Tag: dhs

We Fail More—So Put Us in Charge

The Washington Post reports today on an article coming out in Foreign Affairs in which Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III reveals a successful 2008 intrusion into military computer systems. Malicious code placed on a thumb drive by a foreign intelligence agency uploaded itself onto a network run by the U.S. military’s Central Command and propagated itself across a number of domains.

The Post article says that Lynn “puts the Homeland Security Department on notice that although it has the ‘lead’ in protecting the dot.gov and dot.com domains, the Pentagon — which includes the ultra-secret National Security Agency — should support efforts to protect critical industry networks.”

The failure of the military to protect its own systems creates an argument for it to have preeminence in protecting private computer infrastructure? Perhaps the Department of Homeland Security will reveal how badly it has been hacked in order to regain the upper hand in the battle to protect us.

DHS FOIbles

The Associated Press is reporting that persons filing requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with the Department of Homeland Security during the last year faced scrutiny beyond what the law requires.

Career employees were ordered to provide Secretary Janet Napolitano’s political staff with information about the people who asked for records — such as where they lived, whether they were private citizens or reporters — and about the organizations where they worked.

If a member of Congress sought such documents, employees were told to specify Democrat or Republican.

This, despite President Barack Obama’s statement that federal workers should “act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation” under FOIA, and Attorney General Eric Holder’s assertion: “Unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles have no place in the new era of open government.”

The White House separately reviewed FOIA requests to see documents about spending under the $862 billion stimulus law. Read the whole thing.

Souder’s Departure

In case you haven’t heard, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) is departing Congress because of an extramarital affair with one of his staffers. His replacement can only improve Indiana’s Third District on drug policy and limited government (and here).

During the initial hearings on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, Souder was one of two representatives (the other being former Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.)) stressing the need for DHS to get into the drug war business. Souder went so far as to compare drug use to chemical warfare: “more than 4,000 Americans die each year from drug abuse – at least the equivalent of a major terrorist attack.” Rep. Gilman went so far as to propose that the DEA fall under the DHS since, as anyone can see, its supervision of nearly two-dozen subordinate agencies isn’t enough. And drug dealer = terrorist. Clearly.

While it would be preferable for voters of his district to reject pork-barrel spending and the nonsensical drug war, this resignation is not lamentable.

DHS to States: Pleeease Spend This Money!

Here’s a window onto the upside-down way government spending works. The Department of Homeland Security has sent a letter to states begging them to spend federally provided money on implementing REAL ID, the national ID law.

“DHS is regularly asked by members of Congress, as well as the Office of Management and Budget, if these funds are needed by the states, and whether these funds should be reallocated to other efforts,” writes Juliette Kayyam of DHS’ Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. “As both the states and the Federal government face increasingly tough budgeting decisions, it is more important than ever that these available funds be utilized.”

That’s right: Tough budget times make it imperative to spend more money.

States don’t want to implement REAL ID, and the American people don’t want a national ID, but the DHS bureaucracy is rattling cages to try to get money spent purely for the sake of spending. It’s flabbergasting.

EPIC: Suspend Airport Body Scanners

Last week, the Electronic Privacy Information Center released a petition from a group it spearheaded, asking the Department of Homeland Security to suspend deployment of whole-body imaging (aka “strip-search machines”) at airports.

The petition is a thorough attack on the utility of the machines, the process (or lack of process) by which DHS has moved forward on deployment, and the suitability of the privacy protections the agency has claimed for the machines and computers that display denuded images of air travelers.

The petition sets up a variety of legal challenges to the use of the machines and the process DHS has used in deploying them.

Whole-body imaging was in retreat in the latter part of last year when an amendment to severely limit their use passed the House of Representatives. The December 25 terror attempt, in which a quantity of explosives was smuggled aboard a U.S.-bound airplane in a passenger’s underpants, gave the upper hand to the strip-search machines. But the DHS has moved forward precipitously with detection technology before, wasting millions of dollars. It may be doing so again.

My current assessment remains that strip-search machines provide a small margin of security at a very high risk to privacy. TSA efforts to control privacy risks have been welcome, though they may not be enough. The public may rationally judge that the security gained is not worth the privacy lost.

Wouldn’t it be nice if decisions about security were handled in a voluntary rather than a coercive environment? With airlines providing choice to consumers about security and privacy trade-offs? As it is, with government-run airline security, all will have to abide by the choices of the group that “wins” the debate.

(No) Surprise! REAL ID Deadline Extended Again

In a classic example of the 5:00 Friday news drop, the Department of Homeland Security has announced that it is extending the REAL ID compliance deadline. Forty-six of 56 jurisdictions, it reports, were not able to implement even the interim measures it proposed requiring by December 31st when it last extended the deadline in May of 2008.

The DHS statement insists that a full compliance deadline on May 10, 2011 remains in effect. What that really means is that there will be another false crisis as that deadline approaches, and the DHS will extend the deadline yet again.

The better alternative is to repeal the national ID law and the worthless, expensive pseudo-security it represents. It is not to revive REAL ID under its alternative name “PASS ID.”

REAL ID Retreats Yet Again

Several different outlets are noting the quiet passing of a Department of Homeland Security deadline to implement our national ID law, the REAL ID Act.

In May of 2008, with many states outright rejecting this national surveillance mandate, the DHS issued blanket waivers and set a new deadline of December 31, 2009 by which states were supposed to meet several compliance goals.

They have not, and the threat that the DHS/Transportation Security Administration would prevent Americans from traveling has quieted to a whimper.

The reason why? The federal government would be blamed for it. As Neala Schwartzberg writes in her review of the push and pull over REAL ID:

If I was a betting person (and I am from time to time) I’d bet the backed-up-down-the-corridor traveler who is then turned away after presenting his or her state-issued, official complete with hologram ID will blame Homeland Security.

Does the ongoing collapse of REAL ID leave us vulnerable?

Richard Esguerra of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says in this Wired article that REAL ID “threatens citizens’ personal privacy without actually justifying its impact or improving security.”

REAL ID remains a dead letter. All that remains is for Congress to declare it so. And it may be dawning on Congress that passing it a second time under the name “PASS ID” will not work.