Entries Tagged "borders"

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Radiation Detectors in Ports

According to Reuters:

The United States is stepping up investment in radiation detection devices at its ports to thwart attempts to smuggle a nuclear device or dirty bomb into the country, a Senate committee heard on Wednesday.

Robert Bonner, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told a Senate subcommittee on homeland security that since the first such devices were installed in May 2000, they had picked up over 10,000 radiation hits in vehicles or cargo shipments entering the country. All proved harmless.

It amazes me that 10,000 false alarms — instances where the security system failed — are being touted as proof that the system is working.

As an example of how the system was working, Bonner said on Jan. 26, 2005, a machines got a hit from a South Korean vessel at the Los Angeles seaport. The radiation turned out to be emanating from the ship’s fire extinguishing system and was no threat to safety.

That sounds like an example of how the system is not working to me. Sometimes I wish that those in charge of security actually understood security.

Posted on March 16, 2005 at 7:51 AMView Comments

Terrorists and Border ID Systems

This Washington Times article titled “Border Patrol hails new ID system” could have just as accurately been titled “No terrorists caught by new ID system.”

Border Patrol agents assigned to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) identified and arrested 23,502 persons with criminal records nationwide through a new biometric integrated fingerprint system during a three-month period beginning in September, CBP officials said yesterday.

Terrorism justifies the security expense, and it ends up being used for something else.

During the three-month period this year, the agents identified and detained 84 homicide suspects, 37 kidnapping suspects, 151 sexual assault suspects, 212 robbery suspects, 1,238 suspects for assaults of other types, and 2,630 suspects implicated in dangerous narcotics-related charges.

Posted on January 7, 2005 at 7:58 AMView Comments

Illegal Aliens and Driver's Licenses

Has anyone heard of the Center for Advanced Studies in Science and Technology Policy? They released a statement saying that not issuing driver’s licenses to illegal aliens is bad for security. Their analysis is good, and worth reading:

As part of the legislative compromise to pass the intelligence reform bill signed into law by the President today, the administration and Congressional leaders have promised to attach to the first ‘must pass’ legislation of the new year a controversial provision that was rightly dropped from the intelligence reform bill — this provision would effectively prevent the states from issuing driver’s licenses to illegal aliens by requiring ‘legal presence’ status for holders of licenses to be used as ‘national ID.’

Although this provision is being touted by its supporters as a security measure, its implementation in practice will be to undermine national security because it ignores three widely-recognized principles of counter-terrorism security: the shrinking perimeter of defense; the need to allocate resources to more likely targets; and the economics of fraud.

First, the very fact that 13 million illegal aliens are already within our borders means that a perimeter-based defense is porous. The proposed policy would eliminate another opportunity to screen this large pool of people and to separate ‘otherwise law abiding’ illegal aliens from terrorists or criminals by confirming identity when licenses are issued or when such licenses are presented or used for identity screening at checkpoints.

Recognizing the porous nature of perimeter defense does not mean that border security should not be improved or that additional steps to prevent illegal immigration should not be taken, however, not recognizing its porous nature is unrealistic, counter to current trends in security practice, and undermines national security. Rather than excluding 13 million people already within our borders, we should encourage non-terrorist illegal aliens to participate in internal security screening systems.

This leads to the second point. Contrary to the argument made by its supporters that denying illegal aliens licenses would prevent terrorists from ‘melting’ into society, this legislation would guarantee a larger haystack in which terrorists can hide thus making it more difficult for law enforcement to identify them. Counter-terrorism strategy is based on reducing the suspect population so that security resources can be focused on more likely suspects. Denying identity legitimacy to 13 million illegal aliens — the vast majority of whom are not terrorists or otherwise threats to national security — just increases the size of the suspect pool for law enforcement to have to sort through. Since law enforcement resources are already unable to effectively cope with the large illegal alien population why further complicate their task?

Third, the proposed legislation would increase the incentives for fraud by greatly inflating the value of a driver’s license and by creating significant new demand for fraudulent licenses by making the driver’s license actual proof of citizenship or legal status. Arguments in support of the legislation are based in part on denying illegal aliens the de facto legitimacy that a driver’s license currently confers, yet the legislation would actually make such legitimacy a matter of law, thus increasing the demand for fraudulent licenses not only among those illegal aliens wishing to drive but among all 13 million who may now see it as a way to get jobs or otherwise prove their legitimate status.

