[ISN] The State of our Defense

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Mon Feb 17 2003 - 01:18:06 PST

  • Next message: InfoSec News: "[ISN] The First Honeyd Challenge"

    Feb. 16, 2003
    When top officials at the FBI arrived for work last week, they had
    reason to feel even more anxious than usual. Beginning each day before
    dawn, FBI Director Robert Mueller and his top aides huddled on the
    seventh floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, reviewing overnight
    intelligence reports gathered from human and electronic sources around
    the world. Taken together, the reports suggested what intelligence
    officials had suspected for weeks: al-Qaeda operatives, in the words
    of a senior U.S. official, "are in the execution phase of some of
    their operations." The intelligence sources couldn't pinpoint the kind
    of strikes in the works or the cells charged with executing them. But
    U.S. officials told Time that earlier this month Mueller and other top
    officials received credible intelligence that al-Qaeda had an attack -
    or multiple attacks - set to begin at some point last week, perhaps to
    coincide with the end of the hajj, the five-day Muslim pilgrimage to
    Mecca. Officials say the intelligence specifically mentioned that the
    likely targets were New York City and Washington.
    Even though the feared attacks failed to materialize, the anxieties
    didn't subside. Inside the FBI, fears of a devastating attack are as
    high as they've been in months, in part because of the possibility
    that "other tools are in play" - meaning biological and chemical
    weapons. A senior Administration official says that telephone calls
    and e-mails exchanged between several suspected terrorists and
    intercepted by the U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies pointed to a
    plot inside the U.S. using nerve gas, poisons or radiological devices.  
    "It wasn't just chatter," says Republican Senator Pat Roberts,
    chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "It was a pattern."
    Some of the plots are believed to be in the planning stages. A senior
    Administration official tells Time that domestic law-enforcement
    agencies are investigating a report that Islamic extremists in this
    country are trying to acquire parts to build an unmanned aerial
    vehicle (uav) abroad - the kind of machine that terrorism experts
    believe could be deployed to spray chemical agents over populated
    areas. The fear is that a uav assembled overseas could be used against
    U.S. assets there.
    Some alleged terrorist plans were very close to home.
    Counterterrorism officials say they received a phone tip that unnamed
    members of Congress could be the targets of assassination attempts. On
    Wednesday, U.S. Capitol Police chief Terry Gainer warned House members
    to be on alert for attempts on their lives. At a closed-door briefing
    Thursday a group of Senators grilled Secretary of Homeland Security
    Tom Ridge about whether they should clear their families out of the
    capital in anticipation of an attack. Ridge counseled them against it,
    but when pressed by the Senators for the odds of an attack on U.S.  
    targets at home or abroad in the next several weeks, Ridge, according
    to one source familiar with the meeting, put the probability at "50%
    or greater." Ridge's spokesman denies that the Secretary gave that
    figure. Still, a congressional source says the White House is
    "definitely worried. They're not jacking this up for effect." In
    private, White House officials sounded almost resigned to the
    inevitability of catastrophe. "All we can do," Vice President Dick
    Cheney told a gathering of top Administration officials to discuss
    bioterrorism, "is ask ourselves, Have we done everything we can to
    prevent an attack? I want to be able to look all of you in the eye and
    (have you) tell me that we have done all that we can."
    So have we? While the Administration demonstrated again last week its
    determination to remind Americans of the dangers of terrorism, it has
    done far less to prepare the country for actually defending against
    it. While the White House's suggestion that Americans defend
    themselves against chemical or biological attacks with duct tape and
    plastic sheeting was dismissed by many for its naivete, it laid bare a
    sobering truth: the U.S. still doesn't have a credible and
    comprehensive system in place to cope with such attacks. "We're not
    building the means to respond well," says Stephen Flynn, a
    homeland-security expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. "And
    when we have that next terrorist incident, there will be hell to pay,
    because the American people will be in disbelief about how little has
    been done."
