DHS unveils new operations center

The Homeland Security Department today took the wraps off an upgraded command center at its headquarters in Washington.

The new Homeland Security Operations Center houses dozens of officials from more than 35 federal, state and local law enforcement and intelligence agencies. It is also home to a reinforced array of communications and control technology, including 16 flat panel 50-inch screens that can display detailed geographic data and other information. DHS said the center addresses about 22 incidents daily.

DHS secretary Tom Ridge was set to tour the center with Vice President Richard Cheney this afternoon.

The center is divided into the Intelligence Side and the Law Enforcement Side, the department said in a fact sheet distributed today. The Intelligence Side focuses on highly classified information while the Law Enforcement Side tracks police activities nationwide that may have a terrorist nexus.

Ridge touted the rollout of the Homeland Security Information Network, saying it provides links to all 50 states and more than 50 cities. 'This new ability to receive and distribute critical information allows us to make better decisions, more quickly, and take action that will deter, detect and defuse terrorist attacks.'

Ridge announced at a press conference that recently gathered intelligence points to the likelihood of a terrorist attack this summer on institutions involved in the country's democratic process.

He added that he had designated the upcoming political conventions as special events deserving additional DHS protection and that he would visit their sites in Boston and New York to oversee security preparations.

DHS revealed some additional capabilities of the operations center, such as the HSIN-Critical Infrastructure. HSIN-CI is an alert system for critical infrastructure owners and operators. The telephone and Internet message system can handle alerts at the following rates:

  • 10,000 simultaneous outbound calls per minute

  • 30,000 simultaneous inbound calls (hotline scenario)

  • 3,000 simultaneous outbound faxes

  • 5,000 simultaneous outbound Internet e-mail messages

  • Immediate Internet Web site content changes.

The operations center distributes Homeland Security Threat Advisories to communicate new threats and newly developed security procedures, as well as Homeland Security Information Bulletins for less urgent updates.

Ridge said HSIN, now operating at the sensitive but unclassified level, would include a secret level capability by the end of the year.

A senior intelligence official addressed the question of whether HSIN's new secret-level capability would duplicate the secret-level capability of TTIC Online, a browser based system, by saying, 'TTIC Online is a Web site, at the top secret and now also at the secret level. It is an information system to make available to different types of recipients, information at different levels of classification.'

By contrast, the official said, HSIN is a network. 'I think you may be comparing a Web site [that is] an information tool with a network that is a means of communication. So they are not at all competitive. In fact they are very complementary. What we are doing is working very closely together to ensure that the information contained in TTIC Online can then be put onto the Department of Homeland Security's network.'

The official added, 'We know, from a broad base of intelligence, that Al Quaeda remains committed to carrying out a follow-on attack or series of attacks in the homeland. Recent and credible information indicates that Al Quaeda is determined to carry out these attacks to disrupt our democratic processes. Al Quaeda has not been in fact reluctant to articulate that intent and that threat.'

The senior intelligence official said that while Al Quaeda has been degraded in recent months, it is still dangerous, flexible and adaptable.

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