Disclaimer: The following transcript has been formatted for clarity but may contain errors. It should not be relied upon for purposes of verbatim citation.
KEN WEINSTEIN: Well, good afternoon and welcome to Hudson Institute. I’m Ken Weinstein, president and CEO of Hudson Institute. Hudson is a policy research organization dedicated to promoting security, freedom and prosperity through strong and engaged U.S.- international leadership. I want to welcome both our members of the audience here and our good friends from C-SPAN, as well.
One of the most important threats, potential threats facing the United States is that of terrorists using weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological and nuclear agents to harm Americans. We had this attack the other day in New York, which, just imagine how much scarier it would have been had a terrorist had weapons of mass destruction. Preventing such attacks are obviously something critical to President Trump and his team. His August 21st speech that outlined a new strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia, the president noted, we must prevent nuclear weapons and materials from coming into the hands of terrorists and being used against us, or anywhere in the world, for that matter.
Now, we at Hudson Institute have done a significant amount of work in the homeland security space, and I should note we are the home of a biodefense commission that is co-chaired by former Senator Joseph Lieberman, former congressman, former DHS secretary, former Governor Tom Ridge that seeks to improve preparedness for chemical, biological, biohazard events and also seeks to improve coordination in that area. And we’ve also just launched a major new project funded by the John D. and Catherine MacArthur – Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation on sustaining bipartisan U.S. leadership against nuclear terrorism. That’s led by senior fellow Richard Weitz. This project intends to build an enduring foundation for inclusive U.S. global leadership regarding nuclear security and strengthen the domestic political consensus on policies designed to counter nuclear terrorism.
First speaker in this series that we had for this project was Hudson alum Chris Ford, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Weapons of Mass Destruction and Counterproliferation at the National Security Council. Today’s speaker, our first speaker, is Elaine C. Duke, the seventh deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. She just completed a term as acting secretary for the past four and a half months at DHS. She has nearly three decades of experience in the federal government at senior positions at DHS, where she was Under Secretary for Management at TSA and in various roles at the Department of Defense.
She’s going to deliver remarks on the Department’s new Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, which was created earlier this week. The CWMD Office will elevate and streamline DHS efforts to prevent terrorists or rogue nations from using weapons of mass destruction against the United States and its partners, and it’s also going to allow for greater policy coordination and strategic planning and greater visibility for this important mission.
After her remarks, we’ll have questions from John Walters, who is Hudson’s chief operating officer. He’s going to moderate a discussion with Secretary Duke and James McDonnell, who’s going to head the new office. John is both my partner in building Hudson Institute as our COO, and none of the growth that we’ve had over the last few years would have been possible without his wisdom and insight. But he is also, and, more importantly on this occasion, the former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, where under his tenure from 2001 to 2009, we saw record reductions in teen drug use and significant reductions in cocaine and methamphetamine use, as well as interdiction – as well as the effective use of interdiction of drugs coming in from rogue states. And that’s something that John – that’s an area John knows well and can speak well to. And so he’ll be moderating discussion, I said, with both Deputy Secretary Duke and with the new director of the – or, the Acting Assistant Secretary for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction at DHS, James McConnell. He was appointed in June 2017 by President Trump to serve as the director of the DHS Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. He is a Navy veteran who spent 20 years in Special Operations and Counter-Terrorism Operations before a distinguished career in both the private sector and the federal government.
Without any further ado, it’s my honor to turn it over to Deputy Secretary Duke.
ELAINE C. DUKE: Thank you, Mr. Weinstein, and I appreciate Hudson Institute’s leadership in this area. I see several old professional friends in the audience, too. And it really is a group effort to ensure that we continually are staying ahead of the threats against the United States. So, to my teammates here and those of you that from private industry really support DHS in our continuing efforts to get better at countering weapons of mass destruction as well as other threats to our homeland, I really appreciate your support.
I want to start today by highlighting the threat landscape. Each day, we begin – the Secretary and I began a day with an intelligence briefing. We see the dangers that our country faces, and we track the threat streams. Over the past year of being back, one of the things that’s been most significant is that we face a persistent and ever-evolving threat from weapons of mass destruction. When we look at the threats against us in chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological, the threat is real. It’s evolving in its persistence. Whether the threat comes from rogue states or terrorist groups, our adversaries are interested in creating terror and destruction through the use of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons.
They are focused on WMD agents not just because of their destructive potential but because of their psychological impact. Many of us remember the 1995 chemical attack on a Tokyo subway when cult members released sarin, a highly toxic nerve agent, during rush hour. That attack killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000 others. Also, if you’re like me, you remember working in downtown Washington, D.C., in 2001 when anthrax spores were mailed to offices throughout the city, and you remember the fear that gripped the country. This year, we continue to see WMD threats on display around the world. In April, the Assad regime in Syria attacked rebels with sarin gas. The attack killed more than 90 people. In recent months, North Korea has tested nuclear weapons and missiles that might be able to reach our territory. And we have seen terrorist groups use their overseas battlefields as test beds of terror to develop new attack methods. ISIS, for example, has deployed chemical weapons in Syria and Iraq and has attempted to use them in terrorist attacks in the West.
