DHS Issues National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) Bulletin

The Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas has issued a National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) Bulletin regarding the continued heightened threat environment across the United States. This is the fifth NTAS Bulletin issued by the Department of Homeland Security since January 2021.

“DHS remains committed to proactively sharing timely information and intelligence about the evolving threat environment with the American public,” said Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “We also remain committed to working with our partners across every level of government and in the private sector to prevent all forms of terrorism and targeted violence, and to support law enforcement efforts to keep our communities safe. This NTAS Bulletin outlines the key factors that have increased the volatility, unpredictability, and complexity of the current threat environment, and highlights resources for individuals and communities to stay safe.”

The United States remains in a heightened threat environment fueled by several factors, including an online environment filled with false or misleading narratives and conspiracy theories, and other forms of mis- dis- and mal-information (MDM) introduced and/or amplified by foreign and domestic threat actors. These threat actors seek to exacerbate societal friction to sow discord and undermine public trust in government institutions to encourage unrest, which could potentially inspire acts of violence. Mass casualty attacks and other acts of targeted violence conducted by lone offenders and small groups acting in furtherance of ideological beliefs and/or personal grievances pose an ongoing threat to the nation.

While the conditions underlying the heightened threat landscape have not significantly changed over the last year, the convergence of the following factors has increased the volatility, unpredictability, and complexity of the threat environment: (1) the proliferation of false or misleading narratives, which sow discord or undermine public trust in U.S. government institutions; (2) continued calls for violence directed at U.S. critical infrastructure; soft targets and mass gatherings; faith-based institutions, such as churches, synagogues, and mosques; institutions of higher education; racial and religious minorities; government facilities and personnel, including law enforcement and the military; the media; and perceived ideological opponents; and (3) calls by foreign terrorist organizations for attacks on the United States based on recent events.

DHS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) continue to share timely and actionable information and intelligence with the broadest audience possible. This includes sharing information and intelligence with our partners across every level of government and in the private sector. Under the Biden-Harris Administration, DHS is prioritizing combating all forms of terrorism and targeted violence, including through its efforts to support the first-ever National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism. Since January 2021, DHS has taken several steps in this regard, including:

  • established a new domestic terrorism branch within DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis dedicated to producing sound, timely intelligence needed to counter domestic terrorism-related threats;
  • launched the Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships (CP3) to provide communities with resources and tools to help prevent individuals from radicalizing to violence;
  • designated domestic violent extremism as a “National Priority Area” within DHS’s Homeland Security Grant Program for the first time, resulting in at least $77 million being spent on preventing, preparing for, protecting against, and responding to related threats nationwide;
  • provided $180 million in funding to support target hardening and other physical security enhancements to non-profit organizations at high risk of terrorist attack through DHS’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP);
  • increased efforts to identify and evaluate MDM, including false or misleading narratives and conspiracy theories spread on social media and other online platforms, that endorse violence; and,
  • enhanced collaboration with public and private sector partners – including U.S. critical infrastructure owners and operators – to better protect our cyber and physical infrastructure and increase the Nation’s cybersecurity through the Department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

DHS also has renewed its commitment to ensure that all efforts to combat domestic violent extremism are conducted in ways consistent with privacy protections, civil rights and civil liberties, and all applicable laws.

This NTAS Bulletin will expire on June 7, 2022. This NTAS Bulletin provides the public with information about the threat landscape facing the United States, how to stay safe, and resources and tools to help prevent an individual’s radicalization to violence. The public should report any suspicious activity or threats of violence to local law enforcement, FBI Field Offices, or a local Fusion Center.

Balance of Power – Building a Resilient Electric Grid

In early September, Hurricane Ida caused a massive blackout, leaving New Orleans in the dark for more than two days. A month before Ida, Tropical Storm Henri cut power to 100,000 households in Rhode Island. The wildfires in the western United States are common sources of blackouts in California. And earlier this year in Central Texas, harsh winter conditions led to a breakdown of the state’s electric grid, leaving one million people without heat and electricity for days.

