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Homeland Security Questions for Your Candidate Town Hall: Who Is the Real Enemy?

No matter what you believe is the function of the federal government, most agree that “homeland defense” is a primary responsibility. Given the partisan, vitriolic nature of our current political climate, here are some of the major security issues to consider as we enter campaign season. These are the issues that impact your family – directly and indirectly – from your financial stability to the safety and protection of your life and property, and issues that we believe define the current “mission” of homeland security.

Cybersecurity

  1. What is your plan to develop rules of engagement around cyber attacks – attacks that steal information or attacks on our critical infrastructure?

Everyone hears a lot about “cybersecurity” and many have “warning fatigue.” However, for the past decade our nation has hemorrhaged information, proprietary data, to the Chinese and, to a lesser extent, Russia, Iran, North Korea and transnational criminal networks. While possibly an abstract fight for you and your family, the reality is that the information stolen underpins our economy and way of life.

To some extent we have moved away from the traditional sense of “enemies” fighting physical war, yet the quest for dominance continues in cyber space. The economic “espionage” war and other types of wars of influence being waged against us have not been addressed in any meaningful way. Definitions, policies, and consequences have not defined what is “acceptable loss” for America. Modern conflict is full of new weapons and tactics, all requiring new and improved rules of engagement.

The Chinese, Russians, and others have also targeted, assessed, and mapped our critical infrastructures and are able to launch attacks against pipelines, banks, water facilities, and communications systems in the United States.

Our national security architecture, in order to be effective, must be a complex mix of public- and private-sector cooperation if we are to prevail in a crisis. The legal authorities required to enable all of the requisite public- and private-sector actors to coordinate and execute strategy are byzantine at best and prohibitive at worst. Our leaders need to sit down with the national security community in order to modernize and streamline our system.

Drones and Advanced Technology

  1. What is your plan to address advancements in technology – such as drones – that introduce catastrophic threats to the population?

Drones are really cool! I definitely want my Atkins bars here in the next three hours, so bring it on Bezos!! Problem? I DON’T want drones dropping payloads on an open stadium while I’m eating my chili fries at the ballgame. And, while that may seem farfetched, the threat is here.

Drones are capable of carrying enough bomb material to kill everyone in a stadium. They can support any other manner of attack, including chemical or biological payloads. And it is currently illegal for your stadium, your law enforcement officials, to use counter-drone technology. Yes, you read that correctly. You can fly the drone over a stadium, but the stadium can’t do anything about it; only certain federal agencies are allowed to use drone disablement technologies.

We must have a clear and enforceable policy for federal, state and local officials so that they can adapt security practices to the increasing technological advancements that can have both good and horrible consequences.

CISA Warns Industries of Security Risks Posed by Chinese-Made Drones

 

Information Sharing to Prevent the Next 9/11

  1. What is your plan on achieving the information sharing goals envisioned in the 9/11 report? Do you believe we’ve done enough?

The 9/11 report clearly told us all that information sharing – between law enforcement agencies and the public and private sectors – is critical to ensuring that we foil the next plot. Since then we’ve made progress, but we are still struggling with classification levels and mechanisms by which to share. Our government has not funded one of the most effective and critical lynchpins in sharing information: Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs). Information is fine, but someone or something has to collect, analyze and determine its validity and relevance.

Since 9/11 ISACs have developed to do just that, but they are not publicly funded. Instead, they are pay-to-play entities that are forced to charge for their services and exclude those who can’t pay. What’s developed instead? An environment where information is spread and shared by fragmented, disconnected groups “sharing information” on whatever they think is relevant. Great to have these organizations care, not so great to have hundreds of organizations reducing the chances that the pieces of a plot will end up together in time to make a difference. The whole point of sharing information.

On the receiving end, due to overly restrictive requirements around classification, we still err on the side of NOT sharing rather than sharing information with law enforcement and others who sincerely need the information. In this era of “oversharing” many believe it is better to get their information out than to hoard it and be the reason for the next large-scale attack.

Terrorism

  1. What is your approach to addressing terrorist threats external to the nation, and to address domestic terrorism, threats, cells, and lone wolves already in the United States (or influenced by foreign terrorist organizations)?

9/11 ushered in a new era in our history, and the threat is still real and constantly changing. Recent attacks in America indicate that terrorists’ tactics are evolving, and our own citizens have been influenced by foreign actors and have taken up causes antithetical to their fellow Americans. More and more we are seeing young people attracted to ISIS and hate groups resorting to physical attacks. What is a candidate’s plan to protect our children, our schools, our houses of worship, our public gatherings?

9/11 Victim Compensation Fund

  1. How do you approach the responsibility of our nation to care for those who respond to catastrophic events like the attacks of 9/11?

