Tag Archives: Department of Homeland Security

DHS makes sure terrorists don’t get access to chemical facilities

"IED Baghdad from munitions". Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:IED_Baghdad_from_munitions.jpg#/media/File:IED_Baghdad_from_munitions.jpg

“IED Baghdad from munitions”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:IED_Baghdad_from_munitions.jpg#/media/File:IED_Baghdad_from_munitions.jpg

WASHINGTON – Chemicals are an important part of modern society but, in the wrong hands, they can be deadly weapons. The government has recognized this danger and taken on the act of trying to protect the American people by protecting the stocks of chemicals across the country.

Since the 9/11 attacks the United States has collectively feared a repeat terrorist attack on domestic soil. In, then-President George W. Bush called for the creation of what is now called the Department of Homeland Security to address and attempt to resolve this very fear.

Part of that effort includes the work done by the Office of Infrastructure Protection, which has a mission to work with the chemical industry to protect critical infrastructure, including chemical facilities, from terrorist attacks.

A key piece of the critical infrastructure that needs to be protected is chemical facilities.

“We are talking about things where people could turn a facility into a weapon much like the terrorists in 9/11. They took something that we would not have expected to be used as a weapon and turned it into [a weapon]. And this presents a significant concern for the department,” said Todd Klessman, a senior policy advisor at the Department of Homeland Security.

He said there are two main concerns when it comes to chemical site facilities. The first is the prevention of an attack directly on the facility. Some of these sites are located in heavily populated urban areas. A release of a toxic gas or substance would result in many people injured or dead. Experts point to the Bhopal disaster in India in 1984, in which a gas leak at a pesticide plant killed at least 3,787 people and injured more than 550,000 others.

The second concern is a terrorist stealing chemicals to build a bomb elsewhere, Klessman said at a talk about chemical weapons and security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington based think tank.

Acknowledging this infrastructure vulnerability, Congress authorized the creation of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program in 2007 and reauthorized it for an additional four years in 2014. This legislation gave DHS regulatory authority over “high-risk chemical facilities.” The first task was to determine what that category meant.

“What we decided was that it didn’t really matter what type of facility these chemicals were at. The chemicals will present threats or risk based on their nature, not necessarily the type of facility,” said Klessman, in an interview.

The department developed a list of 325 chemicals of interest and set out to base their regulator efforts on this list, rather than on categories of facilities. Each of the chemicals on the list presented a security risk in at least one of three categories:

  • Release hazards – Toxics, flammables and explosives
  • Theft aversion hazards ­– Precursors to chemical weapons, explosives, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or weapons of mass destruction
  • Sabotage hazards – Chemicals that when mixed with water will turn into toxic hazards

This results in DHS regulating a large swath of industry that is not just limited to what would traditionally be classified as chemical facilities. Alongside the many manufacturing facilities regulated are mines, education facilities, prisons and wineries.

Once the department has determined that a facility is within the highest risk category, it works with a company to implement an appropriate security plan. There are about 3,000 facilities in the high-risk category with only 111 falling into the highest risk group.

“Rather than give prescriptive standards and tell a facility that they must have this type of fence or they must have this type of camera system, we’ve identified 18 areas of security and asked the facility to tell us how they are going to address this,” said Klessman. This allows the facilities to build up on what they already have in place and recognizes that this is not a one size fits all security solution.

“It also makes it so that the terrorists cannot simply read our manual and determine how they can overcome our security,” he said. “If we had a requirement of a ten foot fence then the terrorist could just go build an 11-foot ladder.”

Congress pushes for rules on explosive fertilizer

Corrections and clarifications: A prior version of this story incorrectly reported domestic ammonium nitrate production tonnage as domestic farm consumption totals. This story has also been updated throughout to clarify that Rep. Bennie Thompson is pushing for revisions to the proposed rules, not publication of the current draft.

