Thursday, December 20, 2007

Chemical & Biological Preparedness from DOD

Just a couple of notes on the DoD's new Joint Service Chemical and Biological Defense Program FY 08-09 Overview. For the most part, this is a broad review of the CBDP's aims for R&D and acquisition of new tools for detection, shielding, etc.

But there are a couple of items in the doc that may be of interest to local first responders. It's interesting that the military has set up a parallel system for detection of biological and chemical agents. If I were a local leader or first responder in a community near a military base, I might want to investigate an opportunity for sharing information:

In response to the events of September 11, 2001, an antiterrorism task force was formed to come up with emergency lists for equipment for the Installation Protection Program (IPP), Army Emergency First Responder Program, and Homeland Security Biological Detection initiative.

The task force decisions resulted in PBD 289, which required a pilot program to outfit nine installations—three each for the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy/Marine Corps. The PBD stated that biological and chemical detection only is required. ...

The Joint Service Installation Pilot Program (JSIPP) demonstrated the efficacy of an integrated suite of highly effective chemical and biological sensors and support equipment installed at the previously identified installations. The suite provided tiered sampling/collection, detection, identification, and warning response capabilities. It was designed to provide early indoor/outdoor collection, detection, presumptive identification, and warning capabilities and proved the need to expand this concept.

The JPMG IPP consists of a highly effective and integrated CBR installation protection and response capability, including detection, identification, warning, information management, individual and collective protection, restoration, and medical surveillance, protection, and response. The communications network will leverage existing capabilities and be integrated into the base operational command and control infrastructure. JPMG will procure and field an effective and optimized CBR installation protection and response capability at 135 DOD installations FY06–12.
In the case of a biological or chemical event, a military Weapons of Mass Destruction - Civil Support Team (WMD-CST) will be part of the response. Advance collaboration between local officials and these teams will improve any response. The military units can bring specialized equipment and training, but it is vital to ensure communications between civilian and military units:
Weapons of Mass Destruction—Civil Support Teams (WMD-CST) ... will allow selected National Guard and Reserve Component units to respond to and contain the effects of CBRN incidents within the continental United States.

The program also funds the design, enhancement, testing, fielding, and sustainment of the Analytical Laboratory System (ALS) Increment 1 and the Unified Command Suite (UCS) Increment 1 for the WMD-CSTs. The ALS Increment 1 provides advanced technologies with enhanced sensitivity and selectivity in the detection and identification of CWAs, BWAs, TICs, and TIMs. The UCS provides communication interoperability with federal, state, and local emergency responders at a WMD incident.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Reducing State and Local Access to Information on Chemical Hazards

The GAO released a report on the EPA's decision to change the standards for reporting hazardous chemicals. Previously, businesses that manufactured, used, or processed any one of 581 toxic chemicals had to report to the EPA any amount of chemicals that were released into the air, water, or soil. The list of companies and chemicals was compiled each year into the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), which can be found on EPA's website, here.

If a company had only a small amount of such chemicals, they did not have to make a report, but filed a separate form that testified that they did not need to provide such information. But in 2006, EPA changed the requirements. Companies could have released four times the amount of toxic chemicals and still be exempt from the reporting requirements. The goal was to reduce EPA's regulatory burden.

The problem? As GAO reported, state and local governments use that information:

States use TRI data, among other things, to design pollution prevention initiatives, to calculate fees on emitting facilities, and to assist in emergency preparedness.

Individual citizens and local advocacy organizations also use TRI data to learn about the type and quantity of toxic chemicals used and released in their communities.
Specifically, 20 states use TRI data to identify the location of chemical hazards, 14 states use TRI data to evaluate facilities' emergency preparedness plans, 31 states compare state TRI data with other databases, and 14 states integrated TRI data with a geographic information system (GIS) or other state mapping capabilities.

The date lost due to the new rules is not insignificant:
EPA’s estimate of the impact in terms of national-level aggregate pounds masks the impact on important toxic chemical information available to many individual communities and states. We analyzed the impact of EPA’s new Form A thresholds at the local level and found they would allow more than 3,500 facilities currently submitting Form R to submit Form A instead. As a result, detailed information about toxic chemical releases and waste management practices from more than 22,000 of the nearly 79,000 Form Rs could no longer be available to communities throughout the country.