Last week our leaders again failed to pass REAUTHORIZATION for the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.  Reauthorization means that we were already paying for it, we just needed to renew our commitment to paying it. Passed by the House but blocked by one senator, our first responders and all who responded to the 9/11 attacks were again given the message that our commitment to their lives, their cancers, their tragedies, their suffering, their loss, after they ran to the aid of our nation at its darkest hour, is uncertain.

Disaster Relief

  1. How do you plan to budget for, and assist the states, in mitigating, responding to and recovering from major disasters?

Over the past few years, many states and territories of the U.S. have been hit hard by hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires and other natural disasters. Most recently, a disaster relief package took nearly nine months to pass and finally be released to help the people devastated by hurricanes. $19 billion in aid to the people hardest hit by these calamities was held up first over border funding, and was most recently blocked by a few congressmen through procedural shenanigans. While ultimately it passed the people waiting for these funds were families like yours. Many lost everything and had to wait for nearly a year for this federal support. All indications are that the severity and frequency of such devastation will increase.

Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence

  1. What is your plan for a comprehensive policy to help adapt the public and private sectors to rapid advancements in artificial intelligence and data analytics?

Data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) is the wave of the future in both the public and private sectors. These tools make an organization more efficient, identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and are able to identify outliers that could cause harm. But data policy is hard. Not everyone will be happy, and we have not adapted legal or public policy to address how we will address these challenges. Leaders must sit down with the tech sector and develop a coherent policy that reflects the warp-speed of the amounts, significance, and possibilities of the data collected. Any mention of data also requires us to develop, in conjunction with the private sector, actionable, streamlined, and enforceable regulations regarding the protection of data. Currently our data policy is largely dictated by Europe’s GDPR, whether we agree with it or not. Instead of leading we are responding.

Border Security

  1. What is your position on securing the border, and how should the nation reform the immigration process to improve the security of our border and access to our nation?

“Border policy,” as we all know, is in desperate need of repair. Comprehensive immigration reform, of which border security is a piece, would go a long way toward mitigating some of the current tragedy unfolding on our southern border. Historically, both sides of the aisle have had similar approaches to immigration reform but still manage to come up empty when it’s time to pass a bill. Instead of passing reform, our leadership has chosen extremely divisive rhetoric and pure politics to exacerbate the existing weaknesses and divide our nation, perhaps inexorably. Each day that passes the southern border becomes less and less secure, and so does our respect and understanding of the law.

National Debt, National Priorities

  1. Please discuss your security priorities for the country.

What does our debt have to do with my family’s security, you might ask? Ask Russia. History is replete with examples of how a nation can be crushed by its debt, over-extending until it is unable to sustain itself. The Cold War was won not by some fantastical action but by the slow bleed of Russia’s economy. They broke because they were broke. As we face the many threats around us, how will we afford it all? Particularly in a time when we spurn our friends and handshake with our enemies? We are currently headed into another budget battle that last year shut down our government for just over a month, and left our U.S. Coast Guard and other critical agency workers unpaid. Not just individuals are impacted, but the big picture of how we achieve the business and security of the nation. What are the priorities for the business of our nation? What would be cut and what would be kept?

 

Perhaps most importantly, after asking these questions, and considering the massive accumulation of real actors against the United States, you will help any future leader recognize and prioritize our enemies. The enemies are China, Russia, al-Qaeda, terrorism, our debt, division. Not Republicans or Democrats, or this candidate or that. Our leaders are obligated to the American people, not their respective parties. Their obligation is to ensure they have done everything possible to protect you. As we approach the 2020 election, my vote will be for the candidates who recognize our true enemies and work to position America to prevail. I hope you vote with me, too.

Kristina Tanasichuk is Executive Editor of Homeland Security Today and CEO of the Government Technology & Services Coalition. She founded GTSC to advance communication and collaboration between the public and private sector in defense of our homeland.  A leader in homeland security public private partnership, critical infrastructure protection, cyber security, STEM, innovation, commercialization and much more, she brings to HSToday decades of experience and expertise in the intersection of the public and private sectors in support of our homeland's security. Tanasichuk worked for Chairman Tom Bliley on electric utility restructuring for the House Commerce Committee, represented municipal electric utilities sorting out deregulation, the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C. and ran the largest homeland security conference and trade show in the country. Immediately after 9/11 she represented public works departments In homeland security and emergency management. She is also the president and founder of Women in Homeland Security and served as president of InfraGard of the National Capital Region, a member of the Fairfax County Law Enforcement Foundation, the U.S. Coast Guard Enlisted Memorial Foundation and on the Board of USCG Mutual Assistance. She has an MPA from George Mason University and has attended the FBI and DEA Citizens Academies and the Marine Corps Executive Leadership Program. Most recently she was awarded the "Above & Beyond Award" by the Intelligence & Law Enforcement Training Seminar (INLETS) and was awarded Small Business Person of the Year by AFCEA International. Tanasichuk brings a new vision and in-depth knowledge of the federal homeland and national security apparatus to the media platform.

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