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Profile: House Homeland Security Committee

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House Homeland Security Committee was a participant or observer in the following events:

Democratic members of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security release a report entitled “America at Risk.” The report finds that, since the anthrax scare of 2001-2002, not a single drug or vaccine for pathogens rated as most dangerous by the Centers for Disease Control has been developed. A concurrent Pentagon report finds that “almost every aspect of US biopreparedness and response” is unsatisfactory, and says, “The fall 2001 anthrax attacks may turn out to be the easiest of bioterrorist strikes to confront.” The Pentagon will attempt to suppress the report when it becomes apparent how unflattering it is for the current administration, but part of it is leaked to the media. The report is later released in full. [Carter, 2004, pp. 20; House Select Committee on Homeland Security, Democratic Office, 2/1/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, House Homeland Security Committee, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Former White House counsel John Dean examines the idea that the government may postpone the presidential elections in the light of an alleged terror threat (see July 8, 2004), and finds it wanting. Dean notes that the idea of postponing the elections is bogus: “There is no such proposal. In fact, it is not legally possible because there are no laws giving the president, or anyone else, such authority.” A Homeland Security spokesperson has said, “DHS is not looking into a contingency plan,” and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has said, “I don’t know where the idea that there might be some postponement of elections comes from.” As others have noted, Rice pointed out that even during the Civil War, then-President Abraham Lincoln refused to consider the idea of postponing the 1864 elections. Christopher Cox (R-CA), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said flatly: “Were we to postpone the elections, it would represent a victory for the terrorists.… The election is going to go forward.” Dean writes “that the Bush administration has completely disregarded the need to protect the workings of our electoral process, which is highly susceptible to terror attacks,” noting that large-scale, well-timed terror strikes could catastrophically disrupt the election process. [FindLaw, 7/26/2004] Author and media critic Frank Rich is more prosaic, writing in 2006 that both the terror alerts and the vague threats to consider suspending the elections are merely attempts to frighten and cow the American citizenry. [Rich, 2006, pp. 146]

Entity Tags: US Department of Homeland Security, House Homeland Security Committee, Condoleezza Rice, Christopher Cox, Frank Rich, John Dean

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

A report by Glenn Fine, the Justice Department’s Inspector General, finds that the FBI used self-issued subpoenas known as National Security Letters (NSLs) to obtain phone, e-mail, and financial information on at least 143,074 targets between 2003 and 2005. The report’s main conclusions include:
bullet More than half of those targeted are US citizens;
bullet In many cases FBI officials evaded limits on NSLs and sometimes illegally issued them;
bullet 60% of the audited NSLs do not follow the FBI’s rules of issuance, and a further 22% contain unreported possible violations of the law, including improper requests and unauthorized collections of information;
bullet The number of surveillance targets is probably far higher than the audit finds, because the FBI practices poor record-keeping that allow at least 22% of surveillance to go unreported;
bullet Fine finds that agents had routinely issued the letters even when they had no open investigation, as required by law;
bullet One office made arrangements with telecommunications firms to get information instantly, even before issuing NSLs, by sending “exigent letters” claiming it needed the requested information because of an emergency, and that the letters and necessary court warrants were in preparation (see Before Mid-March, 2007). But, the audit finds, “we could not confirm one instance in which a subpoena had been submitted to any US attorney’s office before the exigent letter was sent to the phone companies” and that “many were not issued in exigent circumstances.”
Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee, wants hearings. “The Inspector General’s report is a scathing critique of FBI misuse of the secretive process,” Markey says. Although the FBI has used NSLs for years, their usage soared after the USA Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001) eased the restrictions on them. Now, FBI agents in counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations can issue NSLs themselves, without court warrants or even the approval of a supervisor, as long as the agent affirms that the information they seek is “relevant” to an open investigation. The information obtained by NSLs remains in a massive “data warehouse,” where it can be accessed again for data-mining or subsequent investigations. [Wired News, 3/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Edward Markey, USA Patriot Act, Glenn Fine, US Department of Justice, House Homeland Security Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In July and then again in August, Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, asks for access to the “classified annexes” of the Bush administration’s Continuity of Government (COG) program. DeFazio became interested in the topic because of Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20 (also known as NSPD-51), issued in May 2007, which reserved for the executive branch the sole authority to decide what constitutes a national emergency and to determine when the emergency is over. In a press release issued in August, DeFazio says he is concerned the NSPD-51 COG plans are “extra-constitutional or unconstitutional.” Around the same time, he tells the Oregonian: “Maybe the people who think there’s a conspiracy out there are right.” However, the documents will not have been released by May 2008. Some time soon after this, Congressional sources will say DeFazio has apparently abandoned his effort to get to the bottom of the classified annexes. However, DeFazio’s chief of staff will say he soon intends to ask for a classified briefing. [Radar, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Peter DeFazio, Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20, House Homeland Security Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) issues a national security bulletin based on four recent incidents in San Diego, Milwaukee, Houston, and Baltimore. The bulletin creates the impression of imminent terrorist plots targeting the aviation sector. The TSA warns that terrorists are testing the possibility of smuggling bomb components on to an airplane. TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe says the agency has noticed an increase in unusual items in checked and carry-on luggage, including “wires, switches, cell phone components, and dense clay-like substances” - including a block of cheese. [International Herald Tribune, 7/25/2007] The incidents all turn out to have innocent explanations. On July 27, Brian Todd of CNN reports “That bulletin for law enforcement eyes only told of suspicious items recently found in passenger’s bags at airport checkpoints, warned that they may signify dry runs for terrorist attacks… it turns out none of that is true.” One such case was that of Sara Weiss, who was detained in San Diego after two ice packs covered in tape and containing clay were allegedly found in her baggage. Weiss, who works for a faith-based organization, was also carrying a survey about Muslim Americans. Weiss says she was held for three hours and questioned by San Diego Harbor Police and two other men who did not identify themselves. She says she was asked if she knew Osama bin Laden, which she described as “a ridiculous question.” Todd reports “The FBI now says there were valid explanations for all four incidents in that bulletin, and a US government official says no charges will be brought in any of these cases.” The FBI maintains “they were right” in putting the bogus reports on the TSA bulletin, which is distributed to law enforcement agencies nationwide. The TSA says that security officers must be trained in identifying suspicious packages, even when those packages turn out to be innocuous. [CNN, 7/27/2007] Defense for the TSA bulletin comes from a number of sources. “This is what TSA should be doing whether it turns out to be a whole bunch of harmless coincidences or part of a plot,” says James Carafano, a security expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation who in the past called for TSA’s abolition. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, also a critic of the TSA, agrees the agency is handling this appropriately: “To stay ahead of potential threats to our aviation system it must use all of the intelligence available as part of its daily operations.” However, the bulletin is questioned by San Diego Harbor Police Chief Kirk Sanfilippo who says officers found two ice packs wrapped in clear tape, not duct tape, and there was no clay inside. “It was not a threat. It was not a test run,” Sanfilippo says. “The whole thing was very explainable and understandable.” [International Herald Tribune, 7/25/2007] He characterizes the bulletin as “a little bit off.” Local TSA Security Director and chief of the airport police Michael J. Aguilar says it was quickly determined the ice packs contained the usual blue gel. Aguilar says he doesn’t know why the TSA memo, issued in Washington, reported the substance as clay. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Heritage Foundation, CNN, Brian Todd, Bennie Thompson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Transportation Security Agency, Sara Weiss, James Carafano, House Homeland Security Committee, Kirk Sanfilippo, Ellen Howe, Michael J. Aguilar, San Diego Harbor Police

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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