Welcome to the first edition of Link Analysis, a new feature you’ll find at the Center for Investigative Reporting’s homeland security blog, Elevated Risk. The phrase “link analysis” refers to a type of government data-mining that seeks to reveal hidden connections between potential terrorists.
In this case we’re seeking to bring you a greater understanding of the enormous amount of information on the web involving security, privacy, civil liberties, disaster response and recovery, plus much more. We’ll deliver it all with links for you to dig deeper where desired.
So let’s jump in. One day prior to the nine-year anniversary of Sept. 11, the Department of Homeland Security unveiled its plans for a nationwide database of suspicious activity reports. The news didn’t surface in a press release, but much more quietly as a posting at the Federal Register. We caught it just today:
The [initiative] establishes a nationwide capability to gather, document, process, analyze and share information about suspicious activity, incidents, or behavior reasonably indicative of terrorist activities to enable rapid identification and mitigation of potential terrorists threats.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napalitano visited New York for the nine-year anniversary where she told a crowd of emergency responders that the federal government had improved the process nationally for collecting and sharing critical intelligence about possible terrorists, namely through the use of local police fusion centers.
The centers are playing a significant role in compiling suspicious activity reports. From Napolitano’s speech:
We’re prioritizing fusion centers in our FY2011 [anti-terrorism and preparedness] grants, and looking for ways to support them through additional technology and personnel, including the deployment of highly trained experts in critical infrastructure; we’re deploying experienced DHS analysts to every one of these centers – 64 at last count – and we won’t stop until we have them in every one; and we’re linking them together, and with DHS headquarters, through the classified Homeland Security Data Network.
One of the nation’s oldest fusion centers, known as the El Paso Intelligence Center, accidentally caused a California couple that owns a flight training school to be falsely held at gunpoint by police for the second time. Twice now EPIC has failed to clean up incorrect data that led authorities to believe a plane owned by the pair was stolen.
Two major manufacturers of full-body airport imagers are moving forward with software upgrades that would enhance privacy protections for travelers. The news comes shortly after key members of Congress directed DHS to consider using devices already being deployed in Amsterdam that are less intimate than X-ray machines here capable of seeing underneath clothing.
Several news organizations and think tanks chose the 9/11 anniversary last week to release new examinations of homeland security policy in the United States. But arguably the most important came from the National Security Preparedness Group, led by influential leaders of the 9/11 Commission. Two widely recognized terrorism experts, Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman, authored a report for the center that was made public on Sept. 10 titled “Assessing the Terrorist Threat.”
They concluded that attacks involving nuclear or biological weapons are not likely, as are those aimed at so-called “soft targets,” such as shopping centers and malls in small cities. A major problem now involves the export of radicalized Americans to other parts of the world considered fronts in the war on terror. Overreactions to failed attacks here, they add, have played into the hands of jihadists.
The legendary National Security Archive at George Washington University, well known for its use of the Freedom of Information Act to force essential information about U.S. defense and intelligence into the public record, published new documents describing Bush administration demands on the government of Pakistan immediately following the Sept. 11 hijackings.
Both 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina exposed serious flaws in public safety radio systems used by firefighters, police and paramedics. That led to massive investments for improved communications.
But nine years and billions of dollars later, why does it remain so difficult for federal, state and local governments to ensure emergency responders can effectively reach one another – a concept known as interoperability – during a natural disaster or terrorist attack?
The New York Times citing experts says it will still take years for anything nationwide to become a reality, and in the meantime only a patchwork of voice systems exists in some areas of the country.
Emergency Management magazine raised similar questions last month when it dropped this headline: “With billions invested in interoperability, why does it seem like agencies are at square one?”