If 13 million people living within our borders can’t drive, fly, travel on a train or bus, or otherwise participate in society without a driver’s license and they cannot get a legitimate one, then the market will supply them an illegal fraudulent one. State DMV bureaucracies, no matter how well- intentioned, do not have the resources, training, or skill to prevent fraud driven by this additional demand and no federal mandate will be able to prevent organized criminal elements from responding.

On the other hand, if illegal aliens are allowed to get legitimate licenses upon thorough vetting of their identity, then the only ones who will be trying to get fraudulent documents will be terrorists or criminals — who will face increased costs and more opportunities for mistakes if there is less overall demand — and law enforcement resources can be focused on these activities.

Fourteen states currently allow driver’s licenses to be obtained without showing ‘legal presence.’ These laws were enacted for public safety reasons — to ensure that drivers meet some standard to drive and to lower insurance premiums by decreasing the pool of unlicensed and uninsured drivers. In most cases, these laws were passed with the strong support of state law enforcement officials who recognized the advantages of being able to identify drivers and discourage unlicensed drivers from fleeing from minor traffic infractions or accidents because they were fearful of being caught without a license. The analogous arguments hold for national security — the more we can encourage otherwise law abiding people within our borders to participate in the system the easier it will be to identify those that pose a true threat.

There may be legitimate reasons for cracking down on illegal immigration, there may even be reasons to deny illegal aliens driver’s licenses, but counter-terrorism security is not one. This provision was appropriately dropped from the intelligence reform bill and it should not be resurrected in the 109th Congress.

Posted on January 4, 2005 at 8:00 AM

Behavioral Assessment Profiling

On Dec. 14, 1999, Ahmed Ressam tried to enter the United States from Canada at Port Angeles, Wash. He had a suitcase bomb in the trunk of his car. A US customs agent, Diana Dean, questioned him at the border. He was fidgeting, sweaty, and jittery. He avoided eye contact. In Dean’s own words, he was acting “hinky.” Ressam’s car was eventually searched, and he was arrested.

It wasn’t any one thing that tipped Dean off; it was everything encompassed in the slang term “hinky.” But it worked. The reason there wasn’t a bombing at Los Angeles International Airport around Christmas 1999 was because a trained, knowledgeable security person was paying attention.

This is “behavioral assessment” profiling. It’s what customs agents do at borders all the time. It’s what the Israeli police do to protect their airport and airplanes. And it’s a new pilot program in the United States at Boston’s Logan Airport. Behavioral profiling is dangerous because it’s easy to abuse, but it’s also the best thing we can do to improve the security of our air passenger system.

Behavioral profiling is not the same as computerized passenger profiling. The latter has been in place for years. It’s a secret system, and it’s a mess. Sometimes airlines decided who would undergo secondary screening, and they would choose people based on ticket purchase, frequent-flyer status, and similarity to names on government watch lists. CAPPS-2 was to follow, evaluating people based on government and commercial databases and assigning a “risk” score. This system was scrapped after public outcry, but another profiling system called Secure Flight will debut next year. Again, details are secret.

The problem with computerized passenger profiling is that it simply doesn’t work. Terrorists don’t fit a profile and cannot be plucked out of crowds by computers. Terrorists are European, Asian, African, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern, male and female, young and old. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, was British with a Jamaican father. Jose Padilla, arrested in Chicago in 2002 as a “dirty bomb” suspect, was a Hispanic-American. Timothy McVeigh was a white American. So was the Unabomber, who once taught mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley. The Chechens who blew up two Russian planes last August were female. Recent reports indicate that Al Qaeda is recruiting Europeans for further attacks on the United States.

Terrorists can buy plane tickets — either one way or round trip — with cash or credit cards. Mohamed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 plot, had a frequent-flyer gold card. They are a surprisingly diverse group of people, and any computer profiling system will just make it easier for those who don’t meet the profile.

Behavioral assessment profiling is different. It cuts through all of those superficial profiling characteristics and centers on the person. State police are trained as screeners in order to look for suspicious conduct such as furtiveness or undue anxiety. Already at Logan Airport, the program has caught 20 people who were either in the country illegally or had outstanding warrants of one kind or another.

Earlier this month the ACLU of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of behavioral assessment profiling. The lawsuit is unlikely to succeed; the principle of “implied consent” that has been used to uphold the legality of passenger and baggage screening will almost certainly be applied in this case as well.

But the ACLU has it wrong. Behavioral assessment profiling isn’t the problem. Abuse of behavioral profiling is the problem, and the ACLU has correctly identified where it can go wrong. If policemen fall back on naive profiling by race, ethnicity, age, gender — characteristics not relevant to security — they’re little better than a computer. Instead of “driving while black,” the police will face accusations of harassing people for the infraction of “flying while Arab.” Their actions will increase racial tensions and make them less likely to notice the real threats. And we’ll all be less safe as a result.

