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Take three: Obama nominates FBI's Pistole to head TSA


WASHINGTON—A White House press release yesterday announced President Obama has nominated John S. Pistole to head the Transportation Security Administration (technically Assistant Secretary, DHS). Pistole is currently deputy director of the FBI, a position he has held since October 2004. He has also been in the FBI’s Counterterrorism division, and he began his career as a special agent with the FBI in 1983.

Border security: Based on 'dreams, hopes and fantasy' says new report


WASHINGTON—The failure of the Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Border Initiative is one of epic proportions. A report released in April by the Center for International Policy focused on the government’s inability to devise a clear focus for securing the border and extremely poor oversight of the projected $8 billion initiative to secure the nation’s border.

When '$2 billion' and 'complete failure' are in the same sentence

Friday, April 23, 2010

It's not like it's a secret that the equipment installed along our Southwest border isn't working properly. About a month ago, Secretary Napolitano announced she was freezing all funding for the Secure Border Initiative Network along the Mexican border, so you know things weren't going well. A damning 60 Minutes piece also exposed the failures of the 28-mile pilot test that took three years to figure out the $2 billion investment wasn't going to work. But so far, the language has been somewhat mild, with several folks saying: "Well, it sort of works,” said Rich Stana, who wrote a report on the project last year for the Government Accountability Office.

But now people aren't staying so PC. Here's the lede graph in this article by the Federal Times:

The Homeland Security Department today said its virtual border fence has been a "complete failure," and is trying to figure out how to proceed on the troubled $2 billion project.

Like I said, no one ever wants to hear "complete failure" and "$2 billion" in the same sentence. Here's a little refresher about the project:

Homeland Security hired Boeing in 2006 to install thousands of video and infrared cameras, radars and ground sensors to provide constant surveillance along the Southwest border. Computers and software were meant to combine that information to produce a real-time picture of smugglers and migrants.

But after spending between $700 million and $800 million to build a 28-mile pilot version of the system in Arizona, Homeland Security has almost nothing to show for it. The system has difficulty seeing clearly and often transmits false alarms.

There have been other efforts to improve security along the border including John McCain calling for DHS to increase the presence of the National Guard. The Texas Border Coalition has also been advocating for massive investments in infrastructure, technology and personnel at the 42 ports of entry in the U.S. to “avoid becoming the path of choice for human and drug smugglers.” And the governor of Texas has also called for more unmanned Predator drones to help protect the border.

But, I think the "complete failure" of this virtual fence could have a huge impact on the security industry, particularly those who manufacture some of these advanced technologies. I mean, if the government can't get these things to work in a project that's critical to national security, is that proof these technologies aren't viable? While I realize the government put a huge emphasis on integrating "off-the-shelf" products (and you get what you pay for) I think it could be real hard for some companies to dig themselves out of this hole, involved or not.

A chance to hear Chertoff

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I don't usually blog about upcoming events (that's why we have that nifty calendar at the bottom of our homepage), but I wanted to make sure I shared this. The Security Industry Association just announced that the former U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will address their 2010 Government Summit scheduled for June 8-9.

In case you forgot, Chertoff served as the head of DHS from 2005 to 2009. Now, he is the co-founder and managing principal of The Chertoff Group, a consulting agency that specializes in risk prevention, crisis management and post-crisis recovery.

“Secretary Chertoff advised the president on critical infrastructure protection issues affecting every American. He knows how homeland security policy is made in Washington, and SIA Government Summit attendees will have the benefit of hearing what practical lessons can be drawn from his experiences at DHS," said SIA Government Relations Director Don Erickson.

The summit will also cover issues about biosecurity, identity management, stimulus spending and procurement.

And Chertoff isn't the only big name on the docket. Columnist George Will and Clinton White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry have been scheduled as special keynote speakers as well.

Sounds pretty good. I've already started begging my higher-ups to let me go. You should do the same - June is just around the corner.

McCain requests National Guard deploy to border

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Only a few weeks after Janet Napolitano ordered a funding freeze for the Secure Border Initiative Network along the Mexican border, she is now being asked to step up security along the border by sending in the National Guard.

The "virtual fence" was eliminated because, well, it didn't work. There have been plenty of calls to action along the border, including the Texas Border Coalition advocating for massive investments in infrastructure, technology and personnel at the 42 ports of entry in the U.S. to “avoid becoming the path of choice for human and drug smugglers.” The governor has also called for more Predator drones to help protect the border.

Well, now Sen. John McCain is getting involved in the push for better security along the border. While I'm sure he's always been involved in border issues, as he is the Senator of a border state, but McCain is suddenly feeling the heat due to a tough primary election coming up and an opponent who has accused him of “28 years of inaction”, according to Politico.

McCain wrote Napolitano this week, reported the publication, imploring her to fulfill his and GOP Gov. Jan Brewer’s standing request for federally-funded guard troops.

"We're going to examine whether, and if, National Guard deployments would make sense and in what circumstances they would make sense as part of this overall review of our border situation," Obama told reporters last month. "I haven't drawn any conclusions yet," he said. "I don't have a particular tipping point in mind."

That sounds like a pretty big "wait and see" to me.

