For U.S. anti-terror agencies, an un-conventional time

August 22, 2008 10:11:33 AM PDT
The government acronyms that are taking effect sound harmless.NSSE and POHA.

What they both stand for is far more menacing: this is the eve of a period that American authorities consider very attractive to foreign terrorists.

That is why, leading to the opening gavel of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, a Period of Heightened Alert (POHA) is being imposed on federal law enforcement agencies. Publicly, a string of National Special Security Events (NSSE's) is being declared by U.S. Homeland Security officials that will stretch into 2009.

The government's Period of Heightened Alert is a time frame when terrorists may have more incentive to attack. The two major party political conventions, the fall campaign, the national election, the Inauguration and a transition of power give way to the need for heightened awareness and action, according to federal officials.

"When you have a series of events like this which are very public, where you have a number of people that are congregated together, we take additional precautions," FBI Director Robert Mueller recently told ABC News. "That means identifying, focusing on the intelligence that's available and scrutinizing it to pieces and running it to ground, to putting in place the precautions to assure the particular events go according to plan and free from terrorist attacks," he said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is however designating the national conventions and the presidential inauguration ? as National Special Security Events (NSSEs). According to a DHS planning paper, "The U.S. Secret Service is designated as the lead agency with unified command representation from participating federal, state, and local agencies with NSSE responsibilities. Federal resources are deployed to an NSSE to maintain the level of security needed for the event and area. A number of factors are taken into consideration when designating an event as an NSSE, including anticipated attendance by dignitaries and the size and significance of the event.

The upcoming Democratic and Republican National Conventions, taking place in Denver from August 25-28 and in Saint Paul, Minn., from Sept. 1-4, respectively, are examples of how the many agencies of DHS work together with local authorities toward the common goal of homeland security."

Despite the internal heightened alert by government agencies, the nation's public threat level will remain at yellow, or "elevated," but not orange, or "high."

That is because there have been no direct, bona fide threats by terrorists or terrorist organizations against the convention sites or the major candidates, authorities say.

There have been several suspicious incidents however. In early August a jihadist Web site posted a call to poison a major city's water supply. While the al Qaeda-linked site stated that "atheist Europe" would be targeted, counter-terrorist experts believe such a reference represents Western nations in general.

Shortly after that online threat, authorities were startled by the circumstances surrounding the death of a 29-year old man in a Denver hotel room within a few blocks of the site of next week's Democratic National Convention. He was found with a pound of cyanide in his room. Saleman Abdirahman Dirie, a Somali Muslim most recently living in Ottawa, had ingested a cocktail of the chemical and water.

They said there was no known link between Dirie and the threat to poison a municipal water supply and federal investigators have long downplayed the use of cyanide as a legitimate terrorist weapon against public water supplies. However, in a 2006 article published in the Journal of Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, Dr. Mark Keim, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that "the characteristics of cyanide are those of the ideal terrorist weapon" for other kinds of public attacks.

Authorities are still investigating whether Dirie may have made deadly Internet postings this summer linked to the Islamic Courts.

In July, a man who signed himself "Adbdirahman Dirie" left a comment on a blog that discussed the killing of Somali Christians by Islamists and by Islamic Courts.

"Please don't talk s**t , that man [the Christian blogger] deserves what happened to him , simply because having the bible in one hand , and a bread in the other hand, is not a correct thing ,! Kill Them , Kill them , Kill them , that is my massage,"! Comment by Abdirahman Dirie July 11, 08 @ 10:33 pm

Below is a breakdown of how U.S. Homeland Security agencies are supporting the upcoming National Special Security Events:

United States Secret Service
When an event is designated an NSSE, the Secret Service assumes its mandated role as the lead agency for the design and implementation of the operational security plan. The Secret Service carries out its responsibilities by relying on a core strategy of forming partnerships with all participating law enforcement, security and public safety officials.

  • During the formation of the Secret Service's overall security plan, each participating agency is tasked based on its jurisdiction and particular area of expertise. The Secret Service began developing convention security plans in 2007.

  • Although discussion of the specific means, methods, resources, or assets used to carry out protective responsibilities is sensitive, there is a tremendous amount of advance planning and coordination in the areas of venue security, air space security, training, communications, and credentialing.

  • The Secret Service's goal is to develop and implement, with the numerous participating agencies, a seamless security plan that will create a safe and secure environment for protectees, other dignitaries, event participants, and the general public. Should the need arise for a response to a tactical threat, the Secret Service is prepared to respond by employing a number of specialized units with unique expertise.

  • A Joint Information Center (JIC) will be staffed in both Denver and Saint Paul 24 hours a day during the conventions. JICs are managed by a Secret Service agent and a member of the respective city's police department. Representatives from each federal, state, and local law enforcement or public safety agency and military department with a role in the conventions will be available to answer security-related media inquiries throughout the conventions.

    Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
    U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is providing a contingent of federal law enforcement personnel in support of security and public safety efforts at the conventions.

  • ICE Office of Investigations is deploying special agents, including Special Response Teams, and many government-owned vehicles, to assist its sister agencies and local emergency and law enforcement agencies with the security and safety of the conventions.

  • ICE Federal Protective Service (FPS) is deploying personnel to Denver and Saint Paul to ensure public safety and continuity of operations at federal facilities in the area. The FPS deployment includes K-9 explosive detection teams, uniformed officers, intelligence and undercover agents, and bicycle and motorcycle officers. Both ICE Office of Investigations and Detention and Removal Operations will also supply agents to support the overall mission at both conventions.