WASHINGTON — Congress is pressing the Department of Homeland Security to take action on its mandate to make sure that ammonium nitrate, the key ingredient in the 1995 Oklahoma City bomb, stays out of the hands of terrorists, but new rules may still be a long way off.

“The misappropriation of ammonium nitrate remains a homeland security threat – however in the eight years since Congress directed the Department of Homeland Security to regulate its sale, the marketplace has changed considerably,” said Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee and author of the original bill mandating ammonium nitrate regulation. Despite the delay, Thompson is urging the department to rewrite its proposed rules for the chemical widely used in fertilizer.

“I urge DHS to work with stakeholders to update its proposed ammonium nitrate regulations to take this change in marketplace into account. This will help ensure that the program that DHS stands up will be effective.”

In 2007, lawmakers worried about criminal or terrorist use of the chemical passed legislation instructing the Department of Homeland Security to set up a program to regulate the purchase ammonium nitrate. Four years later the department created the Ammonium Nitrate Security Program.

“Certain purchasers and sellers of ammonium nitrate would be required to apply to DHS for an Ammonium Nitrate Registered User Number, and the department would screen each applicant against the Terrorist Screening Database,” said DHS spokesman S.Y. Lee in explaining the program. “Following the screening process, approved individuals would be issued an AN Registered User Number, which would allow them to engage in the sale, purchase, or transfer of ammonium nitrate.”

The department spent months collecting comments from the public and stakeholders regarding how the program could affect different industries, ending on Dec. 1, 2011.

According to DHS, those public comments are still being reviewed. The next step would be issuing final regulations, but Thompson says the time lapse means more input from the marketplace is needed.

From al-Qaida to ISIS, terrorism groups around the world have come to depend on the chemical for the manufacturing of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. The problem became so severe in Afghanistan that the Pakistani government worked with the U.S. to stem the flow of ammonium nitrate across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Some states, impatient with DHS, passed their own ammonium nitrate regulations, but experts are concerned that criminals or terrorists wanting to purchase the substance will just cross state lines to find those states without regulations.

“The administration needs to finalize this rule right away,” said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who has worked to keep ammonium nitrate out of the hands of insurgents in Afghanistan. “A final rule will make it clear that this is a serious challenge and will lay down rules of the road for stakeholders for handling this material appropriately.”

Lee said the process is moving at its current pace because “we seek to strike a balance that both ensures public safety and minimizes the potential economic impact that can arise from additional regulation.”

Luke Popovich, with the National Mining Association, said that the proposed rules would place unnecessary burden on the mining industry. He wants mining facilities to be exempt from the program since the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives already regulates those facilities.

Meanwhile, the fertilizer industry continues to push for speedy regulation.

“We supported this in Congress when it was initially brought up because we as an industry really felt like it balanced the need for security with the problem we were having with a patchwork of state regulation,” said institute spokeswoman Kathy Mathers.

Ammonium nitrate is not a controlled substance, though it is not prepared for consumer use, explained Mathers. In 2011, 2.8 million tons of ammonium nitrate were produced for the U.S. explosives industry, according to the Institute for the Makers of Explosives; in that same year, the agriculture industry produced about 2.4 million tons, according to the Fertilizer Institute.

“If you wanted to go and purchase it, you would go to a fertilizer dealer and that dealer is a retailer. You could call a farm supply center,” said Mathers. “What they could do, and this is what McVeigh did prior to the Oklahoma City bombing, they posed as farmers and went to a farm supply center with a U-Haul truck and bought ammonium nitrate.”

Since then the Fertilizer Institute and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms have run an awareness program to help retailers identify suspicious activity, said Mathers.

“It is up to the good sense of the seller not an ID process. That is why we support the regulation,” said Mathers. “The potential for human error is always there, versus having a regulation in place that sets a standard.”

Nationwide federal agency tag-team leads to crackdown on gang activity in Utah

“Project Wildfire,” a collaborative, nationwide effort between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security, resulted in the arrest of 18 Utah-based gang members, according to an April 8 article by Bob Mims of the Salt Lake Tribune and published on SLTrib.com. Read the full story of how a national security initiative resulted in a quantifiable impact on state crime here.

