Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 24, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 24, 2014

On this day in 2008 several leading stock exchanges experienced sharp declines that continued for a period of several months.  Was this a Black Swan?  Was this a Lévy flight?  Was this an expression of Self Organized Criticality?  Are catastrophic cascades the inevitable outcome of dense interdependencies in any system?  Electrical grids… supply chains… watersheds… fisheries… human populations?

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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The Homegrown Jihadist Threat Grows

Filed under: Radicalization — by Philip J. Palin on October 24, 2014

In today’s — October 24 — Wall Street Journal, former Senator Joseph Lieberman and former senior Senate staffer, Christian Beckner (this blog’s founder) share the byline in the top-of-the-page op-ed.  They focus particular attention — as each has for many years — on the role of online radicalization.

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October 23, 2014

Ebola source sitrep 2

Filed under: Biosecurity,Preparedness and Response,Public Health & Medical Care — by Philip J. Palin on October 23, 2014

This is the second in an irregular update on efforts to slow and eventually stop the rate of Ebola virus transmission in west Africa.  The risk of transmission in the United States is a function of the rate of transmission at the source.

It is important to acknowledge issues with data quality.  Over the weekend a piece in Science magazine noted, “… it’s widely known that the real situation is much worse than the numbers show because many cases don’t make it into the official statistics. Underreporting occurs in every disease outbreak anywhere, but keeping track of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone has been particularly difficult. And (as) the epidemic unfolds, underreporting appears to be getting worse.”

Still the data that is collected can help us understand some broad dynamics of transmission.

Yesterday afternoon — October 22 — the World Health Organization released a progress report on their response roadmap.  It provides details through the end of last week for all known cases of Ebola, but focuses primarily on the situation in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.  Following is a timetable for transmission of the virus in Liberia and metropolitan Monrovia. Similar charts are available for Guinea and Sierra Leone in the online report.  The report also provides updates on treatment centers and other interventions underway.

WHO_liberiaClicking on the image will generate a larger version

CITYA.M., the City of London business publication, has produced a helpful visual analysis of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, so far the hardest hit of the the three nations at the epicenter of the outbreak.  These maps communicate the crucial role that population density plays in transmission. They also suggest how the virus moved along human networks from the index case in southeastern Guinea into Lofa County and quickly to the economic/social/political center of metropolitan Monrovia.

Liberia density and number

Liberia per 100,000

MORE from CITYA.M.

While US media focus on early indications that transmission has been contained in the Dallas case, at least as important is the news that the Nigerian public health system has successfully contained an initial set of transmissions in densely urban Lagos.  Fundamental to this Nigerian success was a well-organized existing public health infrastructure and network of human expertise. An effective anti-polio process was essentially repurposed to rapidly contain a new infectious threat. Strategically it is important to recognize this was the adaptation of an existing capacity, not an ad-hoc insertion of a special or reserve capability.

According to the Associated Press, in Nigeria “Health workers tracked down nearly 100 percent of those who had contact with the infected, paying 18,500 visits to 894 people.”

The absence of such an existing capacity has been a principal cause of the outbreak in Liberia and its neighbors.  Sunday U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gary J. Volesky, commanding general of the 101st Airbone Division and his thirty member command team arrived in Monrovia to assume leadership of DOD contributions to Operation United Assistance. The Army is sending approximately 700 Soldiers from the 101st, including members of the division headquarters staff, sustainment brigade, combat support hospital and a military police battalion. Another 700 troops will be deployed from multiple engineering units to build 17 100-bed medical treatment units and a 25-bed hospital. MORE.

New cases of transmission in Nigeria — the United States and elsewhere — are likely.  Until we can bend the exponential growth of transmission in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, a networked and increasingly densely populated planet will be vulnerable.  (A few hours after the original version of this post appeared, a new case of Ebola was confirmed in New York City.)

The Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union met on Tuesday.  Despite some additional progress, the readiness and urgency of the European response will depend on the results of a summit of EU leaders that opens today in Brussels.

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October 22, 2014

Terror comes to Ottawa

Filed under: General Homeland Security,International HLS — by Arnold Bogis on October 22, 2014

The terrible tragedy that unfolded today in Canada’s capital has yet to be fully resolved.  The identified gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, was killed at the scene, reportedly by the Sergeant-at-arms of the Canadian parliament Kevin Vickers. Preliminary reports suggested there were additional shooters, though by the close of the day the idea that it was only the one was gaining traction.

Most tragically, that one terrorist killed a Canadian Forces member on duty as an honor guard at the National War Memorial close to the parliament complex.  That member, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a reservist from Hamilton, Ontario was only 24 years old. He leaves behind a son.

