Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 28, 2014

This week the battle for the border will be on Capitol Hill (stand-off predicted)

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on July 28, 2014

The onslaught of children at the southern border of the United States has several sources.

It appears that a law passed in late 2008 to deal with human trafficking — especially the trafficking of children — has had an almost opposite effect.

The law, which allows a wide class of children greater protection once they reach the US border, has been mis-characterized by criminal parties (especially in Central America) in order to motivate families to pay for their children to be smuggled through Mexico to the US border.

Over roughly the last year a rapid increase in children presenting themselves at the border has overwhelmed the existing immigration hearing system producing a defacto ability for children to remain in the United States for an extended period pending hearing.  This has reinforced the claims made by criminals.  It is also a problem that too many US officials tended to minimize until this last Spring.

Families are also motivated by a dangerous and deteriorating situation — especially in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador — where a confluence of economic turmoil, organized gangs, corrupt officials and other profound dysfunctions encourage taking significant risks in order to escape. The President of Honduras suggests many of these problems have their origin in the US demand for drugs.

To mitigate the current crisis Congress needs to act this week before it leaves for a long August break.  Unless additional funding and policy changes are legislated the Secretary of Homeland Security warns, “… we’re going to run out of money to deal with this. I’ve got my CFO working overtime this week working out how we are going to pay for this if Congress doesn’t act.”

Some suggested measures include:

Clarify the current legal situation with Central American families: This has been ongoing since at least March.  Some progress seems to have been achieved.  In June the number of children arriving at the border was reduced by about half compared to prior months.  The US government has increased official communications.  But unofficial information has potentially been even more influential.

Expedite the hearing process: Additional immigration judges, changes in law, and procedural adjustments could reduce the current log-jam and more quickly return children not found to qualify for some extended immigration status.  This would presumably reduce the motivation to make the risky and costly trip to the US border.

Amend the 2008 law, especially to facilitate prompt-return: Mexican and Canadian nationals can be returned without the hearing process currently afforded other children. But many are resisting this given the dangers facing Central American and other children. Under current law there is a prima facie right to hearings and the ethical implications of eliminating this right strike many as unacceptable.

Enhance security at Mexico’s southern border:  Reducing out-migration from Central America (more than a thousand-miles south of the US border) makes theoretical good sense.  There are, however, problems with corruption and lack of capacity related to Mexico’s National Institute of Migration. Still it is worth attention over the long-term.  It is more and more in Mexico’s self-interest as a stronger Mexican economy and comparative security also attracts immigrants.

Enhance US border security: Considerable progress has been made over the last ten-to-twelve years.  More on current House Republican proposals in this regard is available here.  Also see related prior post at HLSWatch

Allow application for refugee status in the country-of-origin: The idea being this would discourage the risky journey while responsibly addressing those most seriously threatened.

Increase country-of-origin efforts to encourage staying at home.  Both governmental and non-governmental programs exist to reduce severe want and fear.  Many would benefit from additional support. Whatever the cause, extreme injustice in almost any corner of the world tends to create potential problems for the United States.  This is only one example.

What other near-term mitigation efforts or longer-term solutions do you have?

Most informed observers doubt that the House and Senate will take practical legislative steps before they are scheduled leave Capitol Hill late this week.

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July 27, 2014

Seeking new Congressional action on Counterterrorism

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 27, 2014

As usual the Aspen Security Forum continues to be an abundant mid-summer source of breaking news.  I was not there.  Three years running I’ve had to work somewhere hot and steamy while many of my colleagues are cooling off and comparing notes.

According to Josh Gerstein, on Saturday Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, called again for revised Congressional authorities to conduct operations against terrorists.

It’s been over a year since the President proposed  the current Authorization for the Use of Military Force be repealed or seriously reformed. (NDU speech)

Gerstein writes in Politico:

“The 2001 AUMF has provided us authority to go after terrorist actors and address the threats that they pose that fit within that definition. We are now 13, 14 years on from that and we’re seeing the emergence of other actors,” Monaco said during an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum. “I think there absolutely is a reason to have an authority to enable us to take the fight to these evolving terrorists that we’ve talked about.”

You can watch and hear Ms. Monaco’s complete remarks at:

http://www.aspeninstitute.org/video/view-west-wing

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July 26, 2014

Weekend appreciation

Filed under: Port and Maritime Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 26, 2014

I was mostly off-line this last week.  Pretty much dawn to dusk I was part of a site visit with the US Coast Guard.  I actually got out of meeting rooms and onto boats.

The purpose of the site visit was research-related.  My role is as interviewer, writer, and project ethicist.  The project has been going on for about three years.  I have interviewed a lot of Coasties over this time.  Over the last five days I talked to many more in a wide range of contexts, back to back, day after day.

