Friday, March 30, 2007

HSPD-19: Combating Terrorist Use of Explosives in the United States

The White House recently released Homeland Security Presidential Directive 19 (HSPD-19): "Combating Terrorist Use of Explosives in the United States."

Just a couple of notes here. First, the directive emphasizes explosives detection. One of its requirements is the development of a national strategy "on how more effectively to deter, prevent, detect, protect against, and respond to explosive attacks." Some of the specific requirements for the new strategy are:

  • an inventory and description of all current Federal Government assets and capabilities specifically relating to the detection of explosives or the protection against or response to explosive attacks
  • an inventory and description of current research, development, testing, and evaluation initiatives relating to the detection of and protection against explosives and anticipated advances in capabilities for reducing the threat of explosive attacks
  • recommendations for improved detection of explosive chemical compounds, precursor chemicals used to make improvised explosive chemical compounds, and explosive device components
  • an assessment of the effectiveness of, and, as necessary, recommendations for improving Federal Government training and education initiatives relating to explosive attack detection, including canine training and performance standards
Trying to detect explosives is a risky strategy. It assumes that someone has already made the bomb, or has acquired the precursors for it. There may not be much time between the making of the bomb and its deployment.

The HSPD also has some directives for information-sharing at all levels (and with the private sector), which is good to see. I'm a little leery of the "build it and they will come" philosophy which seems to underlie these instructions, though:
The Attorney General, in coordination with the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence, shall maintain and make available to Federal, State, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement entities, and other first responders at the discretion of the Attorney General, a web‑based secure portal that includes information on incidents involving the suspected criminal misuse of explosives, including those voluntarily reported by State, local, territorial, and tribal authorities.

The Secretary of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Secretaries of State and Defense, shall maintain secure information-sharing systems that make available to law enforcement agencies, and other first responders at the discretion of the Secretary of Homeland Security, information, including lessons learned and best practices, concerning the use of explosives as a terrorist weapon and related insurgent war fighting tactics ...
As experience with the old Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) has shown, just building an IT network or portal doesn't guarantee that it will be used. Simply making the information systems available is usually not enough. (See these two posts.)

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