Behavioral assessment profiling isn’t a “silver bullet.” It needs to be part of a layered security system, one that includes passenger baggage screening, airport employee screening, and random security checks. It’s best implemented not by police but by specially trained federal officers. These officers could be deployed at airports, sports stadiums, political conventions — anywhere terrorism is a risk because the target is attractive. Done properly, this is the best thing to happen to air passenger security since reinforcing the cockpit door.

This article originally appeared in the Boston Globe.

Posted on November 24, 2004 at 9:33 AMView Comments

RFID Passports

Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, the Bush administration–specifically, the Department of Homeland Security–has wanted the world to agree on a standard for machine-readable passports. Countries whose citizens currently do not have visa requirements to enter the United States will have to issue passports that conform to the standard or risk losing their nonvisa status.

These future passports, currently being tested, will include an embedded computer chip. This chip will allow the passport to contain much more information than a simple machine-readable character font, and will allow passport officials to quickly and easily read that information. That is a reasonable requirement and a good idea for bringing passport technology into the 21st century.

But the Bush administration is advocating radio frequency identification (RFID) chips for both U.S. and foreign passports, and that’s a very bad thing.

These chips are like smart cards, but they can be read from a distance. A receiving device can “talk” to the chip remotely, without any need for physical contact, and get whatever information is on it. Passport officials envision being able to download the information on the chip simply by bringing it within a few centimeters of an electronic reader.

Unfortunately, RFID chips can be read by any reader, not just the ones at passport control. The upshot of this is that travelers carrying around RFID passports are broadcasting their identity.

Think about what that means for a minute. It means that passport holders are continuously broadcasting their name, nationality, age, address and whatever else is on the RFID chip. It means that anyone with a reader can learn that information, without the passport holder’s knowledge or consent. It means that pickpockets, kidnappers and terrorists can easily–and surreptitiously–pick Americans or nationals of other participating countries out of a crowd.

It is a clear threat to both privacy and personal safety, and quite simply, that is why it is bad idea. Proponents of the system claim that the chips can be read only from within a distance of a few centimeters, so there is no potential for abuse. This is a spectacularly naïve claim. All wireless protocols can work at much longer ranges than specified. In tests, RFID chips have been read by receivers 20 meters away. Improvements in technology are inevitable.

Security is always a trade-off. If the benefits of RFID outweighed the risks, then maybe it would be worth it. Certainly, there isn’t a significant benefit when people present their passport to a customs official. If that customs official is going to take the passport and bring it near a reader, why can’t he go those extra few centimeters that a contact chip–one the reader must actually touch–would require?

The Bush administration is deliberately choosing a less secure technology without justification. If there were a good offsetting reason to choose that technology over a contact chip, then the choice might make sense.

Unfortunately, there is only one possible reason: The administration wants surreptitious access themselves. It wants to be able to identify people in crowds. It wants to surreptitiously pick out the Americans, and pick out the foreigners. It wants to do the very thing that it insists, despite demonstrations to the contrary, can’t be done.

Normally I am very careful before I ascribe such sinister motives to a government agency. Incompetence is the norm, and malevolence is much rarer. But this seems like a clear case of the Bush administration putting its own interests above the security and privacy of its citizens, and then lying about it.

This article originally appeared in the 4 October 2004 edition of the International Herald Tribune.

Posted on October 4, 2004 at 7:20 PMView Comments

Academic Freedom and Security

Cryptography is the science of secret codes, and it is a primary Internet security tool to fight hackers, cyber crime, and cyber terrorism. CRYPTO is the world’s premier cryptography conference. It’s held every August in Santa Barbara.

This year, 400 people from 30 countries came to listen to dozens of talks. Lu Yi was not one of them. Her paper was accepted at the conference. But because she is a Chinese Ph.D. student in Switzerland, she was not able to get a visa in time to attend the conference.

In the three years since 9/11, the U.S. government has instituted a series of security measures at our borders, all designed to keep terrorists out. One of those measures was to tighten up the rules for foreign visas. Certainly this has hurt the tourism industry in the U.S., but the damage done to academic research is more profound and longer-lasting.

According to a survey by the Association of American Universities, many universities reported a drop of more than 10 percent in foreign student applications from last year. During the 2003 academic year, student visas were down 9 percent. Foreign applications to graduate schools were down 32 percent, according to another study by the Council of Graduate Schools.

There is an increasing trend for academic conferences, meetings and seminars to move outside of the United States simply to avoid visa hassles.