We estimated that as many as 3,565 facilities would no longer have to report any specific quantitative information about their chemical releases and other waste management practices to the TRI.
Unless the reporting rules change, state and local preparedness professionals are going to have to
devise new ways to get this information - as today's news from Jacksonville reminds us:

Blast at Fla. Chemical Plant Hurts 13

Monday, December 10, 2007

Preventing Radicalization: What's Important?

The Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) has posted the proceedings of an August seminar on the radicalization process. The focus was on radicalization by Islamist groups, though some of the findings could certainly be applied to other radical groups.

As I've written - or perhaps it's "harped on" - before, understanding the radicalization process is extremely important for anyone who's interested in preventing terrorism on the local level. Recognizing a threat that's still emerging - and intervening at an early stage - can be far more effective and productive than trying to play defense against an array of more mature threats.

Unfortunately, much of the DIIS discussion focused on the question of "Who is likely to become a radical?" which I think is not the most critical question. For example, DIIS concluded that key factors in the radicalization process are:

The perception of personal marginalization combined with the perception of Western double standards in foreign policy appears to play a crucial role.

Additionally, individuals often join radical groups for political or religious reasons and in a search for empowerment but also in search for friendship and a sense of social belonging.
That's all very nice. If you wish, you can go about looking for marginalized young people who feel that the world is against them and are searching for "friendship and a sense of social belonging," along with a sense of purpose and meaning for their lives. But given that you've just described teen angst itself, you'll end up with a list so long as to be useless.

More important, from the perspective of prevention, is "During the radicalization process, what techniques and activities leave detectable traces?"

Unlike operational terrorists, for whom avoiding detection is a high priority, recruiters have to stick their heads above the ground and find the young people DIIS describes. Studying the recruiting process and recognizing its techniques will result in a more focused investigation.

There were, however, a few highlights worth noting. Kamran Bokhari from Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor) - a former member of Hizb ut-Tahrir - pointed out one of the significant vulnerabilities of radical groups:
The radical groups ... are often characterized by a “revolving door” phenomenon. Very few of the individuals who join the groups stay there in the long run. This was the case for Kamran Bokhari himself.
Another worthwhile point was made by Marco Zannoni of the Dutch Institute for Safety, Security and Crisis Management, who argued that the de-radicalization process needs to be systemic and holistic:
Multiple tasks are to be handled in a de-radicalization process. A key point is to acknowledge that different authorities should undertake different tasks in any de-radicalization process at different points in the process. Any intervention involves multiple sets of tasks such as preparing, preventing, spotting, gathering information, monitoring, interpreting and responding to radicalized individuals.

For example the roles of a teacher or a social worker are quite different from the roles of the Police and those roles are crucial at different points in time. Any intervention should be targeted at an individual who might be radicalizing, but additional interventions are needed. Those have to be targeted towards the individual’s context/situation. Possible leads for radicalization, but also for intervention, can be found in the radicalizing/radicalized individual’s immediate surroundings: at school, at work or when they perform acts such as writing messages on the internet.
I was also curious about this nugget, found in the Recommendations section:
It is recommended to find inspiration in the confetti-approach/the New Dutch model, which consists of supporting many micro-projects.
I need to find out more about the "confetti approach." It sounds like a model for innovating new approaches and finding out what works.

Overall, the seminar's findings and recommendations are difficult to argue with. Who'd take issue, for instance, with the idea that:
There is a need to look into how trust can be created between authorities and relevant communities in order to make effective counter-measures...
At a strategic level, these sorts of discussions are worthwhile. On a more tactical level, you've got to ensure that your actions are focused on the right things. It helps to start with the right question.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Fusion Centers: Status and Challenges

Just a relatively brief note on the new GAO report, which discusses the development of state fusion centers, along with the challenges they're facing.