What’s worse is that the blueprints for creating rudimentary WMD devices can be spread quickly and clandestinely on the internet. That is why we must be prepared. We must be ready not only to defend our country against the threats we are seeing materialize but also against those on the horizon. For example, as we see advancements in the bio sciences, we must be prepared for the possibility that innovations designed to save lives could also be used to end them.
It’s against that backdrop that we decided to make a big change at the Department of Homeland Security. For many months, we’ve been engaged in an effort to increase and improve our security across the board. We are reviewing every corner of the Department and every part of our vital mission in DHS. When we find gaps, we look for ways to fill them, and when we find parts in isolation, we look for ways to connect them. We need to connect them and our defense as our terrorist foes are connecting them in the battlefield.
When we find standards that don’t fit the current threat environment, we are finding ways to raise them. For instance, we are starting shutting down potential terrorist pathways in our country. We are ramping up screening and vetting of U.S.-bound travelers and immigrants. We are setting a new bar for information-sharing with our foreign partners. And today I am pleased to announce that we are taking decisive action to protect our homeland against weapons of mass destruction.
For too long, DHS has not been properly organized to confront the WMD threat. It wasn’t because we lacked expertise or didn’t see this threat as a priority. Rather, our expertise and our efforts were fragmented. We lacked the clear leadership and strategic direction in this space. While many national security departments and agencies consolidated their WMD policy-making activities in the wake of 9/11, DHS was not designed that way. That has caused a lack of visibility for this critical WMD mission space. It led to insufficient internal coordination, disjointed interagency cooperation and, in some cases, waste overlap and duplication of effort. Multiple reviews in the last 10 years, both internal and external to the Department, have highlighted our shortcomings in this space. Something needed to change. So this year, we again examined the current structure in previous reviews. We found that in light of the current threat environment, we had to take steps to improve the effectiveness of our WMD defense functions.
The first step of that process is a broad reorganization that we’re eager to talk about today, the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office. This is not a quick fix. It is not simply a moving boxes and an org chart, and it’s not going to solve all our problems in a one-step solution. However, this CWMD Office will lay the foundation for a strategic direction that we need to be more strategic and accurate in protecting our country. The full range of changes that need to be in place will take time, and we are eager to work with Congress to make sure the Office is postured to confront all the threats we are facing. This reorganization is something Congress has been eager to see for a while, and we’re glad that there is bipartisan support for continued improvements in this area.
The Office will consolidate all functions that fall under CWMD, establishing a unity of command for this mission space and elevating our efforts for the next generation. Primarily, the Office will consolidate what was DNDO, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, and the majority of Office of Health Affairs, which had the biological and chemical threats, and expertise from other components. For the first time, the Department of Homeland Security will have a focal point for WMD issues. The experts in the field will be brought together under one leader.
I am very excited that that leader is James Jim McDonnell. Before this reorganization, Mr. McDonnell served as the director of DNDO. He is a recognized expert in the field of WMD, terrorism, an experienced executive and military officer. Mr. McDonnell was part of the original executive leadership team at DHS in 2003, where he was responsible for the initial development and management of today’s Infrastructure Protection Office. He has also held senior executive positions at the Department of Energy and the White House. In the private sector, he directed security and other risk-management functions. He is also a veteran who retired from the Navy after 20 years of service in Special Operations and Counterterrorism. No one is better prepared or more qualified for this role. I am glad to have Mr. McDonnell here with me today as we answer some questions about this reorganization and increased focus.
Internally, this reorganization will strengthen our operational activities and allow us to better support frontline personnel, who are critical to this mission space. The Domestic Nuclear Detection Office operated an exceptional end-to-end business model. We plan to use elements of that model to identify gaps, find solutions and deploy them to the men and women in the field and our operating components. As an example, the CWMD office is focused on deploying the right technologies to Customs and Border Protection operators so they can detect and interdict threats more effectively. We also intend to manage the lifecycle of deployed technologies, phase out older systems and introduce cutting-edge technologies. This ensures our operators have nothing short of the best technology available to disrupt the threat of WMD before they reach our borders. In addition, by embedding a team of subject-matter experts at CBP’s National Targeting Center, we can integrate our WMD detection capabilities and leverage detection and surveillance data into targeting activities.
Externally, the CWD Office – CWMD Office will allow us to work more closely and effectively with our partners in the law enforcement and intelligence community, from the FBI to the CIA, to state and local partners who are critical to keeping our communities safe from these dangers. Make no mistake, our enemies and adversaries are constantly probing our weaknesses to see how they can intimidate or threaten us, including with weapons of mass destruction. But the DHS CWMD Office will be at the forefront of our efforts to close those security gaps and build out layered defenses against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents and devices. There is a lot of work to be done, but this is a great start, and we’re up to the task. Now I’m excited to sit down and get some questions and provide you more information about our work in DHS in this area.
JOHN P.WALTERS: Thank you, Madam Secretary. Thank you. Let me ask you to elaborate first on a couple of things that you talked about in terms of the threat you see. Can you talk a little bit about how that threat has shifted and how these plans kind of mesh with that?