When the project team met on Thursday night to start working the outbrief the Team Leader asked us to outline our top takeaways.  Among my top five was, “The high level of intelligence,  knowledge, experience, competence, self-criticism, openness, and passionate commitment that characterizes the force.”

Everyone else on the team enthusiastically agreed.

And we decided not to mention this in our outbrief. The Team Leader noted it would seem gratuitous.  He was right.

This suggests something profoundly screwed-up in contemporary culture that even authentic appreciation is usually presumed to be self-interested and manipulative.

While I have generally been impressed with the US Coast Guard, until this week my exposure has been more senior officers and headquarters staff than anyone else.  This week I talked to a lot more senior enlisted, ensigns, lieutenants, and Lt. Commanders.

Wow, wow, wow.

If you are a baby-boomer or older (like me) and worried about generational trends in the United States, a week with these folks will make you feel like a whiner and slacker.  If you are an intellectual in search of informed, self-correcting, meaningful discussion of important topics, find a bar or lunchroom with Coasties in it.  If you are an American worried about the future of the Republic, you will be much less worried after seeing and hearing a rising generation Coast Guard professionals engage their work.

Several times I have heard individual Coasties quote from memory selected lines from Alexander Hamilton’s instructions to the first complement from which the modern Coast Guard has emerged:

[An Officer] will always keep in mind that their countrymen are freemen, and, as such, are impatient of everything that bears the least mark of a domineering spirit. They will, therefore, refrain, with the most guarded circumspection, from whatever has the semblance of haughtiness, rudeness, or insult. If obstacles occur, they will remember that they are under the particular protection of the laws and that they can meet with nothing disagreeable in the execution of their duty which these will not severely reprehend. This reflection, and a regard to the good of the service, will prevent, at all times a spirit of irritation or resentment. They will endeavor to overcome difficulties, if any are experienced, by a cool and temperate perseverance in their duty–by address and moderation, rather than by vehemence or violence.

They know and live these words.

They are also reasonably skeptical of bleeding edge projects such as the one that brings me to them. But even here their skepticism is almost always affirmative.  They are critical thinkers, not just critics.  What most impresses me is how often they are personally and institutionally self-critical — brilliantly, honestly, and realistically — in front of each other and on-the-record. I am guessing this element of Coast Guard culture is crucial to other attitudes and behaviors observed.

The Latin from which appreciation is derived  was a neutral term for assessing value.  In both the original and modern meaning: I greatly appreciate the US Coast Guard.

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July 25, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 25, 2014

Since we opened the Friday Free Forum it has been my practice to tee-up the discussion with brief historical references to natural, accidental, and intentional events that happened on the same date.  The cumulative effect on me has been reassuring.  Bad — very bad — stuff happens, always has.  Despite my cognitive inclination to catastrophize the present, it is not necessarily worse than it has ever been.

This week my scan for July 25 has not quickly turned up the typical collection of calamities. (Deeper digging might find them.)  But right now we are dealing with:

A deadly intersection of drought and wildfire across the Western United States.

The unfolding consequences — human, political, and much more — of the downing of MH17. Beyond the debris field in Ukraine it has been a very bad week for commercial aviation.

Serious challenges to several nation-states by non-state and pseudo-state actors and the sustained use of state violence against several civilian populations, religious communities, and targeted ethnic groups.  A spillover to the US domestic context is already happening and is likely to increase over-time.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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July 24, 2014

Suffer little children, and forbid them not

Filed under: Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on July 24, 2014

The arrival at our southern border in recent months of over 60,000 children challenges our national identity.

How we resolve this challenge will have a profound influence on the sort of society we leave to future generations.

The controversy, incivility, anger and political opportunism that have erupted around this issue confirms that the values in play are as fundamental as forming a more perfect union, establishing justice, ensuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, or promoting the general welfare.  In how we respond to this Children’s Crusade we are deciding the contours of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for our time.

Tomorrow President Obama will host the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador at the White House.  Something close to an ideal solution would involve family reunification with reasonable guarantees of freedom from desperate want and fear. This seems unlikely in the near-term.

We can change our laws to deter children from being pointed toward our borders. But when families pay thousands of dollars to give their children into the tender mercies of smugglers, it is also reasonable to examine how our effort to deter compares with the perceived risks that prompt the 1400-mile plus journey.

When there is a perception of little-to-lose and much-to-gain, even the prospect of prompt-return may be but one more lifeless mount on a Kafkaesque carousel.

What are the real-world human implications of turning-away children in desperate need?  How does this conform with American values? Deporting children without even a hearing?  It strikes me as entirely too analogous to the MS St. Louis… multiplied by about 60.

The policy issues relate to sovereignty, border security, and the integrity of the legal system. These are significant matters.  The ethical issues involve the life and death of children and shared responsibility for the poorest of the poor. These are complicated matters.

Homeland Security Watch has not given much sustained attention to immigration policy.  I expect this is changing.  These significant and complicated matters will not be solved at tomorrow’s White House summit.

