Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 19, 2015

April 19

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 19, 2015

On this day in 1775 irregular militia and spontaneous volunteers, eventually numbering almost 4000, confronted British infantry at the Massachusetts towns of Concord and Lexington.  After several engagements British troops retreated into Boston which then remained under siege into the summer.  Insurgent forces lost nearly fifty dead.  At least 73 British troops were killed.

On this day in 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked a rental truck packed with self-made explosives in a drop off zone just beside — and slightly beneath — the structural curtain of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  The date was chosen by McVeigh to coincide with the battles of Lexington and Concord (and the 1993 Waco siege that ended on April 19 with the death of 76). One-hundred sixty-eight were killed by the Oklahoma City blast.  More than six hundred were injured.

The annual Boston Marathon is part of a wider celebration of Patriots’ Day which celebrates the battles of Lexington and Concord. Since 1969 Patriots’ Day has been observed on the third Monday in April.  In 2013 three were killed in two bombings near the marathon’s finish line.  Over 260 were injured.

An excerpt from Concord Hymn by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

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April 18, 2015

Categorical confusion: “The musical note and knife are sharp”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 18, 2015

Early Thursday morning S.T. More (a provocative name, seeming to subtly signal St. Thomas More) asked an authentic question.  S/he wondered about my take on self-radicalization.  You can see the original exchange here.

Real questions are wonderful things.  Generous, beautiful, sometimes magical.  Certainly this question has been very good to me.

It prompted additional thinking and reading, especially Gilbert Ryle’s The Concept of Mind and some Aristotle.

Aristotle gave us a comparatively brief text now known as Categories.  Here Aristotle works through how we can accurately compare and contrast, how we can express meaningful characteristics, how we can think more accurately.  Aristotle compares the sharpness of music with that of a knife as an example of confusing substance for quality.

I was drawn to Ryle because of his ground-breaking work on category-mistakes, going well beyond Aristotle.  It occurred to me that with McVeigh, Breivik, the Tsarnaev’s, and others — including several in positions of great authority — we can perceive a recurring pattern of category mistakes.  It is a tendency that constantly challenges me. Anyone who is attracted to analogies will be regularly tempted to false analogies, often false because of some form of category-mistake.

Here is the note Dzhokhar Tsarnaev scrawled on the interior wall of the boat while hiding from search teams.  Many of the unintelligible (UI) words are the result of bullets fired during his capture.

I’m jealous of my brother who ha[s] [re]ceived the reward of jannutul Firdaus (inshallah) before me. I do not mourn because his soul is very much alive. God has a plan for each person. Mine was to hide in this boat and shed some light on our actions. I ask Allah to make me a shahied (iA) to allow me to return to him and be among all the righteous people in the highest levels of heaven. He who Allah guides no one can misguide. A[llah Ak]bar!

The US Government is killing our innocent civilians but most of you already know that. As a [UI] I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished, we Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all. Well at least that’s how muhhammad (pbuh) wanted it to be [for]ever, the ummah is beginning to rise/[UI] has awoken the mujahideen, know you are fighting men who look into the barrel of your gun and see heaven, now how can you compete with that. We are promised victory and we will surely get it. Now I don’t like killing innocent people it is forbidden in Islam but due to said [UI] it is allowed. All credit goes [UI]. Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop. 

Where to begin…

Since this is just a blog, let’s try a simple exegesis:

Killing innocent people is evil

YOU are killing (“our”) innocent people

YOU must be punished, I will do so to deter YOU from further killing of innocent people. I will continue to punish YOU until YOU stop.

Fair enough?  Coherent with the original text?

If so, in these expressions, what are the characteristics of YOU?

Certainly you is other than the writer. An anticipated reader? The police?  Others?  Others as in those who do not kill innocents?  Well, give him credit, Dzhokhar recognizes he no longer belongs in the category of those who do not kill innocents.  Others as in non-Muslims?  Perhaps.  But clearly he recognizes non-Muslims can be innocent.  The text seems to be flailing about for some other category or set of categories.

In which category does the writer belong, innocent or evil? Within the claims of  the text, apparently both.  In which category does “you” belong?  Again, apparently both.  These are not yet useful categories.

This can — probably should — be continued.  But not here.

Here I will merely contrast the confusing categories that challenged Mr. Tsarnaev with the clarity that informed decisions made at the Cologne Cathedral on Friday. The memorial service at the cathedral was for those who died in the March 24 plane crash.  The memorial service was offered as a way to support those who had survived.  All those fitting the category descriptions were included.

