Sunday, March 18, 2012

Congressional Hearings – Week of 03-19-12

The House is back from a week on the home front and the Senate is done with their transportation bill, but there still isn’t much on the hearing schedule that looks to be of much interest to the chemical- and cyber-security communities; just one previously postponed budget hearing and two threat hearings.


Secretary Napolitano will get her chance to defend the President’s FY 2013 budget request for DHS one more time; this appearance on Wednesday will be before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. This is her fourth appearance this year on this topic so I don’t expect much in the way of surprises in her testimony.

What might be interesting is to see what questions, if any, get asked about the CFATS problems at ISCD. Both Ranking Member Collins (R,ME) and Chairman Lieberman (I,CT) have a long history of interest in chemical facility security issues {as does, to a lesser extent, Sen. Levin (D,MI)} so any of the three might take this opportunity (ahead of an as of yet to be announced oversight hearing) to ask the Secretary about the problems within this very small part of her Department. I would be surprised if the answers would provide any major new insights.

Threat Hearings

There will be two House Homeland Security hearings this week on terrorist threats to the United States. The first will be a field hearing by the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee on Monday with an interesting slant. The second will be a full Committee hearing on Wednesday on the potential terror threat from Iran and Hezbollah.

The interesting slant on threats deals with the closings of 30 petroleum refineries in the Northeast over the last decade. While the folks at Greenpeace and their allied organizations would probably argue that the closing of a refinery in the densely populated Northeast is a net counterterrorism gain (reducing the targets), Chairman Meehan (R,PA) would seem to disagree. According to the Homeland Security Committee web site:

“This hearing will help us understand the homeland security consequences of refinery closures, both in terms of threats to critical infrastructure and our dependence on imports from unstable parts of the world.”

I would suppose that the argument is that, with less production capacity in this high-population area, any successful terrorist attack on a refinery would have large economic consequences beyond the ‘mere’ cost of off-site casualties and mangled metal. This would appear to be especially true if the attack were fomented by a State actor like Iran.

This petrochemical refinery threat isn’t specifically mentioned in the write up about the second hearing, but I would bet that Meehan will bring it up in his questioning of the panel of witnesses. Interestingly enough the only current government employee on the list of witnesses comes from the NYPD. Of course Chairman King has been a strong and vocal supporter of the counter-terrorism intelligence activities of the NYPD so the inclusion of the Director of Intelligence Analysis for the NYPD should not come as a surprise.

The other three witnesses now work in the private sector but used to work in the intelligence arena of a variety of Federal agencies. I suppose that current intelligence types from those agencies would prefer to testify behind closed doors about current intelligence matters, which leaves the question about how much real actionable information can be presented in an open forum like this. The quick and easy response is ‘not much’.

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