My Personal Bias

On the first day of my first college class the professor insisted that an ethical speaker has an obligation to state his or her biases. His argument for this principle involved 1) the benefits of self-awareness and organized thinking that emerge from identifying our own biases,  2) the invitation for others to critique and potentially correct personal bias, and 3) the social value of all speakers accepting that we tend to be creatures of un-examined bias, but with careful listening and mutual respect bias can be balanced with reason. (I know, I know. This is what happens when you live long enough. The past really is another country.)

So… as we begin what may be a recurring dialogue related to immigration policy, forthwith are the key elements of my personal bias.

From the Hebrew Bible:

17 Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. 18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this. 19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.  (Deuteronomy 24)

From the New Testament:

23 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. 25 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  (Gospel of Matthew 23)

I do not pretend these sources are authoritative for the purposes of our dialogue.  This is where my thinking begins.  For purposes of immigration policy my thinking must go beyond this beginning.  But to the extent you seek to shift my stance, the implications of these sources are worth attention.

John Rawls, widely claimed as the most influential political philosopher of our time, wrote, “Reasonable comprehensive doctrines, religious or non-religious, may be introduced in public political discussion at any time, provided that in due course proper political reasons – and not reasons given solely by comprehensive doctrines – are presented that are sufficient to support whatever the comprehensive doctrines are said to support.”

In due course…

(Oh, by the way, the title is also biblical: Matthew 19:13-14.)

–+–

UPDATE: FRIDAY, JULY 25

The Pew Research Center has found that children age 12 and under are the fastest growing group of unaccompanied minors arriving at the US border.

House proposal to address current border controversy: Story in Roll Call. Statement by Kay Granger, Chair of the “House Working Group to address the national security and humanitarian crisis at the southern border.”

Senate proposal to address current border controversy: Story in The Hill.  Statement by Barbara Mikulski, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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July 23, 2014

See something say something goes awry?

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Infrastructure Protection — by Arnold Bogis on July 23, 2014

Boston_gas_tank

["Boston gas tank" by Lasart75 - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boston_gas_tank.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Boston_gas_tank.JPG]

It’s rare that a big, albeit colorful, gas tank becomes a local landmark. But that is the case in Boston, where the tank pictured above sits just off of Interstate 93 on the southern approach to the city. Lots of people take lots of photos of this particular piece of critical infrastructure.  Apparently, one got in a lot of trouble for it. Boston.com reporter Roberto Scalese has the story:

We’re not sure what professional photographer James Prigoff called the tank in 2004, when he decided to photograph it from public property. In a post on the ACLU’s website, Prigoff recalled the security guards who demanded he stop taking the photos, saying the tank was on private property. After that encounter, he went home to California and found a Joint Terrorism Task Force agent’s business card on his front door.

There is some simple beauty to the “see something, say something” message, however there are inadvertent negative consequences as well. What some may deem suspicious, the photographing of critical infrastructure for example, others deem art.  In fact, I would argue that for every terrorist plot alleged to have been uncovered since 9/11, I could find you two artists within the Greater Boston area alone who photograph, draw, paint, sketch, or otherwise utilize images of what is considered critical infrastructure in their work. Should they all be registered with the government?

If this was simply the case of some over zealous security officers, I could understand.  But according to the ACLU, this type of thing stays on your permanent record:

SARs can haunt people for decades, as they remain in federal databases for up to 30 years. An individual who is the subject of a SAR is automatically subjected to law enforcement scrutiny.

Somewhat disturbing, right?

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July 22, 2014

“Terrorism has entered a new and dangerous phase,” says the 9/11 Commission

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on July 22, 2014

From their press release:

This morning, the members of the 9/11 Commission, led by Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, released a new report reflecting the evolving and dangerous terrorist threat facing the nation. Ten years after the release of the commission’s original report, with mounting threats from the resurgence and transformation of al Qaeda, the situation in Syria and a rapidly changing cyber landscape, the commission’s new report calls for a vigorous and proactive counterterrorism effort. The report comes from the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, which reconvened the 9/11 Commissioners to develop their updated recommendations.

A copy of the report is here:  http://bipartisanpolicy.org/sites/default/files/%20BPC%209-11%20Commission.pdf

 

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July 21, 2014

Full page ads

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Philip J. Palin on July 21, 2014

DHS_graphic

Did you see it in your Sunday paper?  I saw it in the New York Times.  This weekend I was outside the Washington Post’s service area, but it must have run there as well.

Above is the graphic that makes up most of the full-page: a wire-diagram for DHS Congressional oversight.  You can read more on the ad campaign and the substance behind it at:

http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/security/

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July 18, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 18, 2014

On this day in 1995 the Soufrière Hills volcano on the island of Montserrat erupted.  It has continued volcanic activity ever since leaving more than half of Montserrat uninhabitable, destroying the capital city, and causing about two thirds of the population to evacuate the Caribbean island.

