Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 22, 2014

Office of Legal Counsel Analysis

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration,Legal Issues — by Philip J. Palin on November 22, 2014

In an unusual move, the administration has released the analysis of presidential authority undertaken by the Office of Legal Counsel in regard to the role and limits of the President to set priorities in the enforcement of immigration laws. Worth a careful read by all of us… on issues well-beyond immigration.

I will not have time to offer much more any time soon.  Our friends at Lawfare have begun a conversation that should be illuminating.  First up, Paul Rosenzweig on Executive Discretion and Immigration Law.

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November 21, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 21, 2014

As part of my professional triage I will dispense with the natural, accidental and intentional antecedents for each Friday.  Starting next week I will just launch the post.

Bill Cumming — the originator of the Friday Free Forum — has suggested making some regular place for homeland security book reviews.   It seems to me Friday comments would be a good place.  A three sentence introduction, a positive or negative personal judgment, and a link to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or the publisher would be great.

Over the last ten days I have had several meetings where regular readers of HLSWatch have introduced themselves.  All claimed to value the blog.  Even more impressive, each quoted from memory the principal themes of recent posts by Chris, Arnold or me.

Even for our less-than-mass-market readership, I did not hear from a statistically significant sample.  But I noticed when roughly four out of five also referenced a real regret that conversations were so seldom able to get going.

The whole field of homeland security missed an opportunity when earlier this year an effort here to host a meaningful discussion of the QHSR failed.  People were listening.  We did not advance the conversation.

So as I prepare to recede a bit over the next few weeks, I will offer:

  • Every post benefits from thoughtful questions
  • Every post benefits from real-world stories that confirm or challenge the post
  • Most comments benefit from being read and questioned or challenged or reconfirmed
  • Self-restraint, as in staying on topic and hoping for the good faith of another, is an attractive and constructive habit
  • Conversations unfold when a thought is heard, meaning is confirmed (not yet challenged), alternatives are politely offered, alternatives are heard and confirmed… you know the method.

In my experience real conversation requires real vulnerability.  To further explicate, below is a poem.

The backstory for this poem is relevant.  Last March I facilitated a multi-jurisdictional, private-public homeland security exercise. This was the culminating event for a process that had been underway for over a year. One of the public sector participants was inserted at the last minute. For almost everyone else this was the third (or more) event in a series.  We had already dispensed with a lot of dogma.  She arrived still believing in some federal processes that the private sector had previously persuaded the public sector participants were time-sinking dysfunctions.  I shut her down much too quickly and with a tone that was much too harsh.

Writing this poem was part penitence, part personal AAR.

Words rush forth untethered
Inflating this space between us
Where quiet might have

condensed our difference

Remaining asymmetrical
But also fully tangible
Undeniably actual
A warm body
Liquid eyes

Hearts contracting
Next expanding
Two independent
Yet syncopated rhythms
Rising to the same coda

Words can distance with
Anger disgust or fear
Disinterest irrelevance
Self-involved tedium
Pretentious posturing

Before I say anything
May I hear see touch
Taste feel the reality
Of you, the adventure
Of being here with you

Then may I choose
Words you will hear
As sure evidence
You have been heard

Words that even in
Disagreement
Listen with love

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November 20, 2014

Mass migrations

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on November 20, 2014

Whatever the President says tonight and however the Congress responds, human migration — legal and illegal — will persist. Following is some of the context any effective policy or strategy will need to reflect.

The Global Context

Rapid population growth, rising economic expectations, and improved transportation networks have spurred unprecedented numbers of humans to move from places of economic disadvantage, social turmoil, and political oppression to places of greater wealth, security, and freedom.

Statistical sources are not always counting the same things in the same way. Many of the sources are estimates. And I am new enough at this topic I do not have confidence in my ability to rationalize the different approaches.  Accordingly the following numbers should be seen as suggesting scope and scale, not as a precise accounting.

The United Nations International Migration Report (2013) indicates that there are over 232 million international migrants.  These are citizens of one nation currently residing in another country regardless of status.

Approximately 41 million residents of the United States are foreign-born (13 percent of total population).  Of this total the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics estimates that somewhat more than 11 million are not legally authorized (3.5 percent of total population) to be in the United States.

In 2013 roughly 1 million migrants entered the United States with some sort of authorized status.  The United States is the single largest destination nation for migration, but there are other significant destinations.

The map immediately below reflects comparative migration in-flows.  The second map shows comparative Gross Domestic Product.