This story is still developing.  It will take time to learn the motive and motivation for this attack, the existence of connections foreign or Canadian, and the impact on Canadian (and American) security policies. For the best coverage, I would suggest following Canadian news sources:

A few initial, and random, thoughts not directly related to the Canadian security situation:

  •  As I watched the initial news coverage, I was dismayed to listen to several anchors across different networks speculate that this attack was terrorism.  Of course it was – an armed attack on the symbols of a nation’s government.  My displeasure came from the overtly implied definition of terrorism – that it must involve a nexus with Islamic fundamentalism.  In this case assumed to be ISIS.  Indeed, by the end of the day that connection became a little more concrete.  However, at the start of events it was described as the act of a gunman or gunmen either crazy or motivated by unknown drivers OR it had a connection to ISIS/Al Qaeda/Islamic fundamentalism and such considered terrorism.  I genuinely fear that in the popular conception, terrorism is no longer an act used to achieve political ends (intimidate or terrorize a population or coerce government policy) but intrinsically tied to Islam. So all violent, criminal acts carried out by Muslims is terrorism (e.g. the recent beheading in Oklahoma) while any violent act that is directed toward government agencies by non-Muslims is just a criminal act (e.g. flying a small plane into an IRS station or ambushing state patrol officers).

 

  • During the first press conference of the various security agencies I found it interesting that the official advice to the population of Ottawa was something along the lines of (paraphrasing here): “if you are not already downtown, stay away; for those in downtown, listen to your building managers as to what to do.” There was no direct order to shelter-in-place.  Instead, a seeming trust in the actions and advice of civilian liaisons was assumed.  I’ve heard of a similar relationship in the City of London, where the police have a close relationship with the businesses that make up London’s financial district in which they are considered partners in security preparedness.  But I was a little surprised, and impressed, by the example shown in Ottawa this afternoon.

 

  • The founder of this blog (is it appropriate to refer to him as the Blog Father?), Christian Beckner, presciently posted last night at the Homeland Security Policy Institute Blog on “Fear Canada? Examining the Border-Counterterroism nexus.” While it did not directly address the events of today, it certainly reminded readers that terrorist threats have arisen before in Canada and can pose a threat to the United States.

 

  • Finally, the video posted below of the reaction of security forces inside Canada’s parliament to the first sounds of gunfire has been played countless times on cable news.  It still never ceases to amaze me how brave first responders all around the world run toward danger instead of away from it.

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The Response

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on October 22, 2014

National War Memorial

The National War Memorial in Ottawa, Canada is also known as The Response. It was originally designed and constructed in memory of Canadians who served in the First World War.  It has since been adapted to honor those serving in subsequent conflicts.  The surmounting sculptures symbolize spirits of peace and liberty. Earlier today, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, standing guard at the memorial was shot and killed.  The attacker was killed when he continued by shooting his way into the nearby Parliament building.

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Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 22, 2014

“I hate to say it, but I think a default posture of human beings is fear… Fear has, in this moment, a respectability I’ve never seen in my life.”

Marilynne Robinson

Quoted in the New York Times Magazine, October 1, 2014

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October 21, 2014

Ebola, Fantasy Documents and Our Collective Inability to Tolerate Ambiguity

Filed under: Public Health & Medical Care — by Christopher Bellavita on October 21, 2014

Todays post is written by Jeff Kaliner. Kaliner is a public health emergency preparedness professional with twelve years in the field. For the last few years he has spent an unreasonable amount of time considering the intersection between complexity science, lessons that never get learned and homeland security. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Security Studies from the Naval Postgraduate School and a Master of Science in Education from Northern Illinois University.

Over the last few days the media has suggested that hospital emergency plans and procedures are basically unsuccessful with respect to the ongoing Ebola event.  The narrative lays out that hospitals (and in effect the larger public health system) have failed to plan properly and in turn are now reaping the consequences of poor preparation. The evidence is apparent: one dead Liberian national and two infected Texas nurses.

Connecting these dots in a linear fashion gives us the proof we need to believe what this narrative suggests: The last twelve years of federally fueled funds to enhance emergency health and medical programs at the state and local levels have not worked.  The implication is easy to understand; better planning and procedures (and more money?) would have prevented this very serious situation.

Although the story seems to have a tidy and easily understood cause and effect relationship, it is wrong.

The problem with this tale is the dirty little secret that a well-crafted plan or procedure cannot and will not be enough to manage a complex event. When implied that they can, these documents take on a symbolic quality that suggest they are somehow able to control reality.  As Lee Clarke (in his book Mission Improbable: Using Fantasy Documents to Tame Disaster) points out, plans in this realm “…are rhetorical devices designed to convince others of something.”  The “others” in this case might be federal or state grantors, the public, the media, response agencies, etc.  Clarke goes on to state:

It seems that fantasy documents are more likely to be produced to defend very large systems, or systems that are newly scaled up. When they are proffered as accurate representations of organizational capabilities then the stage is not only set for organizational failure but for massive failure of the publics those organizations are supposed to serve.

Sound familiar?

In other words, the plans the media have been referring to are fantasy documents.  They were partly crafted to give an illusion of safety and security.

To be clear, I am not arguing that plans should not be written and that capabilities should not be exercised.  What I am saying is that the best we can ever do in the face of an increasingly complex catastrophe is write a bad plan and admit that a capability that was pulled off flawlessly during an exercise will probably not produce the same results during the actual bad day. This is not an indictment of all the dedicated and committed emergency planners across the world.   This is an invitation to acknowledge what the best of them already know: response documents become more useless as the event becomes more complex.

Maybe one possible solution to the plan as fantasy document is to conceptualize an emergency situation as an unfolding set of unpredictable events in a unique eco-system. Every eco-system has a pre-determined elasticity or resiliency that allows it to bend a certain distance before it breaks. In this narrative, instead of asking whether or not our plans have worked (and in turn placing blame on a variety of systems) we might wonder if the resiliency of our current health and medical system has actually been compromised and to what extent by an emergent event.

