Entries in Department of Homeland Security (32)


ABC News Exclusive: Napolitano on Al Qaeda, Homegrown Terror Threats

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Heading into the 10th anniversary weekend of the 9/11 attacks, the nation’s top counterterrorism officials have ramped up security measures, and are looking out for a “lone wolf.”

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told ABC News that “we don’t right now have intelligence that a big plot is in the works.”

But while there is no known specific plot by al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, Napolitano warned, “now that differentiates from the lone wolf, the lone actor that we may not know about, who may already be in the United States and so it requires us to be vigilant and the public to be vigilant. ”

In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Napolitano surveyed the state of U.S. defenses against al Qaeda.

While “core al Qaeda” in Pakistan and Afghanistan has deteriorated, she said, al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula has grown into a real threat.

A big reason al Qaeda is so potent, she said, was its leader, Anwar Alwaki.  Alwaki is an American Imam who became radicalized and is now operating his own terror group in Yemen.  Sources have told ABC News that Alwaki is intent on striking the U.S. in any way he can.

In fact, an ABC News analysis shows that Alwaki is either behind, or has inspired, 19 Americans who federal prosecutors say were homegrown radicals.

“He is at the top of the list, if not at the top,” Napolitano said of Alwaki when asked if he was a prominent threat.  “He knows Western ways, he kind of knows how to market to Westerners and we know that al Qaeda is trying to recruit."

Napolitano said Alwaki is using online magazines and videos to try to lure disaffected Americans into his violent ideology.

“You know the Internet is a powerful tool for good, for friendships, for commerce, for what have you, but it also can be used for evil,” the DHS secretary said.  “And we see it being used to recruit young Americans, not necessarily even young Americans, to a terrorist-type ideology.”

She added that one of the biggest changes she has seen as DHS secretary, “is the movement toward the home-grown violent extremist.  The person who for whatever reason decides to attack his fellow citizens.”

To combat the surge in homegrown terror, Napolitano said, “requires us to focus more on training local law enforcement, they’re the eyes out there.”  And she emphasized, getting the public engaged, through the “See something, say something” program, is key to stopping homegrown threats.  “The public,” she said, “are our other set of eyes.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Are Private Planes Al Qaeda's Next Weapon?

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Security experts worry that private planes could become al Qaeda's next weapon.

An intelligence bulletin issued by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI on Friday said: "Violent extremists with knowledge of general aviation and access to small planes pose a significant potential threat to the homeland."

Although there is no information a specific attack is in the works, there are 228,000 general aviation planes at 4,000 airports across the nation -- too many to monitor.

The government is using signs that read, "Warning: Pilots Report All Suspicious Activities," to keep pilots vigilant.

Intelligence experts say al Qaeda is no longer determined to pursue only massive 9/11-style attacks.

"They have sort of taken on this view of death by a thousand cuts, that if they try a lot of smaller attacks they are just as effective as the fear factor, so they really get more bang for their buck to do smaller attacks," said ABC News consultant and former FBI investigator Brad Garrett.

There are thousands of small planes in nearly every state.  In College Park, Maryland, as soon as one plane lifts off it's in view of the Capitol, the Pentagon and about 10 miles away from the White House.

Last year, a man with a grudge against the federal government flew his plane into an Internal Revenue Service office in Austin, Texas.

The State Department has issued a worldwide travel alert and the threats go beyond small planes.  Documents captured at Osama bin Laden's compound show that he was obsessed with plotting attacks around the 9/11 anniversary, including derailing a train over a bridge in the U.S.

Federal officials are also concerned about the threat of passengers implanted with body cavity bombs, deadly and nearly impossible to detect.  And the threats go on.

"If seven or ten individuals came together and conducted a Mumbai, India attack, you could go into a mall and kill more people potentially than at 9/11 in 15 minutes," said Garrett.

Then there is always the unknown.  Al Qaeda, authorities warn, has shown an imaginative approach to terror.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


$1 Billion Airport Security Program Has Yet to Catch a Terrorist

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Homeland Security plans to spend a total of $1 billion on a controversial airport security program that, despite being in use for at least seven years, has yet to nab a known terror suspect or thwart a potential attack.

