PROVIDENCE—Institutions throughout Rhode Island worked in tandem with the Department of Homeland Security following increased tensions between the United States and Iran which included a threat by a member of the Iranian parliament on US soil. There is no indication that Rhode Islanders would have been specifically at risk during the diplomatic altercation, but an increased defensive posture was likely influenced by other, more recent attacks on cybersecurity infrastructure across the state.
Local law enforcement and state agencies worked in tandem with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that state infrastructure remained safe, given recent tensions between the United States and Iran. It is unclear, however, precisely what measures were enacted within Rhode Island to preserve the integrity of cyber and transportation infrastructure. Department of Homeland Security Spokesperson, Heather Swift, said that the department was working with local counterparts, but that no specific threats had been cited.
“DHS is operating under an enhanced posture to improve coordination and situational awareness should any specific threats emerge,” Swift said in an email. “The department along with our component agencies are coordinating with our intelligence and law enforcement partners as well as other private stakeholders across various sectors to implement enhanced security measures, as needed.”
At the time of this writing, all inquiries to the Transportation Security Administration with regard to the current situation between the United States and Iran were being forwarded directly to the Department of Homeland Security. Additionally, inquiries to the governor’s office, Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency and Rhode Island Department of Transportation were directed to the Rhode Island National Guard, who is believed to be shouldering the bulk of the responsibility for security throughout the state.
Senator Jack Reed issued a statement outlining his concern that the US drone strike which killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani may have put American lives at risk.
“Rather than achieving the stated intent of deterring additional attacks by Iran,” Reed said, “I am concerned the Trump Administration significantly increased the likelihood for direct conflict, and, with it, the risks to Americans and our national interests.”
Relatedly, Reed issued another statement last week announcing that the state would receive $5.5 million in federal reimbursement monies for its efforts to install security upgrades at T. F. Green Airport in the age of the Global War on Terrorism. Despite the fact that the airport installed safety systems early, however, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation was not, until now, reimbursed for such measures. The news followed reports that a Florida man had been arrested at T. F. Green for concealing a firearm in a carryon bag, the third and final such instance in 2019.
To enhance security at T.F. Green, the Transportation Security Administration is investing in new technologies for 2020, including two new industry-leading Computed Tomography (CT) scanning machines and an Advanced Image Technology (AIT) scanner. The new equipment will provide enhanced detection technology and help to save travelers’ time.
In addition to transportation infrastructure, the recent international tensions brought renewed concern for the cyberinfrastructure of the state. In 2019 alone, the towns of East Greenwich, Coventry and New Bedford, the Rhode Island State Police, the Pawtucket Fire Department, the State Treasurer’s Office, the City of Providence, and a number of healthcare facilities across the state have all been either targeted or compromised by cyberattacks. The spike in the number of attacks targeting municipal bodies and infrastructure has alarmed experts, who worry that denials of critical services could cause chaos in the state.
Governor Gina Raimondo received harsh criticism last July, after she cut the position of cybersecurity officer from the state budget. Now the bulk of cybersecurity work falls upon the State Police’s Joint Cyber Task Force, which aims to prevent and respond to cyber threats to critical infrastructure. The task force is comprised of members of the Rhode Island State Police Computer Crimes Unit and individuals representing higher education, hospitals, finance, utilities and defense.
For the time being, international tensions have not spilled into the daily lives of most Rhode Islanders. They have, however, highlighted the precarious balance of the state’s most vital infrastructure, and the increasing possibility that extant weaknesses will be taken advantage of without more meaningful government support.