This idea has become clearer to me as I have been reading The Age of the Unthinkable  by Joshua Cooper Ramo.  Ramo suggests that one way to think about the resiliency question is to visualize the eco-system of a lake.  He writes

“The stability of a lake ecosystem can’t possibly be reduced to a few variables. What matters isn’t something you can score quickly but rather the strange mesh of interactions that make a lake resilient or not….  What you can easily measure in these systems matters much less than what you cannot: How strong are the relationships between different parts of the lake ecosystem? How fast can it adjust to shocks? How far can you bend the food chain on the lake before it breaks? In short, how resilient is it?”

What if we tried to apply aspects of this idea to how we define, manage and evaluate emergency response? What if instead of trying to bend reality to our whims by absurdly trying to measure the potential success or failure of our plans, procedures and capabilities (before the event), we looked a little deeper at the complex set of variables that make up a health and medical eco-system during an event and drew conclusions about how well we were doing based upon a more nuanced and admittedly ambiguous set of factors?  Factors including our ability to adapt, learn and change in real time.

As Ramo states: “Resilience allows us, even at our most extreme moments of terror (in fact, precisely because we are at such a moment), to keep learning, to change. It is kind of a battlefield of courage, the ability to innovate under fire because we’ve prepared in the right way and because we’ve developed the strength to keep moving even when we’ve been slapped by the unexpected.”

Preparing in the right way certainly means developing plans and procedures.  But that’s just where it starts. Ultimately there is no one playbook or plan that will quickly solve the multitude of problems that occur during complex events. In an unordered world, we all will have to become more comfortable with the messy reality that there is not just one factor that means we have won or lost the battle (think: Mission Accomplished).

In the book Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life, Miller and Page write, “Complexity arises when the dependencies among the elements become important.”  Certainly there are many elemental dependencies involved in the current Ebola outbreak.  Understanding and learning how these dependencies interact with one another to create new and unexpected aspects of this ongoing situation is critical to an effective response.

We can no longer reduce the negative events (the death of a Liberian national and the infection of two Texas nurses) that take place within quickly evolving eco-systems to simple platitudes. In this respect, false narratives (such as the ineffectiveness of a magical plan) need to be quickly identified and confronted as the simple and all too easy explanation for a very complex set of events that will probably never be truly understood.

If we do not identify these narratives for what they are, we diminish the two critical capabilities that we will need to consistently practice if we are to truly be prepared for 21st century challenges:

1) an emergency response system that has the political will and ability to quickly learn and adapt during the course of an emergent event; and

2) a media and public that will provide a type of unconditional support and understanding to let it happen.

Regardless, until we are all prepared to think about and understand the world in ways that reflect a more interdependent and non-linear sensibility, our reliance on simple narratives will remain. That reliance certainly works well for the media, but it’s just bad news for the rest of us.

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October 20, 2014

John Pistole made it ok to work for TSA

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Merle Dixon Niles on October 20, 2014

Last week, John S. Pistol announced he will retire as the Transportation Security Administrator at the end of the year.   Here are my reflections on what Pistole accomplished as Administrator.

“Hard work,” “Professionalism,” “Integrity” these words point like true north to what a public servant ought to be, can be, and will be.  This is evidenced by the more than thirty year Federal career of outgoing TSA Administrator John Pistole.  In his first address to his last address, and anytime in between, John Pistole used these words whenever speaking with the employees of TSA.

The critics and cynics will say they are just words, a gimmick, for show. Not to John Pistole. He lives these words and brought them to the TSA, changing a culture.

Prior to his arrival, if an employee were asked where they worked, they would state DHS.  Four years later, when asked where they work, they proudly state, TSA.  John Pistole made it okay to work for TSA, okay to be a public servant.

Thirty years of living these words and putting them into practice drove significant achievements involving seemingly incompatible concepts.

Every administrator before him had determined that providing security and allowing employees to unionize was incompatible.  Yet after listening to all stakeholders and studying the issue, John Pistole formulated a novel new structure that granted employees bargaining rights and led to improved security.

Likewise, it is often stated that in order to increase security, we must sacrifice our civil liberties.  Despite this, John Pistole has given meaning to the words Risk-Based Security.  By leveraging intelligence, technology, and the law, TSA has executed Risk-Based initiatives benefiting passengers every day.  The programs implemented have both increased security and protected our civil liberties.

A career of hard work, professionalism, and integrity also provided a bulwark against the fierce partisanship and maneuvering for political capitol.  When appropriate, Mr. Pistole pushed back against misinformation and inaccuracies directed at his Agency and employees.  He went to the mat for those in the arena.

Hard work, Professionalism, Integrity, the proof is in the pudding.  Reduced budgets, fewer employees, more passengers, smaller wait times, and improved security.

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October 19, 2014

Who is my neighbor?

Filed under: Biosecurity,Preparedness and Response,Public Health & Medical Care,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 19, 2014

EBOLA_James harris

I perceive it is prudent — as well as accurate — to make the case that the best way to mitigate Ebola risk in the United States is to significantly degrade the risk in West Africa.

Recently Thomas Frieden, Director of the CDC, felt it was politically necessary to say, “I am not protecting West Africa. My number one responsibility is to protect Americans from threats.”

