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How techie is Chertoff?

I have been away for a few days celebrating my 4-ohhhh birthday and I had family coming in town from the West Coast and they, of course, got caught in the whole flying snafu resulting from the British terror alert.

So finally I got to listen to the podcast of Meet the Press because Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff was on. He just doesn't seem like a guy who trusts or likes technology. I could be wrong -- and perhaps somebody from within DHS will correct me. I'd be happy to be corrected. I posted earlier about his interview with the NYT where he said he doesn't use e-mail.

And then there is this exchange on MTP:

MR. GREGORY: But there has been a question of priorities. This is how The New York Times reported it last Friday with regard to liquid explosives:

"Cathleen Berrick, director of the Government Accountability Office's homeland security and justice division, told a Senate committee in February 2005 that the Transportation Security Administration, part of the Department of Homeland Security, redirected more than half of the $110 million it had for research and development in 2003 to pay for personnel costs of screeners, delaying research in areas including detecting liquid explosives. It has continued to redirect some research and development money, she said. 'They've identified it as a vulnerability, they knew it was there, and they'd taken some steps to address it,' Mrs. Berrick said." Why hasn't this been a larger priority before now?

SEC'Y CHERTOFF: It actually has been. But one of the things I think you need—people need to understand is training the screeners is an important part of this effort. It's not all about technology. It's about knowing what to look for in terms of the configuration of things that might be a detonator. It's behavior pattern recognition, which we've, this past year, started to train people how to do.

You know, what the Israelis do is they don't focus on technology, necessarily. They have people asking questions and looking at behavior in order to identify terrorists. And those are the tactics that we, in the last year, have now started to roll out in our own procedures.

MR. GREGORY: But are you confident that the United States government is ahead of the terrorists, actually thinking of the technologies and, and the kind of tools they might use?

SEC'Y CHERTOFF: Absolutely. You know, I've had a number of discussions with Kip Hawley, the head of TSA, on precisely this issue over the last year. How do we move to the next generation? How do we start to turn away from worrying about the nail clippers, which is an issue we've dealt with, to deal with next generation of explosives and other kinds of devices? And so we are continuously training, evaluating. We actually have groups that put themselves in the mind of the terrorists and try to figure out how they would carry out attacks if they were terrorists. All of this is an approach that we're taking to stay ahead of where the terrorists are.

MR. GREGORY: But you talk about screening being a priority. The 9/11 Commission issued recommendations in December of 2005. It gave some pretty poor grades on this front. When it came to transportation security: airline passenger pre-screening, an F; airline passenger explosive screening, a C; checked bag and cargo screening, a D. As we've learned this week, these are vital areas. What grade would you give yourself?

SEC'Y CHERTOFF: We've done a lot over the last year to address precisely these issues. We—we're doing a lot more screening of cargo that goes into the holds of passenger jets. We've done a lot more training. We've got pilot projects under way over the last several months looking precisely at liquid explosives. And with respect to passenger screening, we're pushing to get more information that would make us better at it.

But we do have a challenge here. There are some people who push back against this, who say we shouldn't get more information about passengers. And I think that that's precisely the kind of debate we need to have. If we can't get a reasonable amount of information on people who are getting on airplanes, and if we can't get it in a timely fashion, we are tying our hands against what is still a very serious threat.

Technology sure doesn't solve these problems, but it can be a real aid.

I'm just curious if anybody has first hand knowledge of how techie Cheftoff actually is?

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on Aug 17, 2006 at 12:15 PM


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