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Live Blogging Lieberman’s Hearing on Homeland Security Since 9/11

Joe Lieberman

The Senate Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), is holding a hearing on successes and challenges the Department of Homeland Security has faced and now faces. The hearing is one of a number of hearings being held on Capitol Hill in the coming days to mark the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

It is probably appropriate that Lieberman is chairing the hearing, as he made the case to President George W. Bush that the country needed a Homeland Security Department in 2002. But, Lieberman has no problem with accelerating the assault on civil liberties and employing perversions of justice and the rule of law in the name of security. Lieberman is of the mind that terrorists are not to be treated as criminals because that would prevent the military and intelligence community from obtaining crucial information. This is why he opposes giving Miranda rights to “foreign terrorists.” Lieberman also does not consider waterboarding to be “torture.” He says it is all “psychological” and “not like putting burning coals on people’s bodies.”

With that made clear, I will be live blogging the hearing. Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Jane Holl Lute, Comptroller General Eugene L. Dodaro and Homeland Security and Justice Issues Cathleen A. Berrick will all be witnesses at the hearing. [When documents containing their prepared statements are posted, I will post a link.]

To watch the hearing, go here.

11:39 AM Lieberman’s closing remark: Committee has “possessive or parental interest” in DHS. No accident that another attack has not succeeded.

A different kind of country after 9/11 would have become much more like a police state. And, I suppose there are people who feel that at different times somebody’s civil liberties were compromised. I think overall really our record is remarkable. I say that also to say that in a country as big, open and free as we are. And, we want to remain always as open and free as we are. We are never going to achieve 100% security. [emphasis added]

In spirit of gratitude and confidence that both GAO and this committee will continue to push DHS to get as close to 100% as we possibly can.

Hearing adjourned.

11:36 AM Collins demonstrates DHS has no timetable for improving biowatch system so that threats from biological agents can be properly deterred.

Moreover, Collins essentially asks Lute if she can be assured the department will crack down on Iraqis trying to get in the US so hard that they might be accused of profiling.

11:34 AM Collins asks about biotech threats and she says GAO finding echo committee’s findings. There is poor cooperation between DHS and Department of Health & Human Services. “A threat agent may not be identified until more than a day after its release.” When will more sensitive biowatch system be deployed?

Lute says that this is a priority of the department.

11:32 AM Collins notes Bowling Green, KY case where two suspects were arrested and one of the suspects had fingerprints in the database that should have been checked before suspect was granted asylum. Collins wants to know when DHS will complete review of the fact that someone that had fingerprints on IEDs would be allowed into the country?

Lute says it should be completed shortly. Lute says DHS working on strengthening database system.

11:31 AM Lute says there is concern. She says pilots are being run to improve liability of system. Ongoing checks is something being looked at department-wide. In case of Abdulmutallab, we need to have ongoing check of VISA holders.

11:30 AM GAO found background checking process at TSA is not designed to protect against fraud. GAO criticized the process as not provided an ongoing check. Collins notes easier to obtain a TWIC card than a driver’s license. Collins highlights the “insider threat” posed by people at TSA.

11:26 AM The strategy produced by the White House does not assign it to an individual that can be held accountable, states Collins. “We need to have a leader of this effort.” She doesn’t find what Lute is saying to be acceptable.

She focuses on recent hurricanes and disasters in the country. It has reminded us of the importance of being able to notify people when disaster is looming.

11:25 AM Lute says we need to strengthen hand of law enforcement to stop extremism in its tracks. DHS works with DoJ, NCTC and FBI and others.

Lieberman — “Who is in charge?”

Under the leadership of the president, this is coming together, says Lute. Lieberman says someone has to be driving it. Is it in National Security Council? Lute says yes.

11:23 AM Lieberman & Collins disappointed with reluctance and refusal of administration to use “violent Islamic extremists.” We didn’t see clear allocation of authority in interacting with Muslim community to gain their assistance in noticing potential lone wolf behavior. The NCTC has been doing some of that but that is not what we necessarily had in mind. Does the White House have the overview that it should be in charge of the response? Should DHS play more active role? I ask this as we see homegrown terrorism becoming an increasing threat.

11:18 AM Lieberman starts second round of questions. Lute is asked to address the importance of technology at DHS. Lute talks about working with DoD on the use of technology.

Lieberman wants to know about overview of science & tech. Berrick says DHS slow but there are frameworks to improve use of science & tech. Two areas need continued focus: resources (test & evaluation showed resources low) & coordination within DHS (sometimes science & tech would be pursued without working with end users). Berrick describes problems with CARS program.