Over the last few weeks at HLSWatch we had cause to consider the potentially warping effects of self-interest too narrowly conceived or fatally denied.

Last week The Telegraph (London) offered a gallery of online photographs entitled, “Survivors: Portraits of Liberians who recovered from Ebola“.  Above is James Harris, age 29, who recovered after two weeks at death’s door.  He is now a nurse’s assistant in a Doctors Without Borders treatment center in Paynesville, Liberia.

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October 18, 2014

Ebola source sitrep 1

Filed under: Biosecurity,Preparedness and Response,Public Health & Medical Care — by Philip J. Palin on October 18, 2014

This is the first in an irregular update on efforts to engage Ebola’s center-of-gravity.  As noted previously, I am concerned US media is not giving sufficient attention to fighting this disease where it matters most for all of us.

If the rate of transmission can be suppressed at the source, then the risk to the United States will be substantially mitigated.  If the rate of transmission in West Africa cannot be significantly reversed in the next 60-to-90 days some epidemiologists are concerned Ebola will establish itself well outside it’s historically native range.

Data collection in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia — the current outbreak’s epicenter — is far from state-of-the-art.  But following is the best information now available from local health agencies as aggregated by the World Health Organization:

Ebola Chart

These numbers will get worse — probably much worse — before they get better.  Current projections suggest 10,000 new cases per week by December.

But there is also some encouraging news.  The Ebola transmission cycle in Senegal and Nigeria has evidently been successfully interrupted and contained.

Ebola survivors who have developed an immunity to the disease are now involved in caring for other patients and may be the source of life-saving blood transfusions.

Population behaviors, such as burial practices, are adapting to the risk.

Several new treatment centers are under construction.  Early identification, isolation, and effective treatment of those with Ebola will cut transmission rates and improve survival rates.  This week US military operations to expand local capacity got seriously underway. (Further details)

There will, almost certainly, be more cases of Ebola presenting in the United States.  The best way to reduce vulnerability is to eliminate the threat at its source.

 –+–

Editorial Note:  It has long been my personal opinion that “homeland security” is most meaningful when it offers its legacy professions, policy-makers, and the public a strategically integrated angle on risk.  The risk environment is usually complicated, often complex and even chaotic.  There are important roles for an array of specializations, threat-specific strategies, operational expertise, and tactical competence.  Homeland security will be more successful to the extent it is well-informed of these related domains.  But homeland security delivers added-value when it can stitch together these diverse elements into a coherent — ideally mutually amplifying — whole.  Strategy, at least in my use of the term, is especially concerned with how risks can be intentionally engaged in a manner that deploys the threat against itself and reduces self-generated vulnerabilities.

What is the most effective strategy for the risk of Ebola?

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October 17, 2014

The Ebola Czar and the missing Homeland Security Council

Filed under: Biosecurity,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on October 17, 2014

The President has announced the appointment of Ron Klain as his new “Ebola czar”, as numerous news outlets have reported this morning. From the New York Times:

President Obama will appoint Ron Klain, a former chief of staff for Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joseph R. Biden Jr., to manage the government’s response to the deadly virus as anxiety grows over its possible spread, a White House official said on Friday.

…..

Mr. Klain will report to Lisa Monaco, Mr. Obama’s homeland security adviser, and Susan E. Rice, his national security adviser, the official said. His appointment was first reported by CNN.

The official praised the work already done by Ms. Rice and Ms. Monaco, but said that Mr. Klain would provide “additional bandwidth” in the fight against Ebola, which is important because the two women have to manage other national and homeland security issues.

I view this appointment of an “Ebola czar” and the need for such “additional bandwidth” as a symptom of a broader problem within the policy-making apparatus at the White House, due in part to the decision in 2009 to merge the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council staffs into a single integrated “National Security Staff” (since renamed the “National Security Council staff”).

Prior to the integration of the HSC and NSC staffs, the Homeland Security Council played a very active role on pandemic planning and response issues. It issued the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza in November 2005, and the subsequent Implementation Plan for that strategy in May 2006, and a progress report on implementation in 2007. During the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, the Homeland Security Council was utilized as a primary convening mechanism by the White House.

But since the end of the H1N1 crisis in late 2009, the Homeland Security Council (which was retained as a policy-making entity, in part because it was mandated in law in Title IX of the Homeland Security Act) has almost entirely disappeared from view. From January 2010 to the present, I can find only one public record of the Homeland Security Council being convened: a meeting in July 2014 to address the unaccompanied minor issue on the southern border. (It is possible that there have been additional meetings of the HSC during the last five years, but there is no public record of it).