DUKE: Sure. We’re seeing an increase through intelligence of threat just in terms of volume, especially in the chemical and biological areas. Additionally, we’re seeing a decentralization a little bit, a lot of inspired-type threats. That makes it more challenging because we’re not seeing long advance times. We’re not being able to pull a thread for years and determine the threat. So, we have to be agile, we have to be out there and we have to be ready.
WALTERS: And does that – how does that compare to the general terrorism threat that you also are responsible for combating? Is it unique in this dimension, or is it parallel to some of the other trends you see?
DUKE: I think it’s similar but it’s the reverse, wherein CWMD we have the lower probability, at least traditionally, and the higher consequence, we see at the other end of the spectrum the lower consequence but higher probability. A lot of the attacks we’ve seen in the traditional areas, terrorists using any weapon. The problem is whether it is a weapon of mass destruction or a box truck, it’s creating terror. So there are two tragedies from it. One is the actual destruction at the site, but the second is just the introduction, the psychological of terror.
WALTERS: And of those different forms of WMD threat, which do you consider the most pressing at this point?
DUKE: I think from non-state actors, we see an indication of the desire to use chemical weapons that are easy, are relatively easy to produce, probably followed by biological weapons. I think they’re a little bit more accessible, potentially, than traditional nuke-type devices for non-state actors.
WALTERS: And maybe and – get to the office and what it changes – how – what unique authorities does the office pull together that Homeland Security Department has, and how do you intend to use those authorities?
DUKE: I’ll let Jim answer that. Mainly, at the highest level, what we need to do – whenever we’re addressing threats, we have to make sure that we’re doing a risk-based look at the threats. And when we look at chemical, biological, radially – radiological and nuclear, we have to address them in terms of a threat portfolio because of their relation and their similarity from a risk perspective. Jim, you want to add?
JIM MCDONNELL: Sure. I think the – probably the biggest convergence of authorities is the – so DNDO, when it was created, really, was everything from threat and risk analysis to the identification of gaps in the field, understanding how the operators need support, developing their – the tools and techniques to get out to the operators and deploying that. So it’s got a very well-established business model. When OHA was created, it brought in the National Bio Integration Center and the BioWatch Program but didn’t have a lot of infrastructure for the development of the capabilities to deliver to the operators. There’s a tremendous amount of technical expertise in both shops, but by merging them together, we actually have the ability to use that business model that already exists and broad authorities to be able to go literally from intelligence analysis to deploying equipment and maintaining it throughout its life cycle, and apply that to chem, nuke and bio across entire battle space and can do that based on risk. So it gives us the flexibility to say that the threat, as the deputy secretary mentioned – the change, the dynamic that I’ve seen in my career in the shift from state actors being primarily who you’re concerned with when it comes to WMD to nonstate actors and the proliferation of information through the Internet, Inspire magazine, all those types of things – now you really – you have to worry about a microbiologist that has access to a laboratory in a community college, which, 10- 15 years ago, that wasn’t something that we were dealing with like we are today.
DUKE: Another thing – just to not lose a nuance – is what Jim talked about about the operators. What we’re focused on in this new CWMD Office and across DHS headquarters is being uniformly focused on the operators. We are here to support the operators in carrying out their mission. And I think that is something that the – the old DNDO model did relatively well, in terms of making sure they were an enabler of the mission. And we’re looking forward to CWMD and across headquarters continuing to refine that so that we are, across all of the headquarters offices, looking at, how do we enable the operators by delivering the resources, the tools, the policies and – to them to let them be more effective in carrying out the mission?
WALTERS: How much of the work did you see in this office involving components of DHS, and their activities and operations, and how much of it is tied to other outside agencies or even foreign countries?
MCDONNELL: So, there’s a couple thousand CBP officers a day looking for radiological material coming across the border, whether they’re carrying pager detectors or more advanced equipment. We’ve – the department – this really goes back to post-Nunn-Lugar legislation in ’96. The federal government has issued out about 57,000 radiological detectors across the country – so everything from local police officers on patrol through hazmat teams, FBI – DOD has advanced capabilities – CBP, as I mentioned, the Coast Guard. There’s a tremendous amount of capability that’s deployed. So it’s literally a team of teams, and that sounds a little bit like a cliché, but you can’t…
WALTERS: Sounds like a book.
MCDONNELL: Yeah, yeah.
DUKE: (Laughter) Yeah, that’s funny.
MCDONNELL: We – when we look at how our response is going to happen – in New York yesterday was rather a poorly constructed pipe bomb that could’ve just as well been radiological material that was intended to be dispersed. The first responders that responded are the same people. So our focus is understanding what the operators’ requirements are, how that sequence events is going to go, whether it’s intelligence-driven or responding to an incident and making sure everybody has the appropriate supports that they need. As the deputy secretary said, we’re a support organization, so our primary job is to support the operators. And as she mentioned, we recently closed what was called the Joint Analysis Center, which was a DNDO sort of two- person operations center that was doing monitoring and weaving better our folks into CBP’s National Targeting Center, which is a big data global operation that makes us much more relevant and ensuring the information’s coming, and it’s getting to the operators as quickly as possible and overlaying with other data, as opposed to – little subsets are in there.