These types of events are increasing in frequency as the nation’s infrastructure ages and climate change leads to extreme weather events. Hotter, wetter summers and harsher winters require more reliance on heating and cooling utilities, placing higher stress on the nation’s electric grid. For nearly a decade and a half, the Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has teamed up with industry and one of the nation’s largest (and windiest) cities to study how technology can ‘help keep the lights on’ during emergencies. This fall, S&T and its partners announced the fruits of this labor: the successful installation and operation of the Resilient Electric Grid (REG) system in Chicago.

How the Electric Grid Works

This is a simplified arrangement of the grid system in the U.S. At the Generation step, electricity is generated at various kinds of power plants by utilities and independent power producers. The plant has lines leading to a transmission substation. The next step is Transmission where electric transmission is the vital link between power production and power usage. There are transmission lines from the generating plant that carry electricity at high voltages over long distances from power plants to communities. These lines lead to a Substation. At the bottom of the image are three light gray buildings with yellow windows, and the bottom right of the image are tall dark gray buildings. Lines from the substation lead to these buildings to represent the Distribution step, where electricity from transmission lines is reduced to lower voltages at substations, and distribution companies then bring the power to your home and workplace. Power lines lead from the Substation to another Substation to the right of the image. Lines from this substation lead to a farm and four houses.The electric grid is a complex network that spans the creation of electricity at a power generation station to the delivery of electricity to the end user. To get from the generation site to the end user, often several (possibly hundreds of) miles away, electricity travels through the transmission system, which converts the very high voltage electricity generated by the power plant to lower voltages. The electricity is further stepped down in voltage through the distribution network as it gets closer to homes, business, and other facilities. Major urban communities have multiple distribution level substations throughout the city to meet the electrical power needs of its population.

Ideally, these distribution substations would be interconnected, so if one substation fails for any reason, another can step in and provide electricity—like driving on system of highways, streets, and roads where you have multiple routes that can get you to the same destination. In reality, however, distribution substations are not interconnected. This is a designed safety feature in the grid so that an issue at one substation, such as a fault current (a large spike in electric current) doesn’t cascade down through the system and impact other substations.

As a result of this set up, if a substation fails, the area that that substation serves experiences a blackout. But what if we could prevent the risk associated with connecting substations so that in the event of a substation failure, other substations could step in and “help” continue to deliver power, creating multiple paths for power to flow just like how traffic flows on the internet?
S&T Powered (and Empowered) a Solution

Finding a solution to increase grid resilience inspired S&T to launch its REG project back in 2007. The project built on the Department of Energy’s (DOE) previous research on High Temperature Superconducting (HTS) cables.

S&T’s Sarah Mahmood, an electrical engineer, led the S&T project team in collaboration with American Superconductor (AMSC), a leading system provider of megawatt-scale power resiliency solutions.

Together, the team developed REG systems featuring cable systems that utilize AMSC’s proprietary Amperium® HTS technology designed to suppress surges while providing the ability to connect substations without risking a cascading fault current.

“Substations are usually not connected because of the risk of fault currents. It’s like a surge. In your house, you use a surge protector. If you don’t have protection against fault currents, you risk damaging the equipment downstream. But because they’re not connected, they lack resiliency,” Mahmood explained.

How a Superconductor Works

HTS cables use liquid nitrogen to keep the cable cool enough to function in a superconducting state. If the HTS cable experiences a fault, the fault creates energy which heats up the system so that it is no longer in a superconducting state, essentially turning itself off automatically, like a switch, preventing equipment damage. What’s more, because HTS cables are superconducting there is very little resistance or loss of power over the length of the cable making them more efficient compared to traditional power cables, which experience a loss of power over distance.

After years of research, development and lab testing to prove the concept of a fault current limiting high temperature superconducting cable, S&T and AMSC partnered with Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), the largest electric utility in Illinois serving over four-million customers, to integrate the technology in the grid.

“S&T is grateful for the partnership with ComEd enabling us to install the REG system in the grid as a permanent asset, hopefully setting a pathway for broader market adoption of this new capability by industry as a potential solution to increase grid resilience,” Mahmood explained.

“The successful integration of the REG system is a major milestone in our efforts to enhance our service to customers through innovation,” said Terence R. Donnelly, President and COO of ComEd. “The increasingly frequent and severe weather events associated with climate change and the need for enhanced cyber and physical security require grid investments that will sustain the high levels of safe and reliable power that our customers depend on.”