Lieberman mentions virtual fence. Berrick says that was concern.

Lieberman says we need to leverage federal money to get private innovation to create new technology (e.g. ARPAnet).

11:15 AM EINSTEIN is designed to prevent intrusions. Lute says we are 84% deployed. “What’s on your networks, who is using your networks, what is traveling on your networks” are all aspects that need attention in agencies. Want distributed security that protects all our assets.

Additional authorities necessary? Carper asks. Lute mentions efforts underway.

11:13 AM Carper says the next war could rest upon country’s cybersecurity. GAO has said Homeland Security needs to better secure internet connections at federal agencies. EINSTEIN helps Homeland Security helps to provide protections. Carper wants to know what is needed to be more effective. “In adversity lies opportunity.” Carper quotes Einstein.

11:11 AM Carper now using this hearing to address the issue of the US postal service. That has little to do with the health of the Homeland Security Department.

11:08 AM Senator Tom Carper of Delaware has three questions: first one on a clean audit, the second one on a clean audit and the third one on a clean audit. Dodaro says if DHS completes audit DOD will be only remaining agency. Carper gives anecdote about talking to Panetta about DoD audit.

11:05 AM Berrick says they inherited “legacy problems” with financial management at DHS when 22 agencies melded together.

Pryor presses and Berrick says over 1 billion dollars has been spent on trying to develop a system. Lute mentions work on completing an audit.

11:04 AM DHS and DOD are on high-risk list. Trying to integrate financial system. One of the problems is property accountability at TSA, according to Dodaro.

11:03 AM Senator Pryor asking about management at FEMA. Lute says there is commitment to accountability for resources in the delivery of emergency response.

11:00 AM Akaka asks Lute about pledging to properly address risks to agriculture in states like Hawaii that are threatened by invasive species. She pledges to tackle this problem.

10:58 AM Forty percent of DHS’ budget has to do with acquisitions so it is crucial that there be improvement, Dodaro says.

10:55 AM Lute: “Preventing another terrorist attack” is job number one for us. Securing our borders and enforcing immigration laws and building cyber capacity is essential. Building nation’s resilience to face all risks and hazards will continue to be prioritized. We will continue to prioritize integration of department. [I don’t believe that answers the question at all so in that case let the cuts begin.]

10:53 AM Sen. Daniel Akaka now speaking. For Lute and Dadaro – “The entire federal government including DHS has experienced and will continue to face budget reductions. This has caused delays in consolidating DHS’ headquarters.” What challenges does DHS face in this budget environment?

10:52 AM Lute: “We have canceled non-performing programs.” They have been addressed by looking at the acquisition program. Worked in three areas: (1) requirements [to look at aviation assets, seek air solutions that are effective, economical] (2) acquisitions  (3) strengthen procurement work force [enhancing our internship work force]. Intersection of operators with procurers has been pursued.

10:48 AM Procurement failures have cost taxpayers money. TSA determined that explosive trace detectors at airports did not work. Advanced spectroscopic portal which DNDO moved to deploy before proper testing/evaluation. There’s been two consolidated data system failures. Sen. McCaskill and I wrote to Napolitano and were assured. SPI net program canceled after programmatic failures. Coast Guard had problem with deepwater program. IG issued report that DHS had not leveraged its collective buying power across department and thus was paying much more for projects than necessary.

Collins asks what is being done to ensure real world testing and evaluation and to ensure we don’t have more failures.

10:46 AM Not surprisingly: Dodaro says we are better prepared. There are many models that could have been used for department and there was one chosen and now we are working to make this model work. Benefits of bringing agencies together are becoming clear.

On progress: In mission areas, considerable progress made.

10:45 AM Collins asks Dodaro about whether the DHS has worked and made us safer as a nation, was it a good idea to bring 22 agencies together. What is GAO’s assessment?

10:41 AM It’s a real temptation to take money out of the management accounts of DHS, says Lieberman. Accounts have no advocates for them. Hopefully we are (those on this committee). The fear is management would be gutted and programs won’t run.

Lieberman adds at beginning of Obama administration there could have been breakout of legislations and new flurry of activity. That said department had coherence. Agencies there have “political muscle” but none of them tried to break away. It says for them that department is working as an entity. After 9/11, kind of turf protection that went on before was impossible to defend after 9/11 and perhaps there is now attitude that we better work together and we don’t want press or Congress to come at us for parochialism — not sharing information, etc.

10:38 AM Berrick’s first comments: made progress in establishment of plans. DHS has efforts to improve acquisition of technology. Homeland Security needs to make sure it has resources for plan implementation. There should also be oversight mechanisms to make sure plans put in place as planned.