Private sector advises Obama’s cybersecurity proposal

WASHINGTON —President Barack Obama’s cybersecurity information sharing proposal – with its focus on sharing only targeted threat information between private firms and the government is a better approach than “ill-advised” widespread sharing, a former top privacy official for homeland security said Wednesday.

The Committee on Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies subcommittee heard from industry, privacy and academic experts regarding what they think cyber threat information sharing should look like. The previous week, Department of Homeland Security representatives went before the entire committee to explain how this legislation could protect Americans from increasing cybersecurity threats.

Obama’s three-part proposal includes increased sharing among private sector companies and between them and the government. It also encourages the formation of Information Sharing and Analysis Organizations and creates certain guidelines for both the private and federal sectors regarding personal information retention and sharing.

Under the legislation, businesses would share information with the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, which would pass it onto relevant federal agencies and ISAOs. Participating businesses would receive targeted liability protection in return.

Mary Ellen Callahan, former Department of Homeland Security chief privacy officer, agreed with this targeted sharing approach, calling immediate widespread sharing of threats “ill-advised.” According to Callahan, private sector threats–usually IP addresses and URLs–are reported to the DHS, and then distilled to remove any personal information.

In the end, government security professionals only have information on the threat, its source and target, and how to combat it.

Subcommittee Chairman John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, referred to recent breaches at companies such as Anthem, Sony Pictures, Target and J.P. Morgan as examples of why the legislation is needed. “We need to pass legislation that facilitates the sharing of cyber threat indicators and contains robust privacy protections to improve collaboration between federal civilian agencies, like DHS, and the private sector,” he said.

Many companies choose not to share cyber threat indicators or breaches with one another or the government for fear of legal liability, or having their names in the media as companies with poor cybersecurity. Without this sharing of information, hackers can use the same tactics repeatedly with multiple companies.

Private companies want to see a bill that would allow them to voluntarily share cyber threats with other organizations, but have flexibility in what they share with the government, according to Matthew Eggers, senior director of National Security and Emergency Preparedness for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“This is a bill trying to convince them to participate in a voluntary program that makes their lives more difficult. For folks like me saying ‘I’m not fond of government being in my cell or ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning–software for data management),’ that’s going to be a neat trick,” Eggers said.

The key will be convincing companies that Obama’s proposal would better protect everyone in the long run.

“We need a federated sharing community, not a competitive one,” Greg Garcia,
executive director of the Financial Services Sector Coordinating Council, said. “Withholding info to get ahead… Balkanizing or siloing information–that defeats the purpose.”

This is not the first time Obama has proposed legislation to safeguard America from cyber attacks. In 2011, he rolled out his Cybersecurity Legislative Proposal in an effort to give the private sector and government the tools they need to combat cyber threats. In 2013, he issued the Executive Order on Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity, which established cybersecurity framework standards that were developed in tandem with the private industry.

DHS: Ten years old, feeling growing pains

WASHINGTON – The Department of Homeland Security has some growing to do and holes to fill.

That’s according to lawmakers on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, after they heard testimony from witnesses expressing concern about the structure of the department, which is made up of 22 different agencies.

“But the Department still has a way to go to fully realize the vision that we set for it in the Homeland Security Act,” said Chairman Joseph Lieberman, ID-Conn at the hearing.

“Its operational components are still not adequately integrated with the department’s headquarter offices and with each other, leading to suboptimal use of the department’s resources,” he continued.

Admiral Thad Allen was a key witness on the panel and stressed that the quick birth of the Department forced it to grow too much too fast.

“The time period between enactment of the legislation until the department was formed, there was a little over three months,” Allen said. “While this could be considered government at light speed, little time was available for deliberate planning and thoughtful consideration of available alternatives.”

