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Homeland Security and Terrorism

Posts Tagged ‘Homeland Security

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?

Homeland Security and the Rise of Social Media

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Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, are a growing factor in everything from marketing to politics, and Homeland Security is no exception. We see the rise of social media in several areas of professional concern:

  • Counterterrorism, in which we’re aware that terrorists increasingly use these technologies to reach out to potential recruits and communicate with operatives;
  • Emergency response, because social media are a fast and effective way to communicate information in a disaster situation;
  • Epidemic disease, in which people worldwide can report instances of disease outbreaks instantly, circumventing any effort their governments may make to contain the information.

Like any essential change in the way people communicate and get things done, social media have their drawbacks. First, it’s worth noting that only a small fraction of the world’s population uses them. Because this fraction tends to be young, well-informed, and activist, social media helped propel popular reactions in places like Iran and Egypt. Nonetheless, it will be a long time before social media catch up with Internet applications like e-mail and news sites, let alone with television, radio, and telephone communications.

Let’s look at some of the challenges Homeland Security professionals will need to consider as social media become more pervasive.

In the area of public security, there was an incident in Mexico in August 2011 in which two individuals, labeled the “Twitter Terrorists” in press reports, posted false information on Twitter and Facebook claiming that children had been abducted from a school in Veracruz by drug cartels. The posts allegedly led to traffic accidents as parents hurried to the school in a panic, and the two perpetrators were charged with terrorism.

The charges were later dropped, but the incident highlighted two important points. One was the degree to which people in Veracruz, an area hard-hit by narcoterror gangs, used social media for instant security-related information. Checking Twitter before leaving home, for example, allows residents to learn about gunfights or other hazards.

Another is the ease with which anyone could cause terror and even casualties by spreading false reports via Facebook or Twitter. As in this case, people might be injured in traffic or trampled at a public gathering based on such reports.

Epidemic disease, whether of natural origin or the result of WMD use, remains a fearsome threat to Homeland Security. In a November 3 article, Homeland Security Newswire explains that social media can sometimes lead to inaccurate information:

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have proven useful in quickly disseminating information, and raising awareness during disasters or disease outbreaks, but these tools can also be a double-edged sword. 

Global health officials warn that social media sites often spread rumors or false information that are difficult to correct.

Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), said, “I can assure you that with the rise of social media, the background noises for rumors have become much louder and making it so much harder to detect the really important segments.”

Keji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director-general, echoed Chan’s thoughts pointing to rumors circulating around the Internet on how to build immunity against the H1N1 swine flu during the 2009-2010 outbreak.

One of the rumors which started was that if you increase your salt intake it can help,” Fukuda said.

According to Fukuda, the agency was forced to correct the rumor, using social media, because taking in too much salt can be dangerous.

Emergency response is another area where the dissemination of inaccurate information could be a problem. However, the benefit of quickly spreading helpful information during a disaster makes it an option to expand, not squelch. Agencies like FEMA are already using social media to inform residents of what’s happening and what to do, and individuals use them on a personal level.

According to an article at Mashable.com, there’s room to make this role more formal:

However, according to new research from the American Red Cross, the Congressional Management Foundation and other organizations, social media could stand to play a larger and more formal role in emergency response. In fact, almost half the respondents in a recent survey said they would use social media in the event of a disaster to let relatives and friends know they were safe.

Students of Homeland Security are sure to see social media technologies grow in prevalence and power. You’ll likely confront new forms of communication yet to be imagined, so it’s worth considering how to make best use of these technologies in the public interest.

Graphic credit:  Mashable.com

Written by Homeland Security

November 3, 2011 at 19:31

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.

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?

Challenges for TSA

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Many of you may be considering careers at the Transportation Security Agency (TSA). The work there is vital: it’s the first line of defense against terrorists and criminals who plan to hijack or destroy aircraft.

The US government took a dramatic step in 2001 when it removed airport security screening from the hands of private-sector contractors and created a corps of federal employees to do the job. Training and pay are at a professional level, whereas under the old system airports hired private firms to do the screening work, and the firms varied greatly in training and other quality factors.

Now, there’s a trend in the opposite direction. Here’s an article on a growing trend by budget-cutters to privatize screening work (link to humanevents article).

Proponents of privatization argue that because there have been instances of bureaucratic bloat at TSA and of inattention and theft by TSA officers, it would be better to replace TSA screeners with cheaper private-sector employees.  However, in the private sector, contracts usually go to the lowest bidder, who keeps costs low by paying low wages and keeping training to a minimum.  That was the situation before 9/11.

For a more detailed look at Representative Mica’s comments on TSA, here’s a link to a newsmax article.

TSA has an especially tough job, since it must close off existing vulnerabilities and anticipate new ones, while maintaining the support of the traveling public.  There was a recent case here in Panama City in which an elderly lady was placed in an uncomfortable situation due to screening regulations (link), and it got quite a bit of negative publicity nationwide.

Here’s another article on a change in TSA procedure designed to build public support for travel screening procedures.  Note that random inspections will still take place, because otherwise terrorist groups may attempt to exploit the new policy:

As the memory of 9/11 dims for many Americans, the traveling public may be less tolerant of intrusive security measures. It will be a challenge for us, as Homeland Security professionals, to build a transportation security program which stays a step ahead of terrorists, while maintaining public support and confidence.

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?

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.