Posts tagged ‘Homeland Security’

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

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

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

COUNTER TERRORISM: French Response to Paris Attacks, New DHS C-T Measures, Nigeria Attacks

After Paris.

Paris  (Photo courtesy the Eiffel Tower website)

Paris
(Photo courtesy the Eiffel Tower website)

More than 10,000 troops are guarding “sensitive sites” around France including synagogues, railway stations, airports and tourist attractions in the wake of last week’s terrorism incidents in Paris that left 17 people dead — including three alleged attackers.

Nearly half the soldiers – about 4,700 – will be assigned to protect France’s 717 Jewish schools, the Washington Post reported January 12.
“I’m glad the soldiers are here. But the fact they’re here means something is very wrong,” said the director of on Jewish school in Paris. “It shouldn’t be this way,” the school official told the Post. Some mosques will also receive government protection, following more than a dozen attacks on Islamic buildings since January 7.

That’s when masked gunmen stormed a satirical weekly magazine killing 12 people including a Muslim French police officer. The alleged gunmen, two bohers, originally from Algeria, were killed by police January 9 during a hostage rescue raid outside Paris. Five cartoonists and three other staffers were killed at the weekly, Charlie Hebdo, which has outraged Muslims in the past with cartoons and satirical copy about the Prophet Muhammad. Charlie Hebdo plans to print 3 million copies, rather than the usual 600,00  of its next issue, which will a drawing of Muhammad on the front page.

Four more people, and a female police officer were killed by another radicalized Muslim man who took hostages at a kosher market in Paris before he, too, was shot by police January 9.

*** *** ***

Homeland Security

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson (DHS photo)

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson
(DHS photo)

In response to the Paris attacks, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to increase random screenings of passengers at airports as well as ordering the Transportation Security Administration to conduct a short-term review of whether more security measures are needed.

“We have no specific, credible intelligence of an attack of the kind in Paris last week being planned by terrorist organizations in this country,” DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement, the POLITICO website reported.

DHS said the latest security measures are being taken as part of “precautionary” steps following the attacks in Paris, just as they were following recent incidents in Sydney and Ottawa. Johnson also urged Congress not to pass a funding bill for DHS with any restrictions on spending. House Republicans have said they plan to restrict U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a DHS unit, from implementing President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

The Paris attack seems to have had some affect on Republicans’ strategy, however. While Republicans will still try to block Obama from implementing his immigration overhaul — they won’t risk funding for the Department of Homeland Security to do it, says Texas Republican senator John Cornyn, according to CNN.

Cornyn said January 11 on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Republicans will try to “address and defund” what he called an “unconstitutional” executive action to limit deportations for the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens. “But we’re not going to take any chances with the homeland,” Cornyn said.

*** *** ***

Boko Haram

Nigeria says 150 people lost their lives in an assault by Boko Haram militants on the town of Baga last week.

The Nigerian defense ministry says this figure includes “many of the terrorists” who had attacked the town in Borno state and faced resistance by troops. Local officials earlier estimated the number of deaths at as many as 2,000, the BBC reported. Nigeria has often been accused of underestimating casualty figures to downplay the threat of Boko Haram.

Earlier, the Catholic Archbishop of Jos, in central Nigeria, accused the West of ignoring the threat posed by Boko Haram. Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama said the world had to show more determination to halt the group’s advance in Nigeria. The archbishop told the BBC that the slaughter in Baga had shown that the Nigerian military was unable to tackle Boko Haram.

Meanwhile, at least 23 people were killed at the weekend by three female suicide bombers, one reported to be 10 years old.

 

Nigeria (CIA World factbook)

Nigeria
(CIA World Factbook)

January 12, 2015 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (December 28, 1814-January 3, 1815)

General Packenham’s Decision.

Major General Sir Edward Pakenham (Courtesy National Park Service)

Major General Sir Edward Pakenham
(Courtesy National Park Service)

December 28

Three days after arriving in the swamps of Louisiana’s Mississippi Delta, British Major General Sir Edward Pakenham contemplates the mess his army is in.

When Pakenham arrives with 3,000 fresh troops at the British camp on Christmas Day, he is greeted with cheers and celebratory gunfire. But Pakenham also finds an army suffering from the winter cold and rains, in a soggy area with no tents between the river and a cypress swamp.

The Americans had surprised the British in their camp the night of the 23rd, killing, wounding and capturing more than 200 redcoats, before they were driven back to the American lines. The camp is continuously shelled by two American ships anchored in the Mississippi across from the British camp. Snipers pick off British sentries, even at night when European military conventions and civility call for a nocturnal cessation of hostilities.

Pakenham calls a meeting of his officers, complains about the location of the camp and, without naming names, chides them for not advancing on New Orleans on the 23rd instead of halting for the night and leaving themselves open to surprise attack. The two-day delay since that attack gives U.S. Major General Andrew Jackson much needed time to build up the defenses around New Orleans and organize his largely amateur army.

Pakenham wants to pull out and attack the city from a different point on the Chef Menteur Road (which was lightly guarded, although Pakenham didn’t know that.) But Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, the nominal commander of the entire army-navy operation, chides Pakenham, saying there is nothing wrong with the Army’s location.

“If the army shrinks from the attack here, I will bring up my sailors and marines from the fleet. We will storm the American lines and march into the city. Then the soldiers can bring up the baggage,” Cochrane says, in jab at Pakenham, according to noted historian Robert V. Remini, in his The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory.

Detail from a 1910 painting of  Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans (Library of Congress)

Detail from a 1910 painting of Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans
(Library of Congress)

Not one to back down, Pakenham decides to move on the Americans’ defensive line from his current position. He orders cannon placed on the riverbank to eliminate the two U.S. Navy ships. After one, the U.S.S. Carolina is set afire by heated British cannonballs and blows up, the second, the U.S.S. Louisiana, remains a threat even when driven farther upriver toward New Orleans by British cannon fire.

The Louisiana’s guns as well as those on the nearly mile-long U.S. defensive line paralleling the Rodriguez Canal– a dry ditch that runs into the Mississippi – will catch any attackers in a deadly crossfire.

On the evening of the 27th, the British, formed into two brigades, drive off the American advance guard and march as far as Chalmette plantation – less than a mile from Andrew Jackson’s lines along the Rodriguez canal. The next morning, Pakenham orders his troops to advance. They get within 600 yards of the American defenses, when Jackson orders his men to open fire. Among the cannoneers are Jean Lafitte’s Baratarian pirates and sailors from the sunken U.S.S. Carolina. American cannon, musket and riflefire start to take a toll. The British reply with their own artillery as well as Congreve rockets. But Pakenham orders a general retreat. The Americans lose just 17 killed and wounded in this battle. The British, an estimated 152 killed, wounded or captured. The latest clash may be over, but the Battle of New Orleans is not.

December 29, 2014 at 11:57 pm 1 comment

EYE ON LATIN AMERICA: Cuba-U.S. Deal

Cold War Frozen?

Cuba in the Caribbean/Gulf of Mexico region. (CIA World Factbook)

Cuba in the Caribbean/Gulf of Mexico region.
(CIA World Factbook)

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.

December 19, 2014 at 12:41 am 1 comment

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