At the time of the formation of the department, Allen was the Coast Guard chief of staff. He was challenged with the task of moving the Coast Guard into the vast new agency from its former home within the Department of Transportation.

Allen’s biggest concern 10 years ago, and still today, is the lack of planning within the support functions of the department.

Support functions, like accounting and human resources for the Department of Homeland Security, remain in the hands of the individual agencies. Funding for these functions then comes from the agencies and not from the Department of Homeland Security, Allen said.

That means there is no one person or committee within the department that handles all off the staff.

Allen described the differences in the appropriation structure of the components, or agencies, from legacy departments, or those departments that existed before the creation of the department.

“There is a lack of uniformity, comparability and transparency in budget presentations across the department,” he said.

By that, he means you can’t tell where money is going. It’s not easy to see if the money is being used to pay for the cost of employees or operational cost or investments in technology.

The Homeland Security Act required a five-year Future Years Homeland Security Plan outlining a planning, programming and budget framework. But this plan has never been effectively implemented, Allen said in his prepared testimony.

Allen also talked about an issue that witness, former California Democratic representative, Jane Harman made note of in her testimony; redefining our borders.

“As with ‘borders’ we must challenge our existing paradigm regarding ‘case-based’ investigative activities… It takes a network to defeat a network,” Harman said. Utilizing the advances in technology is key to building a strong information-sharing network, she said.

Information sharing and connecting the dots is something the Department hasn’t gotten right, said Harman, the former chairwoman of the House intelligence committee.

“First, the intel function has never fully developed. Part of the reason is that President George W. Bush stood up the Terrorist Threat Integration Center – now the National Counterterrorism Center – that put the mission of fusing intelligence outside of the Department,” she said.

State fusion centers sprung up across the country as part of the Homeland Security Act. Harman said law enforcement agencies report that even though these centers are a part of DHS, the centers provide better, timelier information than DHS itself.

“Intelligence reports are meant to be consumed by state and local law enforcement, but many of those entities consider DHS ‘spam’, cluttering inboxes,” Harman said.

Harman said that good information is flowing from ports of entry via Suspicious Activity Reports.  But when asked whether this information can be packaged in a way that is helpful for state and local law enforcement, she said, “At this point in time, the answer is no.’’

Admiral Allen and Harman agreed the federal government’s role and responsibilities within the department must be clearly defined.

“Congress has shortchanged the department,” by having so many congressional committees with oversight of it Harman said. “By failing to reorganize its committee structure, the homeland jurisdiction remains anemic. So the Department still has to answer to more than 80 committees and subcommittees.”

Harman stressed that Congress still hasn’t made a “single, principal point of oversight and review for homeland security issues and problems.”

Allen suggested that there be a law defining the government’s role in the Department and that better outlines the oversight of the Department.

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US-VISIT uses biometric tools, identifies international visitors

WASHINGTON — The United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology is a Department of Homeland Security program that uses biometric tools in a series of steps to identify those who enter the country without a U.S. passport or visa, analyzes the risk of having the international visitor cross the border, and shares the gathered data with government agencies.

“The US-VISIT program is the centerpiece of the U.S. government’s efforts to establish identity management capability that supports border management and immigration systems to meet the demands of the 21st century,” according to DHS’s website.

Created in 2004, the program helps determine whether international visitors pose a risk to the United States by matching biometric data of fingerprints and photographs to databases and watch lists. Biometric data looks at “physical characteristics that can be used for automated recognition,” according to the DHS US-VISIT web page on biometric services. “Unlike names and dates of birth, which can be changed, biometrics are unique and virtually impossible to forge.”

When visitors arrive in the United States, they must show their identification documents and entry forms. If the visitor is between the ages of 14 and 79 and lacks a U.S. passport or visa, the US-VISIT system is implemented in five steps, as stated by a guide DHS provides international visitors. The visitor has to scan all fingers for fingerprints, and then has his or her picture taken. Once the biometric data is taken, the officer at the gate will ask questions pertaining to the traveler’s trip, such as “What is the nature of your visit to the U.S.?”