International migrationNet inflows of migrants (Worldmapper)

gdp 800x400Gross Domestic Product (Worldmapper)

While the poorest of the poor are not the most typical migrants, perceived vulnerability and/or persistent lack of economic mobility is clearly a major motivation.  In an origin-analysis for unaccompanied minors presenting at the Southern border in the first half of this year, DHS/CBP found a pattern that coincides with poverty and, especially, violence (see map below).

child_migrants_map

Historical Context

In 1875 when construction began on the Statue of Liberty there was no federal legislation restricting immigration.  In 1883 Emma Lazarus wrote these words,

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Even by then it was a bit more accurate to write, “Let me choose among your tired…”  The Page Act of 1875 was aimed mostly at curtailing Asian migration to the United States. This was followed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.   The Immigration Acts of 1903 and 1907 excluded several classes of potential immigrants such as anarchists, lepers, epileptics, and those with a variety of psychological disorders. The Immigration Act of 1924 established quotas for some nations of origin. Mexican immigration was restricted for the first time in 1965.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 emerged from a set of political, economic, and ethical issues rather similar to the situation today.

Regular readers may be annoyed — but you are not surprised —  that I perceive a classical analogy.

Fundamental to Roman imperial policy was assimilation of “barbarians” (either conquered or immigrants).  This was especially true in the Fourth Century as several Germanic tribes pressed hard by Hunnish invasions and migration piled up against and over Roman borderlands. Gibbon seems to argue the Goths were too different and too numerous to assimilate.  So there is a traditional narrative that Rome fell to especially aggressive “immigrants.”  Some contemporary scholars disagree.  Alessandro Barbero and others point to the decision of the Emperor Valens in 378 to fight rather than make common cause with the Goths as a fundamental error. The Battle of Adrianople reversed several centuries of a culturally inclusive strategy and committed the Empire to an unsustainable effort to exclude. The city of Rome was sacked in 410.

Historians can argue what really happened then.  We are making similar choices now. As with Valens and the Goths, it is sufficiently complicated that even historians may be unable to agree on the implications of what we do or fail to do.

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Ebola — no sitrep — but an update

Filed under: Biosecurity,Preparedness and Response,Public Health & Medical Care — by Philip J. Palin on November 20, 2014

One Wednesday the World Health Organization released a new update on the situation in West Africa.  The rate of new transmissions has continued to decline in Liberia and Guinea.  But the curve is continuing upward in Sierra Leone.

I have not seen a persuasive analysis to explain the difference between the three neighboring nations.  But there is some indication that too many social-networks in Sierra Leona may still be in denial.  Community engagement and organization are widely thought to be what turned-the-curve in Liberia.

On Tuesday a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on fighting Ebola in West Africa.   You can see/hear a video of the hearing and read the prepared testimony at the committee’s website.

I probably will not prepare a new sitrep this weekend as I have the last few weekends.  A couple of new “day job” assignments are going to take a serious commitment through mid-February.  I may be a bit AWOL from HLSWatch.  We’ll see.

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November 19, 2014

Origins of ISIS: a short cartoon

Filed under: Border Security,General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on November 19, 2014

Via the Lawfare Blog, here is a short animated video narrated by terrorism expert Bruce Riedel explaining the history of what has become known as ISIS, ISIL, and/or the Islamic State.

 

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November 18, 2014

Seeing something about school shootings on Yik Yak and saying something

Filed under: Education,Social Media — by Christopher Bellavita on November 18, 2014

“Just saw a sketchy looking dude load some assault rifles into his car on the walk to campus, so that’s chill.”


Last week a friend sat waiting at the airport for her flight. To pass the time she checked out some of the posts on Yik Yak.

Her son attends a university on the other side of the country, and sometimes she skims the Yik Yak posts to see what’s happening on her son’s campus. It’s a way to get a sense of the anonymous culture college marketing departments don’t talk about much. Or at all.

“Hey that’s not even something to joke about. This better be a joke.”

When my friend saw the assault rifle post, her first thought was it’s a prank. She looked at more of the replies:

“That’s not funny. Someone should call public safety.”

“Call the cops. Don’t play around with this.”

She looked at a few posts on other topics, but her mind would not let go of the image of a “sketchy dude” putting weapons in his car.

She sent a copy of the text to her husband.

“I just saw this on Yik Yak. It’s 30 minutes old. Probably nothing. I’m at the airport. Do you have contact information for the university police? Again, it’s probably nothing.”

“OK everybody, don’t get your panties in a bunch. There’s nothing illegal about putting rifles in your car. Lighten up.”

A few more minutes went by. No word from her husband.