On this day in 1945 the Bedford Magazine fire and explosions began causing widespread damage in the Nova Scotia communities of Bedford, Halifax, and Dartmouth.

On this day in 1994 the Argentine Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires was bombed killing 85 and injuring 300.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

 

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July 17, 2014

Contemplating lethal operations

Filed under: Legal Issues,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 17, 2014

Four years ago (as of yesterday), David Barron, then Acting Assistant Attorney General and chief of the Office of Legal Counsel finalized his memorandum to the Attorney General RE: Applicability of Federal Criminal Laws and the Constitution to Contemplated Lethal Operations against Shaykh Anwar al-Aulaqi.  

After being kept secret, the document was released last month.  Some redacting does not undermine the integrity of the analysis.  If you regularly read this blog, you ought take the time to read the memorandum.  The link above will give you a pdf.

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit made the document public in June as part of a court case.  The Department of Justice did not contest the memo’s release as part of an effort to ease confirmation of Mr. Barron’s appointment to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.  HLSWatch previously linked to the document but this is our first comment.

Mr. Barron — now Judge Barron — asks, is it an unlawful killing for a U.S. public authority to take premeditated lethal action against this specific U.S. national (Anwar al-Aulaqi) outside the territory of the United States when not in the heat of immediate combat?

No, the memorandum counsels, it would not be an unlawful killing.  In the particular case of Anwar al-Aulaqi in mid-2010, given the preponderance of evidence, lethal action would be a reasonable act of self-defense undertaken in accordance with the law of war, not contrary to federal statutes, and consistent with the constitutional authority of the President in this case amplified by specific Congressional action.

The US-born self-proclaimed prophet of violent action against the United States was killed in a drone attack on September 30, 2011.

Does the question as posed above appropriately frame the legal context of the President’s decision to kill Anwar al-Aulaqi?

It is not inappropriate.  But it is not necessarily dispositive.

Another question: Is secret deliberation by the Executive sufficient to fulfill the due process rights of citizens under the Constitution?

I perceive that secret processes undertaken only by the Executive, no matter how rigorous, do not meet an acceptable constitutional threshold for due process. Reading this once-secret memorandum reinforces my predisposition.  While I can gin-up arguments against some specific findings of the memorandum, the legal and constitutional analysis is balanced and largely persuasive.  If these findings had been made public in 2010 I would have almost certainly supported the findings and subsequent killing if part of a broader process of legal engagement.

It is the Executive exercising unilateral lethal power in secret that gives me profound pause.  What can be undertaken in secret tempts authority to arbitrary and arrogant acts.  The more elaborate and clinical the secret procedure the more it ends up smelling of attainder: guilt established by procedural writ rather than substantive findings.

In the case of al-Alaqi, I see no good cause for secrecy. His criminal behavior was notorious as early as 2006.  He was known and known to be known. There were many good reasons to publicly proclaim this citizen as “outlaw”.

I can, however, imagine other cases where there is cause for authorities to not signal they are aware and watching.  When there is a compelling case for secrecy in taking premeditated, carefully planned lethal operations against a citizen, it is then even more important the decision not be left to the Executive alone.  The soon-to-be 800 years since the Magna Carta offer diverse methods for discrete due process.  For several examples and thoughtful consideration, please see Due Process in the American Identity by Cassandra Burke Robertson.

Some readers — not unreasonably — will conclude from the 580 prior words that I am a co-conspirator in what Philip Bobbitt has called the “due process explosion” of the last generation.  What do you want, I can hear you ask, a JAG officer assigned to every platoon?  DHS General Counsel staff in jackboots and camouflage?

A joke that lawyers tell lawyers: What is the only place where due process is consistently and completely achieved? The answer: Hell.  Ironic humor benefits from personal experience.

In his ultimately influential dissent in Poe v. Ullman, Justice Harlan argued:

Due process has not been reduced to any formula; its content cannot be determined by reference to any code. The best that can be said is that through the course of this Court’s decisions it has represented the balance which our Nation, built upon postulates of respect for the liberty of the individual, has struck between that liberty and the demands of organized society. If the supplying of content to this Constitutional concept has of necessity been a rational process, it certainly has not been one where judges have felt free to roam where unguided speculation might take them. The balance of which I speak is the balance struck by this country, having regard to what history teaches are the traditions from which it developed as well as the traditions from which it broke. That tradition is a living thing.

In what many of us perceive will be a long-struggle with violent and shadowy adversaries, abetted by prolific opportunities for mayhem emerging of modern technologies, and often involving or implicating our neighbors, families, and ourselves, there is a need to renew the tradition or at least be mindful of what we are choosing to break with.

To its credit and as it ought, the Executive has been diligent in this task. The Judiciary is being responsive when called upon.  It is the Legislature that seems mostly absent in renewing due process for  our contemporary challenges.