The U.S. government has already spent approximately $750 million on the Screening of Passengers by Technique (SPOT) program, which in part trains airport security officers to look out for "micro-expressions" of travelers that may betray nefarious planning, and plans to add another $254 million to the program in 2012, according to a report published Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office's Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues Stephen Lord. ABC News previously reported critics' concerns with the unproven science behind the SPOT program.

According to the GAO report, since DHS started collecting data in 2004, the SPOT program has led to hundreds of arrests of travelers suspected of immigration violations, drug possession, false documents and other offenses, but not a single one of the arrests was identified as terror-related. In fiscal year 2010, 50,000 people were singled out by the SPOT program, but only 300 eventually were arrested -- none on terror charges, the GAO said. A previous GAO report found that at least 17 known terrorists traveled through at least 23 U.S. airports in the SPOT program without being detected.

This year the DHS's Science and Technology Directorate completed a four-year study on SPOT and found that while it was better than random screening at spotting criminality, the directorate's study "was not designed to fully validate whether behavior detection can be used to reliably identify individuals in an airport environment that pose a security risk."

In a hearing Wednesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Transportation Security Administration Assistant Administrator John Sammon was asked if the program has ever been successful in thwarting a potential terror attack. Sammon recounted the story of an Orlando man who was spotted due to irregular behavior before he was able to place a bag with explosives on the checked bag conveyor belt.

"So, one?" asked subcommittee member Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX).

But before Sammon could answer, Lord, who was also a witness, interjected and told the subcommittee the Orlando man was actually reported by other travelers and a ticket counter employee -- and had nothing to do with the SPOT program.

The TSA readily admitted that the SPOT program was implemented "before first determining whether there was a scientifically valid basis" for it, the GAO report said, and the DHS "may be years away from knowing" the answer.

However, another witness, former director of security at Tel Aviv Ben Gurion International Airport Rafi Ron, defended the use of behavioral observation in security, which is used widely in Israeli airports.

"I think that the investment in behavior observation certainly makes sense," Ron said. "We need to spend more attention on people than just items. Observing behavior is one of the basic tools that can be used at the airport."

The SPOT program is based in large part on the work of Dr. Paul Ekman, a retired psychology professor at the University of California, who devised a system that identifies facial "micro-expressions" and body movements that are out of the ordinary.

"Micro-expressions, the wonderful thing about them, is they're universal," Dr. Ekman told ABC News in January. "There are seven different emotions and it doesn't matter your language or your culture, if you have one of those emotions it is going to appear in your face and if you're trying to conceal it, it may well leak out in a micro-expression."

Other behavioral science experts said they were skeptical.

"The scientific research shows that it's very hard to detect whether somebody's up to no good just by looking at their behavior," Dr. Maria Hartwig, an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and an expert in the psychology of deception and its detection, said in January.

In its conclusion, the GAO reported suggested the DHS study the viability of the SPOT program further.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


U.S. Suspects Contaminated Foreign-Made Components Threaten Cyber Security

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON, D.C.) -- Some foreign-made computer components are being manufactured to make it easier to launch cyber attacks on U.S. companies and consumers, a security official at the the Department of Homeland Security said.

"I am aware of instances where that has happened," said Greg Schaffer, who is the Acting Deputy Undersecretary National Protection and Programs Director at the DHS.

Schaffer did not say where specifically these components are coming from or elaborate on how they could be manufactured in such a way as to facilitate a cyber attack.

But Schaffer's comment confirms that the U.S. government believes some electronics manufacturers have included parts in products that could make U.S. consumers and corporations more vulnerable to targeted cyber attacks.

A device tampered with prior to distribution or sale could act as a "Trojan horse" in the opening wave of an international cyberwar. Contaminated products could be used to jeopardize the entire network.

The admission by Schaffer came out Thursday after repeated questioning from Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on cyber threats.

Such attacks are difficult to detect and many go unnoticed. Cyber tactics have changed and many hackers just want to steal information without incident. Cyber thieves are going after personal information such as credit card numbers or target corporations and trade secrets.