Categorical clarity is possible.  There are several tools available to help.  One of the first steps will often involve sweeping away the dark cloud of self-righteousness.

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DHS Secretary: “We are no longer “studying” the issue of morale. We are doing something about it.”

Filed under: DHS News — by Christopher Bellavita on April 18, 2015

From: Office of the Secretary 

Sent: Thursday, April 16, 2015 8:17 PM
Subject: Message from the Secretary

 April 16, 2015

Dear Colleagues:

This morning a congressional subcommittee held yet another hearing on the subject of low morale at various government agencies. Catherine Emerson, our Chief Human Capital Officer, was called as a witness.

But, before the hearing this subcommittee got a surprise personal visit from me.

My message to Congress (and the press): one of the ways we are improving morale is to stop telling the workforce you suffer from low morale. We have moved on. We are no longer “studying” the issue of morale. We are doing something about it.

The Deputy Secretary and I have an action plan to address concerns about fairness and transparency in hiring, promotion and training opportunities. We are building a pilot program to share employee ideas. We are thanking people for their good work. We are undertaking a number of other initiatives.

This morning I also told Congress that they can work with me, by addressing pay and workforce issues. In fact, the men and women all across the Department of Homeland Security are upbeat, dedicated and patriotic.

In 479 days as your Secretary, I have met enough of you to know this. Last month, I wrote you about Carol Richel, the TSA supervisor in New Orleans who suffered a gunshot wound on one day and came to work the next day. Carol is an example of the spirit I see every day-ranging from the TSA and CBP personnel I met yesterday at the Philadelphia airport, to the health care worker who treated Ebola victims in West Africa, and the Border Patrol agents I met last summer working overtime on the southern border.

Each of you deserves a thank you from the American people. Keep up the good work.

Sincerely,

Jeh Charles Johnson
Secretary of Homeland Security

 

(ht/rd)

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April 17, 2015

Cologne Cathedral Candles

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 17, 2015

cologne cathedral candles(Friedrich Stark/Pool Photo via AP)

Earlier today there was a memorial service at Cologne Cathedral for the victims of the Germanwings flight that was evidently purposefully crashed into a mountainside on March 24.

According to a Deutsche Welle report:

… inside the cathedral, 150 candles flickered on the altar in front of Cardinal Woelki and the leader of the Protestant Church of Westphalia, Annette Kurschus. Each light represented a life lost in the Germanwings crash. The presence of a candle for co-pilot Andreas Lubitz had been widely debated prior to the service… Outside, on the doorstep to Cologne Cathedral, mourners were full of empathy for Lubitz’ family, who had chosen to not attend the ceremony…

During the remembrance service, German President Joachim Gauck also asked the congregation to remember the co-pilot’s family.”On March 24 his relatives lost someone whom they loved and who leaves behind a hole in their lives – in a way that they find just as difficult to make sense of as all the other bereaved.”

The inclusion of the c0-pilot in this very public act of grief (and reconciliation?) strikes me as an interesting — and potentially powerful — choice.  A bit more on why, if I can find time for a related post sometime this weekend.

The BBC has a brief video of the Cologne Cathedral memorial service.

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Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 17, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

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April 16, 2015

Ordinary boys, extraordinary rage

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 16, 2015

Four Boys

Timothy McVeigh (far left) was the principal actor in the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  He killed 168 and injured over 680.  The almost twenty-seven year old was assisted by Terry Nichols, but it seems unlikely the bombing would have happened without McVeigh.

A native of western New York state, McVeigh had been awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service in the First Gulf War. After discharge he held several part-time jobs and bought and sold on the gun-show circuit.  He was often described as soft-spoken and affable.

A best selling biography of McVeigh — American Terrorist — was written with his cooperation.  Just before McVeigh’s 2001 execution one of the biography’s co-authors answered the following question posed by a BBC correspondent:

NEWSHOST:  A lot of people have asked me in conversations how does someone go from being a veteran in the US Army to becoming someone who can carry out the greatest act of terrorism on American soil?

DAN HERBECK:  Part of it started when he was a boy and he was picked on by bullies in his school. Part of it was when his parents had a difficult divorce and he was very hurt by that and part of it was when he was taught to kill in the US Army. And then a big part of it was that he really fights for gun rights and he believes that everyone should have the right to own guns and when he felt the US Government was trying to take that away from him he snapped and he decided he was going to take action against our government.