You probably saw the public opinion polls showing attitudes toward Congress at historic lows.  By design the Legislative branch is most reflective of the whole people.  To make progress on due process — and other issues — it might be worth looking in the mirror and to your left and right.  Might even be worth talking to yourself… but especially talking to your left and right.

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July 15, 2014

Why DHS is cleaner than DoD

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on July 15, 2014

I think I understood most of the 2014 QHSR.  But there’s one piece I did not get.

Today’s post is about my effort to discover what a “clean audit opinion” means.  In 2013, DHS received a clean audit.  The Department of Defense has never had a clean audit.  Never.  But I believe it hopes to have a clean audit in 2017, when it turns 70 years old.

That’s basically what I have to say today.  The details follow.

———————————————————————

“It is also worth noting that, in late 2013, DHS received its first unqualified or ‘clean’ audit opinion; this occurred just 10 years after the Department’s formation, which was the largest realignment and consolidation of Federal Government agencies and functions since the creation of the Department of Defense in 1947.”

This 49 word sentence appears twice in the 2014 QHSR.

It sounded like accounting language. I had no idea what it meant. But it seemed like a big deal. So I tried to find out.

The QHSR says DHS got the clean opinion in late 2013. I searched and found a GAO report published on November 15, 2013. That counts as “late 2013″ to me.

The report did not appear to confirm the “DHS is Clean” claim: [my emphasis]

GAO reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had made considerable progress toward obtaining a clean opinion on its financial statements…. DHS has a goal of achieving a clean opinion for fiscal year 2013. However, the DHS auditors’ report for fiscal year 2012, the most recently completed audit, indicated that DHS continues to rely on compensating controls and complex manual work-arounds to support its financial reporting, rather than sound internal control and effective financial management systems.

…GAO also reported that DHS had made limited progress in establishing effective controls to obtain a clean opinion on its internal control over financial reporting.

…DHS has plans to resolve the remaining five material internal control weaknesses, with a goal of achieving a clean opinion on internal control over financial reporting for fiscal year 2016. DHS will continue to face challenges in attaining a clean opinion on its internal control over financial reporting, as well as obtaining and sustaining a clean opinion on its financial statements, until serious internal control and financial management systems deficiencies are resolved.

The GAO report seemed so antithetical to the DHS is Clean assertion that I had to be missing something.

I kept searching and found a DHS press release  that proclaimed “DHS Financial Statements Earn a Clean Audit.”

The release was dated December 12, 2013. You could not get much deeper into “late 2013″ than that. So this is probably what the QHSR statement meant.

The press release said [my emphasis]:

This year, the Department of Homeland Security reached a major goal by achieving a clean audit opinion of the Department’s financial statements by an independent auditor. Simply put, the clean audit is in line with our ultimate goal to increase transparency and accountability for the taxpayer resources entrusted to the Department. …

In order to achieve a clean audit opinion, DHS worked across the entire Department to complete a comprehensive inventory process of its property for the financial statements…. This enterprise-wide approach made it possible for the Department to account for an additional $8 billion in property, which was the last factor we needed to earn a clean audit.

In less than a month, DHS apparently went from not having a chance of getting clean “until serious internal control and financial management systems deficiencies are resolved” to receiving “a clean audit opinion of the Department’s financial statements.”

That is a remarkable achievement.

So remarkable that I must still be seriously not understanding what any of this means.

I located a December 11, 2013 DHS Office of Inspector General report that contained the “independent audit” referred to in the DHS press release.

The IG document did confirm the cleanliness of the audit.

Sort of.

The Department continued to improve financial management in FY 2013 and has achieved a significant milestone. This is the first year the Department has received an unmodified (clean) opinion on all financial statements.

OK, so “unmodified” is a synonym for “clean.” It was starting to become clear to me. I continued reading the IG summary: [my emphasis again]

 However, KPMG [the independent auditor] issued an adverse opinion on DHS’ internal control over financial reporting of the FY 2013 financial statements. Further, as stated in the Secretary’s Assurance Statement, the Department has material weaknesses in internal control over financial reporting. In order to sustain the unmodified opinion, the Department must continue remediating the remaining control deficiencies. 

More accounting speak, I assume. Unmodified means clean. And while phrases like “adverse opinion on DHS’ internal control over financial reporting,” and “material weaknesses in internal control” may appear to my untrained eye to modify “unmodified opinion,” they apparently don’t.

So it’s all still clean. I guess.  And probably transparent. And definitely accountable.

Here’s more confusion on my part: I don’t quite get the “independent auditor” business.

The November 2013 report came from GAO.  Does that mean GAO is not independent because it is an arm of Congress?

Why are we supposed to believe the firm that conducted the audit reported in December 2013 is independent? Because it doesn’t report to Congress?

Who does it report to?

The company, KPMG, received its auditing contract from the DHS.

