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Hollywood Technology for Police Training? Real-life Trainees Use Virtual Simulations

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FBI Hostage Rescue training from helicopter.

FBI Hostage Rescue training from helicopter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to a 29 May 2012 article in Homeland Security Newswire, some of the technology which makes the movie worlds of “Lord of the Rings” and “The Avengers” so realistic is now available to help law enforcement officers train for hazardous situations.  Raytheon’s motion-capture method allows trainees to interact with live people or with avatars, all in a 360-degree virtual environment.

Homeland Security Newswire explains how the technology works:

The system works with reflective markers placed on users’ bodies that track their movements along a basketball court-sized “field.” Wearing lightweight goggles, participants are completely immersed in a highly realistic virtual scenario, such as a hostage rescue or a variety of other incidents.

The goal is to re-create on-the-job, realistic challenges so that officers can be better prepared and equipped to deal with them.

It’s easy to imagine how this kind of training environment could let homeland security officers practice essential skills for high-stakes incidents.  Terrorist hostage-taking, bombs and booby traps, and WMD incidents are hard to prepare for, because realistic training situations are traditionally difficult to create or even dangerous.   With Raytheon’s VIRTSIM training system, officers may be able to try out their skills in a realistic, yet safe, virtual environment.

What do you think of game-type simulations as a way to practice HS skills?  What are some potential downsides of these training methods?

Written by Homeland Security

June 6, 2012 at 17:17

Resources for New Entrants to the Homeland Security Profession

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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

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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.

A “Pre-crime” System?

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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?

Trends in Terrorism: the Threat from Domestic Extremists

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For students of Homeland Security, it is important that we remain focused on the changing trends in terrorism in the US. In a recent article, FBI Intelligence analyst Lauren O’Brien makes a good case that the terrorist enemy is now more diverse and adaptable, which makes focusing on the enemy just that more difficult than prior to 9/11.

As she noted in this article http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/september-2011/the-evolution-of-terrorism-since-9-11: “Following 9/11, the United States faced a threat from Al Qaeda not only as an organization but also as an ideology. A new global jihadist movement composed of al Qaeda-affiliated and -inspired groups and individuals began to unfold. Although these groups threatened U.S. interests overseas, they did not rival al Qaeda in the threat they posed to the homeland. However, over time, the spread of this decentralized, diffuse movement has increased the threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad.”

While we cannot discount the threat posed by Islamic extremism and the domestic threat posed by homegrown Islamic extremists, the FBI has reported that roughly two-thirds of terrorism in the US was conducted by non-Islamic American extremists from 1980-2001; and from 2002-2005, the figure went up to 95 percent.

One of the factors in these statistics is that the Patriot Act of 2001 expanded the legal definition of “terrorism” to include domestic terrorism as well as international terrorism. Naturally, this would increase FBI statistics on domestic terrorism cases. However, the government is confronting a notable problem in classifying cases as domestic terrorism and violent extremism: the lack of a comprehensive definition. This lack of uniformity in defining domestic terrorism is reflected in the way domestic terrorists are prosecuted and their final sentencing.

This is noted in an excellent article published by the Council on Foreign Relations and written by Jonathan Masters: http://www.cfr.org/terrorist-organizations/militant-extremists-united-states/p9236

Mr. Masters noted this lack of agreement on what constitutes domestic terrorism, and what distinguishes it from other crimes. Here’s an excerpt from his study: “a Syracuse University-sponsored watchdog organization, when it compared the number of terrorism cases listed by three entities–the courts (310), the prosecutors (508), and the National Security Division (253)– it found that from 2004-2009 only 4 percent of the cases were classified as terrorism on all three lists.” This suggests that the agency that made the designation, not the facts of the case, determined whether a suspect was prosecuted as a terrorist and, therefore, may have received a harsher sentence.

In discussing domestic extremists, the FBI uses four broad categories: left-wing, right-wing, single issue groups, and homegrown Islamic.

Mr. Masters further notes that Lone Offenders may pose the most immediate threat in the US. “According to an FBI report on terrorism, the lone wolf label refers to individuals “who commit acts of violence outside of the auspices of structured terrorist organizations or without the prior approval or knowledge of these groups’ leaders.” A Department of Homeland Security study found that attacks by individuals constituted one-third of all extremist acts of violence since 1995, up from just 6.5 percent in the twenty-five years prior. Recent high-profile cases of these attacks include those by Jared Lee Loughner, James von Brunn, and Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad. Because of their isolation from organized extremist groups, lone wolves are particularly hard to track for intelligence agencies. However, their independence often makes them less effective than members who are well connected to large networks.