The book offers a more complicated answer, but quite late in his book tour, the co-author is willing to deploy this reduction.

Anders Brevik (second from the left), was in his early thirties when he bombed government offices in Oslo.  While McVeigh’s murder of children in a day care center was unintended “collateral damage,” Breivik  quite purposefully gunned down over sixty young people on Utøya Island.

There is a new biography of the Norwegian terrorist, the English language title is One of Us.  Reviewing the book for The Guardian, Ian Buruma wrote, “It is a ghastly story of family dysfunction, professional and sexual failure, grotesque narcissism and the temptation of apocalyptic delusions.” With modest adjustments the same diagnosis can be found in most biographies of McVeigh, including a long Washington Post profile published in 1995 titled, “An Ordinary Boy’s Extraordinary Rage.”  Breivik was raised by a single parent, bullied in school, mildly maladroit. Like McVeigh. But while their back-stories are troublesome, nothing seems extraordinary. Each of them: just one of us.

A biography of the Tsarnaev brothers has been published to coincide with the survivor’s verdict and sentencing.  The Brothers was featured on the front-page of last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, assessed by none other than Janet Napolitano.

The author, Marsha Gessen, mostly avoids the Freudian frames of the previous biographers.  Yes, the brothers were born into an increasingly dysfunctional family. Certainly there was a share of professional failure, especially for the father and older brother. Yes, there was cultural and personal narcissism.  But Gessen is reluctant to see any of these as explaining the apocalyptic delusions or violent rage that exploded on Boylston Street.

Last week the author of the Tsarnaev book was a guest on Fresh Air with Terry Gross.  An excerpt from the transcript:

GROSS: The defense is saying that Dzhokhar (above, far right) was following his brother, Tamerlan (above, second from the right), but unlike his brother, Dzhokhar was not a self-radicalized terrorist. What does the expression self-radicalized mean?

GESSEN: Nobody knows. Nobody knows what self-radicalized means, and that’s one of the weird things about the way that we talk about terrorism. We talk about radicalization as though it were a thing, as though you could sort of track it and identify it, and that’s not the case. And then we’ve added this other layer, which is self-radicalization. Originally, radicalization was supposed to mean that there was an organization that sort of took you through the stages, and then when it turned out that some people just came to terrorism by themselves, this new thing called self-radicalization showed up. No one knows what it means.

Well, some claim to know.  And I have seen some reasonable claims.  But Gessen’s critique is a helpful rejoinder to quickly applying a convenient label that mostly obscures all that we do not know.

Whatever their origins and experience, the four boys seem to have arrived at a similar nexus where rather than accept what can not be known, they sought certainty in a baptism of blood.

 –+–

Despite mixed reviews, I have ordered Gessen’s biography. It has not yet been delivered.  So my imagination has full-rein.  The title suggests to me  The Brothers Karamasov, where Dostoyevsky has the father of the three brothers being warned:

Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others.Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love, and having no love, he gives himself up to passions and coarse pleasures, in order to occupy and amuse himself, and in his vices reaches complete bestiality, and it all comes from lying continually to others and to himself. A man who lies to himself is often the first to take offense. It sometimes feels very good to take offense, doesn’t it? And surely he knows that no one has offended him, and that he himself has invented the offense and told lies just for the beauty of it, that he has exaggerated for the sake of effect, that he has picked on a word and made a mountain out of a pea — he knows all of that, and still he is the first to take offense, he likes feeling offended, it gives him great pleasure, and thus he reaches the point of real hostility. (Book XI, translated by Volokhonsky)

What are the lies I use in self-construction?  What offenses do I construe to give me pleasure?

Nothing out-of-the-ordinary, I assure myself.

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April 15, 2015

Oklahoma and Boston

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on April 15, 2015

The 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah Federal Building seems to be approaching with little interest (outside of this blog, of course).

The second anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombing seems to be have passed with little interest outside of New England.

What do they have in common? What differentiates the two events?

Chris did a superb job of expressing the assumed role of Muslims in the Oklahoma attack:

The betting here is on Middle East terrorists,” declared CBS News‘ Jim Stewart just hours after the blast (4/19/95).

What does that matter regarding Boston, since the attackers were Muslim?

Nothing, actually.