These concerns about homeland security issues being downgraded were predicted by opponents of HSC-NSC integration at the time. In February 2009, I helped to staff a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing where we heard a variety of opinions on the potential HSC-NSC merger, including from former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, who was critical of a potential merger. His prepared remarks highlighted biosecurity as a particular area of concern, and are prescient in light of today’s decision to appoint an Ebola czar (emphasis added):

From HHS to Energy to DOD to the FDA and elsewhere – more than 30 departments and agencies have homeland security functions. Take biosecurity, for example. What the United States needs to do to improve our biosecurity against major biological threats is complex. Biosecurity depends on different programs managed by different agencies – there is no way to simplify it. DHS is in charge of the biological risk assessment that analyzes biological threats. HHS is responsible for the research and development of medicines and vaccines. DOD does its own R&D. The Food and Drug Administration has its role. Let’s not forget NIH. CDC is responsible for our national stockpiles and for coordinating the grant program and technical assistance to state and locals. The intel community is responsible for assessing the biological threats posed by our adversaries. Without close White House coordination, our bio programs will move in different directions to different goals and different timelines. Putting this and other challenges under the NSC’s purview would only complicate the NSC mission and the HSC’s ability to receive adequate attention from a Council that already has Iran, North Korea, Russia, Pakistan-India, the Mideast and other matters in its inbox.

There have been some benefits as a result of integrating the HSC and NSC staffs, in terms of breaking down domestic vs. international policy stovepipes and allowing for integrated decision-making on transnational issues such as cybersecurity. But I have become increasingly concerned over the past few years that the downsides of HSC-NSC integration are outweighing its benefits, largely due to the “bandwidth” issue highlighted in this post, but also because of the decreased public visibility into homeland security decision-making at the White House due to the adoption of NSC protocols, as I discussed in a blog post last year.

In the near-term, the focus needs to be on dealing with the Ebola pandemic, but these broader structural issues also deserve to be reviewed during the last two years of this Administration and/or by the next Administration, whomever is elected President in 2016. And in light of the Homeland Security Council’s statutory role, this is an issue that Congress should also take a fresh look at, including by convening hearings and requesting information on the activities of the Homeland Security Council since 2009.

(Note: this commentary is cross-posted by the author from the site HSPI.org)

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Less czar than troika

Filed under: Biosecurity,Media,Preparedness and Response,Public Health & Medical Care — by Philip J. Palin on October 17, 2014

CNN, the New York Times, and others are reporting the imminent announcement of a White House “Ebola Czar”. The man-of-the-hour is Ron Klain.  The former chief-of-staff to Vice President Biden (and Vice President Gore) has been in the private sector since January 2011.

The appointment responds to a burgeoning cry of “who’s in charge?” from the news media and others.

It’s a very primitive question, not well-suited to an infectious disease emerging into a highly-networked global system.  Mr. Klain will, I perceive, actually be part of a troika involving Lisa Monaco and Susan Rice.  He is very experienced riding the back of both the “interagency” and the media. Despite rough rides in the past, the tigers have not yet eaten him up.

Hold on and best wishes.

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Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 17, 2014

On this day in 1091 an estimated F4 tornado strikes London, England. Two are killed. London bridge is destroyed.

On this day in 1989 the 7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake strikes the Bay area killing over fifty and causing extensive damage.

On this day in 1966 twelve FDNY firefighters are killed while responding to a fire at 7 East 22nd Street.

On this day in 2012 Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis is arrested for attempting to detonate a vehicle bomb at the New York Federal Reserve office.  He is captured as part of a law enforcement “sting” operation.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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October 16, 2014

Adjusting our signal to noise ratio

I am currently involved in planning three different tabletop exercises.  Each are efforts to enhance “whole community” involvement.  My particular role is to enhance private sector involvement.  Currently the news media is not targeted for participation in any of these exercises.  In my several years of being involved with various homeland security training and exercises I can only recall two occasions when news media have been involved as participants.

There are several impediments to involving news media in these sort of activities, including:

  • Effective exercises are designed to expose gaps and shortcomings in order to improve preparedness.  News media are inclined to expose gaps and shortcomings in order to increase readership/listeners/viewers.
  • Many public sector participants tend to be “authoritative” or “officious” or “control-freaks”.  This is troublesome enough with other private sector participants.  With members of the media it can be explosive.
  • News media participation can discourage the involvement of other private sector parties due to fear of exposure (see first bullet).

But it seems to me increasingly clear we must find a way to involve news media in preparedness activities or continue — and deepen — the risk of serious mis-communication and public mistrust on the very worst days.  While major media are no longer the only or even primary sources of information, they are a significant source of amplification and confirmation.  Too often they are amplifying and confirming misleading information.  An ongoing example:

The media’s attention to symptoms can obscure attention to the source of problems.  I am astonished by the extraordinary attention given to a few instances of Ebola in the United States in contrast with lack of attention to sources of the problem in West Africa… despite clear and consistent and, at least to me, very reasonable analysis that until the source of the problem is better managed the risk to the United States will only grow.

On Tuesday afternoon the United Nations coordinator for Ebola response told the Security Council that the world basically has sixty days to contain the virus or face a serious risk of pandemic.  In much of the world, this was the Wednesday morning headline.  Not in the United States.

Below are two screenshots.  The first is for the Google News US edition.  The second is for the UK edition.  According to Google, “articles are selected and ranked by computers that evaluate, among other things, how often and on what sites a story appears online.”  The source stories can be found in US media, but too often buried beneath the symptoms.

Google US edition

UK edition

In my judgment a similar symptom vs. source issue is endemic to most US media coverage of terrorism, urban wildfire, flooding, and many aspects of border security.  It even erupts in how longer-term electrical outages are reported.

I am not arguing against news coverage of symptoms.  The attention given to the series of false steps in Dallas has clearly facilitated enhanced readiness across the US health System. But these are tactical –symptomatic — issues, not strategic issues addressing the problem at its source.