In the United States, left-wing violence has been characterized in recent decades by a decline since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and a very successful mid-1980s FBI infiltration campaign. From 1960 to the mid-1980s, most domestic extremist violence was committed by leftist factions, but this is no longer the prevailing trend.

Mr. Masters further discusses single-issue groups where “extremists attack targets that embody distinct political issues like environmental degradation, abortion, genetic engineering, or animal abuse. These groups are usually composed of small, autonomous cells that are hard to infiltrate because of rigid secrecy. According to the FBI, so-called eco-terrorists and animal rights groups like the Earth Liberation Front have committed over two thousand crimes and caused losses of over $110 million since 1979. Ecological extremism gained particular notoriety in the 1990s, and in 2004 the FBI declared these groups the No. 1 domestic terrorism threat. Anti-abortion extremists are responsible for seven murders, forty-one bombings, and 173 acts of arson in the U.S. and Canada since 1977, according to the National Abortion Federation, an abortion rights group. While much of this violence peaked in the 1990s (PDF), the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller served as a reminder of the threat still posed by these factions.

Interestingly, Mr Masters notes that “the most recent swell of extremist violence began to emerge from right-wing militants in the late-1980s and 1990s. According to a 2005 FBI report on terrorism, these groups, which are “primarily in the form of domestic militias and conservative special interest causes, began to overtake left-wing extremism as the most dangerous, if not the most prolific, domestic terrorist threat to the country.” Right-wing extremists champion a wide variety of causes, including racial supremacy, hatred and suspicion of the federal government, and fundamentalist Christianity. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks the activities of hate groups, suggests militia groups declined every year since 1996 but have seen a dramatic resurgence since 2008.”

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?

Recommended Reading: Homeland Security Remains an Agency in Progress (Brian Naylor, National Public Radio Weekend Edition, September 11, 2011)

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Recommended reading: Homeland Security Remains an Agency in Progress (Brian Naylor, National Public Radio Weekend Edition, September 11, 2011) Link: http://www.npr.org/2011/09/11/140367706/homeland-security-remains-an-agency-in-progress

NPR’s Brian Naylor presented an interesting discussion of the status of the Department of Homeland Security as of September 11, 2011. Ten years after 9/11, DHS has overcome many of the growing pains involved in building a vast agency out of 22 separate entities, and it is working to solve the vulnerabilities and faults identified in the 9/11 Commission Report.

The article reflects several challenges DHS is facing. One is the need to spend money carefully. Another is the Department’s balance between terrorism response and management of other kinds of disasters. The public often thinks of DHS in terms of terrorism, such as the old color-coded alert system, yet much of its work is on an “all-hazards” basis: it’s preparing for natural disasters, accidental chemical releases, etc., as well as terrorist attacks. Naylor quotes one academic who believes DHS should reduce its spending on terrorist preparations and focus on risks which happen with more frequency.

Steven Flynn, a member of the 9/11 Commission, says in the article that there’s also a need to focus more on resilience– bouncing back from disasters, since they can’t always be prevented. Flynn doesn’t say that prevention is no longer worth DHS time and resources, but his statement may represent a new way of looking at disasters.

What do you think?

So… what exactly counts as terrorism?

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Because terrorism is so important a threat in today’s world, you might expect that there would be a clear definition of what acts do and don’t constitute terrorism. However, there’s no single definition accepted across the US government, let alone among nations or academic experts. Scores of definitions can be found in various academic and security publications.A sampling of definitions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of State (DOS) illustrate the different perspectives of categorizing and analyzing terrorism.

The FBI uses this: “Terrorism is the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

The U.S. Department of State uses the definition contained in Title 22 U.S.C. Section 2656f(d). According to this section, “terrorism” means “premeditated politically-motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents.” The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) also uses this Title 22 definition of terrorism in its annual reports of terrorism incidents around the world.

