Boko Haram, is threatening to disrupt Nigeria’s elections — now scheduled for March 28, Aljazera reports.

AbuBakr Shekau, leader of the Islamist terrorist group, has said in a new video purportedly released by Boko Haram, that voting in Africa’s most populous country will not be peaceful next month. Shekau issued his warning to incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan’s government in an anti-democracy video, released on social media Tuesday (February 17) and obtained by U.S. based SITE intelligence group.

“Allah will not leave you to proceed with these elections even after us, because you are saying that authority is from people to people, which means that people should rule each other, but Allah says that the authority is only to him, only his rule is the one which applies on this land,” Shekau said, adding: “…we say that these elections that you are planning to do, will not happen in peace, even if that costs us our lives.

Officials delayed the February 14 election for six weeks — ostensibly to allow more time for multi-national forces to secure areas battered by the five-year Boko Haram insurgency.

The delay has generated criticism from the opponents of the ruling party who are trying to unseat Goodluck Jonathan. It has also generated speculation around the world about the real reason for the delay. Jonathan, a Chrisitian from southern  Nigeria, who has been plagued by the Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands and abducted hundreds of schoolgirls, is running against former general Muhammadu Buhari, who ruled the country as a military dictator in the early 1980s. Buhari, a Muslim from the north, has promised to crush Boko Haram and end corruption. (To read more, click here.)

Nigeria (CIA World factbook)

Nigeria
(CIA World factbook)

At least 40 people have been killed in mutiple attacks in northern and southern Nigeria, Al Jazeera reported.

The majority of the victims died when explosions ripped through a joint civilian and military checkpoint in Biu, in Borno State, Tuesday (February 17).  Elsewhere, an attack on an opposition rally in Okrika, in Rivers State, left one policeman dead and several others wounded, while a reporter covering the event was stabbed.

In Potiskum, in the northeastern state of Yobe, three people were killed on Tuesday in a suicide blast. A bomber blew himself up inside a restaurant, killing the manager and a steward, officials told the AFP news agency. Thirteen staff and customers were seriously injured.

February 19, 2015 at 1:01 am Leave a comment

UNMANNED AIRCRAFT: FAA Issues Proposed Rules for Commercial Drone Flight

Better Late Than Never.

Small UAS in Alaska (Courtesy of University of Alaska-Fairbanks)

Small UAS in Alaska
(Courtesy of University of Alaska-Fairbanks)

Seven weeks past a congressional deadline, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued proposed rules for the use of unmanned aircraft in commercial operations such as monitoring crops, inspecting infrastructure like bridges and smokestacks and filming television programs and movies.

The FAA announcement Sunday (February 15) doesn’t mean small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) will delivering pizza or books to your home anytime soon. “What we are releasing today is a proposed rule,” cautioned FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. In a conference call with reporters Huerta added: “Today’s action does not authorize wide spread commercial use of unmanned aircraft. That can only happen when the rule is final.” In the meantime, he noted, commercial operators must still go through the current process for a waiver or exemption to fly.

And that process, which can take many months to complete, has limited the number of business and institutions — including police and other emergency responders — that can fly UAS.

The proposed rules apply only to unmanned aircraft under 55 pounds (25 kilograms). If approved, they would limit commercial UAS flights to daylight hours on days with a visibility of three miles from where the operator is. Other limitations: a maximum speed of 100 miles per hour (87 knots) and a maximum altitude of 500 fee above the ground. The idea is to keep small drones, which aren’t required to have sense and avoid technology like that on manned aircraft, out of the way of commercial planes which usually fly at higher altitudes. The rules also would require the operator to maintain line of sight control of the aircraft. In other words, no autonomous flight out of the operator’s sight (whether it be over the horizon or just behind a hill or building). Operators would not have to obtain a pilot’s license, but would be required to pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center and then pass a recurring aero knowledge test every 24 months. Operators must be a minimum of 17-years-old and would also have to be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration (a unit of the Homeland Security Department).

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is to be published in the Federal Register and can be found here. Additional information is on the FAA website. In addition to the 60-day period where the public can comment on the proposed rules, the agency said it would hold public meetings at the six FAA-approved UAS test sites around the country.

FAA-uas-test-site-operators-large

 

 

February 15, 2015 at 5:45 pm Leave a comment

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