What concerns me most about the current discussion centered on terrorism is the central role that religion plays.  If the perpetrators of some violence are Muslim, terrorism is assumed.  If they are Christian, (or fill in the blank with some non-Muslim demonitation here)

 

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The Boston Marathon Bombing – two years ago today

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on April 15, 2015

At 2:49pm today, the baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the Washington Nationals was halted to commemorate the two year anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombing. That is at least how I was reminded of this somber moment in time.

There were other, even more poignant, events held today.  The Boston Globe has the details:

In two simple ceremonies, the families of Krystle Campbell, 29, who grew up in Medford; and Martin Richard, 8, of Dorchester, the youngest victim of the attack, joined Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh in pulling long swaths of yellow fabric from lightposts near where the bombs exploded.

At the center of each banner was a heart emblazoned with “Boston,” a road curving up to meet the letters.

And the Globe describes a “Service of Resiliency:”

Inside the Old South Church, which is across the street from the Marathon finish line, several dozen worshipers took part in an interfaith “Service of Resiliency” featuring prayer and song before the moment of silence.

Rev. Dr. Nancy Taylor, senior minister of Old South Church, told those assembled that, over the past two years, Bostonians have been in “a kind of intimate dance, a slow dance, but one in which he have held on to each other and refused to let each other go.”

Her message to the congregation: “Keep dancing. Because for two years now, we have been written on each other’s dance cards, and there’s no way of getting out of it. We are each other’s destiny.”

Perhaps it is worth noting that the living perpetrator, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was convicted on all 30 charges he faced, 17 of which carry the potential for the death penalty.

Perhaps for the readership of this blog, it is even a better time to consider the preparedness and response to this event. In terms of response, last week the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency released their After Action Report on the response to the bombings. I hope to post more on this report on a later date.  But today’s anniversary might be a good time to take a look.

Perhaps the best memorial to those lives lost, shattered, and forever changed is to use this attack to learn how to better prevent, mitigate, prepare, respond, and recover.

Perhaps the best memorial is to continue to work on becoming more resilient.

Update: Video from today’s baseball game:

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Former DHS Assistant Secretary Juliette Kayyem’s “Security Mom” podcasts

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on April 15, 2015

Juliette Kayyem, formerly Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at DHS and before that Homeland Security Advisor to Governor Deval Patrick in Massachusetts, has started recording podcasts where she interviews various homeland security-related people on various homeland security-related topics.

Produced by public radio station WGBH in Boston, the podcasts are titled “Security Mom,” which is also the title of her upcoming book.  The first episode is a conversation with former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis about the Marathon bombings.  The next episode with feature former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff sharing his true feelings about the old color coded threat level indicator.

You can listen to the first episode here: http://wgbhnews.org/post/inside-command-and-control-during-boston-marathon-bombings

And you can subscribe to the podcasts at the iTunes store here: https://itunes.apple.com/tt/podcast/security-mom/id983421368?mt=2

Update: Boston Magazine points out a couple of interesting points from Kayyem’s conversation with Davis.  These include relations between the FBI and local police, the shelter-in-place order, and the barrage of gunfire directed toward the boat where Tsarnaev was hiding. You can read it here.

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April 13, 2015

Twenty years from Oklahoma

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on April 13, 2015

On April 19th, 1995 I was walking around the muddy fields of the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, Georgia when the rented Ryder truck exploded outside the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It was 10:02 in Georgia. 9:02 in Oklahoma.

One hundred and sixty-seven people were murdered that day. More than 600 were injured.

This Sunday marks 20 years.


I was part of an Olympic security exercise.  My memory is partial, but I think the main exercise event promised ATF would blow up a car. Twenty years ago that was a big deal.

FBI agents were the first ones to tell us about the Oklahoma events. About a dozen federal agents were participating in the exercise. Most of the time those agency representatives — like rabid football fans – could not stand the people from other agencies.  But on that day, when they heard the news their first concern – to a man (they were all men) – was who from their agency, from anyone’s agency, was in that building.

I think that was the first time I saw public safety agencies come together as a community.

I’ve seen it happen a lot since then, but that was the first time.


I remember almost everyone knowing with all but moral certainty that Muslims were behind the attack.