 Terrorism is defined by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) as: “The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” Terrorism is a different kind of mission for the US armed forces. Terrorists do not usually attempt to challenge government military forces directly, but act to create public perceptions of an ineffective or illegitimate government. In fact, many definitions of terrorism specify that the victims must be noncombatants. Some theorists include off-duty or unsuspecting military personnel as potential victims of terrorism, while others consider attacks on active-duty military personnel to be acts of war rather than terrorism.

These definitions stress the respective institutional concerns of the organizations using them.

The FBI concentrates on the “unlawful” aspect in keeping with its law enforcement mission. The Department of State concerns itself with politically motivated actions by sub-national or clandestine actors– meaning groups which aren’t nations. This makes a difference in international relations and diplomacy. Many definitions of terrorism don’t distinguish between acts carried out by a nation and those carried out by a group or individual, as long as the attack isn’t by one nation’s armed forces against another nation’s armed forces. That would be categorized as warfare instead.

Outside the United States Government, there are greater variations in what features of terrorism are emphasized in definitions. One comment used often is, “One state’s terrorist is another state’s freedom fighter.” A workable definition of terrorism must distinguish between insurgents who target a government’s centers of power in order to change the political order and terrorists who target civilians. However, since some insurgents may at times attack noncombatants and some terrorists sometimes strike state targets, it’s hard to neatly categorize actual groups.

Even the United Nations (UN) has no internationally-agreed definition of terrorism. The UN produced this description in 1992, although it is not an official definition: “An anxiety inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by semi-clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby – in contrast to assassination – the direct targets of violence are not the main targets.” The UN description differs from many others in that it includes criminally motivated acts, such as piracy. As we’ve seen above, most definitions require that an attack be motivated by ideology (religious, nationalist, or political) rather than profit in order to be considered terrorism.

There is clearly a wide array of definitions for terrorism, and we’ll explore some created by researchers on terrorism in another discussion. However, security professionals generally agree that there are common elements which most definitions include, and which help us distinguish terrorism from other kinds of violence:

— Terrorism is ideological: it’s motivated by a desire to implement a political, religious, or nationalistic agenda.

— Terrorism is violent. It relies on violence and the threat of violence to be effective. Terrorist groups may also carry out propaganda and other non-violent methods of advancing their goals, but these aren’t terrorism.

— Terrorism is about terror. This sounds obvious, but the point of terrorism isn’t destruction or violence in itself; it’s about creating fear and psychological distress among the target population. Terrorists prefer acts which generate media coverage and psychological shock, since this gets the maximum attention for their cause.

— Terrorism is directed at a society or other larger target population, not at the individual victims of their attacks. Attacks are intended to create fear among the population, so that their governments will accommodate the terrorists’ agenda. Some terrorists do attack specific victims through assassinations, but this is intended to destabilize the confidence of the target society’s elite in their government. It is more common, though, for terrorists to attack random civilians.

— Terrorism is deliberate: attacks are not random, but carefully planned.

Terrorism, 9/11, and the Security Profession

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9/11: This single event caused our nation to become fully aware of the challenge presented by a well-funded, ideologically driven enemy which was not based in one location or country and whose members were willing to commit suicide attacks. Securing our nation became our nation’s number one top priority.

Terrorism has been among mankind in one form or another throughout most of our history. Today, due in part to the existence of weapons of mass destruction, terrorists and their organizations have the potential to wreak havoc on a very large scale.

In the 1990’s, complacency took hold among government leadership and agencies, due in part to a sense of security brought on by the fall of the Soviet Empire. National security agencies reduced vigilance and readiness as political leaders voted to cut budgets for people and programs. The slashing of intelligence and defense budgets and planned attrition of expertise among key government agencies created an environment ripe for a terrorist attack to occur on US soil.

After the 9/11 attacks, national security agencies experienced a dramatic overhaul. Only an event of such magnitude could cause such major restructuring in federal agencies, where change is generally incremental. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from disparate agencies like the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now the US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services within DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency brought many professional areas under the same Cabinet-level department. The case of the US Coast Guard is even more unusual; it’s part of DHS, but at the same time remains a military service.

What does this mean for students of Homeland Security? You can look forward to careers in specialties ranging from IT security to emergency management to law enforcement, at the federal, state, or local level. Hiring for security careers is slower than it was right after 9/11, but security remains a priority, and security employment is likely to be more stable than average.

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.