That’s what the DHS Office of Inspector General wrote when the auditor’s  report was released in December 2013: “We contracted with the independent public accounting firm KPMG LLP (KPMG) to perform the integrated audit.” 

The KPMG tagline is “cutting through complexity.”  Maybe creating unmodified opinions that are modified by other opinions is one way of cutting through complexity.

I know these are all cheap shots on my part. My confusion is undoubtably caused by not speaking Accountantese.

I found a source that did speak like an accountant, or an accountant who was good at translating accounting speak into English. I conducted what in this context might be called an “unmodified interview” [the unmodified emphasis is mine]:

Q: First, what’s an “unmodified opinion?”

A: An unmodified auditor’s report effectively states the auditor believes the financial statements present a true and fair view, and are in accordance with accounting standards and relevant legislation. This is sometimes also called an “unqualified” or a “clean” audit opinion.

Q: Great. Does a clean auditor’s report mean a clean bill of health…?

A: Auditor’s reports are intended to increase the degree of confidence users have in the information in financial statements – not about the state of the [organization] itself …. An unmodified auditor’s report means … stakeholders can make an assessment of the [organization] based on its financial statements, with a higher degree of confidence that the information is materially correct and unbiased.

If I’m understanding this correctly, then, a “clean opinion” does not say anything about efficiency, effectiveness, or  other significant output or outcome measures. It basically means what you see in the financial statements accurately represents financial reality.  [Correction, suggested by Phil Palin: "It basically means what you see in the financial statements is coherent and consistent with widely accepted standards of accounting."

[Where does one go to find these widely accepted standards of accounting? "The most authoritative source of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) developed by FASAB {Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board} for federal entities is contained in The FASAB Handbook of Accounting Standards and Other Pronouncements, As Amended...."  Here's a link to that Handbook:  http://www.fasab.gov/pdffiles/2013_fasab_handbook.pdf.  It is 2,129 pages. The phrase "clean opinion" appears once, describing how to issue a clean opinion even if there are problems.  I am way out of my depth here.]

The 2014 QHSR believes it is worth noting that for the first time in DHS history, its books are in order.

Is that really a big deal?

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman, Tom Carper, thinks it is a big deal.

“Given the size of the Department, the fact that it encompasses 22 separate agencies, and the scope and importance of its mission, producing a clean financial audit is no small task. I credit the Department’s past and current leadership for making financial management a priority and taking the steps necessary to realize this important goal.”

So – returning to the title of this post – how does all this circuitousness make DHS cleaner than DoD?

Senator Carper again [with my emphasis],

“By earning this clean bill of health from an independent auditor, DHS is now in compliance with this law and is on track to continue to do so. The Department of Defense is now the only large federal department that is unable to conduct a financial audit.”

It only took 10 years for DHS to figure out what’s on its books. The Department of Defense has been around for close to 70 years and it still can’t figure out what is on its books.

Maybe DoD can learn something from DHS for a change.

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July 11, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 11, 2014

Today Typhoon Neoguri is expected to continue on a northeasterly path following the Japanese coast.  It is no longer a so-called “super typhoon”, but heavy rains are forecast.

On this day in 1978 a truck carrying liquid gas crashes and explodes in Tarragona, Spain killing more than 200.

On this day in 2006 more than 200 are killed in the Mumbai training bombings.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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July 10, 2014

Needing your help: Core readings in homeland security

Filed under: Education — by Philip J. Palin on July 10, 2014

I have been asked to prepare a reading list for a graduate symposium in homeland security.  The purpose of the symposium (as I understand it) is to facilitate a meaningful introduction to the field by those approaching the end of graduate studies in other fields: especially law, international affairs, public administration, business, and public health.

I perceive the founders of the symposium have at least two goals: First, to provide the graduate students with sufficient grounding in homeland security that they can reasonably assess their interest in homeland security-related careers and, if interested, have a head-start in engaging and networking within homeland security.  A second goal may involve offering homeland security some non-traditional, even provocative insights emerging from this interdisciplinary consideration.

Especially given these goals the symposium does not seek to “teach” as much as “stimulate”.  The reading list should helpfully suggest major issues and trends.  It should prompt conversation and critique by soon-to-be PhDs, lawyers, and executives.  It is a foundation more than a framing.

It has not yet been finalized, but the symposium will probably meet once every 90 days for roughly six to seven hours of sustained engagement. Four sessions are anticipated.  There will be the opportunity for additional informal engagement, online and otherwise.

I have decided the reading list should be available free online.  I am inclined to give attention to the unfolding nature of homeland security law, policy, and strategy since 9/11.   I would prefer to have no more than ten core readings.  Right now I have fifteen and am tempted to list even more.

Readings that I most regret leaving off the list include the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act, some of the better (and worst) Presidential Policy Directives, the OLC memorandum on “contemplated lethal operations”, Federal District Court decisions in Klayman v. Obama and ACLU v. Clapper, and several of the Federalist Papers at about which point I lose all restraint, the universe of reading expanding quickly into quantum and complexity theory.