“There really probably isn’t anything to this. Just a bad joke. Besides, the police probably monitor Yik Yak. I’m pretty sure they’re on top of it.”

“You can’t joke about this. It’s not funny. I’m down voting you.”

“I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t go to class today. Just stay in my room.”

“Somebody should tell the police.”

My friend thought, “The chances this is real are practically zero. It’s college kids. Besides, I’m hundreds of miles away. I feel helpless.”

She knew she wasn’t helpless.

“I realized I could do something,” she told me. “I used my phone to look up the number for campus security and called them. I just didn’t want to take the chance. I told them I was a parent and told them what I saw on Yik Yak.”

“It’s probably nothing,” I told them, wondering why I kept repeating that.

“Relax everyone. My guess is it’s the ROTC cadets storing their weapons after yesterday’s Veterans Day ceremony.”

“This is scary. How come the cops don’t know about this?”

“Assault what?” asked the person on the other end of my friend’s phone call.

“Assault weapons, assault rifles. Something like that. I don’t recall exactly. It’s probably nothing. Don’t you guys monitor Yik Yak?”

“We don’t approve of Yik Yak,” the person said.

“I don’t approve of it either,” said my friend, “but you know… ‘see something, say something?’ I just saw something on Yik Yak and I’m telling you.”

“OK,” the person responded. “Thanks for letting us know.”

“Is that it?” my friend thought. “They didn’t even ask my name.”

A few minutes later she boarded her plane, feeling surprisingly pleased that she’d acted, rather than waited for someone else to act.

“I knew it was probably nothing. But if it turned out to be real, and I hadn’t done anything,….”

She did not complete her sentence.


Yik Yak is a geo-fenced, micro-blog version of Twitter. It’s a social media (some say an anti-social media) smartphone app that allows people in a geographically constrained area to anonymously communicate with other nearby people. I’m not sure how constrained the area is. I’ve read it’s anywhere from a 1.5 to 10 mile radius.

Yik Yak appears to be intended for use primarily by college students. It blocks anyone from posting if they are near a high school or middle school.

Sometimes the posts are amusing:

– “There is no reason to tailgate me when I’m going 50 in a 35. And those flashing lights on top of your car look ridiculous.”

– “Sister: Where is Nicaragua? Me: Central America. Sister: So like near Kansas? Me: I see poles and body glitter in your future.”

– “FUN FACT: If you take out your intestines and lay them end to end, you will die.”

Other times, the posts are ugly: Racist Posts On Yik Yak Prompt Student Protest At Colgate University

One writer believes Yik Yak is “the most dangerous app I’ve ever seen.”  Another author suggests Why Your College Campus Should Ban Yik Yak.  A third article writes about Yik Yak as A Weapon That Should Be Treated Like One, describing it as a “bulletin board for bomb threats.” (At least two people have been arrested for using the app to make bomb threats. Yik Yak gave law enforcement the names of the people who made both threats.)

The application also has its defenders. Here are some comments in response to the charge that Yik Yak is dangerous:

– “I find your view on Yik Yak very cynical. I hardly ever see hateful yaks, and if I do, they are gone within seconds because people down vote them.”

– “Yik Yak builds strong community and opens up honest discussions. It has the potential for some abuse but overall I think it is a fun, brilliant app.”

–”Anonymity is the only thing we have left to guarantee our first amendment, sad but true. Yeah there will be people that will abuse it, but we have to take the bad with the good in the ideal of freedom.”


My friend’s plane landed a few hours later. When she turned her phone back on she had a voice mail message.

“This is Lieutenant [----] at the [---- ] University Police Department. Please call me when you get this message.”

She called the number and spoke to the police officer. The department checked the Yik Yak post about the assault rifles and, based on the post, conducted a sweep of the entire campus. The city police checked the neighborhood surrounding the campus.

They did not find anything.

Was the post a hoax? An inappropriate attempt at humor? A warning that disrupted a potentially significant event?

It was probably nothing.

Like it always is.

Almost.

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November 16, 2014

Not in my name

Filed under: Media,Radicalization,Social Media,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 16, 2014

Early Sunday morning a web-based video claimed to show the dead body of Peter Kassig, age 26, a US citizen. The army veteran had started a small humanitarian not-for-profit operating in Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey providing basic medical services and supplies to refugees. In 2013 he was captured by Syrian insurgents. The group claiming responsibility for his execution is the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS).