HTS Technology Brings Resiliency to Power Grid Operations

A stable homeland is dependent on the reliable delivery of electricity—from public health to the economy and national security. According to DOE's Grid Modernization and the Smart Grid project, there are more than 9,200 electric generating units with more than 1 million megawatts of generating capacity feeding more than 600,000 miles of transmission lines that comprise the U.S. electric grid.

“Our superconductor-based REG system improved the reliability and resiliency of the grid, reducing disruption to public infrastructure and saving money for utility customers—all in an environmentally-friendly manner,” said Daniel P. McGahn, Chairman, President & CEO, AMSC. “We believe this accomplishment opens opportunities for AMSC to deploy REG systems to other innovative utilities.”

On September 30, DHS and DOE participated in a ribbon-cutting in Chicago to highlight the REG system installation into the ComEd grid. ComEd is the first utility in the United States to permanently install the AMSC REG system into the grid and will evaluate connecting it to multiple substations in order to create a back-up system for continuous power delivery even with a disruption to the power grid.

“S&T will continue to monitor the REG system’s performance with hopes for future commercialization, as other utilities look to increase grid resiliency,” said Mahmood.

According to a DOE study, the United States loses nearly $70 billion each year from power outages. S&T’s continued research and development efforts aim to enhance the nation’s overall energy resilience, so future generations can keep the lights on.

[Article source: DHS S&T]

DHS Announces New Cybersecurity Requirements for Surface Transportation Owners and Operators

DHS’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has announced two new Security Directives and additional guidance for voluntary measures to strengthen cybersecurity across the transportation sector in response to the ongoing cybersecurity threat to surface transportation systems and associated infrastructure. These actions are among several steps DHS is taking to increase the cybersecurity of U.S. critical infrastructure.

“These new cybersecurity requirements and recommendations will help keep the traveling public safe and protect our critical infrastructure from evolving threats,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “DHS will continue working with our partners across every level of government and in the private sector to increase the resilience of our critical infrastructure nationwide.”

TSA is increasing the cybersecurity of the transportation sector through Security Directives, appropriately tailored regulations, and voluntary engagement with key stakeholders. In developing its approach, including these new Security Directives, TSA sought input from industry stakeholders and federal partners, including the Department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which provided expert guidance on cybersecurity threats to the transportation network and countermeasures to defend against them.

The TSA Security Directives announced today target higher-risk freight railroads, passenger rail, and rail transit, based on a determination that these requirements need to be issued immediately to protect transportation security. These Directives require owners and operators to:

- designate a cybersecurity coordinator;
- report cybersecurity incidents to CISA within 24 hours;
- develop and implement a cybersecurity incident response plan to reduce the risk of an operational disruption; and,
- complete a cybersecurity vulnerability assessment to identify potential gaps or vulnerabilities in their systems.

TSA is also releasing guidance recommending that all other lower-risk surface transportation owners and operators voluntarily implement the same measures. Further, TSA recently updated its aviation security programs to require that airport and airline operators implement the first two provisions above. TSA intends to expand the requirements for the aviation sector and issue guidance to smaller operators. TSA also expects to initiate a rule-making process for certain surface transportation entities to increase their cybersecurity resiliency.

These efforts are part of a series of new steps to prioritize cybersecurity across DHS. Secretary Mayorkas first outlined his vision for the Department’s cybersecurity priorities in March, which included a series of focused 60-day sprints designed to elevate existing work, remove roadblocks to progress, and launch new initiatives and partnerships to achieve DHS’s cybersecurity mission and implement Biden-Harris Administration priorities. To learn more about the sprints, please visit www.dhs.gov/cybersecurity.

