Issues with Designating Election Infrastructure as Critical Infrastructure

By Daniel Patrick Shaffer

Critical Infrastructure and the Power of the Executive Branch

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson recently proposed the idea of designating election infrastructure as “critical infrastructure.” Critical infrastructure includes pieces of infrastructure that are so vital to the United States, that their destruction would have a crippling effect on our economy, health, and security. This currently includes infrastructure like dams, the power grid, and financial institutions. The Secretary has cybersecurity concerns, citing the recent cyber-attacks on the Democratic National Committee database, and the possibility of more destructive attacks in the future. Pursuant to the Homeland Security Act of 2002, The President and Secretary of DHS both have the power to designate critical infrastructure. The President did this in the Presidential Policy Directive-21, Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience. The Directive says that department heads are in charge of working with the Secretary of Homeland Security to ensure security in their respective critical infrastructures. The Department of Justice, a part of the executive branch, has jurisdiction to monitor, investigate, and Continue reading “Issues with Designating Election Infrastructure as Critical Infrastructure”

Internal Audit Reveals DHS Struggles with Timely Dissemination of Intelligence Information

A recently released report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) revealed that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is struggling to provide regional fusion centers with timely intelligence information due to limitations of its IT systems and dissemination process. DHS collaborated with the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2003 to set up fusion centers in an effort to coordinate counter-terrorism information and data collected by government agencies and private companies. The centers were intended to create a more robust early warning system to prevent future terrorist attacks.

Recently, amid an increase in homegrown terrorist plots, DHS has been touting fusion centers as a tool for preventing domestic terrorism. But according to the report, DHS is

>falling behind on providing centers with Homeland Intelligence Reports (HIRs), which contain information the DHS hasn't yet fully evaluated. The  HIRs are intended to share information with fusion centers on suspicious activities before they are fully vetted. As of March 2010, 144 HIRs were overdue, meaning that fusion centers often receive the information after it becomes moot.

Specifically, some centers' personnel reported they relied on e-mails for situational awareness and intelligence data rather than using databases the DHS has appropriated because of usability issues, according to the report. An inability to search seamlessly across myriad federal systems and department databases that contain intelligence information also is a stumbling block that limits response time. The report also issued a host of recommendations for improving access and systems, including strategies for encouraging system use, implementing a single login and search across multiple databases, and methods for improvement in data-sharing across systems.