If confirmed, this would be the fifth beheading of a Western captive by the group.  The Islamic State (or ISIL or ISIS or Da’ish) has become notorious for using an extensive toolkit of organized violence: beheadings, crucifixions, and mass executions.  Thousands of Syrians and Iraqis have been killed using means clearly designed to engender fear and compliance.

The Kessig video is the longest IS production yet.  While it includes a warning to Western — especially US and British — leaders, the propaganda is designed mostly to advance the IS brand-strategy and to recruit young men. The beheadings are a hook to ensure Western media attention that will prompt the target audiences to seek out the videos (they are not that difficult to find) where the rest-of-the-story is persuasively pitched as an answer to their search for adventure and meaning.

It seems to be working.   Most recent intelligence estimates find at least 15,000 foreign fighters from up to 80 nations are currently attached to a variety of insurgent groups – not just IS — in the Syrian civil war and its overflow into Iraq. (Potentially an interesting comparison:  During the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 the total number of international volunteers serving with Republican forces is estimated have totaled 35,000.)

But it may also be emerging that even as IS is achieving some tactical success among a very small slice of disaffected — mostly — young people, it is prompting a blow-back by many others that could have significant strategic implications.

As was the case with David Haines and Alan Henning, British aid workers previously beheaded, the evidence seems overwhelming that Kessig was only involved in delivering compassionate care to those displaced by the Syrian civil war.  There is also no evidence that the two journalists who have been dramatically beheaded had any particular animus toward the Syrian insurgency.  The killings have not only been brutal.  They have, to most minds, been innately unjust.  For most Muslims this is a perversion of their faith.

The video above was developed — apparently independently — by a group of mostly young British Muslims following the execution of David Haines.  It crystalizes a movement that has spontaneously emerged  and is growing online very much contrary to the purposes of IS.

See more at  https://twitter.com/hashtag/notinmyname. Social media — not so much YouTube — is where most of the activity is taking place.

A shared revulsion to IS is also prompting others to perceive, conceive, and act in ways previously unseen.  On Friday, probably while the terrorists were putting finishing touches on their snuff video, Muslims, Christians, Jews, and others were gathering for an unprecedented Muslim prayer service hosted by the Episcopal National Cathedral in Washington DC. The sermon by Ebrahim Rasool included, “We come to this cathedral with sensitivity and humility but keenly aware that it is not a time for platitudes, because mischief is threatening the world. The challenge for us today is to reconstitute a middle ground of good people… whose very existence threatens extremism.”

As the American experience with war has too often  demonstrated, tactical skill can seldom overcome a strategic deficit.  How ought our anti-IS strategy reflect the strategic vulnerability of our adversary?

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November 15, 2014

Ebola source sitrep 5

Filed under: Biosecurity,Public Health & Medical Care,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on November 15, 2014

The number of deaths traced to the current Ebola outbreak now exceeds 5000.  The rate of transmission has not increased in Guinea and has slowed in Liberia. But the situation in Sierra Leone is continuing to worsen.  A new network of Ebola cases has emerged in Mali among health workers who were exposed while caring for a man with kidney failure.  The patient was also suffering from a non-diagnosed Ebola infection.

Ebola_November 14

The fatality rate among those exposed to the Ebola virus is falling. In June the fatality rate for this West African outbreak was estimated at 90 percent.  In September the fatality rate was still at least seventy percent.  In prior Ebola outbreaks — much smaller in scope — the fatality rate has averaged 50 percent of those infected.   There are some studies that suggest with early intervention the fatality rate is now as low as 25 percent.

These are small and still unconfirmed studies.  But on a preliminary basis it is reasonable to observe:

  • The amount of circulating viral load was higher in those who died than in survivors; those patients with the highest levels of virus were most likely to die.
  • One of the strongest determinants of survival appears to be patient age. Patients older than 40 years were nearly 3.5 times more likely to die than those aged less than 40. The association between an older age and a higher risk of death was found regardless of whether the patient had co-morbidities or not.
  • Evidence of substantial fluid loss and profound electrolyte derangement associated with severe diarrhoea appears to increase the risk of a fatal outcome. More aggressive supportive care, especially intravenous rehydration, is thought to improve the prospects of survival.

Seriously compromising the ability to provide early diagnosis and care is a public health infrastructure insufficient to conduct the necessary contact-tracing. According to the November 12 WHO update:

Between 3 and 8 November, 5301 new contacts were identified in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, compared with 4067 new contacts traced in the previouwoulds week. A total of 95% (124,214 of 130,140) of required daily contact visits were conducted. However, the proportion of contacts reached was lower in many districts. Each district is reported to have at least one contact-tracing team in place. On average, only 10 contacts were listed per case in the three countries in the past week. The low average number of contacts listed per case suggests that the estimate of 95% gives an unduly favourable view of the success of contact tracing. Active case finding teams are being mobilized as a complementary case detection strategy.