The betting here is on Middle East terrorists,” declared CBS News‘ Jim Stewart just hours after the blast (4/19/95). “The fact that it was such a powerful bomb in Oklahoma City immediately drew investigators to consider deadly parallels that all have roots in the Middle East,” ABC‘s John McWethy proclaimed the same day.“It has every single earmark of the Islamic car-bombers of the Middle East,” wrote syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer (Chicago Tribune, 4/21/95). “Whatever we are doing to destroy Mideast terrorism, the chief terrorist threat against Americans, has not been working,” declared the New York Times‘ A.M. Rosenthal (4/21/95)….  “Knowing that the car bomb indicates Middle Eastern terrorists at work, it’s safe to assume that their goal is to promote free-floating fear and a measure of anarchy, thereby disrupting American life,” the New York Post editorialized (4/20/95)….. An op-ed in New York Newsday by Jeff Kamen (4/20/95) complained that officials had ignored “a sizable community of Islamic fundamentalist militants in Oklahoma City,” and urged that military special forces be used against “potential terrorists”: “Shoot them now, before they get us,” he demanded. Syndicated columnist Mike Royko wrote (Chicago Tribune, 4/21/95): “I would have no objection if we picked out a country that is a likely suspect and bombed some oil fields, refineries, bridges, highways, industrial complexes. . . . If it happens to be the wrong country, well, too bad, but it’s likely it did something to deserve it anyway.”

Except for Twilight Zone episode Number 22, called The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, I believe that was the first time I saw so many opinion leaders go so uniformly crazy, so quickly.

I’ve seen it happen many times since.  I expect it to happen again.


Edye Lucas was a 22 year old single mother of two boys, Chase (2 years old)  and Colton (3 years old). Lucas worked in the Murrah Building IRS office.

[She] only intended on being up at the office for a little bit to celebrate her upcoming birthday with co-workers. So, she dropped Chase and Colton at the American Kids daycare, planning on only keeping them there part of the day. She remembered walking to the conference room to blow out the candles on her birthday cake when the bomb went off….

“I look back now and I think why didn’t I just stay home,” said Lucas [two weeks ago]. “ Why? Could have, would have, should have – and I didn’t. And what happened, happened.”

“The outpouring of love and compassion from everyone was amazing.” Lucas said that is what helped her and others heal and move on. And to remind them that they are not alone, and that their loved ones will never be forgotten.

She said both the [Oklahoma City National Memorial]…and the museum are a testament to that. And Lucas said she often finds little tokens left behind along the fence or on the chairs for Chase and Colton. And that makes her smile.

“It’s sacred ground,” said Lucas. “And it’s such an honor to have that to memorialize my children forever and ever because it’s going to be there forever.”


Somerset Maugham told this story sometime in the 1930s.  The speaker is Death:

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.

The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.

Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning?

That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

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“Security experts generally say to always have a backup and to never pay the ransom.” However….

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Christopher Bellavita on April 13, 2015

From Networked World:

Megacode ransom paid to decrypt server shared by 5 law enforcement departments in Maine

After a law enforcement server shared by three city (town) police departments and a sheriff’s office was infected with ransomware and the cops in Maine chose to pay a bitcoin ransom to decrypt the files, what moral of the ransomware story did the sheriff learn? Lincoln County Sheriff Todd Brackett told the Boothbay Register, “Next time, we’ll just pay the ransom on the first day and be done with it. It’s like a jail — it’s very safe and secure, but that can mean nothing if you leave the door unlocked.”….

Sheriff Brackett said he was “initially reluctant to pay the ransom” as it “goes against the grain,” but he authorized the payment [of around $300] “on the advice of specialists who were familiar with the ransomware and worked with other users it infected.”….

Looking for a bright side, Sheriff Brackett said the affected law enforcement departments are now “aware of such scams” and “how to deal with them.” More training is on the horizon, he said. “We’ll have more virus protection training where we go over how to tell if something might be a virus. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell, but you’ve got to keep an eye out for some of these documents that people (email) you. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if it contains a virus.”

Tracking down the cyberthugs behind megacode is allegedly a low priority for the FBI, which would neither confirm nor deny if it was investigating the ransomware dubbed a “common virus” by the sheriff who told WCSH6 that the FBI traced the bitcoin ransom payment to a deposit in a Swiss bank account before the “trail went cold.”

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Graphic display of how disease migrates

Filed under: Public Health & Medical Care — by Christopher Bellavita on April 13, 2015

From Wired:

See How Diseases Spread in These Mesmerizing Graphics

YOU’RE AN H1N1 influenza virus—swine flu—just hanging out in Hanoi, Vietnam. But now it’s time to spread and infect. How should you go about your global epidemic? To navigate, you can use this map, which shows the paths that would take you from Hanoi to every corner of the globe. Want to go to Ft. Lauderdale? Just transfer in New York. Or, if you’d rather go to Baton Rouge, first go through Singapore and then New Orleans.