    Though President Bush pledged last January to send $3.5 billion to the
    state and local authorities who will bear the burden of responding to
    a terrorism emergency, the money was appropriated by Congress only
    last week. Interviews with dozens of homeland-security officials, from
    New York City to Long Beach, Calif., reveal that while local
    authorities around the country are more aware of the potential for
    terrorist strikes, they lack the resources to upgrade defenses against
    them. Hospitals say they can't train enough employees to effectively
    spot and treat victims of biological attacks; fire departments can't
    afford to buy the haz-mat suits needed to guard against deadly germs;  
    sheriffs say they still learn about terrorist threats from cnn. The
    bottom line is that in many respects, the homeland is no more secure
    than it was on Sept. 10, 2001. "The biggest thing we've done," says
    William Harper, head of homeland security for the state of Arkansas,
    "is to avoid feeling comfortable."
    The White House contends that every locality can't be sprinkled with
    money from the Federal Government. Early this month, Budget Director
    Mitchell Daniels said that "there is not enough money in the galaxy"  
    to devise a homeland-security system strong enough to protect every
    American. The White House points out that the $41 billion the
    Administration's current budget devotes to homeland security is double
    the amount spent on domestic defense programs before Sept. 11. But
    because of the partisan bickering that delayed the creation of the
    Department of Homeland Security, almost none of it has actually been
    spent. Democrats are accusing the White House of neglecting homeland
    security while it slashes taxes and takes up fights with enemies
    abroad. "How is it," says Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, "that we're asking
    widows to put duct tape on their house, when police, firemen and
    medical personnel don't have adequate resources?"
    Part of the answer rests in the new Homeland Security Department
    itself, the impetus behind the biggest reorganization of the Federal
    Government in a half-century. The new department, first proposed by
    the President last July, aims to bring 22 agencies and 175,000
    employees, from border agents to biologists, under a single
    bureaucratic roof—and to do it before al-Qaeda tries to mount another
    attack. But the department is only beginning to pick up momentum.  
    Since it opened its doors Jan. 24, only three out of a possible 23
    appointees to the new department have received confirmation; most have
    not even been named.
    Given the challenge he faces in launching a new department in the
    midst of war and mushrooming deficits, Ridge has stayed upbeat. He has
    tried to shrug off the late-night barbs aimed at the department's
    color-coded alerts and duct-tape tutorials. A sheepish but
    good-humored Ridge finally said last week that "we do not want
    individuals or families to start sealing their doors or their
    windows," adding that "there may come a time" when authorities
    recommend that Americans do so. Undaunted by criticism that the White
    House may be needlessly frightening the public, Ridge plans to unveil
    this week yet another set of practical guidelines for how citizens
    should prepare for attacks.
    Ridge insists that on the whole, the country is safer than it was on
    Sept. 11. "Let me count the ways," he says, rattling off improvements
    in aviation security—from the hiring of 45,000 new federal screeners
    to the hardening of cockpit doors. Ridge says the Administration has
    improved communication between the FBI and the CIA, struck agreements
    with Mexico and Canada to tighten border controls and upgraded the
    "push packs" of medicines that can be dispatched to cities hit by
    biological or chemical attacks.
    But bad guys may still be slipping in—or eluding detection. FBI
    officials told TIME the bureau has identified "less than a dozen"  
    Islamic men residing in the U.S. who have been to al-Qaeda training
    camps and are currently in contact with al-Qaeda leaders.
    Law-enforcement agents are monitoring these men with wiretaps,
    physical surveillance and other covert means; a handful of known Iraqi
    intelligence agents and 20 to 40 suspected al-Qaeda associates are
    receiving similar scrutiny. Officials say there's no credible evidence
    that Saddam, on his own or in league with al-Qaeda, has managed to
    smuggle biological or chemical weapons into the U.S. Still, so many
    targets on U.S. soil remain undefended or indefensible. Federal
    Homeland Security officials confided last week that the country's
    major subway systems are vulnerable to a toxic attack. The government
    has developed new sensors that can detect a toxic-chemical release and
    instantly alert emergency workers to where the substance is and how to
    fight it. So far, Washington has installed 100 sensors in its Metro
    stations; Boston has a small program in place, while New York City is
    still experimenting. That's it. The agency that regulates the
    country's 103 nuclear plants ordered security around sites tightened
    after Sept. 11. But watchdogs say those measures haven't been
    rigorously tested, and past test runs identified obvious security
    lapses like unlocked doors.