This affects all of high-tech, but ironically it particularly affects the very technologies that are critical in our fight against terrorism.

Also in August, on the other side of the country, the University of Connecticut held the second International Conference on Advanced Technologies for Homeland Security. The attendees came from a variety of disciplines — chemical trace detection, communications compatibility, X-ray scanning, sensors of various types, data mining, HAZMAT clothing, network intrusion detection, bomb diffusion, remote-controlled drones — and illustrate the enormous breadth of scientific know-how that can usefully be applied to counterterrorism.

It’s wrong to believe that the U.S. can conduct the research we need alone. At the Connecticut conference, the researchers presenting results included many foreigners studying at U.S. universities. Only 30 percent of the papers at CRYPTO had only U.S. authors. The most important discovery of the conference, a weakness in a mathematical function that protects the integrity of much of the critical information on the Internet, was made by four researchers from China.

Every time a foreign scientist can’t attend a U.S. technology conference, our security suffers. Every time we turn away a qualified technology graduate student, our security suffers. Technology is one of our most potent weapons in the war on terrorism, and we’re not fostering the international cooperation and development that is crucial for U.S. security.

Security is always a trade-off, and specific security countermeasures affect everyone, both the bad guys and the good guys. The new U.S. immigration rules may affect the few terrorists trying to enter the United States on visas, but they also affect honest people trying to do the same.

All scientific disciplines are international, and free and open information exchange — both in conferences and in academic programs at universities — will result in the maximum advance in the technologies vital to homeland security. The Soviet Union tried to restrict academic freedom along national lines, and it didn’t do the country any good. We should try not to follow in those footsteps.

This essay was originally published in the San Jose Mercury News

Posted on October 1, 2004 at 9:44 PMView Comments

Academic Freedom and Security

Cryptography is the science of secret codes, and it is a primary Internet security tool to fight hackers, cyber crime, and cyber terrorism. CRYPTO is the world’s premier cryptography conference. It’s held every August in Santa Barbara.

This year, 400 people from 30 countries came to listen to dozens of talks. Lu Yi was not one of them. Her paper was accepted at the conference. But because she is a Chinese Ph.D. student in Switzerland, she was not able to get a visa in time to attend the conference.

In the three years since 9/11, the U.S. government has instituted a series of security measures at our borders, all designed to keep terrorists out. One of those measures was to tighten up the rules for foreign visas. Certainly this has hurt the tourism industry in the U.S., but the damage done to academic research is more profound and longer-lasting.

According to a survey by the Association of American Universities, many universities reported a drop of more than 10 percent in foreign student applications from last year. During the 2003 academic year, student visas were down 9 percent. Foreign applications to graduate schools were down 32 percent, according to another study by the Council of Graduate Schools.

There is an increasing trend for academic conferences, meetings and seminars to move outside of the United States simply to avoid visa hassles.

This affects all of high-tech, but ironically it particularly affects the very technologies that are critical in our fight against terrorism.

Also in August, on the other side of the country, the University of Connecticut held the second International Conference on Advanced Technologies for Homeland Security. The attendees came from a variety of disciplines — chemical trace detection, communications compatibility, X-ray scanning, sensors of various types, data mining, HAZMAT clothing, network intrusion detection, bomb diffusion, remote-controlled drones — and illustrate the enormous breadth of scientific know-how that can usefully be applied to counterterrorism.

It’s wrong to believe that the U.S. can conduct the research we need alone. At the Connecticut conference, the researchers presenting results included many foreigners studying at U.S. universities. Only 30 percent of the papers at CRYPTO had only U.S. authors. The most important discovery of the conference, a weakness in a mathematical function that protects the integrity of much of the critical information on the Internet, was made by four researchers from China.

Every time a foreign scientist can’t attend a U.S. technology conference, our security suffers. Every time we turn away a qualified technology graduate student, our security suffers. Technology is one of our most potent weapons in the war on terrorism, and we’re not fostering the international cooperation and development that is crucial for U.S. security.

Security is always a trade-off, and specific security countermeasures affect everyone, both the bad guys and the good guys. The new U.S. immigration rules may affect the few terrorists trying to enter the United States on visas, but they also affect honest people trying to do the same.

All scientific disciplines are international, and free and open information exchange — both in conferences and in academic programs at universities — will result in the maximum advance in the technologies vital to homeland security. The Soviet Union tried to restrict academic freedom along national lines, and it didn’t do the country any good. We should try not to follow in those footsteps.

This essay was originally published in the San Jose Mercury News

Posted on October 1, 2004 at 9:44 PMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.