DUKE: And I think although most of the CWMD Office’s technology will go to DHS, we are doing a tremendous amount of international work. So with the diversity and the intensity of the threat, information sharing about people, about, you know, intelligence is absolutely critical. So tangential – what the work DNDO is doing, and also within the DNDO was doing and that CWMD will do, other parts of DHS headquarters office of policy working tremendously. We have got to get ahead of this time-wise and we can’t wait. As I said earlier, because a lot of these threats are not, you know, they’re, you know, obviously non-state actors, but they’re also not well-planned all the time. The amount of time from the idea to radicalization could be very short or from the idea to implementation. So we have got to have strong partnerships internationally and info-sharing in every possible way is critical to that.
WALTERS: I’m just struck by what you’re saying. How much of this threat and the shift in focus of the office is from what might be in the past thought of as an intelligence problem to see well-developed threats come to some kind of more immediate pervasive detection capability of something that you may not have much intelligence on or any intelligence lead time on?
MCDONNELL: Well, so that’s a good point. We may not have any intelligence tactically, but we have a lot of strategic intelligence. So we know what types of capabilities are being developed, what adversaries may do. And so if we can effectively inform the operators of what to look for – I always like to use the example for folks that are a little older and can remember Polaroid cameras.
DUKE: They’re back in, you know.
MCDONNELL: The battery pack that used to be in there…
WALTERS: He’s in touch with youth.
MCDONNELL: …They only had two purposes. One was for Polaroid, the other was for letter bombs. So a police officer could pull up – pull a vehicle over and see what it is in there – that’s bomb-making material. It gives them probable cause to search a vehicle. So if we can give knowledge tools to the operators, precursor materials, understanding what somebody might be using, making can hydrogen sulfide or TATP, which is a homemade explosive, those types of things.
You know, we have 800,000 police officers on patrol every day in the United States. That’s a tremendous amount of intellectual property, eyeballs looking at things. And when we first started the department, Tom Ridge said something to me that I thought was great and the best thing I ever heard about Homeland Security. He said, we have 800,000 law enforcement. They know when something’s wrong. It’s our job to help them figure out what’s wrong. And this is still the case. There is more technology that we can apply, but we have to increase our likelihood of encounter, which is a big part of how we are pushing out to support the operators. So we have a Joint Task Force East, Joint Task Force West. And they’re each doing southern approaches campaigns. We’ve embedded folks in their staffs to support – for looking for WMD. But it’s all through the front-line operators. It’s through the Coast Guard. It’s through CBP, ICE, the rest of the department.
WALTERS: Maybe this is a little more specialized, but since we have some specialization in the audience, can you explain a little bit about how this is going to work across these individual agencies? Because these kinds of crosscutting functions are always an issue because somebody is trying to manage the Coast Guard or the Secret Service or the – or ICE or CBP. And then somebody else is trying to say, well, this part of your operation ought to go this way. And there is always an issue about reasonable – it’s always a fight over reasonable people having good intentions, but they’re not exactly in harmony. How do you see this working?
DUKE: I mean, it’s funny. When we were talking about this and the many millions of models that we could do, I told both Jim and Miles Taylor, who was critical in setting this up – the older I get, the more I feel like optimization is the right answer. So I think an extreme consolidation is inappropriate and absolutely extreme decentralization is inappropriate. So if Jim were to try to pull up operations and pull up too much so that the operating components like Coast Guard, CBP and ICE couldn’t operate through – the DHS was set up saying they should have all the authorities, resources and abilities to execute their missions. And that will stay. What we do is where the optimum level of centralization, where we add efficiencies. We add – so why should everybody be doing R&D on precursor chemicals? We don’t have the ability, either time-wise or money-wise, to have that type of inefficiency. So as I said in my opening comments, this is going to be one where we’re going to continue to revise It. that optimization level is somewhere here.
But to be honest, it may change over time, and it may change based on a specific project. But what we’re doing is it is to do the appropriate amount of centralization so that we can efficiently deliver decentralized capability would be the best way I could describe it.
MCDONNELL: I would dovetail that. I mentioned we’re a support component, myself and Dave Flutie, who currently leads OHA and is the deputy assistant secretary from the new office. So the top two folks are OHA and the DNDO leaders. Dave has 23 years as a customs officer as well. So he’s been a front-line operator for most of his career. So he and I have gone and met with every single component head. We’ve talked to the chief operating folks, the component commanders. And we have – we are just starting a process DNDO has used for several years called the RNROC, which is the Radiological Nuclear Requirements Oversight Council. It’s sort of like the DOD JROC. We’re doing the same thing that’s starting up next week for WMD where we bring the components together, we talk through what the requirements are, how can we support those? But they decide what the priorities are. We execute against those. So somebody from CBP and somebody from Coast Guard and somebody from ICE, somebody from TSA are sitting at the table together. And as we talk through various WMD threats and problems they can drive – here’s the type of support I need, and here’s how we sequence out the support.