U.S. scales back national preparedness drills


WASHINGTON—A live exercise intended to respond to the detonation of a nuclear bomb in the heart of Las Vegas has been canceled after lawmakers and business owners argued that such a drill would frighten away tourists and “unacceptably harm’’ the region’s battered economy, according to an article in the Boston Globe.

Virtual fence to protect border gets cutoff

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Secretary Napolitano announced this week that she is freezing all funding for the Secure Border Initiative Network along the Mexican border, according to NPR. The construction of a "virtual" fence along the border, using video surveillance with analytic capabilities was intended to identify and alert Border Patrol of individuals attempting to illegally cross the border or other activity happening along the 2,000 mile border. The only problem? It didn't work.

"Well, it sort of works," said Rich Stana, who wrote a report on the project last year for the Government Accountability Office.

Here's some details from the article:

Homeland Security hired The Boeing Co. three-and-a-half years ago to build a string of towers along the 2,000-mile border. The towers were to integrate off-the-shelf products — cameras, radar, connections to ground sensors — so that Border Patrol agents could see who and what was coming across in real time.

Boeing made big promises about SBInet's capabilities.

Boeing built a 28-mile test section in the Southern Arizona desert. It didn't work. The company regrouped, redesigned and redeployed one set of towers near the first set. It is building another section right now. The entire border was supposed to be covered a year ago, but after three years — and $1.4 billion — the system is still full of bugs.

You might remember that 60 Minutes produced a great piece on the project not long ago (see Sam's blog and the video here).

As if that wasn't bad enough, the GAO is expected to report that the project hit a real desperate note:

The new report even says some tests have been rigged to guarantee success.

That's not good. We should know more details later today, as an executive from Boeing is set to appear before the House Committee to discuss this monumental failure, but unfortunately I'm not able to find a video link from C-SPAN, otherwise I'd be tuned in.

The demise of this project is just more confirmation that just because one can use "off-the-shelf products" does not mean that it's the best solution. That sure is a hard $1.4 billion lesson to learn, especially since you and I are footing the bill.

Gun? What gun? Oh, that gun. I lost it, says DHS

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I'm not sure if this article is amusing or just pathetic, but apparently the agency that is charged with our national security has a hard time keeping tabs on its own weapons.

Agents and officers of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported that 289 of their handguns, shotguns or automatic rifles had been lost or stolen between 2005 and 2008

Actually, that didn't seem too bad to me, especially over the course of three years, but I found some of the ways that officers lost weapons to be fairly amusing. Apparently, weapons were left in places ranging from fast-food restaurant restrooms to bowling alleys to clothing stores.

I can just imagine how some of those conversations went down:

Boss: Where's your weapon, officer?
Officer: Um, I can't find it.
Boss: What do you mean you can't find it?
Officer: Well, I went bowling with the kids last night and must have left my gun on the scoring table because it was really interfering with my follow through.
Boss: Well, these things happen. Go get yourself another one.

I think that's funny (although it could be due to the cold medicine), but DHS isn't laughing.

"Although some reported losses were beyond the officers' control, most losses occurred because officers did not properly secure firearms," said DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner in a 23-page report dated Jan. 25. "The Department of Homeland Security, through its components, did not adequately safeguard and control its firearms."

But this issue apparently isn't just relegated to DHS.

While the report was embarrassing for DHS, other unidentified federal law enforcement agencies fared worse. Skinner said the Justice Department and the Government Accountability Office, Congress's audit arm, found similar problems among 18 agencies assessed between 2003 and 2007.

I'm guessing a lot of these folks are military or former law enforcement officers (or at least have been trained and certified to carry guns) so they should know how to keep track of their weapons, right? Perhaps it is true that those government jobs make you soft.

Security of Olympic proportions

Monday, February 8, 2010

Trying to secure the Super Bowl was nothing compared to the upcoming Olympic Games. The logistics involved in coordinating all the teams and athletes along with security personnel from numerous agencies should probably be considered an Olympic event all in itself.

Canada will spend about $900 million (U.S.) to keep the Games safe (up from initial estimates of $175 million!), according to this article in USA Today, but the U.S. is not just sitting back and enjoying the games.

Vancouver's proximity to the United States— just 30 miles from the U.S. border crossing in Blaine, Wash. — has spurred an extensive security effort on the U.S. side, much of it focused on an 80-mile stretch of the Northwest border from the Pacific Coast to the western slopes of the rugged Cascade Range.

From a post in Bellingham, Wash., the U.S. government has built a $4 million communications center that will house law enforcement, public health and military analysts, with a total of 40 agencies represented.

The article said there has been about 12 drills in preparation for the Games. These drills range from bomb threats to biological threats along with drills to intercept aircraft and threats on the coast. With all this training and preparation, it's not just the athletes who are preparing to give their best performance, and, unfortunately, security has no choice but to win every time.

Congress mulls IEMP threat to critical infrastructure


DELRAY BEACH, Fla.—In a possible boon to some involved in physical security, members of Congress, and key personnel at DHS and DOE are reportedly eager to pass a bill, currently in the House of Representatives, that would enable the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to require private utilities to protect against IEMP—intentional electromagnetic pulses.