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by Josh Filler: Homeland security issues including prevention and protection

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May 2010 Archives
May 05, 2010

With last Saturday's failed bombing in Times Square, the issue of federal funding to support New York City's homeland security efforts has once again been raised in the news media. What is clear from the events in Times Square is that New York City remains at the top of the terror target list. With the distinction of being target number one comes significant funding needs to enhance and maintain security. The question is, is New York getting enough, and if not, how much federal funding assistance should New York get? The answer is complicated, but in short, the city likely needs more funding and the allowable uses of those funds should be re-examined as should the federal government's budgeting methods for such grant funds.


While New York is unique in terms of the level of risk it faces and its resulting security needs, it is also unique in several other respects. The size and density of the city (over 8 million people spread across 305 square miles) and its agencies is simply unprecedented at the local and state level, which also helps drive costs up given the sheer magnitude of resources to be funded. The NYPD's roughly 34,500 officers is more than double the second largest department in the U.S. in Chicago, which has approximately 13,000 officers. Unlike any other major city, New York is actually comprised of five counties, which are more often referred to as boroughs with each borough a part of the city government. Cities such as Los Angeles, Houston and Chicago are part of a larger, independent single county - Los Angeles County, Cook County and Harris County respectively.


New York City, as with other major urban areas such as Los Angeles and Washington, DC, receives federal homeland security grant funds from a variety of programs. These include the Port Security Grant Program, (PSGP), the Transit Security Grant Program, (TSGP), the State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) and the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI).

It is the UASI program that often gets the most attention since it is the largest funding source for cities like New York. From fiscal year (FY) 2003 through FY 2009, New York has received approximately $951 million in UASI funds. While there have been some wild fluctuations in the past, on average, New York's share of UASI funds has been $135 million per year (14%), on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars from the other grant programs. No other jurisdiction in the U.S. comes close to this level of funding.

UASI FY03: $596,351,000 NYC: $149,000,000
UASI FY04: $671,017,498 NYC: $47,000,000
UASI FY05: $854,656,750 NYC: $207,000,000
UASI FY06: $710,622,000 NYC: $125,000,000
UASI FY07: $746,900,000 NYC: $134,000,000
UASI FY08: $781,600,000 NYC: $144,000,000
UASI FY09: $798,631,250 NYC: $145,000,000


One of the great challenges in determining how much federal assistance New York and other localities and states need for homeland security is that the data available to make such decisions is limited. Shortly after 9/11, the White House Office of Homeland Security used a FEMA study to come up with the $3.5 billion annual national grant budget for states and localities. No one would argue the FEMA study was anything more than an educated guess, but it was the best available data at the time. However, to continue nine years later to follow the numbers it produced is indefensible.

Today, the answer of appropriate funding levels must come from two avenues despite limitations in assessing both areas: risk and target capabilities assessments at the state and local level, followed by a policy decision at the national level as to what is the long term federal responsibility to assist financially in driving down terrorism risk through enhanced state and local capability.

Some states and localities, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, are moving aggressively in the direction of using data by conducting annual risk assessments and follow-on capability assessments based on those capabilities most directly related to addressing the identified risks. The data is then rolled-up to update plans, including spending plans. This process must become institutionalized in each of the states and major urban areas across the country with involvement from DHS in order to help establish the appropriate national grant budget and individual allocations to states and local governments.


From the start, the homeland security grants have largely been about building long term counter terrorism capacity through plans, equipment purchases, training and exercises and less about operations designed to thwart a specific terrorist plot. Over time, that has changed somewhat with specific percentages of certain grants, such as the UASI, eligible to fund overtime costs for security and investigative operations, as well as for hiring intelligence analysts that support intelligence fusion centers.

It is in the area of operations that New York City in particular sees much of its greatest expense in securing the city. DHS and Congress should re-evaluate whether the limits on such expenses should be raised for New York City and possibly other jurisdictions that can clearly demonstrate they are expending large sums of money for counter terrorism operations as opposed to general crime control.