DUKE: And I think this is really just – for those of you that are familiar with the unity of effort that we’ve been carrying through several administrations, this is really the next phase of that. We built out some of the pieces of the unity of effort – acquisition, require – like, a performance review board, budget. But what we have to drive for is sound operational requirements, driving into requirements R&D and then operation – driving through what I call that left side. You know, coming from our strategic plan, developing operational requirements, where do we have these capability gaps? And I think that’s the process Jim is saying there. Without that, where we developed the other parts later in the system of the unity of effort like the budget and the acquisition process and the disposal process, those can never be 100 percent effective without that initial work being done.
WALTERS: I want to ask the flip side of kind of maybe the same issue. One is which of the agencies – federal, state, local, maybe foreign – are most closely, you know, akin to what – who you’re going to work with most closely? Who do you rely on outside of DHS?
MCDONNELL: Well, outside of DHS there’s actually an interagency community that works WMD issues. So one way you could look at us as a support organization is a mini DTRA, Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Their job is to look for technologies to support the war fighters. They grew out of DNA, the Defense Nuclear Agency. So a very similar type of growth pattern. SOCOM, Special Operations Command, is assuming responsibility for the lead for WMD for defense from STRATCOM. We work very closely with the FBI, with the Department of Energy and NSA, the Nuclear Security Administration. So there really is already a very robust interagency organization. Bob Kadlec, who’s assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS, leads the response for bioterrorism. We – we’re good friends. We worked together for 25 years. We all know each other. And it’s a common mission set. And it’s a group of folks that understand they’re supporting the folks out in the field. So there isn’t – it’s a body of friends, quite frankly, that get together professionally, that say, what do we need to fix? How do we need to fix it? And how can we get that support out there as quickly as we can?
WALTERS: The other part that I was going to ask you about is kind of about gaps. I mean, how much of this is also, as you look forward to the future in addition to – you mentioned a chemistry professor and a community college being a threat. But also, with proliferation of nuclear materials and weapons, how much of this down the road are you worried that it becomes decentralized through agents of agents and the threat from someplace like North Korea, Iran, other places of supplying weapons of mass destruction becomes an even more urgent priority?
DUKE: I mean, the threat is real. And it’s – I think it’s going to continue to be real. It might change a little, but it’s going to continue. I think what we’re getting better at is closing the gaps. What we haven’t – what we really are looking to is addressing the seams. So what we can’t afford to either timewise or otherwise is to have a seam between different areas. One of the biggest changes when coming back from being retired seven years I’ve seen is even just the lack of space between national security and homeland security. That’s at the highest level. When I left in 2010, homeland security and national security were addressed totally separate. Now most of our national security efforts, the work done by DOD and others, is on behalf of homeland security.
It’s the away game of counterterrorism and homeland security. So what we have then is we have not a gap, but we still have a seam. And I think what we’re challenged with today is how do we make sure that those seams aren’t hard walls, that they’re permeable? And I think combining the threats of CW – of chem, bio, rad, nuc, helps do that to make sure we’re not just addressing each of those threats in silos but with walls in between.
WALTERS: There is a question on my mind. How much of – does this decision and the new office reflect a larger issue for the future of Homeland Security as a department? Is this part of looking at seams or looking at how to manage cross-coming capabilities and responsibilities largely?
DUKE: Yeah, I think it does in terms of the expansion of the types of threats we’re seeing and the regularness of those threats. So I think it is. And I also think it is also reflective of looking at things risk-based. So like I said as we were getting ready to come on, you know, for every incremental dollar, are we spending it on the highest risk? And I think combining and looking at threats and portfolios and across helps us probably move further into that risk-based look at addressing terrorism.
WALTERS: How do you see this office evolving? I mean, when you – if you were – you’re going to look back at this in a year, 24 months, where do you want to be? And how do you see that future?
MCDONNELL: So we want to be better integrated, number one. And as I talk about putting folks into the joint task forces, we’re embedding folks at CBP headquarters, for example. We now have a joint program office to do the portal replacement programs for the radiation detection equipment. Integration across the board. And as an example, we talked about the business model in DNDO. I had several all-hands meetings talking through this the last few weeks, last few months, and had a group that does our systems planning and acquisition in a room. And I said, how many people in here are nuclear experts? And about five people raise their hand. But about 45 of those people are program managers, acquisition experts, program development folks. So if I take five bio people and I plug them into that – because OHA has tremendous capability and talent. I can – I just created an acquisition shop that has both chem and bio expertise because the program management support is essentially the same. It’s sort of needing that niche subject matter expert to help steer things.
And so I think what you see is a much more integrated approach, much more seamless. NYPD, when they call up and say we need assistance, they’ll be able to call one place and talk to us.
Right now in New York City we have a Secure the Cities program, which is a rad nuc assistance program and a BioWatch program. They both have similar business processes, but they’re completely separately managed right now. So over time we’ll be able to integrate a lot of that and be much more effective, be able to share data management systems, be able to share information as it’s coming up, and be able to be much more flexible because we won’t be organized based on the material. We will be organized based on the mission.