Disease spread graphic

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April 10, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 10, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

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April 9, 2015

Signals: soft, hard, misleading and inspired

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 9, 2015

A very rough algorithm bounces about my brain.

It asserts: [Kenya + Aden = Lower Manhattan]

This is the reductionist meaning I have constructed of the sequence:

US Embassy in Kenya (and Tanzania) attacked on August 7, 1998.

FOLLOWED BY

USS Cole attacked in the Port of Aden on October 12, 2000.

FOLLOWED BY

World Trade Center towers attacked in Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001

The algorithm — narrative, analogy, mental map, whatever — is obviously deeply flawed, demonstrably unreliable.  Among many more problems the equation excludes too many variables and over-simplifies relationships.

But the perceived pattern persists.

So as dozens are killed in Kenya and the streets of Aden are splattered with blood, I expect something awful closer to home.

I am self-aware the expectation is ill-founded, but the felt-reality of the [K+A=LM] is predisposed to finding confirming evidence.

Given current context reinforcement is not difficult.  Since jury selection began on January 5 for the Boston Bombing Trial, we have been reminded almost daily of how much harm can so easily be done.  There is plenty more:

Two New York women were arrested for allegedly planning to build an explosive device, a federal law enforcement source said Thursday. The women, identified as Noelle Velentzas, 28, and Asia Siddiqui, 31,were arrested in connection with a plot inspired by the terrorist group ISIS and others to build a weapon of mass destruction, according to the source and a criminal complaint. They are both U.S. citizens and were roommates in the borough of Queens. The women were allegedly conspiring to build an explosive device for a terrorist attack in the United States. (MORE)

A 17-year-old Virginia student has been charged with helping recruit for ISIS, federal law enforcement officials said Wednesday… The teen, who lives in a Virginia suburb of Washington, is accused of helping a slightly older adult travel to Syria. The adult is believed to have joined ISIS there, a separate law enforcement official said. The teen is also accused of distributing ISIS messages to a network of contacts, one of the officials said. (MORE)

Social media and other technology are making it increasingly difficult to combat militants who are using such modern resources to share information and conduct operations, the head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency said on Friday…”New technologies can help groups like ISIL coordinate operations, attract new recruits, disseminate propaganda, and inspire sympathizers across the globe to act in their name,” Brennan said…”The overall threat of terrorism is greatly amplified by today’s interconnected world, where an incident in one corner of the globe can instantly spark a reaction thousands of miles away; and where a lone extremist can go online and learn how to carry out an attack without ever leaving home.” (MORE)

The conflation of the probably random with the arguably correlated — even if I assiduously avoid causation — is not restricted to terrorism.

For several years I have encouraged more sustained preparedness for a long-term outage of the electrical grid.  Tuesday afternoon there was a short-term fluctuation — in some places, brief outage — of the electrical grid in the National Capital Region.  I received over a dozen emails from folks writing some version of: “Just as you predicted.”  Well, not really… but it did catch my attention and I was not displeased by connections others were making. (MORE)

Then did you notice the recent report out of El Salvador?

Last month 481 people were murdered in El Salvador making March the country’s most deadly month for a decade as authorities struggle to cope with the collapse of a controversial gang truce. An average of 16 people were killed every day in the country, which is the size of Massachusetts and has a population of 6.1 million, confirming El Salvador’s place as one of the world’s most dangerous places outside a war zone. The death toll was 52% higher than the same period in the previous year, and included the victims of six massacres, including eight people who were killed on 29 March at a truck stop just outside the capital San Salvador in a suspected dispute between transnational drug trafficking groups. (MORE)

Here I will hypothesize causation.  This extraordinary level of violence will push migration.  Especially if the violence persists this month, an increasing number of Salvadorans will seek someplace safer.  By late spring/early summer we will be able to test my expectations against numbers observed by CBP and their Mexican peers.

But even if the number of Salvadoran emigrants increases, does this absolutely confirm the relationship I am suggesting? Probably not.  Some will argue that Tuesday’s electrical problems actually demonstrate the resilience of the current system. This is true, if you stop unwinding the scenario fairly early on. My mind clearly tends to over-generalize unlikely connections between Kenya, Aden, and me.  May this, however, help to see whatever connections do exist?