When novel and especially deadly threats emerge, the failure to distinguish between symptom and source is at least distracting and too often misleading… in a manner that can undermine public health and safety and, certainly, competence.  Sources can be even more complicated to understand than symptoms, but this further underlines the need for insightful media coverage.

There are very few editors, producers, or reporters who can afford to specialize in any of the so-called “low-probability, high-consequence” risks that confront us.  That’s a problem for most of the private sector and across the public sector as well.  We all need help adjusting our standard-operating-procedures to these non-standard events.  We should start to do so in workshops and exercises before the symptoms explode.

Some possible discussion topics and exercise issues:

In dealing with “high-intensity-risk-environments” (HIRE), do not mistake ambiguity for inattention.  Recognizing ambiguity may be evidence of close attention.

In engaging a HIRE, do not confuse uncertainty with incompetence. The compulsion to sound certain in the midst of complexity is, in my opinion, a principal cause of incompetence.

In the midst of a HIRE, complexity and lack of control does not necessarily signal lack of organization or progress.  Efforts to control can escalate complexity and suppress resilient self-organization.

In a few months I should be able to let you know if I am successful in involving media in any of the exercises currently being planned.

–+–

And since I’m writing about attention to sources as well as symptoms, in regard to Ebola here are some potentially helpful sources on sources:

FrontPageAfrica – A Liberia based newspaper. (BTW, this is not the largest circulation Liberian newspaper, but some of its competitors have, in my opinion, their own serious noise-vs-signal problems.)

The Concord Times – A Sierra Leone based newspaper.

The Telegraph – A Sierra Leone based newspaper.

Doctors Without Borders Guinea News

Guinea (Conakry) Guinee Focus (French)

World Health Organization Africa Regional Office

US Department of Defense Africa Command

CDC Ebola Hub

Resources from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine here and here and here  (and it’s worth looking for more)

FRIDAY UPDATE:

Thursday evening NPR broadcast an interview with Dr. Lewis Rubinson.  An intensive care physician with the University of Maryland Medical Center, Dr. Rubinson spent three weeks in September serving Ebola patients in Sierra Leone.  The full interview (with transcript) is, I suggest, a good example of well-informed, realistic thinking about dealing with symptoms.  Following is an excerpt:

RUBINSON: There are nearly 6,000 hospitals in the U.S. It wouldn’t have made sense to me that every single facility would have the ability to be honestly prepared. It doesn’t mean that there doesn’t need to be an appropriate level of the ability to identify patients and provide early treatment and keep staff safe. I think that’s really on every institution because we can’t control where patients present. But I think out in West Africa, we got very, very good at being 100 percent all of the time. You had to. In the U.S. there’s no technological fix for this. We can’t buy a widget and just solve it and give it to the hospital and say, you’re prepared right now. Most of this is about diligence, it’s about discipline and it’s about 100 percent adherence. And I think, again, that’s very hard to imagine that every facility could do that. Not because they aren’t good facilities, it’s just there are other priorities that they need to be taking on at the same time. Again, every facility needs to be able to identify the patient, take care of the patient early, keep the staff safe, but I think it’s very hard to imagine that every facility would be good at managing a patient throughout their course of the disease, especially if they get very sick, like had happened in Dallas.

MORE

SECOND UPDATE:

In regard to sources rather than symptoms, here’s “top of the fold” attention being given British operations in West Africa.  According to Friday’s Telegraph,

Ebola is the “biggest health problem facing our world in a generation”, David Cameron has said, as he urged foreign leaders to “step forward” with more resources to fight the crisis.

The Prime Minister urged other leaders to “look to their responsibilities” to help tackle the Ebola epidemic ravaging parts of West Africa… 

He said: “Britain, in my view, has been leading the way. The action we are taking in Sierra Leone where we are committing well over £100 million, 750 troops, training 800 members of health staff, providing 700 beds; we are doing a huge amount.

“I think it is time for other countries to look at their responsibilities and their resources and act in a similar way to what Britain is doing in Sierra Leone, America is doing in Liberia, France is doing in Guinea.

“Other countries now need to step forward with resources and action because taking action at source in West Africa is the best way to protect all of us here in Europe.”

MORE

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October 14, 2014

A funny thing happened on the way out of Fargo, through the American Terrordome, and into the 2014 Playoffs

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on October 14, 2014

Flying News

— Brian Schmidt won the 2011 Nobel Physics Prize for his co-discovery of dark energy. He went to Fargo, North Dakota to show the prize – a half pound medal, made out of gold – to his grandmother.

As he was leaving Fargo, with the medal in his laptop bag, he had an encounter with airport security:

[As the bag] went through the X-ray machine. I could see [security agents] were puzzled. [The medal is] made of gold, so it absorbs all the X-rays—it’s completely black. And they had never seen anything completely black.
“They’re like, ‘Sir, there’s something in your bag.’
I said, ‘Yes, I think it’s this box.’
They said, ‘What’s in the box?’
I said, ‘a large gold medal,’ as one does.
So they opened it up and they said, ‘What’s it made out of?’
I said, ‘gold.’
And they’re like, ‘Uhhhh. Who gave this to you?’
‘The King of Sweden.’
‘Why did he give this to you?’
‘Because I helped discover the expansion rate of the universe was accelerating.’
At which point, they were beginning to lose their sense of humor. I explained to them it was a Nobel Prize, and their main question was, ‘Why were you in Fargo?’”