While the line between crime and terrorism in the area of policing is not always a bright one, there are clear demarcation lines in some cases. In New York, the NYPD has two bureaus dedicated to terrorism prevention: the intelligence and counter terrorism bureaus with each being a good place to start in terms of additional federal funds or the loosening of restrictions on grant funds already awarded for the purpose of funding operations.

In addition to overtime costs are the costs associated with the straight-up hiring of officers. The NYPD has seen its ranks drop from just under 41,000 during 9/11 to roughly 34,500 today. While programs such as the Justice Department's COPS program are designed specifically for hiring officers, this may be an area that DHS and Congress should explore as well. In fact, in FY 07, DHS created a staffing pilot program that allowed UASI grant funds to be pay for regular time of full time counter terrorism personnel. The program was not continued into FY 08.


New York's homeland security needs have sometimes been pitted against other cities and states. However, the argument that New York can only be funded at the expense of other jurisdictions has always been a false choice. New York can receive enormous amounts of funding without having to cut off other at risk parts of the country. At $207 million, New York's 2005 UASI allocation remains the largest the city has ever received, while 42 other jurisdictions also received significant funding that year ranging from $45 million for Chicago to $24 million for Dallas/Fort Worth and $8.7 million for Denver, etc. While New York is the number one target it is by no means the only target and resource allocations must reflect that.

To help avoid pitting New York against the rest of the country, Congress and the Administration should fully fund the UASI program at its authorized levels through FY 2012 as they build out a more robust process for determining what the national level of funding should be beyond that year. For example, in FY 2010, the federal government appropriated $832,520,000 for UASI despite an authorization level of $1,050,000,000. For FY 2011, the authorization amount is $1,150,000,000 with the Administration asking for $1.1 billion, $200 million of which has been designated for security at terrorist trials, leaving roughly the same amount as was appropriated in FY 2010. Rather than earmarking those $200 million for terror trials, those funds should be blended into the larger pot of funds with an eye towards increasing the allocations for high risk jurisdictions such as New York, the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, etc.


The threat to New York City is simply different than any other jurisdiction in the U.S. The city's risk profile is unlikely to change over the next decade. Just over nine years since 9/11 it is time for the federal government to re-examine its role in funding state and local homeland security efforts in general and New York City's in particular. The events of May 1, 2010 in Times Square are a reminder that when it comes to homeland security much of it occurs at the local and state level even if it is a national effort. As part of our federal system, a critical element of federal power in protecting the homeland is providing states and localities with the resources they need to help achieve government's first priority: protecting the nation from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Nowhere is this more relevant than in New York City.

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May 09, 2010

Faisal Shahzad, a recently naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan, has been arrested for the attempted car bombing of Times Square on May 1st. While the investigation is far from over, the attempted terrorist attack raises the question once again of whether our homeland security system worked in this latest case. To answer that question, one must examine the system's actions through each phase of the homeland security continuum: prevention, protection, response and recovery.


When it comes to homeland security and counter-terrorism the most important phase is prevention. While the bombing has been relegated to an "attempt" since the bomb did not actually explode and no one was killed or injured; there can be little doubt the system failed in this phase insofar as it was unable to prevent a terrorist from parking and then igniting a vehicle borne improvised explosive device in the heart of Times Square on a busy Saturday night.

Some may argue that it was the alert street vendor who notified police of the smoking SUV that helped prevent this attack. However, had the bomb worked properly inside an SUV with tinted windows, it's highly unlikely that even the street vendor's alerting police would have done any good or even if the vendor would have had time to do so. Indeed, the vendor would likely have been the first person killed. In truth, while the vendor's actions were highly laudable, it was nothing short of the bomb maker's failure that averted mass carnage.

Another element of the system that needs to be more closely examined for potential failure in this case is the immigration and naturalization process. Shahzad is a naturalized citizen meaning he had to go through what is supposed to be a rigorous process from student, to worker, to permanent resident, to citizen, with a deep background check along the way. Shahzad's path to citizenship ended in April 2009 and was expedited by virtue of his marrying a U.S. citizen. Whether this marriage was a sham, as has been done in numerous other terror cases, must be thoroughly reviewed.