What else would you insist be on the list?  What would you remove from my list without a second thought?

Potentially helpful to persuading me — and probably a subtext for the missive below — I am a product and practitioner of Higher Criticism.  The written word is sacred and mysterious, context-sensitive, layered, open to reason, enlightened by analogy, beyond full understanding while richly rewarding affirmatively critical engagement.

Thanks for your help.

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Dismiss, distort, destroy: Adventures in self-delusion

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 10, 2014

The 9/11 Commission famously found a “failure of imagination” among the principal vulnerabilities that facilitated the terrorist threat.

We had accurately observed the predicates — USS Cole breaching, East African embassy bombings, vicious sermons, declarations of war, and more — that put a few on high alert.

After the attack other clues were nearly as obvious, tantalizing offers of operational warning and even tactical preemption. But we were mostly distracted and failed to imagine the possibilities that were percolating.

So on September 11, 2001 most of us were surprised and, it has seemed to me, many over-reacted. Both at home and overseas — especially in regard to Iraq — we unintentionally delivered strategic advantages to our adversaries.

In our response to 9/11 we hurt ourselves much worse than the initial horrific blow.  We also planted seeds of further vulnerability and, even perhaps, self-destruction.

These are claims that over the years I have referenced here.  I will understand if you insist I defend them again today, but my present purpose is prospective rather than retrospective.

I am concerned we’re doing it again:  Being distracted and self-indulgent and dismissive of others and distorting unwelcome truths.

Some of this is innate to our human condition.  As both a species and as individuals we are limited.  We are especially constrained by the story-engine in our brains. Too often trapped in the same old story, indignant if any one seeks to shift our recurring narrative.

But reality is seldom satisfied with mere repetition, despite how much we prefer a familiar rhythm.

If there remains any “we” worth the term, we have mostly dismissed the suffering of tens-of-thousands in Syria.  Public opinion surveys, political non-action, media reporting, and more all supply evidence that we have usually averted our eyes when confronted with the reality on the ground.  It has been an especially messy and brutal reality.  Confusion, hesitation, mistakes are entirely justifiable.  But neglect and denial are not.  We ought not have been so surprised by what has spilled-over from Syria into Iraq.

Our surprise is evidence of a failure to accurately observe and reasonably imagine.

I have been complicit in this dismissal of reality; more accurately, distorting of reality. After a few attempts to call-attention to the Syrian implications for homeland security, I retreated into the boundaries of a primarily domestic discipline.  Yet this week we are attempting to address a Syrian-based strategic threat with TSA tactics and urging Norwegians to spy more on each other. Looking for symptoms, ignoring their source?

The same tactical myopia afflicts our surprised response to the Children’s Crusade marching toward and across our southern border.  Both the anti-illegal right and the anti-xenophobic left are mostly preoccupied with what they perceive as urgent.  Meanwhile the source of our problem is a cauldron of cartels and coyotaje combined with chronic poverty and violence that requires a long-term strategy creatively and cogently applied.

Whatever else, we face a reality where thousands of children are taking an extraordinary risk to come to us. I understand we ought not encourage such risk-taking.  But dare we ignore the compelling threats that have driven these children into taking this risk?  Do we seek to “secure the border” so that we can pretend these other threats do not exist?  What are we prepared to do to address source as well as symptom?

Then Tuesday Chris Bellavita reported on the dismissive comments of some regarding the QHSR. This is a much smaller matter.  But it is another example of the same intellectual reflexes: dismiss, distort, destroy.  It is as if the — sometimes heated — discussions begun in late 18th Century Philadelphia have devolved into something much more similar to a junior varsity debating club.  We self-validate by running up the score with reckless accusations, banal set-phrases, and an abject refusal to listen.

Ignore and ignorance share the same source.  Imagination is spurred by authentic encounter with the unknown.

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July 9, 2014

Border Musings

Filed under: Border Security — by Arnold Bogis on July 9, 2014

A couple of random thoughts about the border.

- – - – - – - – - -

What means “secure?” A lot of criticism directed towards the President over the current crisis at the border comes back around to either he has not “secured our border” or that before money should be directed toward HHS efforts at housing and caring for the immigrant children or to bolstering the judicial process they must be go through according to a 2008 law he must first “secure our border.”  

By what measure is it not secure? Or, to put it in the context of the present crisis, what border town is overrun with these Central American children?  To listen to the media, you would think these kids are spreading out from the border like those killer bee maps that once made the rounds.  Yet it seems that these children are getting up to the border and basically turning themselves in. Instead of providing the money the Administration says is necessary to deal with this issue, some Congressmen are calling for the National Guard to be deployed.  What are they going to do?  Shoot the kids as they approach the border?  