DUKE: I think that this change could be the model or the pilot, if you will, for a re-designated – a version 3.0 of DHS headquarters. You know, having been in the department back at its start, I go back to HSPD-5. And what is the purpose of having a department? It’s to close gaps and eliminate redundancies or minimize redundancies. And I think that this type of model gets us back to those roots and the problem that we were solving when we set up the Department of Homeland Security. It’s very cliché, but that’s the value proposition. And that’s where I think we’re going back to the basics of why we’re a department.
WALTERS: You both have a lot of experience here, as my colleague Ken Weinstein mentioned in the introduction and as is clear in your bio. I wanted for our friends at the – watching the stream of this or at C-SPAN who are not professionals or experts in this – if you could just briefly describe how you see the time horizon for setting up these capabilities. I mean, you’re talking about some developments that you’re looking at I presume going online in a year or two down the line. Yet you have people every day on the front line. You’re trying to make their needs easier to meet and more robustly satisfied. But how do you see the stages of your support for this? And what’s the time – how far out do you think you can look and plan these capacities or prepare for threats?
MCDONNELL: Well, on the nuclear side right now we’re looking out 15 years sort of programmatically – what equipment is out there, what coverage do we have? So when you look sort of a map of the globe and you say, where do we have robust detection capability? Where do we have gaps in the acquisition cycle? That planning has been going on for some time. I don’t think it’s a huge leap to overlay the other technical specialties into that same timeline because, you know, as I mentioned, you look around the United States and the defensive posture we’re pushing off into the Caribbean, into the Northern Triangle looking at drug trafficking routes, human trafficking routes.
So a good friend of mine over the Counterterrorism Center had an interesting perspective. He said, you know, a lot of people like to look at WMD in its own stovepipe. I look to sprinkle it across all the other bad stuff. And if you think about it from that perspective, we know a lot about what’s going on, where bad guys are and where we should be operating. It’s just a question, then, of having the desire to say, we’re going to plug into this. And we’re going to identify what’s on the shelf, what’s commercially available technology that we can push out now. How can we improve things over time? We need to be very fast and very flexible. And the bad guys are as well. They’re getting new information. We need to be ahead of the power curve. So not reacting to what they’re doing, but making them wonder what we’re doing a little bit more.
DUKE: The challenging thing is having an acquisition background – I’ve seen as opposed to my time in DOD is in many DOD programs you go through a cycle. And you maybe have a (unintelligible). You go through, you know, the milestones of the acquisition. And you have your – you know, your design. And you’re all up in your prototype. And you’re – you know, you go through these steps. In DHS, we’re constantly in all stages of acquisition. And one of the challenges we have in deploying technology to our operators is when is it time to deploy new technology? When do you wait for perfection? When do you develop – do you deliver something better? It’s resource constraint and it’s technology constraint. But that is one of the challenges we’re going to have, is if we get an incremental progress in screening, in detection, do we deliver that new technology? At what point do you invest in that and deliver it? And so that’s one of the things we have. We’re not seeing major leaps in technology. We’re seeing incremental improvements. And that is challenging decisions to make. You want to have every capability out at the current state of technology. But then again, you know, do you wait for the better technology? And then how often can you refresh?
WALTERS: So what do you use as a guideline? I mean, how much improvement versus – I mean, obviously you’re doing cost-benefit, risk, cost, but how do you think about that?
DUKE: You know, it’s a lot of factors. One is how close is the next level of technology? And I think another criteria is how bad is the current capability gap? So if we have no capability in that area, we have to deliver whatever we can. So I think it’s a whole set of factors. And I think experience and judgment, as in any trade, offer any analysis if alternatives comes in. But what we have learned is we have to not wait for protection – perfection, excuse me – and continue to do incremental improvements in technology, whether it’s radiation portal monitors or, you know, magnetometers or – for the TSA. But we’ve got to continue to incrementally deliver it.
MCDONNELL: I think one thing to follow up on that, too, is a better understanding of the operator’s requirements and the fact that most of the technology that we deploy is to inform the operators to make better judgment real-time. So rather than going down the rabbit hole of saying, oh, I need this super high-speed whiz-bang thing that’s going to replace the operator’s decision- making, say, how does that guy operate on a daily basis? And what can I incrementally make their life better with? And so if I can get a piece of technology out there that helps somebody send something a little bit quicker or, as a border patrol officer, for example, who on BORTAC team has tactical operations guys, he can’t carry a bunch of gear. They may need faster open into an austere environment. They need gear that’s tailored to their operational environment. That gear is on the shelf in most cases, but they don’t necessarily know that. So it’s incumbent on us to understand how they’re operating, what their limitations are, and then make sure they get what they need to operate in that environment. And we can make huge leaps just using that.
That’s sort of the SOCOM model in equipment forces. It’s get the guys what they need at the time they need it. And then the larger acquisition programs and things like that, they go through a normal cycle. But the ability to rapidly prototype things – so we’ve taken, for example, in our R&D shop on the nuke side everything that’s TRL 6 and above, and we’re kicking it out the door to do pilots where we know there’s operational gaps. So we’re working with the Coast Guard.