First, a note on the current status of fusion centers:

Officials in 43 of the 58 fusion centers we contacted described their centers as operational as of September 2007. Specifically, officials in 35 states, the District of Columbia, and 7 local jurisdictions we contacted described their fusion center as operational, officials in 14 states and 1 local jurisdiction considered their centers to be in the planning or early stages of development, and 1 state (Idaho) did not have or plan to have a fusion center. In 6 states we contacted, there was more than one fusion center established.
The "all-hazards" focus has been maintained:
[O]fficials in 41 of the 43 operational centers we contacted said that their centers’ scopes of operations were broader than solely focusing on counterterrorism. For example, officials in 22 of the 43 operational centers described their centers’ scopes of operations as all crimes or all crimes and counterterrorism, and officials in 19 operational centers said that their scopes of operations included all hazards.
And it is particularly encouraging to hear that they're exploring the link between terrorism and precursor crimes:
Officials provided two primary explanations for why their fusion centers have adopted a broader focus than counterterrorism. The first explanation was because of the nexus, or link, of many crimes to terrorist-related activity. For example, officials at one fusion center said that they have an all-crimes focus because terrorism can be funded through a number of criminal acts, such as drugs, while another said that collecting information on all crimes often leads to terrorist or threat information because typically if there is terrorist-related activity there are other crimes involved as well.
As the CRS recently noted, it's important for fusion centers - which, it's important to remember, are always state or local entities - to have a close relationship with federal agencies. Without collocation and collaboration, the working relationship suffers. Fortunately, this collocation is proceeding:
Nearly all of the operational fusion centers GAO contacted had federal personnel assigned to them. For example, DHS has assigned personnel to 17, and the FBI has assigned personnel to about three quarters of the operational centers GAO contacted.

[T]he centers varied in their staff sizes and partnerships with other agencies. At least 34 of the 43 operational fusion centers we contacted had federal personnel assigned to them. For example, officials in 17 of the operational centers we contacted reported that they had DHS intelligence officers, and officials in about three quarters of the operational centers told us that they had FBI special agents or intelligence analysts assigned to their centers.
The FBI's engagement is particularly robust:
While the FBI’s role in and support of individual fusion centers varies depending on the interaction between the particular center and the FBI field office, FBI efforts to support centers include assigning FBI special agents and intelligence analysts to fusion centers, providing office space or rent for fusion center facilities, providing security clearances, conducting security certification of facilities, and providing direct or facilitated access to the FBI.

FBI personnel assigned to fusion centers are to provide an effective two-way flow of information between the fusion center and the FBI; participate as an investigative or analytical partner uncovering, understanding, reporting, and responding to threats; and ensure the timely flow of information between the fusion center and the local JTTF and FIG.
Still, there are challenges, including managing the many information systems that feed into fusion centers and the ability (or not) to get security clearances:
[F]usion center officials cited challenges accessing and managing multiple information systems. For example, officials at 31 of the 58 centers we contacted reported challenges obtaining access to federal information systems or networks.

[O]btaining and using security clearances represented a challenge for 44 of the 58 fusion centers we contacted.
More signficantly, there is apprehension on the part of state fusion center directors that the federal government has not made clear its long-term commitment for fusion centers - and that the result would be that eventually fusion centers will become, essentially, an unfunded mandate:
The federal government, through the ISE, has stated that it expects to rely on a nationwide network of fusion centers as the cornerstone of information sharing with state and local governments, but ISE plans or guidance to date do not articulate the long-term role the federal government expects to play in sustaining these centers, especially in relation to the role of their state or local jurisdictions. It is critical for center management to know whether to expect continued federal resources—such as grant funds, facility support, personnel, and information systems—over the long term.
This concern is magnified because a clear commitment to long-term sustainability has not come from the National Fusion Center Coordination Group:
[T]he PM-ISE has established a National Fusion Center Coordination Group (NFCCG), led by DHS and DOJ, to identify federal resources to support the development of a national, integrated network of fusion centers. ... However, to date, the efforts of the NFCCG have not included delineating whether such assistance is for the short-term establishment or long-term sustainability of fusion centers.
It's worth recalling that in the National Strategy for Information Sharing, the federal government pledged to assign personnel to fusion centers "where practical" and to integrate and collocate resources "to the extent practicable. It's this kind of tepid support that makes state and local officials jittery.

It certainly doesn't appear that fusion centers are in any short-term danger. There are too many resources being poured into them, and they're too central to our national strategies. But it's clear that the effort to establish and maintain them could be more coordinated and collaborative. The anxiety of state and local fusion center officials about the federal government's level of commitment is a clear sign that inter-governmental relationships are not yet built on trust.