This way, the system can “protect our nation by providing biometric identification services to federal, state and local government decision makers,” DHS’s US-VISIT website states.

US-VISIT is used by several government agencies, including the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Coast Guard, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community, Department of Justice and State and Local Law Enforcement, and the Department of State.

Finally, the DHS US-VISIT website on biometric services states that US-VISIT “has helped stop thousands of people who were ineligible to enter the United States,” and is now the go-to source for all biometric data needs.

Privacy concerns arise over DHS’ monitoring of social media

WASHINGTON— Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have a new audience: the Department of Homeland Security.

After a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center revealed that the government has hired a contractor to monitor social media for potential threats and public opinion, privacy advocates and government officials are butting heads on the implications on whether the program oversteps privacy boundaries.

The documents obtained by EPIC, which total nearly 300 pages, center around a Department of Homeland Security contract with General Dynamics to provide information on “potential threats” as well as “media reports that reflect adversely on DHS and response activities.”  The company will monitor content from social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and MySpace as well as comments posted on news websites such as Drudge Report, Newsweek and The New York Times blogs.

In an interview with The Washington Post, officials of EPIC highlighted their concerns about the program’s legality, saying it does not meet the DHS’s mission to “secure the nation.”

“This is entirely outside the bounds of the agency’s statutory duties, and it could have a substantial chilling effect on legitimate dissent and freedom of speech,” Ginger McCall, director of EPIC’s open government program, told The Washington Post.

The Republican chairman and top Democrat onf the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence —  Reps. Patrick Meehan of Pennnsylvania and Jackie Speier of California, respectively —  submitted a letter to the DHS stating that they “believe it would be advantageous for DHS and the broader Intelligence Community to carefully parse the massive streams of data from various social media outlets to identify current or emerging  threats to our homeland.”  The letter did, however, include the representatives’ privacy concerns, explaining that any actions must have oversight “stringent enough to protect the rights of our citizens.”

The documents requested by EPIC include a section titled “Privacy Compliance Review,” which outlines steps General Dynamics must take to protect individuals’ privacy.  The section’s newest revisions from January 2011 state that personally identifiable information can be collected only in explicit circumstances.  These include extreme situations involving “potential life or death circumstances,” government and private sector officials who make public statements, members of the media who “use traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audiences informed, anchors and on-scene reporters, and terrorists or “other persons known to have been involved in major crimes of Homeland Security interest who are killed or found dead.”

According to the memo, DHS will not collect personally identifiable information on those suspected or charged in crimes, private citizens in any capacity and high-profile people “such as celebrities, sports figures or media members who are victims” unless they served as public officials.

A whole different kind of AWOL

The 17 Afghan men ­stare ­out from the black and white mug shots of a military-issued memo.

The Be-On-the-Look-Out bulletin, or BOLO­, is the modern-day equivalent of a “WANTED” poster, ­shared between different ­federal agencies to help track down fugitives or missing persons within the United States.

These 17 faces are not those of terrorists, according to the U.S. government. They are missing Afghani military members, and, the moment they walked off base where they were training, they became illegal immigrants. And wanted men.

Since it was first reported ­by FOX ­News a few ­weeks ago, the BOLO, and the news it heralds, has caused a stir among government and military officials, catching the attention of members of Congress.

It was issued by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to alert military professionals that the men had gone missing from the Defense Language Institute’s campus at Lackland Air Force Base.

At the institute outside San Antonio, Texas, the ­Afghan troops were in the middle of, or in some cases had graduated from, an English language-training program that would allow them to go on to other U.S. military educational facilities, anywhere from dental training school to the War College. At the end of their education, they were supposed to return to Afghanistan, where they would help American and NATO forces fight the insurgency and stabilize the country.

“We are continuing to monitor the situation,” said Capt. John Severns, spokesman for Air Education and Training Command, which runs Lackland Air Force Base. He said once they went missing, though, the Afghan soldiers fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security.