The situation in West Africa remains very bad, but it is not — yet? — as bad as some projected in September or even early October. The predictions have, in part, been disrupted by increased public health interventions, improved clinical care, and — especially — altered population behavior.  While the threat of the virus was too long underplayed, since August a creative and committed response has paid-off.

In recognition of the continuing high risks, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), an NGO with deep experience in the region, has recommended a new strategic approach, “Agile and well-equipped rapid response teams should be deployed quickly to actively investigate hotspots wherever they occur, and mount a comprehensive response.” This approach would depend much less on the construction and operation of isolation-and-treatment centers.

The rainy season is coming to an end in West Africa.  Typically the dry season sees a substantial increase in population movements.  This increased mobility will threaten the fragile progress that has been made.  The current ten-day forecast for Monrovia predicts almost daily rain and thunderstorms.  But early December is predicted to be bright and sunny.

Meeting early today in Brisbane the G20 affirmed and expanded commitments to fight Ebola in West Africa.  The world’s leading economies also signaled that more needs to be done to prevent and mitigate infectious threats much worse than Ebola: “This outbreak illustrates the urgency of addressing longer-term systemic issues and gaps in capability, preparedness and response capacity that expose the global economy to the impacts of infectious disease.”

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November 14, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 14, 2014

venice_flooding_01

According to my usual sources, November 14 seems to be less disastrous than most other days.  But above is a picture of the Caffe Chioggia in Venice on this day in 2012.

High water is not uncommon in Venice this time of year. There was flooding just last week. Venetian infrastructure and its people’s habits in many ways accommodate — and mitigate — the risk.  But  floods are recurring more often and tides seem to rising higher.   Will resilience be enough?

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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November 13, 2014

Immigration: Prepping the bowl game

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS,Immigration,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 13, 2014

It appears our end-of-year celebrations and contests will include a sustained play-by-play on immigration policy.  USA Today warns of “political war” on the issue.  We will probably see the gaming continue deep into basketball season.  Baseball? The 2016 World Series?

Despite the clear importance of immigration policy and practice to the Department of Homeland Security (where it can be seen as consuming the majority of resources), I have not given much space to immigration in my own working concept of homeland security.

Given the perpetrators of 9/11 it makes some narrative sense why immigration, border, and related agencies were brought together in the new DHS.  I will not resist that how we facilitate flows of goods and people into the nation has some sort of security implication. (Though Prohibition and the drug trade and human trafficking and mass migrations across all of human history suggest how tough it is for a big place to be anything close to impermeable.)

In terms of a terrorist threat, while we can make it more complicated and — with unusually good intelligence or vigilance or luck — actually stop some threats at the border, I have never met a professional who thought any of our immigration and border apparatus to be equal to a well-planned terrorist operation.  Much more effective is to disrupt the planning in Yemen or Af-Pak or Raqqa or wherever.  Border protection is like football’s free safety.  If that is what’s left, it’s already been a very tough play. You really want to stop them at the line of scrimmage or farther back.

When it comes to other aspects of homeland security: preparedness, mitigation, resilience, response, recovery, etc., etc….  immigration has seemed to me tangential.  There are issues of communicating in languages other than English.  Some immigrant communities — or areas where they tend to live — are considered more vulnerable.  But there are also studies that find the tight social connections of recent immigrants to generate a resilience-advantage compared to wealthier but more isolated neighbors.

There are a few cases where immigrant communities have become flash-points for radicalizing clusters of (mostly) alienated second-generation young men.  But to view this as an immigration or border issue strikes me as, again, giving too much attention to the free safety and not enough attention to the front line. (If you can’t tell, more than forty years and thirty pounds ago I was a defensive tackle.)

But whatever the actual homeland security implications, Secretary Johnson and his senior staff are going to be plenty focused on immigration in the weeks ahead.

So… an attempt to frame the issue for our future dialogue:

I have already acknowledged a personal prejudice on this topic.  But I will attempt to listen and learn from those with alternative points-of-view.

There is a plethora of expert — and advocacy — resources available.  Just a few:

Migration Policy Institute

Bipartisan Policy Center: Immigration Task Force

Cato Institute: Immigration Studies and Commentary

American Immigration Council

Texans for Sensible Immigration Reform

Brookings Institution: Immigration Workstream

Immigration Reform Law Institute

Federation for American Immigration Reform

Heritage Foundation: Immigration Workstream

US Chamber of Commerce: Immigration Resource Collection

If you have other sources of information, please include them in your comments.  At some point I will try to develop an annotated list of sources.