Many in Congress have pointed to foreign governments as the source of many recent cyber attacks, although the administration has yet to call out any one nation.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


FBI and DHS Urge Vigilance as July 4 Holiday Approaches

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have issued their annual summer holiday "Security Awareness" Bulletin, a six-page document that notes that just last year al Qaeda had identified the July Fourth weekend as ideal for an attack, and urges vigilance, but stresses there is no "specific or credible information" that al Qaeda or its affiliates have any plans to disrupt Independence Day.

"As of February 2010, al Qaeda was contemplating large attacks in the homeland on symbolic dates and specifically identified U.S. Independence Day as a key date," the bulletin says.

"We currently have no specific credible information that any plotting targeting the homeland was developed based on this reporting and are uncertain how widely al Qaeda's interest in timing attacks for symbolic dates has been shared or accepted within the group or among its affiliates and allies," the bulletin says.

This year's bulletin comes two months after Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. While officials have no specific attack plan information, they assume that the death of bin Laden could lead lone wolves to try to increase the symbolic effect of attacks by linking them to "important U.S. holiday, including during the summer holiday season."

The report also notes that large gatherings, such as the hundreds of thousands who congregate to enjoy New York City's annual fireworks display, make "especially attractive targets during the holiday season."

"Such targets offer the opportunity to inflict mass casualties, with the added objectives of causing economic and psychological damage on the United States," the bulletin says.

But the report notes that while symbolic dates such as the Fourth of July figure in al Qaeda's aspirations, the main driver behind past attacks has overwhelmingly been operational readiness.

The report also notes that there is plenty of evidence of the terrorist aspiration to succeed in a high-profile attack inside the United States, regardless of whether it occurs on a holiday.

"Previous examples of this desire include the May 2010 attempted detonation of a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device in Times Square, the guilty plea in February 2010 to an al Qaeda plot to attack the New York City subway using improvised explosive devices, and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's inclusion of photos of and references to major U.S. cities in their Inspire magazine," the report says.

The intent of the bulletin -- which covers the season from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day -- is to encourage awareness from public and private sector partners in the security and counterterrorism sectors.

"We continue to operate under the premise that terrorists and lone offenders not yet identified by the Intelligence Community and law enforcement may be operating in the United States and could advance and execute attacks with little or no warning," the bulletin says. "We urge federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, and private sector partners to maintain increased vigilance for indications of preoperational and suspicious activity and to be aware that holidays or major events could influence the timing of any attacks."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


National Guard to Remain at Southwest Border until September

Scott Olson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The 1,200 National Guard troops serving in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas will stay through Sept. 30; the deployment was to end at the end of June.
Department of Homeland Security press secretary Matthew Chandler Friday issued a statement about the extension saying that the National Guardsmen will continue to be responsible for providing law enforcement support in countering the illegal smuggling of people, drugs and weapons.

In addition to the extension, DHS will implement new technologies and hire more personnel to beef up the current border security.  

The National Guard, at the border since last summer, have already assisted the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in seizing more than 14,000 pounds of drugs and the discovery and apprehension of over 7,000 illegal border-crossers, according to Chandler's statement Friday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New Terror Warning System Being Unveiled Wednesday

Department of Homeland Security(WASHINGTON) -- The color-coded terror alert system will fade to black Wednesday when the Department of Homeland Security announces a new way to inform the public about terror threats.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano says the new system will simply lay out what the threat is, who's being targeted and what people should do in response.

"We will implement a new system that's built on a clear and simple premise: when a threat develops that could impact you -- the public -- we will tell you," Napolitano said.  "We will provide whatever information we can so you know how to protect yourselves, your families, and your communities."