— In other flying news, U.S. District Judge Anna Brown of Portland, Oregon ruled that

…people placed on the [No Fly] list have a constitutionally protected interest in traveling by air, and the right to due process when its denied.

Seven American citizens were part of an ACLU lawsuit. They wanted to be taken off the No Fly list or told why their names were on it. The government decided to take them off the list.  According to news reports, this was “the first time the United States has ever informed someone whether they are or are not excluded” from the list.  “This is huge in terms of the secrecy regime, and a regime of unconstitutional unfairness crumbling,” said an ACLU lawyer.

— In still more news about flying rights, the Association of Flight Attendants wants the FAA to stop people from using portable electronic devices during take off and landing.  Again. Apparently people are ignoring the how to use a seat belt and oxygen mask speeches. Besides, devices could turn into projectiles.

— Tom McHale, at mygunculture.com, complains that TSA is forcing gun owners to violate federal laws (Title 49: Transportation, Parts 1540 and 1544) when they make travelers flying with firearms surrender gun case keys to security inspectors.

— In a related story, TSA continued its unbroken streak and found 50 more firearms in carry on bags last week.

Privacy News

— Edward Snowden told a New Yorker crowd that people who argue “if you have nothing to hide you shouldn’t mind a little government intrusion every now and then” have it backward:

You’re inverting the model of responsibility for how rights work… When you say, ‘I have nothing to hide,’ you’re saying, ‘I don’t care about this right.’ You’re saying, ‘I don’t have this right, because I’ve got to the point where I have to justify it.’ The way rights work is, the government has to justify its intrusion into your rights.”

— Robert Turner - writing in the August/September issue of (the consistently informative) Homeland Security Today Magazine – believes “Snowden is a pathetic, narcissistic, high-school dropout… [who] may very well [be] the most injurious traitor in American history.” Turner also writes that he does not see how NSA is violating the Constitution. The NSA is not “spying” [sic] on hundreds of millions of Americans. It is collecting information like telephone records so a computer [sic] can scan through vast amounts of data….”

— Glenn Greenwald gives a 20 minute TED talk presenting his reasons why privacy matters.  Most of the argument seems to be a synthesis of chapter 4 in his book No Place to Hide.

Fear News

— Tom Englehardt continues his quest to convince people we’ve moved way beyond Stupid with the fear business.  His latest example is the ISIS hysteria: Inside the American Terrordome.  After giving a few examples of the current soundtrack of terrorism fear, he writes:

You can repeat until you’re blue in the face that the dangers of scattered terror outfits are vanishingly small in the “homeland,” when compared to almost any other danger in American life.  It won’t matter, not once the terror-mongers go to work….

Let’s be honest.  Post-9/11, when it comes to our own safety (and so where our tax dollars go), we’ve become as mad as loons.  Worse yet, the panic, fear, and hysteria over the dangers of terrorism may be the only thing left that ties us as a citizenry to a world in which so many acts of a destructive nature are being carried out in our name….

Terror-phobia, after all, leaves you feeling helpless and in need of protection. The only reasonable response to it is support for whatever actions your government takes to keep you “safe.” Amid the waves of fear and continual headlines about terror plots, we, the people, have now largely been relegated to the role of so many frightened spectators when it comes to our government and its actions. Welcome to the Terrordome.

 Data News

— Speaking of things to be afraid of, the 2013 National Health Security Preparedness Index is available at this link. Called “a new way to measure and advance our nation’s preparedness,” the Index charts the health preparedness of the states.  Says the website, “The NHSPI™ applies the National Health Security Strategy definition of national health security: the state in which the Nation and its people are prepared for, protected from, and resilient in the face of health threats or incidents with potentially negative health consequences.”  I have no clue why the Index is trade marked

Climate News

— A British company, Shoothill, has an online tool called GuageMap that can (eventually) send messages to interested parties when one of the 2,400 rivers in England and Wales is either threatening to flood or is becoming dangerously low.

— The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society issued a report titled ”Explaining Extreme Events of 2013 from a Climate Perspective.” One conclusion: “Climate change influenced several of the world’s most extreme weather events of 2013, including heat waves in Australia, Europe, China, Japan and Korea.”  The report is available at this link.  Said one government research meteorologist (in a USA Today story about the report), “It’s a granted that climate change is influencing all manner of weather….” This report looks not if climate change influenced weather, but how it did – trying to quantify the influence….”

— Speaking of the weather, NASA confirmed there is a “vast methane cloud over the southwestern U.S.” “[The] 2,500-square mile methane cloud over the region where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah meet traps more heat in a year than all the annual carbon dioxide emissions of Sweden,” the Christian Science Monitor reports. Scientists first noticed the methane data several years ago but ignored it because the readings were so extreme.

Homeland Security Baseball News

– The Kansas City Star reports:

It had been 29 years since the Kansas City Royals made it to the postseason and no one in town wanted to miss the end of what turned out to be their thrilling 9-8 victory over the Oakland Athletics.

No one – not even the police department.

