States Rushing to Limit the Use of Drones by Law Enforcement

Tim RieckerInspired by this Washington Times article.  I must say I don’t understand why people are protesting the use of drones (aka unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs) domestically.  Yes, they fly; and they have cameras with telephoto lenses.  Their use, however, from a law enforcement perspective is largely no different from that of helicopters or small fixed-wing aircraft – except at a much lower cost and no danger of physical harm to individuals, such as pilots or crew, which occur far too often – mostly with helicopters.  I think portions of the public have greatly overreacted to what they have seen of the military versions of these drones by way of mass media.  They certainly do have great capability in that theater, but use domestically is vastly different – especially being that they aren’t armed with hellfire missiles and the like.  Now with politicians weighing in, the over-reaction continues, and at a detriment to public safety.

I truly hope that a compromise can be found with people realizing that the use of drones, within all current standards of surveillance, warrants, etc., is not a threat to their privacy.  It is, in fact, a demonstration of smart government, leveraging technology to enhance capabilities at a lower cost and increased safety.  In aerial surveillance, drones can be used for nearly anything a helicopter or small fixed-wing aircraft could be used for; including rapid deployment after a shooting or robbery to look for a subject, or to find an Alzheimer’s patient gone missing.  These are noble and proper efforts that I hope won’t be impeded by knee jerk reactions based upon misinformation.

What are your thoughts?  Am I missing something here?

10 Years of the Department of Homeland Security

A few days ago I looked at four different links related to the 10 year anniversary of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  Every one of these links (here’s one of them) called for the abolishment of the department and decried everything they have done and stand for.  Being the relative moderate that I am, I take a slightly different view on this – let’s make some changes, but in the end DHS will still stand – albeit a different agency.

On November 25, 2002 President George W. Bush signed into law the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which authorized the largest governmental reorganization in the US since the creation of the Department of Defense.  The goal was to bring, in whole or in part, 22 US agencies which were chartered in some way with domestic terrorism protections under one agency umbrella.  Interestingly enough, two agencies who took a lot of heat for perceived intelligence and coordination  failures prior to the 9/11 attacks – the FBI and CIA – were not included in this reorganization… thankfully!  It seems that over the last decade, nearly every entity brought into DHS has suffered in some way.

Looking back, there absolutely was a need for increased coordination amongst federal agencies when it came to intelligence.  The US Intelligence Community is significant, with a multitude of agencies all playing a necessary role.  In my humble opinion, there should have been a strengthening of the role and powers relative to intelligence coordination of the Director of National Intelligence.  Perhaps even some agencies could have been merged, in whole or in part, to streamline missions.

Relative to the agencies brought into the fold of DHS, intelligence is a secondary or tertiary function to many of them (I speak of the function, not mental capacity).  Similar to streamlining missions amongst intelligence agencies, certainly there could have been some mergers, again in whole or in part, amongst these 22 DHS-bound agencies to help streamline the response, training, and critical infrastructure missions that many of them touch upon.  This would have had a much greater (positive) impact to the public safety and emergency management community than stuffing them all into one house and hoping they would get along.  Despite intelligence not being a primary function of these agencies, DHS has jumped head first into the deep end of intelligence as a knee jerk reaction instead of going about it the right way.  In this haste, we see some big mistakes with fusion centers, grabbing a lot of media attention.  In government there tends to be a desire to over-legislate things.  When we see a problem we create a bill and pass a law.  That law creates a new agency or charges an existing agency to do something different.  Often times, an existing agency is already doing what needs to be done or has the resources available to do it – which would be the easy fix.  Instead we see something called mission creep, where agencies will wander into mission areas already occupied by someone else, and using some legal charter to justify the action.  The creation of the US Department of Homeland security was the worst possible amalgamation of these circumstances, forcing changes in command structure and hierarchy of 22 different agencies – even taking away the cabinet-level position held by one of those agencies (FEMA) – a move that was realized as a significant mistake when Hurricane Katrina struck.  The Washington Times even reports that President Bush was resistant to the concept, not seeing a need for such a large agency.

DHS became a massive bureaucracy, not only through the merging of these 22 agencies, but through the creation of a substantial overhead organization.  That overhead organization does little to provide shared services for those 22 agencies such as HR, payroll, purchasing, finance, etc. – which would be an ideal use.  Instead, things grew so complex that for several years of the last decade, KPMG – one of the largest audit firms in the nation – was unable to complete an audit of the agency.  Hundreds of billions of dollars have been budgeted to DHS over the last decade – dollar amounts far in excess of the value to the American public.  Even their grants, which have benefitted many state, county, and local governments, have gone overboard and lack proper accountability.  Some of the grant rules are so cumbersome that many jurisdictions haven’t been able to spend grant funds going back several years.