The new alerts will be labeled either elevated or imminent.  The new warning system, unlike the old one, will also have specified end dates when there is an alert.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


DHS Secretary: Talk of Spillover Violence Hurts Local Economies

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Friday Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that stories and claims about spillover violence from Mexico pouring into the United States are inaccurate and that continued comments about the Mexican Drug war are hurting the local economies in border regions. Napolitano said that these claims are often drummed up to score “political points.”
Speaking at an event hosted by the progressive think tank NDN Napolitano said, “It is simply inaccurate to state, and too many have, that the border with Mexico is overrun or out of control. This statement I think sometimes is made to score political points. You know, it’s wrong. It’s just plain wrong. Continuing to make these assertions in the face of everything that is happening and everything that has been done not only has negative consequences for our own border communities but it also disrespects the efforts of the law enforcement men and women on that border.”
“Damaging misinformation about border communities has been repeated so often it's almost become a given in American life.” Napolitano said,  “Everybody's saying the border's out of control, it doesn’t work, it's not safe , it's not secure. And that means for them they can’t recruit business there, it means that colleges can't recruit students there, you name it. They have after-effect after after-effect after after-effect."

The facts in Mexico cannot be ignored that over 35,000 people in Mexico have been killed as a result of the ongoing warfare between the cartels and Mexico’s military and police in the past five years. The cartels have become increasingly violent as they fight over territory, and as young lieutenants rise among the cartels, they resort to more and more violent tactics.
While the situation is dire in Mexico, whose tactics are similar to those used in Iraq and Afghanistan with car bombs and the use of IEDs, a review of available FBI statistics between 2008 and 2009 shows declines of murders in U.S. border cities. In San Diego, murders dropped from 55 killed in 2008 to 41 deaths in 2009. In Tucson, murders dropped from 65 killed in 2008 to 35 murders in 2009. And in El Paso, murders dropped from 17 murders in 2008 to 12 in 2009 and five murders last year in 2010. Murders have spiked this year in El Paso with 11 murders so far, but they appear to be random acts of violence according to a spokesman with the Police Department there.

Meanwhile, across the border in Ciudad Juárez Mexican police deal with hundreds of murders every month as the cartels fight over ways to get their drugs into the United States.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Napolitano: Terror Threat at "Most Heightened State" Since 9/11

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, speaking before the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday, said the terrorist threat in the U.S. is at “its most heightened state” since the September 11 attacks almost 10 years ago.

“Since 9/11, the United States has made important progress in securing our nation from terrorism," Napolitano said.  "Nevertheless, the terrorist threat facing our country has evolved significantly in the last ten years -- and continues to evolve -- so that, in some ways, the threat facing us is at its most heightened state since those attacks.”

Napolitano noted that along with the continuing threat from al Qaeda and its affiliates, counterterrorism officials must now contend with Americans who are “homegrown” terrorists in the U.S.

“One of the most striking elements of today’s threat picture is that plots to attack America increasingly involve American residents and citizens,” she said.

Napolitano also repeated a statement that she made last October that the DHS and other security agencies, “Are now operating under the assumption, based on the latest intelligence and recent arrests, that individuals prepared to carry out terrorist attacks and acts of violence might be in the United States, and they could carry out acts of violence with little or no warning.”

Napolitano added a DHS working group has now developed a curriculum to counter-violent extremism in the U.S. that is being shared with police groups and law enforcement agencies.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Napolitano to Mexican Cartels: 'Don't Even Think About It'

PHoto Courtesy - Getty Images(EL PASO, Texas) -- Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was talking tough about border security issues in a speech she delivered Monday at the University of Texas at El Paso.

She sent a clear message to Mexican drug cartels: "Don't even think about bringing your violence....across this border," she said.

While Napolitano says American border communities are safe, she has a clear warning for cartels on the other side of the border.

"You will be met by an overwhelming response. And we’re going to continue to work with our partners in Mexico to dismantle and defeat you," she said.

“We are deeply concerned about the drug cartel violence taking place in Mexico. We know that these drug organizations are seeking to undermine the rule of law in Northern Mexico and that we must guard against spillover effects into the United States. Nonetheless, it is inaccurate to state, as too many have, that the border is overrun with violence and out of control. This statement -- often made only to score political points -- is just plain wrong,” Napolitano said in the speech.

In her speech Napolitano also briefly addressed her decision to scrap the "virtual fence" that was announced earlier this month.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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