Jeff and Christine's Homeland Security Blog

Homeland Security and Terrorism

Archive for the ‘Immigration’ Category

Drones in the Sky or Boots on the Ground?

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Unmanned aircraft– Predator drones— have moved from the battlefield to the border.  U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will soon have six of the aircraft active in the effort to detect smugglers of humans and illegal drugs.

According to a 14 November 2011 Associated Press article by Christopher Sherman, the Predator program is credited with helping to apprehend more than 7,500 people and intercepting 46,600 pounds of illegal drugs since the first aircraft were deployed in 2005.  Here’s the article’s description of the Predator at work:

Two Border Patrol agents walked by a patch of brush on a remote ranch and saw nothing. But 19,000 feet overhead in the night sky, a Predator unmanned aircraft kept its heat-sensing eye on the spot…  

In an operations center about 80 miles away, all eyes were on a suspicious dark cluster on a video screen. Moments later, the drone operators triggered the craft’s infrared beam and pointed the agents directly to the undergrowth where two silent figures were hiding.

Officers involved with the program noted that the drones are affected by weather conditions, as are humans and other equipment, and that there are political sensitivities involved when their missions take them across the international border with Mexico.

The biggest issue, however, is price. Each Predator system, which includes the aircraft and its sensors and control equipment, costs $18.5 million.  According to the AP article, some Homeland Security specialists question whether the drones’ impact justifies the price tag:

“The big knock on the UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) program … is that it’s so expensive,” said T.J. Bonner, former president of the National Border Patrol Council, the agents’ union. He said the money would be better spent on more boots on the ground and manned aircraft.

As future Homeland Security professionals, what do you think?

Chat-downs: Behavioral Science at Work

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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.

With friends like these…..

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When reviewing a number of articles dealing with Homeland Security, I came upon a recent NY Times article (LINK) which was an interesting demonstration of how sometimes the US confuses itself and can’t focus on Homeland Security with one voice.

The article was discussing Nassir Al-Rifahe, who was a member of the Iraqi National Congress, having worked for years to topple Saddam Hussein before being granted political asylum in the United States in 1997. For the last 10 years, Mr. Rifahe has been living in the US as a refugee, and the Department of Homeland Security has refused to grant his application for a green card.

To remind my readers, the Iraqi National Congress (INC) was an umbrella Iraqi opposition group led by Ahmed Chalabi. It received millions of dollars in funding from the United States government following the first Gulf War, with the goal of overthrowing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Why is this happening to Mr. Rifahe, you ask?

Well, according to the New York Times article, “Under a sweeping section of federal immigration law, the government considers Mr. Rifahe to have engaged in terrorist-related activity, making him ineligible to live here permanently. That the group Mr. Rifahe worked for was once supported by the United States and tried to overthrow Saddam Hussein matters little.

At issue is a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which was bolstered after the Sept. 11 attacks by the Patriot Act and other legislation to prevent terrorists from entering the United States.

As currently worded, the act defines a terrorist group as any organization with two or more people that has engaged in a range of violent activities against persons or property. This would include groups that take up arms against a government. Simply belonging to such an organization, which does not have to be officially designated by the United States as terrorist, or providing “material support” are grounds for being barred from this country.

The law makes no distinction for groups or governments that Washington views favorably.

I personally don’t see any benefit from this law being so broad as to prevent the US government from assisting individuals who are being labeled as terrorists even when they did not engage in terrorist activities or worked for a US funded group which was doing the bidding of the US Government.

What do you think?

What is Homeland Security?

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According to the “National Strategy for Homeland Security,” the definition of homeland security is “a concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur.”[1]

Homeland security is a relatively new field of study which is constantly evolving and working to define itself. Prior to the Al Qaida sponsored terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, “Homeland Security” as a profession did not exist. It came into existence because of the shocking horror of the 9/11 terrorist attack which altered peoples perception of their own security, the world, and the government’s ability to protect the nation from attacks on US soil.

After 9/11, the United States created a Department of Homeland Security. This grew out of the government’s frustration with trying to unite a number of agencies and government organizations into one capable, centralized organization.

While the terrorist attack of 9/11 called into being the Homeland Security enterprise, its long-term existence is not dependent only on defending the US from terrorist attacks. Significant steps have been taken to implement a series of strategies to secure our nation not just against terrorist attacks, but also natural emergencies and hostile countries.

Because one of the government’s principal missions is protecting its people and homeland from attacks, the Homeland Security mission will always remain. Plans and programs to protect our way of life– and the critical infrastructure which makes our way of life possible– must be crafted and strengthened, all the while respecting our constitutional rights and freedoms and enabling the economy to prosper.

Many human and financial resources were spent on Homeland Security in the years after 9/11. Some were well spent, while in other cases money was wasted during the learning curve on how best to organize and secure our nation. Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, budgets are slimmer, but there remains a national consensus on the importance of funding Homeland Security agencies and activities. Today, the homeland security field is a multibillion-dollar business.

There is an acute national and international need for professionals who can think and operate in the Homeland Security field. These will be people who can contribute their expertise in one or more of the disciplines that comprise the field as a whole.