Trying the football analogy again, the two teams that are coming onto the field this season strike me as having very different strategies and styles of play:

Pragmatists versus legalists

Economic offense versus economic defense

Passing strategy versus ground strategy

Maybe Oregon versus Alabama?  Perhaps suggesting comparisons that go well beyond the gridiron.

The differences between the contestants are, in any case, so profound that I expect it may not be much of a game to watch.  The ducks may just sort of ride the tide.

I’ve never been a big fan of purist approaches to just about anything.

FRIDAY UPDATE: LOCKER-ROOM TALK

After I posted on Thursday the two teams started sending pre-game signals to each other.  Actually it sounded more like set-ups for a boxing match than most football games.  Anyway…

The Washington Post gives Capitol Hill trash talk top-of-the-fold prominence: Before immigration action, sides dig in.

Politico leads with Defiant Obama: I will use my power.

The Hill also calls the President defiant.

Roll Call quotes Senator Cornyn warning Presidential action on immigration could lead to a failure to fund the government.

Defiance abounds.

Our English word “defy” has its origin in a vulgar Latin term fidere meaning to trust, to have fidelity. That de on the front reverses the meaning.  Defiance emerges from mistrust.

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Victimizing survivors (including us)

Filed under: Media — by Philip J. Palin on November 13, 2014

In last Saturday’s post I previewed a 60 Minutes report on the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.  The report ran on Sunday.  Over 12 million Americans watched.

In many ways it was an excellent primer on the nature of the disease and the need — practically and ethically — to address the disease at its source. Those watching met competent and committed Americans bravely serving on this very important front.

But unless I zoned out, there was not a single interview with a Liberian.  Frankly this only occurred to me toward the close of the report.  If my memory has failed, please correct me.   In any case, I am sure Liberians were mostly presented as victims.

There are several problems with this image, but to start: it is simply not accurate. Liberians have been courageous, creative, and self-sacrificing to a degree that has to inspire anyone who takes notice.  If the transmission curve has indeed been bent in Liberia, it has mostly been the achievement of Liberians.

Given an American audience, the interviews with American health care providers in Liberia makes some sense.   There is a tribal aspect to most of our narrative realities that any story-teller does well to acknowledge.

But the 60 Minutes report — in what it omitted —  patronizes our tribal tendencies to a point that distorts reality.   The omission is even more treacherous because I expect it was unintentional.

I raise this issue because if the producers, directors, and reporters at 60 Minutes can fall into this very narrow trap, it suggests the challenges homeland security faces on a wide range of issues.

Terrorism is deeply rooted in human tribalism.  Introducing a new flood map into many communities makes introducing a new religion look easy.  You want to enhance private-public relationships?  It helps to be familiar with anthropological literature on tribal conflict.

We usually see, hear, perceive what we are prepared to believe.   Our self-identity is the principal determinant of what constitutes the other… and therefore the threatening.  We can escape these blinders.  But it is not easy. These are deeply wired predispositions.

I am concerned that media is, as Sunday’s report gives evidence, serving — both intentionally and unintentionally — to divide us into more and more distinct market segments (tribes).

More than a half-century ago Marshall McLuhan suggested the rise of television and other electronic media would reverse the objective stance encouraged by the written word and retrieve the subjectivity of the visual. This process would also, he argued, result in “retribalizing” humanity.

In a 1969 interview McLuhan commented,

The instant nature of electric-information movement is decentralizing — rather than enlarging — the family of man into a new state of multitudinous tribal existences… All our alienation and atomization are reflected in the crumbling of such time-honored social values as the right of privacy and the sanctity of the individual; as they yield to the intensities of the new technology’s electric circus, it seems to the average citizen that the sky is falling in. As man is tribally metamorphosed by the electric media, we all become Chicken Littles, scurrying around frantically in search of our former identities, and in the process unleash tremendous violence. As the preliterate confronts the literate in the postliterate arena, as new information patterns inundate and uproot the old, mental breakdowns of varying degrees — including the collective nervous breakdowns of whole societies unable to resolve their crises of identity — will become very common.

It’s been more than forty years, the prediction seems more true everyday.  Does this confirm his hypothesis?

–+–

The WHO released a new Ebola update on November 12.   The death toll is now over  5000. Sierra Leone’s transmission rate is not — yet – bending. Several new cases are threatening an outbreak in Mali.