The Kansas City Police took to Twitter with a message for folks across the city, and it was hard to believe that anybody disobeyed the request:

“We really need everyone to not commit crimes and drive safely right now. We’d like to hear the Royals clinch.”

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October 12, 2014

Evil as complexity denied

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 12, 2014

Over the last few weeks I have tried to listen as others have claimed evil as a justification for a variety of homeland security related missions.  I have appreciated your indulgence — and in some cases, important contributions — to this process.  Following are concluding personal reflections on this exploration.

–+–

In the myths of many cultures and the precepts of several religions and across a range of philosophical systems the first step from good to bad begins with failing to listen.

The protagonist is so distracted or deluded or self-consumed that truth — while knowable or even well-known — is neglected or rejected in favor of a rendering that better suits the hero’s (or emerging villain’s) internal narrative, unrestrained by external evidence.

I was recently standing in line for a train.  So was a young mother (or aunt or such) with a three or four-year-old boy, who she had harnessed to a seven or eight foot tether.  He was entertaining himself while she was on her cell-phone.  I don’t know how long they had been there when I arrived.  For the first ten minutes all was fine.  Then he increasingly sought her attention.  She continued on the phone.  He increased his attention-seeking behavior. She interrupted her conversation to sharply admonish. This became an rapidly escalating cycle to the dismay of everyone nearby.

While observing this scene unfold, I happened to read about the President calling the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee to ask for additional funds to be included in the Continuing Resolution to support anti-ISIL training of “moderate” Syrian opposition forces.  It was apparently the first time President Obama had made such a call.  Chairman Rogers seemed both pleased and more than a bit annoyed. The very first call since Rogers was elected Chairman in 2011?

This was in early September, at the time I was working with an on-again off-again client who was not acknowledging my emails or returning my phone calls.  When he did finally schedule a meeting, I was prepared to resign… and probably in a bit of a huff.  Similar to the four-year-old, I was feeling neglected.

The client began our meeting by describing a problem that was clearly commanding his attention.  The same issue had been the topic of my unread emails. But I listened and as I listened I better understood his angle on reality and adjusted accordingly. After listening to him I was much better prepared to speak in a way that would be heard.  And he was  ready to listen.  The problem has since been mostly solved.  We continue in relationship. (I even allowed him to preview this post.)

I was about to end the relationship because I felt he was not listening.  My ego was bruised. My time was wasted.  He was being an ignorant, arrogant jerk, and I was tempted to respond in kind. The relationship was renewed by an opportunity for me to listen and then reflect back what I heard.  As helpful to the client as anything else was the ability to hear his own situation reported back to him.

Our English word relationship is derived from a Latin construct meaning to carry back or bring back.  We bring back our story and relate it to others.  In this way a relationship can be strengthened. But telling depends on being heard.  If we offer our story and are not heard — neglected or rejected — we are inclined to deny being in relationship with those who are dismissively deaf.

As noted in my post last Thursday, I mostly neglected early reports of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. I have given very little attention to the extraordinary story of corruption, criminality, and violence emerging from several Central American states.  Yesterday I counted twelve homeless in a brisk walk of three blocks. They were wanting to talk. I noticed but did not listen.

There is a tendency not to notice until a connection to our self-interest is made explicit: until Ebola is in Dallas, until an American is beheaded, until children appear on our doorstep.  And even then we can be quite adept at not seeing — much less hearing — what is immediately before us.

This is, I suggest, how evil emerges: in narrow self-interest, in neglect of others, in rejected relationships, and with these preconditions it is easy to slip toward anger, abuse, and violence.

This is hardly a new insight. But disciplined practice of an alternative ethic is challenging.  Even between individuals, but especially on the macro-scale.  It is one thing for parent and child or Executive and Legislator or counsel and client to learn to listen.  It is a different category of action to “hear” the voices of victims hundreds and even thousands of miles distant.

Yet more than ever before we are being told their stories.  They know we have been told.  They can also discern our response or non-response.  One of the most damning discoveries I made during this exploration was a Google-spawned link to a post from February 2012 that I had entirely forgotten.  I heard. But did very little. Nothing at all effective.

So… for reasons set out previously and above I perceive that evil is a meaningful concept, worth much more than the self-indulgent rhetorical references that are too often applied.  Evil is a consequence of failing to honor the reality of our neighbor.  It is stubborn unwillingness to listen. It is denial of reality. It is angry self-assertion when our delusions are threatened.

I expect this deeply dysfunctional behavior to continue.  Evil will not be prevented.  But it can be mitigated and we can better prepare ourselves to more effectively respond to the emergence of evil and recover from it.  It is the privilege of homeland security professionals to focus on these opportunities.

Emerging from this series of blogs, my contribution will include giving more time and attention to listening to family, friends, clients, students, colleagues, you, and others with whom I am in obvious relationship.  Yesterday I sent a sizable gift to an organization that listens and works with others with whom I have a less obvious relationship.  I have committed myself to regularly engaging with this organization. I’m still not sure what to do as I encounter the homeless (and many other voices I tend to exclude), but I will experiment with options.

Complex problems — such as evil — are seldom solved. But they are sometimes more or less resolved through spontaneously self-organizing individual behavior. The good and bad news is that we are in relationship and the actions and inaction of each of us have an influence… in ways we cannot always predict.

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