NORAD, USNORTHCOM commander outlines focus areas at homeland security symposium

By Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command spoke at the National Symposium on Homeland Security and Defense at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colo., Oct. 29.

Navy Adm. James Winnefeld, NORAD and USNORTHCOM commander, outlined the commands’ eight primary focus areas and discussed the commands’ role in cyber security on the last day of the three-day conference.

The eight focus areas run the gamut of the commands’ responsibility from counter-terrorism and force protection to the opening of the Arctic and rest on three factors.

“We’ve prioritized them based on three factors,” Winnefeld told the audience. “How important are these focus areas to our two nations? The second is, what is the multiplicity of challenges that are associated with each of these focus areas? How hard are they? What are the problems we’re trying to solve? And the third dimension would be what are the opportunities out there? And if you combined those three factors, you can then come up with a rough order of priority.”

At the top of the list, Winnefeld said, is counter-terrorism.

“You can’t be the NORAD or NORTHCOM commander without making that your first priority,” he said. “But I would hasten to add that while there are many challenges associated with that particular problem, there are not that many opportunities for a USNORTHCOM commander to engage. The lion’s share of the counter-terror problem inside our borders is a law enforcement problem.”

“Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t cooperate closely with law enforcement,” he added. “In fact, I would tell you we’ve made tremendous progress over the last year or so in the information sharing that we need to do within the intelligence community and the operational community to make sure that we’re sharing what we know and that everybody is looking at the same sheet of paper in terms of what kinds of threats are out there.”

The next focus area Winnefeld highlighted was the fight against transnational criminal organizations, particularly in regards to the continuing violence in Mexico. Calling it a “hemisphere-wide problem,” Winnefeld praised Mexican leadership for taking on the TCOs.

“They are a friend and a neighbor, and I will tell you that they are a very courageous friend and neighbor because the government of Mexico has decided to take this problem on, and they didn’t have to,” Winnefeld said. “They could have backed off and let things lie the way they were, but they decided that this is a battle for the future of Mexico, and we should do everything we can to help them win it.”

Speaking on the third focus area, defense support of civil authorities, Winnefeld said the command has made great progress in streamlining the processes so that the command can respond quickly when needed, citing in particular the contingency dual-status commander concept wherein a commander falls under federal and state commands simultaneously.

“I personally believe this has taken our relationship with the National Guard to the next level,” he said. “The country should be happy about that because we don’t want to be in the position when there’s a natural disaster in a state or several states trying to explain to the American people why we were squabbling over command and control.”

Listing chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear challenges the next focus area, Winnefeld said the states are taking more and more responsibility in this area.

“It’s (the CBRN enterprise) undergoing a transformation that will put more responsibility and capability with the states,” he said. “It’s designed to bring more speed of response and more life-saving capability in the wake of a potential attack on this nation.”

On the maritime warning mission, Winnefeld said one of the biggest challenges was information sharing among partner agencies.

“We need to figure out how we’re going to share data, turn that data into information, knowledge and action taken by either nation, but we have a lot of work to do to figure out how to share that information and at what level,” he said.

Although aerospace warning and control is the mission NORAD is most well-known for, it is also one of the focus areas Winnefeld discussed the least because, he said, it has been so successful.

“It’s a high priority in any event,” he said, “But it’s also going very well. We have a very dedicated, experienced and seasoned group that does this in our headquarters and our various NORAD regions all the way down to the people who respond in cockpits, flying airplanes and responding to threats. That’s a pretty healthy organization.”

In the area of ballistic missile defense, Winnefeld said the organization was healthy but that a close eye must be kept on the threat.

“We do need to make sure that we carefully watch the threat and pace the threat that could be out there and stay ahead of them,” he said.

The last focus area Winnefeld discussed was the Arctic. Calling it a central issue to the Canadian psyche, Winnefeld said the two countries must work together on the way-ahead for the region.

“It’s not going to be a sudden change in the Arctic, it’s going to be a gradual change,” Winnefeld said. “But the change is coming. One important thing to remember is that we would like to make sure that we put this on a trajectory so that we are not militarizing the Arctic in the classic sense, but there are some missions that really can only best be done in the Arctic by the military simply because of the capability and capacity that we bring.”

“It’s about five times as hard to get anything done in the Arctic as it is anywhere else, so we have to be thinking even further ahead in regards to the capabilities that we’re going to need to have up there,” he added.

Although not a focus area, cyber security does factor into USNORTHCOM’s mission, Winnefeld said, and the command will work closely with U.S. Cyber Command, particularly in the aftermath of a cyber attack.

“I feel it (cyber) is embedded inside the defense support of civil authorities area in once sense and it is also a part of everything we do in another sense,” Winnefeld explained. “The two things that I focus on most in regards to cyber are defending my own networks, defending our ability to do the kinds of command control that we have to do for this broad array of missions that I’ve been describing to you today. If I lose cyber connectivity with my ballistic missile defense assets, I’ve got a real problem. If I lose cyber connectivity with my sovereignty alert team, then I’ve got a big problem. And if I can’t have reliable broadband connectivity with a whole host of partners in a natural disaster, I’ve got a real problem.”

“The other aspect of my interest in cyber is that NORTHCOM is the responder who will assist Homeland Security and other entities in the wake of a cyber attack if it has physical effects,” he continued. “If there were an attack that took down the electrical grid for a significant amount of time, it’s going to be CYBERCOM who partners with DHS to help with the recovery from that attack. My play in that is going to be how do we keep the trains running? How do we keep people fed? And we’re exploring the linkage between those two things. Is there a linkage between a cyber recovering and a physical recovery, and if so, where is it?”

Winnefeld closed by calling his role at USNORTHCOM as a sacred trust.

“This is about defending our nations between people who wish evil upon us, and I can candidly tell you there are a number of wonderful Americans and Canadians serving overseas right now on the front lines against the principle threat today. We would be letting those people down, who are sacrificing so much, and their families, who are sacrificing so much, some of whom have given that last full measure of devotion to our countries, if we aren’t doing our very best every single day to make sure we are handling the rear as well as they are performing in the field.”