"To win the war on terror, we must look to our private sector, specifically our high-tech industry," Paul McHale, assistant Defense secretary for homeland defense, told a homeland security conference sponsored by E.J. Krause and Associates.
McHale, whose office bridges the gap between Defense and the Homeland Security Department, said the vision is to push the U.S. borders out, using the country's technological advantage to "shape the battle space" and keep terrorists off balance. Protecting the nation requires identifying terrorist threats well before they reach U.S. ports, he said.
An entirely new nautical surveillance approach is likely within six months, he said. It will use the latest ship-based systems and unmanned aerial vehicles to prevent threats by sea.
McHale identified several areas of technological need to fulfill the vision. The government must be able to detect radiological, biological, chemical and other types of threats, and "first responders" to emergencies and other workers must have adequate protection through suits or other mechanisms, he said.
In addition, the private sector needs to create better non-lethal weapons to protect critical infrastructure, the vast majority of which is said to be in private hands. Authorities also need affordable communications equipment that is compatible with other systems, superior shoulder-launched missile defenses, and better equipment for extracting people from disaster sites. Right now, he said, injured people still would have to be removed on plastic sleds.
New surveillance systems are needed, McHale said. Biometric technology, which scans faces, hands or other physical attributes for identities, is critical to the government's vision for security, he added. Appropriate attention must be paid to U.S. citizens' privacy, he said, adding that much of the technology likely will be deployed overseas.
Also at the event, Tom DiLenge, majority chief counsel at the House Homeland Security Committee, said there has been "very little oversight" in Congress of critical infrastructure assets from a strategic perspective. At times, he said, there have been "pseudo debates," such as the one following the Northeast electricity blackout last year.
DiLenge said he is "very optimistic" that the committee will be made permanent after this year but said the debate continues over transferring jurisdiction from other committees.
The issue is expected to be high on the agenda of the House Republican Conference next week, he said. Jurisdictional agreements are still being resolved with the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which governs emergency services, Coast Guard and aviation security, and with the Judiciary Committee, which oversees border security and immigration issues.
Top priorities for the committee next year, should it survive, would be cyber security, encouraging the development and acquisition of anti-terrorism technologies, and restructuring state and local anti-terrorism aid on the basis of risk assessments, he said. The department must finish assessing critical infrastructure risks in December.