Yesterday the Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing on the Administration’s Ebola funding request.  Lots of testimony and such at the website.  Good reporting on the hearing at Politico.

More detailed analysis this weekend.

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November 12, 2014

Upcoming film: “Extreme Realities: The Link Between Severe Weather, Climate Change, and Our National Security”

Filed under: Climate Change — by Arnold Bogis on November 12, 2014

In light of the recent release of the Department of Defense’s “2014 Climate Change Adaption Roadmap,” along with similar contributions from other federal departments, the following trailer for a soon-to-be-released documentary is on topic. It frames current and potential future impacts of climate change in national security terms.

 

If you happen to be in the Boston area, this screening and discussion may be of interest.

Extreme Realities: The Link Between Severe Weather, Climate Change, and Our National Security

Film
Series: ENRP Film Series
Open to the Public – Land Hall (Belfer Bldg, 4th Flr)
November 19, 2014
6:00-8:00 p.m.

Related Project: Environment and Natural Resources

Description:

Join us for the next film in the 2014-2015 ENRP Environmental Film Series: “Extreme Realities: The Link Between Severe Weather, Climate Change, and Our National Security.” Introductory remarks by Harvard Professor James McCarthy, climate expert & board chair, Union of Concerned Scientists. Discussants: Lt. Katie Burkhart, US Navy Reserve & HKS Master in Public Policy candidate;Captain Michael A. Mullen, US Coast Guard & Harvard National Security Fellow

Refreshments served

Co-Sponsor: Environment & Energy Professional Interest Council (EEPIC)

Contact:

ENRP Program Coordinator
Environment and Natural Resources Program 79 John F. Kennedy Street Cambridge, MA 02138
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Harvard Kennedy School
Email: enrp@hks.harvard.edu
Phone: 617-495-1351
Fax: 617-495-1635
Url: http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/project/43/environment_and_natural_resources
.html

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November 11, 2014

Remembering one veteran on Veteran’s Day.

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on November 11, 2014

My father joined the Army on May 18, 1942. A little more than 5 months after the Pearl Harbor attack. He was a private.

His terms of enlistment still make an interesting read:

Enlistment For The Duration Of The War Or Other Emergency, Plus Six Months, Subject To The Discretion Of The President Or Otherwise According To Law

My father was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. Both his parents were born in Italy.

 


Italy declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941. There were millions of Italians and Italian-Americans in the USA in those days. Italians were the enemy. But they also were America’s largest ethnic group. So it was unclear what to do with millions of Italians.

By the end of the war, US government officials from approved ethnic backgrounds put a few thousand Italians (citizens and non-citizens) into American internment camps. Compare that with 11,000 Germans and 110,000 Japanese who were also interned.

Yes, people in the future. It can happen here. It already has.

 


I have two pictures of my father.  In one picture he’s in his Army uniform standing against a white background. In the other picture he’s sitting at a kitchen table. His head is sunburned from the radiation treatments that tried, unsuccessfully, to erase the cancer that eventually killed him. In the picture he’s smiling at the woman I would marry.

 


My father enlisted on a Monday. I never learned what he did the weekend before he signed up to fight the Germans and Italians and Japanese. I’d like to think he enjoyed himself the same way any 24 year old American male would before going off to war.

But also he was a Catholic, so I suspect church was a part of that last weekend. Don’t want to take any unnecessary chances with one’s immortal soul before going off to war.

I never learned what he experienced during the Second World War. I hear there are people who talk about what they did in a war. I can’t recall meeting many.

 


My father met my mother in England. She was in the women’s branch of the Royal Navy, called the Wrens. They were married in 1943, on Armistice Day. It’s called Veteran’s Day now.

I was born 9 months and 8 days after they were married. My mother might have been in the Navy, but she also was a proper English girl.

The marriage ended 11 or 12 years later. Being married to a career military spouse is hard on a family. Too many moves. Too many wars. Too many deployments. Too much time away.

 


My father left the Army shortly after Japan surrendered. He got a job driving a truck in New York City. But he missed the Army. So he re-enlisted.

He was patriotic without being loud about it. He valued serving his country. He stayed in the Army for 30 years and left as a Sergeant Major. He fought two years in the Korean War, four years in the Vietnam War, and wherever the Army sent him. He rarely spoke about any of those experiences.

 


A few weeks after I joined the Air Force, my father visited me at Lackland Air Force Base. For a few hours on that sun filled December Sunday in Texas we mostly just walked around the base, talking.