DHS S&T Announces $36.5M Funding Opportunity for New Center of Excellence

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) announced a $36.5 million funding opportunity for a new DHS Center of Excellence (COE), Engineering Secure Environments from Targeted Attacks (ESE).
“Partnering with universities, S&T delivers practical results by developing multidisciplinary, customer-driven solutions while training the next generation of homeland security experts,” said William Bryan, Acting Under Secretary for Science and Technology. “The challenges we face as a nation are complex. In collaboration with our academic partners, DHS is excited to launch a new COE focused on mitigating long-term threats against our nation’s surface transportation and built environments with novel engineering solutions.”
DHS plans to fund the new COE through a cooperative agreement for 10 years for a total of approximately $36.5 million.
The ESE COE will research and develop solutions to support DHS counterterrorism and violent extremism operations. The COE will help DHS continue fostering a culture of “security by design” by providing intentional and flexible architecture solutions to thwart an adaptive adversary. ESE will also advance a skilled workforce of scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians who focus on homeland security-related issues.
Technological advancements and their applications are increasingly complex and integrated into everyday processes. As cities grow larger and density increases across people, buildings, and infrastructure, a potential increase in the frequency or severity of targeted attacks from foreign and domestic terrorism is a legitimate concern. ESE will provide academic-led innovation that supports safer, more resilient transportation systems and communities.
DHS is soliciting proposals from multidisciplinary research and education teams, that will work closely with DHS and other subject-matter experts to develop approaches to strengthen the security of crowded spaces and transportation modalities. The teams will need various combinations of academic disciplines, including engineering, data analytics, and mathematics.
The DHS COEs work closely with DHS operating components to research, develop, and transition mission-relevant science and technology, and educate the next generation of homeland security technical experts. ESE will be required to engage with DHS operational components and fully understand the operational environment to help better identify technical and training gaps. Each DHS COE is led by a U.S. college or university and partners with other federally funded research and development centers, academic institutions, the commercial industry, and other federal, state, and local agencies.

DHS Awards $1.5M to Small Business for First Responder Emergency Alerts Technology Development

As emergency communications technologies adapt to an increasingly interconnected nation, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) today announced it awarded more than $1.5 million to develop an Alerts, Warnings, and Notifications (AWN) Guidance Tool. The program planning app, which will be available through a portal at FEMA's website, is expected to provide customized resources, best practices and program templates to address the most pressing challenges of alert originators, helping public safety agencies at the federal, state, local, tribal and territorial levels disseminate emergency and life-saving information.
“From the devastating wildfires on the West Coast to the very active Atlantic/Caribbean 2020 hurricane season to the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency, there is a growing need to push actionable information out quickly to the public in order to save lives,” said Antwane Johnson, director of FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS) office.
S&T awarded $1,542,113 through its Long-Range Broad Agency Announcement (LRBAA) program to Corner Alliance, Inc., a small business consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. and Boulder, CO. The research and development of this tool is a continuation of S&T’s partnership with FEMA in creating the IPAWS Program Planning Toolkit, aimed at assisting public safety agencies in minimizing alerting delays; planning for future alerts, warnings and notifications enhancements; facilitating interoperability across different technologies; and improving information sharing among emergency management and public safety officials.
“First responders rely on information to make life saving decisions, often with very little time to spare,” noted William Bryan, DHS Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary for Science and Technology. “This tool will help public safety agencies respond quickly and decisively during emergencies or catastrophic events, and that allows the greater homeland security enterprise to be more prepared and resilient.”
The documents in the IPAWS Program Planning Toolkit were produced based on recent innovative changes to technology and derived from the collection of successful practices and lessons learned from hundreds of data points from stakeholders, including emergency managers, public information officers, alerting originators and administrators, and alerting experts.
“FEMA and DHS S&T plan to expand the toolkit into an online, user-friendly format that will allow stakeholders to download and print pre-filled planning documents with their information,” said DHS S&T Program Manager Norman Speicher. “Through this development, our team will continue utilizing a stakeholder validation process.”
To learn more about the LRBAA program, please visit https://www.dhs.gov/science-and-technology/st-lrbaa.

US Partnering with Cyprus on a Training Centre for Port and Border Security, known as CYCLOPS

This $5 million training facility donated by the United States will be owned and operated by the Republic of Cyprus and will allow international partners to train in a dedicated facility with cutting edge equipment. Here, experts from the region will receive state of the art instruction in border security, customs and export controls, port and maritime security, and cybersecurity.

A mobile cyber security training laboratory will allow regional partners to learn best practices to secure their critical infrastructure and engage in cross-border cyber investigations. These training platforms will serve as a hub that works in close association with partner countries in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and elsewhere.

The CYCLOPS center is just one important result of continuing American engagement in the Eastern Mediterranean region and of the strong relationship between the United States and the Republic of Cyprus. We look forward to continuing our security partnership with the Republic of Cyprus and the region in the coming years.