    Federal Homeland Security officials say they are now focused on
    bolstering security at the country's commercial seaports, which
    counterterrorism experts believe would be the most likely point of
    entry for a nuclear or dirty bomb. Customs officials have invited port
    owners to apply for grants for increased video monitoring,
    strengthened security fences and patrol boats; U.S. agents have also
    been deployed to foreign ports to check out containers before they
    head Stateside. But U.S. ports are still porous. The Coast Guard says
    it needs $4.4 billion to make minimal improvements to physical
    security at the nation's 361 ports, but so far the government has
    authorized only $92 million. The Long Beach-Los Angeles port, which
    handles 43% of the nation's incoming seaborne cargo, has received just
    $5.8 million. "Right now," says Flynn, a former Coast Guard commander,
    "we have a port system running that practically invites terrorists to
    attempt to come after us."
    So why are the holes so large? Put the question to just about anyone
    outside the Bush Administration, and you'll hear a familiar answer:  
    money. It's a typical complaint, but experts of both parties agree
    that in this case increased funding would actually lead to more
    protection. A Brookings Institution study released last month
    estimates that the President's 2003 budget falls $7 billion below
    what's needed to fund basic security needs. Others want even bigger
    boosts. Last week Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman called for an
    additional $16 billion in homeland-security spending, to pay for
    thousands of additional border-patrol agents, bigger stockpiles of
    vaccines and antidotes and more aid to fire fighters and police
    Outside Washington, at least, there is consensus. In New York City,
    police commissioner Ray Kelly says the city is still waiting for $900
    million it has requested from the feds, some of which would go toward
    training police officers. "We are continuing to ask Washington for
    that money," he says. In Detroit, a critical node of homeland
    security, given its heavily trafficked border and large Arab-American
    population, city officials say they have spent $10 million on
    helicopters, protective suits and beefed- up border patrols. But other
    needs, including a communications system that would allow the city's
    emergency teams to talk with one another and their Canadian
    counterparts, have been shelved until federal help arrives. Detroit
    mayor Kwame Kilpatrick says he has pleaded for more money. "It's very
    frustrating," he says. Smaller cities have fared even worse, with many
    forced to spend money on basic equipment they expected the feds would
    pay for. Says Donald L. Plusquellic, mayor of Akron, Ohio: "If you had
    told me when we met with Bush that it would now be some 500-plus days
    since Sept. 11 and we would still not have this money, I wouldn't have
    believed you."
    And yet in small and even heroic ways, officials across the country
    have thrown themselves into roles as the country's new defenders.  
    Officials in rural Hardin County, Ohio, purchased a portable
    decontamination shower and are planning to simulate a
    terrorist-sponsored train derailment to test the danger posed to the
    area's local chemical facilities. In Iowa, state officials have held
    eight-hour seminars with farmers on the possibility of "agroterrorist"  
    attacks on the food supply.
    But do citizens in Akron and Hardin County have any real reason to
    believe they could be hit next? The Administration's duct-tape alert
    had the perhaps counterproductive effect of suggesting that every
    household should consider itself a target—even while prime targets
    went undefended. "These threats are real," says Brian Jenkins, a
    terrorism expert at the Rand Corp., "but the increased probability of
    a terrorist attack does not increase the risks to any single
    individual." At the same time, even strengthening our defenses won't
    deter terrorists forever. The truth is, we probably have no way of
    knowing whether the country is prepared for the next attack until
    after it occurs.
    - Reported by Timothy J. Burger, James Carney, John F. Dickerson,
    Viveca Novak, Elaine Shannon and Michael Weisskopf/ Washington, Maggie
    Sieger/Detroit, Leslie Whitaker/ Chicago, Steve Barnes/Little Rock and
    Leslie Berestein/Los Angeles, with other bureaus
    ISN is currently hosted by Attrition.org
    To unsubscribe email majordomoat_private with 'unsubscribe isn'
    in the BODY of the mail.

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon Feb 17 2003 - 03:34:44 PST