The White House website has been overhauled to reflect the priorities and management of President Barack Obama’s new administration. Of particular interest to Security Debrief readers is the page dedicated to the President’s homeland security priorities.
The page lists several broad priority categories. The new Administration’s focus on ending combat in Iraq and turning its focus to Afghanistan stands out as a bold departure. It’s focus on shoring up the nation’s critical infrastructure also signals a new approach.
What also stands out is what is not given much attention — key among such issues being immigration policy. The plan outlined by the White House offers no sense of how it will tackle this critical matter; indeed, immigration is strangely buried with aviation and transportation security under the catch-all category of “critical infrastructure.”
Below are the primary homeland security categories of focus outlined by the White House:
Defeat Terrorism Worldwide – a focus on ending the war in Iraq and focusing on Afghanistan in an effort to “destroy” Al Qaeda. Encouragingly, winning the “battle of ideas” is also a prominently listed.
Prevent Nuclear Terrorism — A pledge to “secure all nuclear weapons materials at vulnerable sites within four years; a call for ending Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs via “tough diplomacy,” which is a bit vague; establishment of a nuclear security coordinator within the NSC.
Strengthen American Biosecurity — While a valuable goal, the specific agenda is very vague, such as “prevent bioterror attacks” and “build capacity to mitigate the consequences of bioterror attacks.”
Protect Information Networks — The cybersecurity agenda includes the creation of a cybersecurity czar who will report directly to the president; an interesting focus on the prevention of corporate cyber espionage; mandate cross-sector security requirements for protecting personal data.
Improve Intelligence Capacity and Protect Civil Liberties — Obama proposes creating a “senior position to coordinate domestic intelligence gathering. This is interesting, if a little unclear. Isn’t that what the Director of Central Intelligence was supposed to be? Or is this a step in the direction of MI5? A single coordinator would hardly have such authority, though. Would this coordinator operate out of the Office of the National Director of Intelligence, the CIA, the FBI, DHS or the White House?
Protect Americans from Terrorist Attacks and Natural Disasters — Basically the grants program, based on risk. There is also a plank for accomplishing the holy grail of first responders — interoperability. There is also a plank for improving partnerships with state/local governments and the private sector. This is indeed a critical step, but those words have been tossed around since the creation of DHS. Indeed, there are actual offices dedicated to coordinating with the private sector as well as state/local governments; however, we have not made this important goal a legitimate priority. It remains to be seen whether the Obama Administraiton will do better.
Protect Critical Infrastructure — This category is perhaps the most bizarre of the Obama plan. It touches upon what has traditionally be considered critical infrastructure, such as securing chemical facilities, but then includes the entire scope of border and transporation security, with plans covering “airline security,” “port security,” and “border security.” These areas have been the primary focus of the entire Department since its establishment. It is unclear what the new Adminstration is stating by burying these security components under “critical infrastructure.” The plan offers no details whatsoever on how it would improve aviation, border or public transporation security. Only in the area of port security is there a hint of specifics, asserting the need to implement radiation detection technology in the maritime transportation industry. It is unclear whether the new Administration will pursue the 100 percent scanning regulation mandated by Congress any more aggressively than the Bush Administration, a conflict that had caused quite a bit of public sniping between members of Congress and DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff.
Modernize America’s Aging Infrastructure — While some of the more specific and innovative of the Administration’s ideas, the planks listed under this category are what one might expect to find under the above category of “protecting critical infrastructure” — such as creating a “National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank” capitalized at $60 billion over ten years.