Perhaps the bulletin’s most interesting effect has been to illuminate the murky communications between the tangle of military and government agencies that are handling the issue.

“There are a lot of hands in this,” said one defense official with knowledge of the matter, asking not to be named because his agency did not currently have jurisdiction over the Afghan fugitives.  He suggested a number for the NATO agency called the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, which brought the Afghan men to the U.S. The U.S. number for that agency did not work.

He confirmed that the NCIS bulletin was incomplete and outdated in that it only reported 17 Afghan individuals, when there have been 46 who have gone missing between 2007 and 2009. He said of the 17 named, all but four had been found – many are seeking asylum in Canada. He had no knowledge of what prompted NCIS to issue the bulletin at the time it did.

He and other military officials said they were not concerned that the absences were a threat to security, though. All access privileges are revoked and ID cards inactivated once a person disappears, he said.

At Lackland, Air Force officials can only try to discourage the students who are still there from deserting.

And keeping them under lock and key is out of the question, Severns said.

“They’re students, not prisoners,” he said.

But Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) has concerns about the security implications of the disappearances. Smith, a ­member of the Homeland Security Committee, has called for the Air Force and Department of Homeland Security to brief Congress on the issue.

“It’s no surprise that individuals who come to the U.S. legally on visas decide to stay illegally. But when those individuals are foreign military officers – with special access to military facilities – it creates a serious national security threat to American communities,” he said in a ­statement.

It is not uncommon for foreign nationals brought to the U.S. by the military for schooling to decide they like it enough to stay against their visas. According to Air Force and Defense officials, it’s been happening for decades, with many just staying under the radar or heading to Canada.

“People jumping ship is pretty common,” said Muzaffar Chista, Director of the Migration Policy Institute at New York University School of Law, speaking generally about the phenomenon in immigration and U.S. history.

He said the Afghan military members were somewhat similar to stowaways, people who stay on board a vessel just long enough to reach a port where they disembark – and then disappear into the crowd.

How many ways do I scan thee?

The proliferation of scanners at airports continues to build as the Transportation Security Agency works to keep pace with dedicated and increasingly clever attempts to smuggle harmful things onto planes.

As of Tuesday, 29 U.S. airports have 93 advanced imaging technology units. Ninety airports are home to 930 advanced technology x-ray devices and over 7,300 chemical detectors known as explosive trace detection systems are in use in airports, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

This array of machines peeks under travelers clothing, into their baggage and tastes the chemicals from their hands more than ever before.

“If terrorists are going to put bombs in embarrassing places, we have to look in embarrassing places,” said Carey Rappaport, deputy director of the Northeastern University Awareness and Localization of Explosive-Related Threats Center in Boston.

But all the attention  paid to what can and can’t be seen and what images will and won’t be saved by full-body scanners detracts from the real question of what are these things looking for and what can they see.

The scanning technologies the TSA uses can be broken down into two major types: imaging systems and chemical detection systems.

Imaging systems use a variety of technologies –  among them are low-power x-rays and millimeter rays, which are like weak microwaves and similar to the radar detectors police use to catch speeders, – to do something similar to sonar and radar. Each bounces a wave off of a target and gives information about the target. Sonar and radar can say where something is, how big it is and how it is moving.

The waves used by airport scanners go through clothing and hair, but bounce off of tissue and other objects. A computer interprets the way the waves interact with those objects and return to the sensors, telling the human machine operators some information about what the object is. The waves interact differently with tissue, plastic, metal, liquid and other chemicals, giving the systems’ operators a good idea of the shape of any concealed objects and a vague impression of what any concealed objects may be made from.

“All the things that are man-made are anomalous,” Rappaport said. “You’re expecting to just see flesh.”

More advanced scanners still being tested and not yet in commercial use different types of waves and are even more sensitive to the different types of disruption made by different substances, and so give a more refined view of what hidden objects are made of.

