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Mar 4, 2010
Following his testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and
Government Affairs committee where he testified about chemical
security, DHS Under Secretary Rand Beers met with national security
bloggers for an “on the record” session hosted by the Heritage
Foundation. It was a remarkably refreshing session – not only because
Beers acknowledged the importance of reaching out to a wide range of
critical thinkers (which occasionally includes bloggers), but also
because he was characteristically candid. Would that other DHS
officials followed his lead.
Beers gave a brief overview of issues involving the QHSR, the
Christmas Day aviation bombing attempt and cyber security, then he
opened the floor to questions – and those questions covered a wide
range of topics.
I would summarize his responses as follows:
* The key failing in detecting the Christmas Day attack was “a failure of analysis.”
* It is a misimpression to suggest that DHS is focused solely on
aviation security because serious efforts have been made to detect and
prevent attacks on soft targets, such as hotels.
* DHS is mindful of the security needed for high profile events, such
as the pending trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and is working closely
with other federal and state/local agencies to provide a secure venue.
* Cyber security is a core mission of DHS, and there needs to be
greater coordination among federal agencies. Identification of the
actual “attacker” is always a problem, due to the nature of a cyber
* Dealing with information sharing issues on a global basis,
particularly with the EU Parliament and the EC, has been difficult
(passenger name record information is one example). Yet, we live in a
global system and need global information sharing.
* In order for information sharing to work well, data must be put
into the system in the first place (e.g., A stolen passport registry
only works if information about stolen passports is available for
others to access).
* International aviation carriers and airports may need assistance in
upgrading screening technologies and techniques, and that is why
Secretary Napolitano sought to work with IATA and ICAO.
* DHS and the Department of Energy have a partnership to develop new
screening technologies, but not all threats can be detected and with
any event there is no absolute security.
In response to my question about what constitutes an “act of
terrorism” in the event of a cyber attack — something that is
currently the subject of a public debate with regard to the physical
attacks at Fort Hood and the Austin, TX general aviation pilot’s
suicide attack on an IRS office — Beers expressed his opinion that it
might hinge on whether there were “nation state actions.”
The question is not merely academic. As one example, the SAFETY Act
does not apply unless there has been an “act of terrorism” as
determined by the DHS Secretary. Further, many general liability
insurance policies exclude coverage for acts of terrorism and “acts of
It was clear to me that the subject was one that Beers had
contemplated previously, but he was not yet ready to make public his
opinion…and maybe he can’t. Perhaps this definition can only be given
after an event has occurred because there are political overtones to
such a determination, not just legal and semantic boundaries.
I’m not sure that this Administration is ready to provide a clear
line of demarcation between malicious activity, espionage, criminal
behavior and acts of terrorism. But it is a discussion worth pursuing,
and I hope others will take up the issue, much as Jessica Herrera-Flanigan did in her recent posting to HLS Watch.
The ancillary issues, such as risk mitigation and insurance coverage,
are ones that should command serious private sector attention.
Secretary Beers comments emphasized why we are fortunate that
someone with his experience, intellect and candor is working to protect
us from dangerous people and dangerous things.
It also served to remind me, at least, of why many observers believe
Beers would be an ideal candidate to become DHS Secretary should Janet
Napolitano leave the position.
Sadly, given the track record this past year of the White House
Personnel Office in filling vacant DHS positions, I don’t have a lot of
hope that someone with Rand Beers’ qualifications would even be
considered by them…and that would be a shame, because he is a
knowledgeable, deep thinker and is willing to speak candidly.
Heritage and Beers earned special kudos. They have my thanks for holding this session.
This piece was originally posted on Security Debrief.