We’re working CBP. And instead of doing a lot of testing in the beltway, we’re pushing it out into the operational environments, seeing how it works there and having that inform the acquisition process. So we’re making the acquisition process itself a little more operationally focused so we can peel things off as capabilities and kick them out the door as fast as possible.
DUKE: And another thing we haven’t – we’ve mentioned state and local. We have mentioned industry yet. I think industry can be a big part of our ability to move forward. You know, how much can the industry deliver capabilities that are, you know, plug-and-play, that can be refreshed without, you know, whole, you know, taking – disassembling a machine and replanting another one, those types of things. And I think what the state of security is – I’ve worked more in the aviation lately. I think industry is very interested in helping us address security. You know, if a plane goes down, that’s not good for anyone, including both the aircraft industry and the airlines. And we’d hope for the same type of cooperation as we continue to move forward in the chem bio rad nuc areas.
WALTERS: And that relationship will also be part of the offices of responsibility in your areas?
MCDONNELL: Yes. In fact, there has been a lot of industry outreach already because I actually believe, as deputy secretary said – so between all the work the DOD done in the space and their – and the industry that the technologies are available in our private sector, it’s a matter of – a big part of my job is to – educating industry on what we’re looking for, where we’re going, what we need so they can sort of tune up their R&D internally to compete for that work.
One of the challenges that we’ve got was in the Blue Ribbon Panel Study, is leapfrogging from the current BioWatch program, which is – does exactly what it was designed to do. And it does it very well, but it’s not real-time or near real-time detection. It’s tough to get a business to invest a lot of capital into a technology if you’re going to only deploy into 34 places. But if you say, I’m going to deploy into thousands of places, but it’s going to be more cost-effective deployment – so real-time triggers that are more like plug-and-play burglar alarm technology – well, now, that’s a market that’s big enough to start driving action. And it integrates into the big data concept of CBP. So when you’re integrated into a larger system, that drives industry investment and an industry interest. So the more we can get out of being a little niche organization and being part of a bigger system, the more effective the industry push will be.
WALTERS: You mentioned earlier the work that you’ve done in terms of spilling over into things like human trafficking or drug trafficking. And I know there’s been a lot of talk about transnational crime and terrorism blending together. Also, obviously, you’re talking about the threat of individuals who become radicalized, so there’s not much clear locus ahead of time as in the case of state sponsors. How do you see these kinds of threats from state sponsors, actual organized groups and – versus criminal groups that may also blend into this threat and then it’s kind of almost spontaneous individuals that pop up? I mean, which…
DUKE: I mean, there’s a link. Transnational criminal organizations use crimes like human smuggling to fund themselves just like drug smuggling. To them, unfortunately, whether they smuggle a human or they smuggle a kilo of cocaine, they don’t care. They’re making money. And that’s the truth of it. And that’s the sadness of it. And so in this case, what we’re concerned about is not only the human factor, which is extremely important, but also their ability to fund themselves. And we see that through some of the drug trafficking to the south of us, but also in terms of the terrorist organizations in some of the foreign areas where, you know, they are looking to raise money and to keep interest up in them.
That’s why one of the things we’re pushing hard on is taking down terrorist material on the Internet. One, because we don’t want it up there because people can read it, but the second is we don’t want to inspire – we don’t want them to be able to use the Internet to get people excited about their terrorist organization because that funds it. And then it’s that bad cycle. So they’re different. They’re different from a law enforcement perspective. But they’re all the same. They’re about raising money to allow them to do bad things.
WALTERS: But do you see transnational crime groups as a growing threat for terror?
DUKE: We – our – I believe – so our largest-growing in the United States threat was homegrown violent extremists. So from that perspective, yes, because the homegrown violent extremism is coming from those international, transnational groups.
MCDONNELL: I think just to dovetail on that, the – so if we affect the, say, on the drug trafficking – so if we affect drug trafficking, there’s still a criminal enterprise there that wants to make money. So the likelihood that they’re going to look for other things to smuggle, that is going to happen. So we have to accept that these organizations are there. They’re not going away. They’re going to morph over time. We need to be able to morph with them and be able to change and adapt as they do. But to do that, you have to have flexibility. If everything we do is sort of a cookie-cutter approach, then that – then we can’t get out in front of them. And we need to get out in front of them.
WALTERS: There’s a lot of talk also about the kind of revolution that is now ongoing but is even coming with greater magnitude regarding the use of big data and artificial intelligence on a wide scale to create – seeing lot of noise and if you have enough sensors and you have enough of a look. Can you talk a little bit about how the department sees that as a possibility in the future and how that applies to the containment of these threats?