While the homeland security system failed to prevent Shahzad from attempting to execute his terrorist plot, a more subtle question is whether it was reasonable for the system to have done so. In other words, while the attack was not prevented was it realistically preventable? The post event investigation into Shahzad is already starting to yield clues, some of which may or may not turn out to be true, apparently missed by intelligence and security agencies leading up to May 1st.

The Obama Administration has now stated that Shahzad is an operative of the al-Qaeda linked Tahrik-e-Taliban who trained Shahzad in Waziristan before dispatching him to the U.S. in February of this year. Shahzad's plot allegedly started as far back as December 2009, if not earlier. ABC News is reporting that Shahzad may have had contacts with the al-Qaeda recruiter, Anwar Awlaki, among other terror leaders. In addition, there are reports Shazhad conducted at least one dry run in Times Square before he went "live" on May 1st. Finally, according to CBS News, from 1999 to 2008, Shahzad was on a U.S. Customs watch list - Traveler Enforcement Compliance System for having brought large sums of cash into the U.S.

There is no doubt that stopping men like Shahzad is no easy task. Doing so is often the equivalent of trying to find a single needle among multiple haystacks. Thus, whether this specific attack was reasonably preventable is not yet clear. It's a matter of what intelligence and security agencies knew or should have known and when, and what they did as a result of what they knew.


None of the cameras, barriers, security guards or police was enough to deter Shahzad from rolling up in his SUV and leaving it parked illegally in Times Square with a home made bomb inside it. Thus, protection as a form of deterrence failed in this case. Protection as a form of mitigation was not tested in this instance as the bomb did not detonate. However, had the bomb detonated it likely would have killed scores of pedestrians, which it apparently was designed to do given it was parked in Times Square on a Saturday night.


While the response is ongoing, the immediate response taken in and around Times Square appears to have worked well. Once the NYPD was alerted to the presence of the car bomb, the police quickly moved pedestrians and motorists away from the scene and then locked down the area. The Fire Department was immediately notified as was the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force. A hunt for potential secondary devices, a well known terrorist tactic, quickly ensued. Once those already inside local theatres were about to exit, the police ensured they used exits outside the perceived danger zone.

Despite the success in responding in Times Square, there were serious gaps exposed in the search for Shahzad once he was identified as the likely bomber. Here, the system worked, but not without multiple layers failing before the final layer succeeded. The NYPD admittedly lost Shahzad while surveilling him on the Monday following the attack. Once officials new Shahzad was the man they were looking for he was placed on the federal no-fly list. Nonetheless, he was able to purchase with cash a last minute ticket to Pakistan. Shahzad was literally in his seat on the aircraft as it was departing the gate when U.S. Customs officers boarded the plane and arrested him. It was the final review of the passenger manifest by Customs that alerted them Shahzad was on the plane.

The reason for this near miss with Shahzad exposes a larger gap in the no-fly list. One of the fixes to the no-fly list following the Christmas Day panty bomber's attempt to bring down a jetliner over Detroit was to require all carriers to check the no-fly list within 24 hours of being notified of an update. Emirate airlines, the carrier Shahzad was on in his attempt to escape, apparently did not check the no-fly list in time. Now that time frame has been reduced to two hours. However, in such urgent circumstances, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) should call the airlines and notify them immediately, which the agency has done in the past, but did not do in this instance.

It is being reported the FBI asked TSA not to call all the airlines and alert them to Shahzad's new status. The Bureau did reportedly allow TSA to call certain domestic carriers but not Emirate for fear it could jeopardize the investigation. However, if these reports are true, it begs the question: what is the point of urgently putting someone on the no-fly list and expecting all airlines to check it if you aren't willing to proactively notify those same airlines of the urgent update for fear it could hamper your case?


Americans are resilient people and New Yorker's are among the most resilient of us. The day after the attempted bombing, Times Square looked no different than it did the day before the failed terrorist attack. People were out, businesses were open. In short, life went on. It's hard to know what recovery would have looked like had the bomb exploded. Would the Crossroads of the World been shut off to vehicular traffic forever? One hopes and suspects that New Yorker's and the tourists who flock there would have grieved but nonetheless committed themselves to rebuilding and continuing Times Square as we know it.

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