22 Items

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Paper - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Integration of Effort

| Sep. 02, 2021

The U.S. currently defines critical infrastructure as “the systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital . . . that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.” 

Because most critical infrastructure is owned by private firms, the government must engage with industry in order to secure them. 

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Disrupting Transnational Criminal Activity: A Law Enforcement Strategy for Homeland Security

| May 21, 2021

Transnational criminal activity, organized or not, presents a substantial internal security threat to the United States as it does to other nation-states across the world. Combating it remains a critical mission in the homeland security enterprise. Federal efforts across that enterprise, however, remain scattered and largely ineffectual, and many types of transnational crime are resistant to the law enforcement tactics used domestically.

This paper proposes that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) take the lead in supplementing the traditional “criminal justice” approach to countering transnational crime with strategies that aim to disrupt it and insulate Americans from its harmful effects. We contend the “Disruption Model” outlined here,* if broadly implemented, could significantly complement the current conventional approach, and produce materially improved results in managing the challenges of transnational crime and protecting the homeland from its ravages.

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Improving Big Data Integration and Building a Data Culture for U.S. Border Security

  • Stephen Coulthart
  • Ryan Riccucci
| Mar. 25, 2021

The potential impact of big data for border security is, in a word, transformative. However, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) does not leverage much of the large volume of data it collects. If CBP could better integrate these data into operations, it would speed up cross-border trade by helping authorities identify the most at-risk travelers and cargo. Big data can also help policymakers better understand the extent to which the border is secure and improve the allocation of enforcement resources.

Significant barriers remain for CBP to leverage big data, such as information sharing barriers between operational components as well as safeguarding data from breaches. These barriers are caused by a variety of factors. Like much of the U.S. government, CBP has struggled to develop a data culture receptive to changes brought on by the information technology revolution and has significant issues with its data governance standards, technology acquisition, and human capital development processes. This article explores these issues and offers recommendations to address these and other barriers to unlock the potential of big data for U.S. border security.

Airport Traveler

Image by Joshua Woroniecki, Pixabay


Lessons Learned: Why the United States Needs a Counter-Pandemic Border Strategy

  • Robert Bonner
  • Gillian Horton
| Sep. 28, 2020

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, one thing is already clear: most nations, including the United States, have struggled to effectively contain the spread of this deadly new virus. Countries have adopted a wide range of unilateral measures to counter the pandemic with highly varying degrees of success; some have nearly contained the virus and have reduced the mortality rate, while others have continued to experience mounting loss of life and severe economic damage. The reasons for these varied outcomes are complex and include factors that cannot be controlled by governments battling the pandemic (e.g. the size and heterogeneity of the country) but other factors are squarely within a government’s power to control.

One striking difference between several of the governments that have been most successful against COVID-19 and those that have not is the effective use of border screening to slow down and contain the spread of the virus. Countries that implemented border screening measures up front, including New Zealand and Japan, have seen dramatically lower COVID-19 death rates1 and less immediate damage to their economies. While life in these countries has resumed some semblance of normalcy eight months into the pandemic, the United States continues to face staggering human and economic costs, including an unemployment rate more than twice what it was before the pandemic, an ongoing recession, and, at the time of writing, 200,000 Americans who have lost their lives.

Although no nation has developed a truly comprehensive border strategy for countering a global pandemic, the results from countries that acted swiftly in this regard are promising, and what we know about the spread of COVID-19 supports the idea that early mitigation at the border is critical. As seen in New Zealand, border screening of all arrivals coupled with aggressive contact tracing can prove highly effective when implemented in the early stages of a pandemic, before large-scale community spread occurs, and the United States should be prepared to take similar steps.


COVID19 Virus

Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay


COVID-19 and the Preexisting Weaknesses and Tensions Within Our Emergency Management Regime

  • Timothy Perry
| July 06, 2020

In the modern history of the United States’ response to disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic stands out as uniquely deadly and widespread, posing an emergency simultaneously in all fifty states and killing Americans in each of them, while causing a tumultuous national economic downturn with job losses unseen since the Great Depression. To combat the virus, local, state and federal agencies launched a robust emergency response, unprecedented in its scale. Although unprecedented, these response efforts also revealed—indeed, magnified—many of the weaknesses and tensions extant within our emergency management regime.

