Jeff and Christine's Homeland Security Blog

Homeland Security and Terrorism

Archive for October 2011

Resources for New Entrants to the Homeland Security Profession

leave a comment »

Looking to put your Homeland Security education to work?  Read on for some resources to explore as you look for positions which suit your experience and interests.

Every candidate is different. Among the factors to consider are your willingness to relocate, your past experience (especially in security-related work such as firefighting or military specialties), your age (some entry-level Federal positions have an upper age limit, usually 37-40), and your interests. A few positions will also require eligibility for security clearances. Many positions you’ll see are suited for people who are already working in the HS field, so keep on looking for those which suit your own level of experience. Some will require additional training, such as an EMT certification, along with your HS degree.

It can seem discouraging to look for your first position in a tough economy, but take heart– Homeland Security is one of the fields less affected by the downturn. Realize that you’ll likely need to go through a lot of applications before you land your position. That’s entirely normal, and it doesn’t reflect on you.

If you’re not already looking at USAJOBS, that should be a regular part of your search if you’re interested in positions at the Federal level, like FEMA work. USAJOBS is the site for Federal employment, and it lists civilian and military positions at all levels.

Monster.com is the big name in employment searches, and it features millions of mostly private-sector positions in all fields. It’s worth searching, and you can set it to send you reports on security jobs in the areas you want.

Another good one is Indeed.com.  It also carries jobs in all fields, including security.  These include positions in emergency management.

State and local positions may appear in job databases, or on their own agency sites. There’s a lot of variety here, so you’ll need to do some investigating to find the listings you need. If you’re interested in emergency management or law enforcement, look at your own state’s websites, and then at some in your city (or other cities where you could relocate). Here is one example:

Police officer in Bismarck, North Dakota: http://tbe.taleo.net/NA5/ats/careers/requisition.jsp?org=BISMARCK&cws=1&rid=249

There’s a site dedicated to emergency services jobs, too. Check out listings at http://emergencyjobs.org/.

Open Fire Academy offers a great list of positions in firefighting and emergency response. Some of these positions require firefighting or EMT certificates that you may have earned as a volunteer, or which you might work on completing to complement your HS degree.

Remember that few people find their dream job right out of school. Depending on your goal, you may need some years of experience, and perhaps additional training. For example, if your ambition is to be an FBI officer, you would do well to gain some entry-level law enforcement experience with a local police department– something your HS degree makes you well qualified to do. Then, you can work on your bachelor’s degree while racking up the experience you’d need to reach your goal. All the while, you’re earning a salary and benefits. If you’re aiming at a position with TSA or CBP, you won’t need any additional training or education, but you’ll need to prepare for entrance testing.

Of course, most people find that their priorities and interests develop as they progress in their careers, so your goals may change, too.

Chat-downs: Behavioral Science at Work

with 2 comments

The Transportation Safety Agency (TSA) has a tough job, and it continues to look for ways to stop terrorists while minimizing inconvenience to legitimate travelers. Sometimes, the emphasis is on technology, but a successful pilot program involving focused questioning and observation by a trained officer shows that behavior analysis techniques work.

An article in Business Week magazine explains that the program will soon be expanded to a second site:

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport joins Boston’s Logan International as a test site for the program, in which TSA employees briefly talk to passengers to assess whether they might be involved in terrorist activities. The technique has been called “chat-downs” by Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, ranking Democrat on the House homeland security committee, who has questioned whether it works. “

While there have been a number of naysayers about this technique, my main question is, “What took them so long to implement this method!” Behavior detection is the way to go for TSA and I would like to see this spread to include many more airports. The chat only takes a minute or two, and it can be very revealing of individuals’ motivations, fears and worries. People involuntarily show physical and physiological reactions to a fear of being discovered, and when briefly interviewed by authority figures, anxiety is intensified– allowing officers to detect these reactions. While electronic detection equipment has its place, focused observation is more likely to lead to an individual’s motivations and intentions.

According to the TSA website,

“The Behavior Detection Officer (BDO) program utilizes non-intrusive behavior observation and analysis techniques to identify potentially high-risk passengers. BDOs are designed to detect individuals exhibiting behaviors that indicate they may be a threat to aviation and/or transportation security. The program is a derivative of other successful behavioral analysis programs that have been employed by law enforcement and security personnel both in the U.S. and around the world.”

Many of TSA’s techniques have been pioneered by the Israelis, who have been struggling with the terror threat for much longer than the US has.

Behavior detection is a risk-based approach which allows TSA to focus its limited resources on making a determination whether someone is really a risk or not. This saves time for travelers who are non-threats and who can pass through these checks with no problems. It is not profiling, since determinations are made based on a number of factors including body language and responses to questions, and not on the religious or ethnic make-up of travelers. This is smart, given the fact that terrorists come from different religious and ethnic backgrounds.