He had his Sergeant Major Army uniform on, I wore my slick sleeve Air Force blues. It was a good day. I don’t remember anything we talked about. I do remember people smiling at us. I remember being proud to be with him.

 


He left the Army in the early 1970s. He died in 1984. In his time most everyone smoked. Cigarettes were cheap in the military. When he retired, he had a physical and chest xrays taken at the VA at least once a year, just to be on the safe side.

The Veteran’s Administration found something on one of his lungs, but for some reason it took 9 months for the VA to notify him. By then the cancer had grown into his brain.

He tried radiation. He even quit smoking. But he died anyway.

 


I went to a Michael Moore movie with my brother in 2002, called Bowling for Columbine. Two thirds of the way into the movie, my 56 year old brother started to cry.

After the movie I asked him why he was crying. He said the movie reminded him that Gabriel – our dad – fought in three wars so his sons would not have to fight in any.

 

Gabriel Bellavita circa 1970

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November 8, 2014

Ebola source sitrep 4

Filed under: Biosecurity,Public Health & Medical Care,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on November 8, 2014

This series of sitreps was initiated in midst of a media frenzy over the mishandling of an Ebola patient in Dallas. Yesterday Dallas was officially declared Ebola free.

In mid-October the nation seemed transfixed by symptoms and almost entirely distracted from their source.

In the intervening weeks there has been distinguished original reporting of the Ebola crisis by the New York Times and National Public Radio.  I have been less impressed with television news coverage.  But this Sunday, Sixty Minutes, the CBS news program, has scheduled a special report on The Ebola Hot Zone (2 minute video preview). Check your local listings.

As reported last week, the transmission growth rate in West Africa has slowed for hardest-hit Liberia.  It is increasing in Sierra Leone and Guinea.  There has — apparently — been successful containment elsewhere.  According to Friday’s special update by the World Health Organization the total numbers for Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea are 13,241 confirmed cases and 4950 deaths.

Ebola Comparison

Click to open larger image.  Source: WHO November 5 Update

I have not seen a credible explanation for the recent divergence between Sierra Leona’s and Liberia’s transmission rates.  Guinea’s so far less virulent outbreak is probably a matter of geography, population density, and transportation networks.

As noted below, progress is being made on several aspects of the Ebola response strategy.

Ebola Mesures

Later today the USAID-US Army mission in Liberia will open its first Ebola Treatment Unit.

But clearly there remains much to be done.  The European Union has pledged over 1 billion Euros, but other than the Brits in Sierra Leone and the French in Guinea, actual engagement has been slow. On Thursday a Dutch ship departed Rotterdam loaded with ambulances, mobile hospitals, laboratories and other equipment. The cargo has been provided by nine EU Member States and UNICEF.

On Wednesday President Obama requested a special appropriation of $6.1 billion to address both domestic and international response to Ebola.  The Senate Appropriations Committee will begin hearings on the request on November 12.  The House Appropriations Committee is expected to follow suit before the end of the month.

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Central Philippines one year later

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on November 8, 2014

Last November HLSWatch gave considerable attention to the impact of Hurricane Haiyan —  locally called Yolanda — on the Central Philippines.

For those not directly involved in humanitarian relief, the aftermath became a valuable case study in supply chain resilience… and too often suppression of such resilience.  There were plenty of lessons for the US, if anyone was willing to watch and listen.

A few year-old links that may be worth scanning for analogies that still apply:

Yolanda hits hard (Again), November 11

Healing our addiction to control, November 14

Post-typhoon supply chain, November 16

In terms of recovery:  Of course it has been uneven.  Of course there are heart-warming and heart-breaking stories.   In most ways and in most cases, recovery is the most complicated — complex — stage of the disaster cycle.  Will be interested in what lessons-learned you perceive.

Here are a few updates:

New Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan  (geenormous)

Summary of the immediately prior

Recovery briefing by Office of the President

Update Bulletin by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

GMA News Aggregation Site for Yolanda Recovery (Manila media outlet)

Some move on, some agonize (AP, The Inquirer, Manila)

Building Back Better (Christian Science Monitor)

Still trying to survive (BBC)

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November 7, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 7, 2014

On this day in 1913 the Great Lakes Storm begins, by the time the blizzard ends over 200 have been killed.

On this day in 1940 the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (AKA Galloping Gertie) collapses. Video here, collapse sequence starts about 2:25.

On this day in 1919 the first Palmer Raid is conducted.  Over 10,000 suspected communists and anarchists are arrested in over twenty US cities.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

 

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