“One of the things about millimeter rays and x-rays is they look for shapes and some chemical composition,” Rappaport said. “But they can’t say ‘this is RDX’ or ‘this is sugar.’” RDX is the explosive in C-4. It was used in the 2006 Mumbai train bombings that killed 209. “What are they trying to look for are threats,” Rappaport said. “A navel ring isn’t a threat. A gun is. A piece of plastic in the shape of knife is.”

Explosive trace detection systems work on an entirely different principle. These machines measure the chemicals swabbed off of hands, zippers, handles and anything else that gets swabbed, looking for tiny amounts– sometimes only a few molecules – of explosives or explosive precursors.  One type of chemical detector looks for specific substances (although many of them, including the most common used for homemade bombs and the most common narcotics), while another type gives a yes or no only for so-called energetic chemicals, which are necessary components of any explosive.

But as the sophistication and sensitivity and, likely, invasiveness of detectors grows, so will the creativity of people seeking to do harm, Rappaport said. “What do you do with people who have taken explosives internally?” he said. “This is tough stuff to write about; tough stuff to consider.”

Threat Advisory Review Level: Gray

Today the National Threat Advisory level is yellow, or elevated. Same as yesterday; same as the day before; same as every day since Aug. 12, 2005.

This means Americans should be vigilant, report suspicions to law enforcement authorities and be prepared for an emergency.


Established on March 11, 2002, the Homeland Security Advisory System serves nominally to keep government agencies of various levels and the public at large informed of the likelihood of a terrorist attack on America on any given day. The U.S. Attorney General sets the level, known as the threat condition.

A task force convened last July to review the system surprised no one by finding that there was little public confidence that the system did anything to keep the U.S. safe.

The 19-member task force did a two-month review and on Sept. 19 issued a report unanimously recommending the system be retained, but acknowledging a pervasive lack of confidence on the part of the public that the system was actually doing anything to keep them safe.

The Department of Homeland Security is in the midst of reviewing the recommendations and consulting with the affected agencies, but DHS won’t comment on which recommendations will be implemented or how long before any changes are made, a homeland security spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

The system premiered in six months after the Sept. 11 terror attacks at yellow, the midpoint of the scale between green’s “low” and red’s “severe.” The threat condition has bounced from yellow, or “elevated,” to orange, or “high,” and back seven times since it was created.

  • Sept. 10 to Sept. 24, 2002 – Attacks were feared on American interests in South Asia at the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington.
  • Feb. 7 to Feb. 27, 2003 – Attacks were feared on lightly-secured U.S. locations such as apartment buildings and hotels.
  • March 17 to April 16, 2003 – The start of the Iraq war raised concern that U.S. and its allies would be attacked.
  • May 20 to May 30, 2003 – Terrorist bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco led to fears of attacks against the U. S.
  • Dec. 21, 2003 to Jan. 9, 2004 – Intelligence agents noticed a surge in threats and raised the threat level accordingly.
  • Aug. 1 to Nov. 10, 2004 – The first time a threat level was raised for an isolated sector, it jumped to orange for just the financial services sectors in Washington, New York City and northern New Jersey because an al-Qaida attack was suspected. The threat level was lowered after the affected organizations and businesses installed permanent protective measures.
  • July 7 to Aug. 12, 2005 – Train bombings in London provoked the DHS to raise the threat condition to orange for U.S. passenger rail, subways and bus systems

The threat condition jumped to red for flights from Britain and orange for all other flights from Aug. 10 to 16, 2006 and has remained at orange for air travel since then.

Among the task force’s recommendations:

  • The color system needs reform to reflect that the country is now always on guard, making the lowest threat level “guarded.”
  • Elevations of the threat condition need to be more focused and include information on specific actions people can do to protect themselves. Overly broad alerts engender too much skepticism to be useful.
  • After the threat passes, agencies should tell people what the government did to resolve the threat.
  • DHS should use the entire menu of communications available including social media and texting and should designate someone to communicate threat-related information for the department.