This isn’t a new method; in fact, it has been practiced by the airlines for many, many years. For international flights, it has been common for airline personnel to ask questions of travelers such as whether they were given anything to pack, or whether they packed their own bags. This allowed airline staff to gauge reactions and focus limited resources on possible threats rather than mindlessly subjecting everyone to the same level of scrutiny.

Behavior detection is a risk based approach which is much needed in TSA’s methodology and is, at last, a logical way to proceed.  Those who don’t support this method may be basing their opposition on a basic misunderstanding of what it entails, since it relies on established behavioral analysis techniques and avoids the privacy and profiling pitfalls of alternative measures.

A “Pre-crime” System?

with one comment

 

Is it possible to detect terrorists or criminals before they strike? That’s the premise of science-fiction films like Minority Report, but the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is already experimenting with a “pre-crime” system it calls Future Attribute Screening Technology, or FAST. In an October 7, 2011, article, CNET News writer Declan McCullagh explores what FAST is intended to achieve.

Instead of relying on psychics to predict who will commit a dangerous act, FAST is designed to collect data surreptitiously on a subject’s heart rate, breathing, voice patterns, eye movements, ethnicity, occupation and gender. Algorithms will then determine which individuals may have malicious intent.

So far, FAST is still in the testing phase. In addition to testing on DHS employees who volunteered for the program, a field test was conducted in one northeastern US venue. How would it be used? DHS has suggested that FAST may be deployed at airports, but it might also be used at border crossings or public events where large crowds are present.

How about the science behind FAST? There’s no way to conclusively detect someone’s criminal or terrorist inclinations; that idea went out with phrenology in the 19th century. However, biological signs can betray a person’s anxiety, and someone who is about to commit a terrorist attack is likely to be under stress.

One problem is that while symptoms like an elevated heart rate or changes in voice patterns may indicate anxiety, they don’t offer insight into the cause of the anxiety. Someone displaying these symptoms may simply be nervous about missing a flight, or may be stressed at a sporting stadium because of misplaced car keys or even an adverse referee’s call.

There’s a parallel with “lie detectors.” Polygraph equipment can’t look into someone’s mind and determine that he is lying. All it can do is reveal biological symptoms which are associated with the anxiety or stress. Since stress accompanies deception for most psychologically normal people, it can indicate areas for questioning for investigators.

Because FAST won’t be able to “detect terrorists” in a simplistic and certain manner, we as Homeland Security professionals will need to consider how technologies like this should be used. There are clear privacy implications: how would collecting data from crowds of people square with the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures?  If a system like FAST does point out an individual with a suspicious profile, how should law enforcement or transportation security officers proceed?  Would it be sufficient grounds for probable cause, leading to further action?

Natural Disasters: Why Will They Hit Us Harder?

with one comment

We’re used to thinking of natural disasters as random acts of nature, no greater or less in our own century than in earlier times. Some commentators believe the frequency of natural disasters has increased, but what’s certain is that they affect us more than ever before, despite our advances in predicting storms and measuring quakes.

Why? Because human populations are denser than ever before, so it’s likely that a disaster will strike a populated area. In the past, earthquakes and storms often hit regions with few towns or settlements, so death tolls were low.

Likewise, the level of infrastructure was lower in the past. Disasters now destroy not only farms, homes, houses of worship, and markets but also skyscrapers, factories, airports, and microwave towers. The financial cost has gone up along with the human cost. According to Erwann Michel-Kerjann, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in risk management, America is highly vulnerable to natural disasters. Writing in the Washington Post, Michel-Kerjann shows that the economic costs of natural disasters have doubled compared to a similar period 20 years ago:

The world has entered a new era of catastrophes. Economic losses from hurricanes, earthquakes and resulting tsunamis, floods, wildfires and other natural disasters increased from $528 billion (1981-1990) to more than $1.2 trillion over the period 2001-2010. The 9.0 earthquake and massive tsunami in Japan this past spring caused hundreds of billions of dollars of direct and indirect costs.

How about the idea that there have been more natural disasters in recent times? The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) studied this idea in a 2005 article. Here’s what UNEP had to say:

With growing population and infrastructures the world’s exposure to natural hazards is inevitably increasing. This is particularly true as the strongest population growth is located in coastal areas (with greater exposure to floods, cyclones and tidal waves). To make matters worse any land remaining available for urban growth is generally risk-prone, for instance flood plains or steep slopes subject to landslides. The statistics in this graphic reveal an exponential increase in disasters. This raises several questions. Is the increase due to a significant improvement in access to information? What part does population growth and infrastructure development play? Finally, is climate change behind the increasing frequency of natural hazards?

In late September 2011, funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was at the center of budget battles in Washington. While the situation was temporarily resolved, a fundamental challenge remains: as more Americans will be facing natural disasters in years to come, is there still a national consensus that disaster victims can count on Federal help?

Graphic courtesy of UNEP