- – - – - – - – - -

Apparently if the President doesn’t show up at some border crossing or detention center during his current trip to Texas it will be his “Katrina moment.” Politico give some context to this charge:

Earlier this week, Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose Texas district is situated along the U.S.-Mexico border, said he hoped Obama’s decision not to visit the border wouldn’t be his “Katrina moment.” The congressman was referring to then-President George W. Bush’s widely criticized response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Bush was famously photographed in the aftermath of the storm surveying the damage from above while aboard Air Force One, a photograph he called a “huge mistake” in 2010.

“In this case where there’s a crisis, a leader’s going to be defined on how he or she handles that crisis,” Cuellar said on CNN Wednesday morning. “You can send surrogates to the border, you can be 500 miles away like how he’s going to be in Dallas today, but he ought to go down there.”

I agree with the first part of that statement about crisis leadership.  I do not agree with the second.  Much sound and fury has been aired demanding that President Obama travel to “the border” (exactly where to see what is never specified).  Only if, ONLY IF he would, obviously the Administration’s entire response to this situation would change.

How?  I have no idea.  I can imagine a Presidential visit would boost the morale of the men and women working at the, uh, locations he visits.  Beyond that, it is unclear what positive impact a Presidential visit to one or two locations on a limited stretch of the border will have.  Will the amount of time he spends on the issue change?  Probably not.  Will the directions he gives his Cabinet secretaries gain added urgency?  Unlikely.  Will his critics find something new to complain about? Undoubtedly.

There is still much to learn and apply from the mistakes made in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Katrina.  Perhaps some can be applied to this situation at the border.  However, I hope people will refrain from throwing around simple comparisons for political scoring sake.  The men and women working their hardest to resolve this crises, at the border and throughout the country, deserve better than that.

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The politics of caliphate

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on July 9, 2014

There is an interesting post about ISIS up at the Lawfare Blog by Thomas Hegghammer, the director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI). It analyzes the various reasons why ISIS declared a caliphate in the territory it currently controls in Syria and Iraq, as well as the impact of that declaration on other jihadi groups.  His bottom line:

The bottom line is that business in the jihadi world will largely continue as usual after the declaration. Over time, the new caliphate will come to be seen as just another militant group, albeit a very presumptuous one. In the meantime, it is probably wise for Western governments to let the internal jihadi debate run its course. Premature military intervention will give the caliphate a jump start it does not deserve.

Hegghammer brings some reality to the discussion, contra the majority of pundits that equate all Islamic fundamentalist groups with al-Qaida:

For “old” jihadi groups like al-Qaida, ISIS’s move is utterly preposterous. The veterans see themselves as having spent a lifetime fighting superpowers, all the while holding back on declaring a caliphate—only to see a bunch of newcomers come in from the sidelines and steal the trophy. Adding insult to injury, ISIS is now demanding that the veterans submit to the authority of a young, obscure (at least until yesterday) caliph. That demand comes because in theory, the leader of a caliphate rules all Muslims and has supreme executive authority in military matters. All this while ISIS supporters taunt the old guard on social media with comments such as: “If Al-Qaida and al-Taliban could not establish khilafah [caliphate] with all their power and territory for all these years, how can we expect them to suddenly unite upon haqq [truth] now? Al-Khilafah does not need them, rather, they need al-khilafah.”

A number of the world’s most senior jihadi ideologues have already come out against ISIS on the caliphate question, and the criticism from supporters of al-Qaida and groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaida-anointed jihadi group in Syria, has been scathing. Meanwhile, ISIS has so far only received the pledge of allegiance (bay’a) from a small number of minor clerics, dissidents from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and groups in the Syrian-Iraqi theater that were at risk of being swallowed by ISIS anyway. To be sure, ISIS has also seen many declarations of support from grassroots sympathizers around the world, but it is unclear whether these are newly won adherents or people who were cheering on ISIS already.

Should or shouldn’t the U.S. intervene?  Well…it’s not clear cut.

However, the caliphate declaration has created a temporary political situation in which the entire jihadi movement is having to decide whether to support ISIS or not. A U.S. offensive in Iraq right now would force that decision in ISIS’s favor for many groups and individuals. Had the caliphate not been declared, a U.S. intervention would not have quite the same rallying effect. Of course, the U.S. may well choose to ignore these factors, but then at least ISIS has done what it could to maximize the cost for the United States associated with an offensive. If, on the other hand, the United States decides to postpone its contribution to the Iraqi counteroffensive, ISIS will temporarily face less resistance. The caliphate declaration may thus have been partly designed—or at least timed—to help ISIS consolidate its territorial gains in Iraq.

These were just some of the many interesting nuggets from Hegghammer’s piece.  The entire thing is worth reading:

Calculated Caliphate:” http://www.lawfareblog.com/2014/07/the-foreign-policy-essay-calculated-caliphate/

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