This article identifies and analyzes several of those weaknesses and tensions. Overall, it concludes that while emergencies may be “locally executed, state managed, and federally supported,”1 the federal government must play a central and catalytic role in harmonizing national policy across the federalist system, and ensuring that states cooperate rather than compete with one another. The article proposes policy changes that would improve the United States’ approach to all threats and hazards while better integrating emergency management into the larger homeland security enterprise.

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Closing Critical Gaps that Hinder Homeland Security Technology Innovation

| Apr. 23, 2020

Rapid technological advances are making nonstate actors much more capable than they were even a decade ago. Malicious actors like terrorist groups, criminal organizations, and state proxies are increasingly able to threaten American civilians and their interests around the world. At the same time, we are increasingly vulnerable to the emergence of new disease and natural disasters, as vividly shown by the hurricanes of 2017 (Harvey, Irma, and Maria) and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Effectively countering these threats, including by developing and supporting private sector-generated new technological solutions, is a core government responsibility. DHS is the U.S. government’s primary civilian public safety agency and the main source of government funding for nonmilitary development of public safety technologies. Unfortunately, DHS has a poor record of developing new technological solutions to advance its mission and address emerging threats. This article assesses the current situation, identifies lines of research that are urgently needed, and makes recommendations on how DHS can more effectively partner with industry and how new technologies can be quickly seeded.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) seal is seen during a news conference with acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan in Washington, Friday, June 28, 2019.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Analysis & Opinions - The Hill

Congress Needs Bipartisan Commission to Fix Homeland Security

| Feb. 07, 2020

The House of Representatives recently held a hearing concerning continued poor workforce morale at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). As important as workforce morale is, the problem at DHS is a symptom, not a cause. The big issue plaguing DHS is that the department is essentially broken.

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Beyond CVE: Evolving U.S. Countering Violent Extremism Policy to Prevent the Growing Threat of Domestic Terrorism

  • Alexander Guittard
| Dec. 01, 2019

U.S. counterterrorism agencies lack the authorities, funding, and political direction to meet the evolving terrorist threat to the United States. Efforts to expand the counterterrorism toolkit to include prevention of all types of terrorism, known under the Bush and Obama Administrations as “countering violent extremism,” or CVE, and under Trump as “terrorism prevention,” have struggled to take hold and the programs have been underfunded and politically unpopular.  These efforts have also suffered from the perception that they were biased towards stopping al-Qaeda and ISIS-inspired terrorism and have ignored the threat posed by “right-wing” terrorists. The United States must accept that counterterrorism should evolve beyond relying on law enforcement and intelligence alone to prevent the growing threat of domestic terrorism. This evolution should include developing a bipartisan consensus for addressing all forms of terrorism; funding the types of CVE programs we deliver overseas at home; and updating our terrorism laws to incorporate preventative and restorative approaches that build on the best practices and lessons learned from tackling other forms of crime and targeted violence, such as hate crimes and gang violence.

Image of Phone and Map

Image by TeroVesalainen from Pixabay


The City-Sized Hole in U.S. GPS Planning

  • Steven Polunsky
| Nov. 21, 2019

Our society has become highly dependent on constant, real-time information about position, navigation, and timing. We typically access this information through cell phones or other devices that receive global positioning system (GPS) signals. Cities are particularly vulnerable to GPS failures and will become more so as Smart City initiatives produce results. Yet, we are missing opportunities to protect localities from potential disaster. This paper recommends efforts at all levels of government that could improve local government resilience, coordinate efforts, involve the private sector, and integrate these initiatives with federal planning for the future.

American Passport over Map of World


Analysis & Opinions

Visa Overstays Play Outsize Role in Unauthorized Migration

  • Blas Nunez-Neto
| Sep. 24, 2019

On April 22, 2019, President Trump signed a Presidential Memorandum directing the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security “to find effective ways to combat the rampant number of overstays.” The White House fact sheet released with this announcement notes that twenty countries have visa overstay rates above 10 percent, and that one action being considered could be to limit the issuance of visas to countries with high rates of visa overstays. This paper will tackle the following questions: How big is the visa overstay problem? How does it compare to other forms of unauthorized migration? And what policy options are available to policymakers?