Morning Security Brief: DHS to Name Cybersecurity Head, State Department Orders Yemen Evacuation, And More

By Holly Gilbert

► The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is will name a McAfee executive to as the head of its cybersecurity division. “Phyllis Schneck, currently a McAfee vice president and the company’s CTO for the public sector, will be picked as the next deputy undersecretary of cybersecurity at the department, which takes a leading role in protecting U.S. networks from foreign and domestic hackers,” states the report. Schneck will join the DHS in the midst of a large leadership turnover. The White House has not yet announced a replacement for DHS secretary Janet Napolitano, who announced in July she was stepping down. Shortly before Napolitano’s announcement, then-deputy secretary, Jane Holl Lute, also resigned. Schneck’s new duties at DHS as deputy undersecretary of cybersecurity will include helping to implement President Obama’s executive order on cybersecurity as well as “protecting American networks from cyber threats.”

► While 19 U.S. embassies in North Africa and the Middle East remained close through Saturday for heightened security concerns, the State Department is urging that all Americans immediately evacuate the country of Yemen, citing a “high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.” On Tuesday, the State Department had already evacuated some U.S. personnel from the area in an Air Force plane. The closure of over a dozen U.S. embassies abroad came after U.S. intelligence intercepted communication between top Al Qaeda leaders who threatened to “do something big” this past Sunday. According to NBC News, the announcement of the Yemen evacuation “came just hours after a drone strike killed at least four suspected al Qaeda members in the country.” 

►The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response squads (or VIPR teams), which were launched in 2005, have been criticized by passengers for being “unnecessary and intrusive,” and Congress says the TSA has “has not demonstrated that the teams are effective,” according to a report in The New York Times. The program, which expands the agency's reach beyond airports to train stations, sporting events, and other major public gatherings, is an expanding program, with a $100 million annual budget and 37 teams with hundreds of personnel. Records show that “the teams ran more than 8,800 unannounced checkpoints and search operations with local law enforcement outside of airports last year,” according to the report. The news report says several incidents have drawn concerns, including a 2011 event "in which the VIPR teams were criticized for screening and patting down people after they got off an Amtrak train in Savannah, Ga.  As a result, the Amtrak police chief briefly banned the teams from the railroad’s property, saying the searches were illegal." However, when Security Management did an article on VIPR teams in August 2012, which led with the 2011 Savannah incident, it also found that TSA had already addressed that type of concern by working more closely with local partners. At that time, Jim Hart, supervisory air marshal in charge of the VIPR, said that after Savannah, it was agreed that VIPR teams would only deploy when invited by a transportation partner. Hart also took issue in the article with some media and blog reports of what VIPR teams were doing, saying that some reports were not accurate.


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