10:35 AM Dodaro answer: “Work in progress…Attention to area constantly needed.”

Lute answer: Common narrative over 22 agencies. We all know what homeland security means and that to do it we have to prevent terrorism and ensure cybersecurity and enforcement of immigration policies. Homeland Security Dept “building the plane while flying it.”

10:33 AM Lieberman: “What we tried to do in creating DHS is to take a lot of agencies in federal government that touched on security and disaster response and bring them together… make sure dots connected.” We’ve created a large department — over 200,000 federal employees. We’ve created a large management challenge. Comptroller mentions contract, oversight and new tech as problem. What do you say about progress on blending 22 agencies together?

10:32 AM Wonkiness that basically amounts to Dodaro explaining GAO is talking a lot with DHS about changes.

10:30 AM Fundamental need to improve management at DHS. Need to improve development and testing of technology.

10:27 AM Work remaining, according to Dodaro: We don’t have an exit system in place but we do have an entry system. [Pat-downs or porno-scanning after your miserable flight, too?] It is a big challenge but needs to be addressed. Visa security program can be expanded so DHS is working on all high-risk areas. There’s also a problem with keeping technology up-to-date so explosives can be detected. There needs to be process for screening containers before they come to US. In cybersecurity area, we need more timely actionable alerts to private sector so they can take action. FEMA needs to develop metrics/guidelines for preparedness. Also need to effectively implement nuclear weapon detection and biochemical agent detection.

10:25 AM A lot of progress has been made, notes Dodaro, but changes need to be made so DHS meets potentials. He notes we have “Secure Flights,” work force screenings, biometric entry system (to check those entering borders), established and put resources into port security, a border visa security system and also an electronic authorization system for those entering. There is also a range of plans and assessments on maritime security. Cybersecurity has been given increased emphasis. FEMA has issued national response framework.

10:24 AM Comptroller Dodaro now delivering remarks. GAO report reflects summary of work done in the past decade. Many things are still in progress and need to be implemented but GAO has had good dialogue with DHS that has enhanced operations.

10:23 AM Lute claims virtues of fairness, justice and rule of law are embodied in DHS and its programs. Yeah, ok…

10:23 AM Improved emergency response communications. Response to Hurricane Irene an example.

10:22 AM Immigration is being enforced with “common-sense policies.” Created a framework for cybersecurity by engaging users at all levels, private and public.

10:21 AM Lute: Countless Americans have stepped up to serve in military and in cooperation with Homeland Security. Lute talks about being proud of her service in DHS in addition to her military service. She says we are a “stronger nation.” We know more about those that seek to enter America as well as what is needed to protect America’s shores.

10:18 AM DHS Deputy Secretary Lute now talking. Taking moment to strike a “note of remembrance.” [This is part of making policy out of emotion, not reason.]

10:16 AM Are we safer because of creation of DHS? Terrorists only have to get it right once, Collins says. If they get it wrong once, we will suffer consequences of an attack. Must be tenacious in our anticipation.

10:15 AM Failures of expensive procurements of technology has cost taxpayers, Collins says. Headquarters should not be spread over 70 buildings. She draws attention to need to consolidate the department. She also thinks offices need to be consolidated at regional level (as Tom Ridge recommended).

10:14 AM Chemical facilities and seaports are safer, according to GAO.

10:11 AM Sen. Susan Collins gives opening remarks: Are we safer? Or are we just safer from the tactics terrorists have tried? Collins says yes to both questions. “Terrorists continue to probe our vulnerabilities and attempt to exploit gaps.” We also face threats from individuals within our borders.

DHS has made “significant strides in protecting our nation” but has yet to reach full potential. TSA has strengthened airline pre-screening yet young man was able to fly across without a valid government ID with a boarding pass not even in his name. Traumatizes young and old by putting them through intrusive pat-downs. Two Iraqi refugees associated with al Qaeda were recently arrested in Kentucky. “How a known bomb-maker was able to enter our country on humanitarian grounds remains an extremely troubling and unanswered question?”

10:06 AM Sen. Lieberman opening remarks: “We were drawn into war, increasingly global.” He hesitates to use “world war.” We were drawn in by violent Islamist extremists against most of the whole of the world. He says we set out to reform systems that failed us. Lieberman suggests “Nobody will ever be able to know that 9/11 was preventable.” If it was attempted today, 9/11 would likely not happen.

Bottom line: Lieberman concludes “there has not been another mass casualty attack by Islamists.” He doesn’t think anyone could have predicted that on 9-12-01.


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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."