Monday, September 27, 2010

HSAC Closed Meeting 10-14-10

Today’s Federal Register includes a notice that the Homeland Security Advisory Council will be holding a meeting closed to the public on October 14, 2010 at DHS Headquarters in Washington, DC. The meeting will be closed because of the law enforcement investigative and intelligence information being discussed.

According to the notice the agenda for the meeting will include:

• Sensitive Threat Briefings against the Homeland.
• Governor and Homeland Security Advisors' Transitions.
• Policy and Planning Issues related to the ``If you see something, say something'' campaign.
• Watch List Operational Improvements.
• Lessons Learned from the cyber exercise.
Closed Door Meeting?

Closed door meetings of advisory councils frequently raise questions of accountability. The discussion of on-going law enforcement investigations and classified intelligence information clearly need to be conducted before a limited audience. The first and fourth items on the above agenda clearly fall under those qualifications.

The reasons for keeping the discussion of the other three agenda items out of the public domain are less clear. The last item could certainly be considered sensitive information about current vulnerabilities, but that claim is not made in this notice. The public closure of the two remaining items personally concerns me.

I applaud the Departments early planning for the information sharing responsibilities that they will face in the coming months with new Governors and Homeland Security Advisors as there will be several changes in State leadership due to the upcoming elections. Unless the discussion is going to look at the specific information that will be shared (possible but unlikely at this point) I find it hard to understand why the planning for sharing information would raise security concerns.

‘Watch List Operational Improvements’ are another area that requires a major stretch of imagination to see how security would be affected by a public discussion of the topic. Again, unless specific intelligence is being discussed, any discussion of how the Watch List and associated No Fly List is operated needs to be done in a public manner. There have been too many failures and near failures while isolated kids and grandmothers are labeled as ‘suspected terrorists’.

Finally, I can see no justification for closed door discussions about a very public program like ‘If you see something, say something” particularly when the agenda explains that the discussion will be on ‘Policy and Planning Issues’. If DHS wants public participation in this program (and that’s what the program is all about) then they better be prepared to discuss policy and planning issues in public.

I think that DHS and HSAC need to reconsider making this a two part meeting with separate public and private discussions where the differences are truly appropriate.

BTW: Provisions have been made for the public to submit written comments and information to be considered by the HSAC at this meeting. Submissions must be made by October 8th. Comments can be submitted electronically at (Docket Number DHS-2010-0078)

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