  • FPS will position Mobile Command Vehicles (MCVs) in Denver and Saint Paul to serve as force multipliers for federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. MCVs are highly advanced communication centers, with the capacity to operate as primary or backup radio base stations for all levels of law enforcement, monitor video cameras from U.S. government facilities, retrieve other types of closed circuit video signals, and receive real-time aircraft video feeds.

    Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
    As part of the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA works with the Secret Service and FBI whenever an event is designated a NSSE. FEMA Regions V and VIII are supporting the Secret Service during the conventions.

  • FEMA is the lead federal agency for consequence management in the event of a large-scale response to a natural or man-made disaster. This involves coordinating the federal response to and recovery from a major incident, as well as coordinating federal response activities in support of state and local governments, if an incident occurs during the conventions.

  • For the 2008 conventions, FEMA is activating its Regional Response Coordination Centers, its National Response Coordination Center and is prepared to mobilize multiple disaster response teams, capabilities, and assets to support the event and to respond in case of an incident. The agency is prepared to deploy: incident management and emergency response teams; emergency command and control capabilities; and logistical and communications support.

    U.S. Coast Guard
    The Coast Guard is a multi-mission military service under the Department of Homeland Security that remains prepared to confront challenges in maritime safety, maritime mobility, maritime security, national defense and protection of natural resources.

  • Numerous Coast Guard units and personnel will provide support in Saint Paul to the Secret Service and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with planning, waterside security, K-9 explosive detection, force protection, and hazmat response and consequence management.

  • Coast Guard air assets will assist in security zone surveillance and enforcement as well as air interdiction efforts.

  • Strike teams will also be at the ready. Strike teams are a vital national asset comprised of a unique, highly trained cadre of Coast Guard professionals who rapidly deploy with specialized equipment and incident management skills for all hazards. In addition, the National Strike Force will pre-stage a robust hazmat response capability to support the EPA ? the lead Federal On-Scene Coordinator ? with environmental air monitoring and possible chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive incident abatement and sampling.

  • The Coast Guard Intelligence Coordination Center, Maritime Intelligence Fusion Center Atlantic, Atlantic Area Intelligence and Coast Guard Investigative Service will support the conventions as needed.

    Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
    CBP, in coordination with the Secret Service, will provide its advanced Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System, a high-tech gamma imaging system that allows non-intrusive inspection of contents of vehicles and packages.

  • Imaging systems will be deployed along with CBP officers to scan all incoming commercial vehicles and deliveries to the two venues, 24 hours a day before and during the events. Similar screening tactics were used during the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and other national events. CBP law enforcement officers also will provide support at airports and other venues as needed.

  • CBP Air and Marine's security operation, also in coordination with the Secret Service, will provide air space security around the Denver venue. CBP operates the largest law enforcement air force in the world and CBP Air and Marine has provided similar air space security at the Olympics, Super Bowls and many other national events.

    Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
    TSA has been supporting the Secret Service by providing officers and equipment for the past several months, as part of the collaborative approach among DHS agencies as the upcoming presidential election approaches.

  • Since January, more than 2,300 TSA officers have supported Secret Service activities at more than 180 campaign events from coast to coast. In Denver, TSA is providing approximately 100 Transportation Security Officers to assist the Secret Service with screening at convention venues. In Saint Paul, TSA will provide approximately 50 officers to fill the same need.

  • At both locations, TSA is conducting Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) operations before and during the conventions in several modes of transportation. Convention attendees can expect to see TSA officers in any transportation mode at any time.

  • TSA is deploying additional behavior detection officers and bomb appraisal officers, as well as increasing random and unpredictable screening efforts at both convention city airports during the convention. TSA employee-led K-9 teams from around the country will also be on site in both cities to enhance explosive detection ability.

    Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A)
    I&A is supporting the conventions by ensuring real-time connectivity and information sharing among all DHS components and our state and local partners.

  • I&A has actively participated in the production of Joint Special Event Threat Assessments (JSETA) for the conventions. Coordination is also ongoing at the federal, state and municipal levels.

  • I&A is providing additional onsite analyst support to the Intelligence Operations Center (IOC) and the Colorado Information Analysis Center (CIAC) in Denver, as well as the IOC and Minnesota Joint Analysis Center (MNJAC) in Minneapolis. I&A also has intelligence officers permanently serving in both the CIAC and MNJAC.

  • From headquarters in Washington, I&A will provide a reach-back capability for the two fusion centers in Denver and Minneapolis and ensure the timely sharing of any threat information, intelligence, and operational information pertinent to the security of the conventions with all involved elements.

    Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO)
    DNDO is supporting the conventions by providing a Mobile Detection Deployment Unit (MDDU) to the Department of Energy (DOE) Radiological Assistance Program (RAP) teams to augment their preventive radiological/nuclear detection capability.

  • A MDDU consists of a vehicle equipped with enhanced radiation detection instruments and command and control capabilities. It is designed to support planned activities such as National Security Special Events.

  • Through a Memorandum of Understanding between DNDO and DOE, the MDDU will be deployed by RAP region personnel. The deployment is coordinated into an overall Concept of Operations that has been integrated into the event planning process. DOE will provide DNDO with updates on deployment of MDDU equipment through daily interaction.


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