But should we get rid of DHS?  I say no.  The Department of Homeland Security, originally created as the Office of Homeland Security (prior to the Homeland Security Act) was charged with developing a national strategy to secure our nation from terrorist attacks to include the coordination of detection, preparation, prevention, response, and recovery efforts.  The creation of DHS should have been a modest and conservative reflection of this original charter, drawing in the necessary agencies and resources to accomplish this mission.  It should not have swallowed agencies that have their own distinct missions, those that functionally don’t belong under another agency (i.e. emergency management as a function of homeland security) or those who best function with cabinet-level representation (i.e. FEMA).  Yes, I do stand in obvious defense of FEMA, but 21 other agencies were also impacted significantly by this.

It’s not too late to make the necessary changes.  As I’ve said in the past – let’s be smart and use some common sense.

Terrorist Arrested in NYC – Bomb Plot Foiled

A 21 year old Bangladeshi national in the US, here on a student visa, was arrested two days ago for attempting to detonate a 1,000 pound bomb outside the Federal Reserve bank in Manhattan.  This was the result of a three month long sting operation by the FBI and the local Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).  Congratulations to the agents and officers of the FBI and coordinating agencies who foiled this plot, and thank you for keeping our nation safe!

Homeland Security Today provides some initial details of the plot in what is, surprisingly, not a top national news story.  I’m honestly shocked by this –   Folks, this is big news!  Based on the information provided, the detonation of a bomb this size (had it been real) would have done just as much damage as that caused by Timothy McVeigh at the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City.  That bomb killed 168 and injured almost 700 people.

While there have been a lot of criticisms of our nation’s intelligence functions lately (see my earlier post on Fusion Centers), this is one of the true success stories.  Let’s congratulate all of the officials involved in finding and catching this radical.  I’m sure the employees of the Manhattan Federal Reserve bank and their loved ones are truly thankful.

Fusion Centers & The Art of Intel

In reference to an MSNBC article titled “Homeland Security Fusion Centers Called Useless“… This was a pretty critical article on the utility and outputs of fusion centers.  Fusion centers have been highly funded by the federal government over the past decade as a means of pulling together local, state, and federal law enforcement officials into one regional facility with the purpose of collecting, sharing, and analyzing intelligence information pertinent to domestic crimes and terrorism.

While the article was critical of the outputs of fusion centers, such as failed leads and off-base reports, there have been successes.  The article eludes to them, but some of those successes are still classified/sensitive information.  Given that, this article may not be fairly representing the progress of fusion centers.  That said, there are still some obvious improvements to be made.

This is not CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, or Law and Order.  The collection and analysis of information (law enforcement intelligence, or otherwise) is not often times a straight forward or simple process.  It can not be accomplished within the confines of an hour-long prime time show.  While I’m not an intel analyst, I’ve performed similar work many times over as a Planning Section Chief and Situation Unit Leader working in incident command posts and emergency operations centers for various types of incidents.  Add in a multi-agency response (which nearly every incident of any measure of complexity surely entails), and you’ve got your hands full just figuring what has happened, much less what’s going on right now, and trying to forecast what will likely happen.  One needs to determine exactly what information is needed, where to get it, how to get it, validate it once it’s received, consider how the information should be shared, cross-reference it with other data, and still make sure that it’s all timely, relevant, and accurate.  Intel gets even more complicated, particularly in the ‘cross referencing’ activity I just listed.  The best way I’ve seen this explained is by ‘collecting the dots and connecting the dots’.  A great book for your intel types is “Intelligence Analysis – A Target Centric Approach“.  It should be required reading for all fusion center staff.

Fusion centers are still a fairly new concept – perhaps could even still be considered a fad.  They are a concept that has likely not reached maturity.  They have certainly been tested in real life and by way of prevention exercises.  On a daily basis they must weed through tons of boring and seemingly irrelevant information, identifying one bit here and one bit there that might be relevant.  These folks are further challenged by a multi-agency environment (certainly a strength in the long run, but still presenting challenges of its own) and the necessity to identify patterns within the intel.  No easy task.  They have policies, processes, and procedures.  They have training and exercises.  Clearly, though, we are doing something wrong.  But what?