MCDONNELL: Well, we’re deploying a system we’ve crossed-walked from DARPA, a system called SIGMA, which is radiation detectors that are smartphone-enabled and real-time transmitting data. That’s a huge leap from what we had just a few years ago. The question is, what do you do with that data? And CBP, for example, in the ports we’re starting to deploy smarter technology. But the amount of time that can be affected by nuisance alarms is a really, really big deal because it just takes – if you have a bunch of sensors that are too sensitive and you’re responding to every time the thing triggers, then you’re not able to do your job. So a big part of this is going to be building the algorithms in the background to be able to look for anomalies rather than look for specific things. And this is similar in the bio space. As we field detectors, the ambient risks or the ambient materials in the air in Denver are different than in Washington. There’s – so having better sensors and having better inputs is interesting, but you have to have the big data analytics in the background running to do that. And that’s where the integration with CBP’s targeting center and DOD’s big data targeting operations is really going to pay big dividends because we don’t have to recreate that. The backbone already exists.
WALTERS: So you don’t think this is going to be a cure-all, I take it.
DUKE: Oh, absolutely not. I mean, we’ll never be done in DHS. You know, the terrorist is going to continue to evolve. The threat’s going to continue to evolve. Our homeland will continue to evolve. And so, you know, we will always be adapting and improving. This is one step. We are working with Congress for additional steps. We continue to look at our very limited R&D dollars and how we should best spend them, not only in the (unintelligible), but in other areas, that will be the next thing, how we work with other inner agencies. I mean, there’s many, many, many steps. But we felt it was important to take the first step. I think that we can over plan and have such a grand vision that we never start. And I think it’s best to get started.
WALTERS: Last question for you. When you think about – I remember – because I was at the government after – somewhat after 9/11 and we sat around at one – people sat around at one point and they thought about all the different ways we could be vulnerable in a free society, which are vast. And in some ways, the surprise was that a lot of them weren’t exploited. And I presume there’s ongoing efforts to try to provide an assessment of what could be high-risk attacks or vulnerabilities. But you have to deal with this day to day, providing things for people on the front line, but also preparing us for the next five years or 10 years, how do you – how do you find it best to sort through these possibilities versus what you’re actually going to put hardware and people on as a threat? How do you tell the difference?
MCDONNELL: Honestly, I think most of it is teamwork and talking a lot and, as I mentioned, bringing the components together and sitting around the table and saying where is it tactically we need to be taking action, but also strategically, what do we need to be doing in the next five years. The mission is going to continue to change. And I think the biggest mistake anybody in the security business anywhere can make is to sit back and say OK, I got it covered. Because the second you think you got it covered, the adversary is going to change a tactic or change a plan or something else is going to change. So you don’t control the environment. The best thing you can do is make it more difficult for them to do planning and them to do operations.
But as simple as it sounds, the See Something, Say Something campaign is massive. Because if everybody is looking around and thinking, oh, that package shouldn’t be there, and they know to tell a security guard or tell a police officer, that is huge. We’re a free society. We can’t build walls around everything, so we’ve got to enable everyone – all of the citizens to be able to literally be thinking about what’s going on around me, what can I say, what’s unusual, and be comfortable being able to say hey, I’m not happy that this guy next door to me is filling up a bunch of blue drums with white powder, you know, there’s something wrong here.
DUKE: That’s interesting you said that because my first thought when you asked the question was that it’s the American people, but then I thought that was too much of a social science answer for this crowd. But now that you opened the door…
MCDONNELL: I blew it.
DUKE: …(Laughter) I mean, I really do think that – I mean, there’s two pieces. There’s the ability and the technology. A lot of these terrorist tools are not new, you know, that we’ve seen the attacks, but the desire is there now. And that’s the difference. And I think we, as the American people, need to understand the desire is there now. And so what’s our desire? What are we going to do about it? And I think that’s some of the examples Jim just gave, but the desire is there to create terror in the United States and in all free countries. And so we just have to decide – and it is not just simply a technology fix. We could not produce enough technology to do the fix. It’s a system of the people of the United States, the technology, the policies, and the awareness and the grit determination that is going to counterterrorism.
WALTERS: Let me just ask one more brief question – (unintelligible). But it seems to me that the work of most of the agencies of your department has changed radically in all this. It used to be, you know, for many parts of government, you know, you have specific function, you know, you took care of the parks, you took care of funding programs to various activities. It was a fixed set of goals or they changed very slowly over time. That’s not what you’re facing. The threat – prior to 9/11 – the threat today is radically different. The threat in the future’s likely to be different. And you have to try to anticipate that. How do you think about preparing the next generation of people that are going to take your jobs? What do you want from them that – or what would you say is most important for them to think about if they’re thinking about serving?
DUKE: I have to say, we have the best men and women in DHS. And they are passionate about the mission. And they will be there and ready to take over the minute anyone of us leave. They are smart. They’re strong. And I think it is a changing wish. And I think what’s challenging is – as a leader is that they put themselves in harm’s way every day, and they’re not always valued by the American people. And that’s really hard to look at them and say please keep doing it anyway, even though you’re being criticized on social media. That’s challenging. But they’re so good and they’re so concerned about our country that they do it anyway. And that’s just pretty darn amazing.
WALTERS: OK. Well, listen, you’ve been very generous. Thank you. Thank you for what you do every day. And thank you for being with us today. I’d like to ask for everyone to remain seated so our guests can leave with the staff they have here. And please join me in a round of applause thanking them.