Tuesday Dan O’Connor quoted Coleridge.  Not many can craft romantic poetry on Kantian themes.  Coleridge did quite successfully.  Kant gave Coleridge his architecture.  Coleridge gave Emerson courage.  Emerson gave many of us some considerable part of our sense-of-self.  Talk about unlikely connections. Approaching death the poet spoke of diverse realities resolved. “I say realities; for reality is a thing of degrees, from the Iliad to a dream.”  Where are you — where are we — on that continuum?

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April 7, 2015

“As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.”

Filed under: Climate Change,Infrastructure Protection — by Dan OConnor on April 7, 2015

In the Rime of the Ancyent Marinere,  the longest major poem written by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one famous stanza has always stood out to me.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.

With California having approximately an 840 mile long coastline and the Pacific Ocean covering approximately one-third of the Earth’s surface, decisions, infrastructure improvements, and investment are immediately needed to  maintain California as we know it.

Water, water everywhere…

california-drought-before-after 2

In mid-March an op-ed published by Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, painted a dire picture of the state’s water crisis.   Famiglietti wrote that every year since 2011, California has lost around 12 million acre-feet of stored water. In the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins, the combined water sources of snow, rivers, reservoirs, soil water and groundwater amounted to a volume that was 34 million acre-feet below normal levels in 2014. And there is no relief in sight. In a nutshell; California has approximately one year of stored water left.

The 25 percent cut in water consumption recently ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown raises critical, economical, and fundamental questions about what life in and the future of California will be like.  It is no great surprise that California is suffering through an unprecedented drought with no end in sight.  I say unprecedented because while we have a limited context of the region historically, geographically we have inhabited it for a short period of time.  But let us be clear: California has been artificially hydrated.  That artificiality changed the landscape and also appears to be unsustainable.

“Mother Nature didn’t intend for 40 million people to live here,” said Kevin Starr, a historian at the University of Southern California who has written extensively about this state. “This is literally a culture that since the 1880s has progressively invented, invented and reinvented itself. At what point does this invention begin to hit limits?”  Has our innovation and creativity simply delayed Malthus’ postulation?

This artificial environment has yielded tremendous prosperity though. California has built a $2.2 trillion economy.  It is the seventh largest economy in the world, more than four times what it was in 1963, when adjusted for inflation.  California also feeds much of America.  California agriculture is responsible for providing a third of the nation’s vegetables and nearly two-thirds of its fruits and nuts.  The cattle industry has and continues to be impacted as well.  Cattle, its economy, and productivity will continue to experience a significant geographic shift.

And in a just-in-time, tightly coupled, highly complex food system, micro or meta interruptions can have significant unintended and cascading consequences.

With all this agriculture, cattle, revenue, and international impact when does the emergent crisis in California become a homeland security issue?

This to me is more than a meta issue.  If one were to remove themselves from the climate change/global warming diatribe we would see an emergent crisis with little means of self-correction.  One school of thought says to let nature take its course, allowing the region’s homeostasis to seek its ecological/environmental equilibrium and return to the semi-arid geography it once was.  Another school of thought wants to introduce more technology to maintain the artificial environment and to hydrate the region.

To allow the region to naturally return to its previous state on its face is folly.  The geoengineering that California has exploited for decades cannot be easily or readily undone.   Where do those industries go?  How do we replace that agricultural and protein output?  Where do we relocate tens of millions of people?  All critical difficult leadership questions in my view.

All of these decision points are homeland security issues.  Anthropocenic activities can no longer be ignored and must be recognized as homeland security issues.

The Anthropocene era is a chronological and geologic term used to describe the period when human activities determined active, furtive, and secondary consequences on Earth’s ecosystems.  The combination of the Anthropocene era, the artificial hydration of and the earth’s cyclical climate issues have combined to create a situation that leaves California and that region in significantly dire straits.

So there are really only two courses of action.

The first option is to do what we are already doing: lots of talking, attempts to conserve, policy narratives, and legislation; pretty much everything that got us here. It is slow, bureaucratic, and highly politicized.

The other course of action it to embrace the fact that we must engineer, innovate, and refocus our homeland security dollars away from ineffective surveillance and overpriced drone programs, and towards radical infrastructure enhancement.  Private/public partnerships, investments, and active engineering must be exercised to rehydrate the region with emerging technologies, desalinization, and a host of lesser improvements.

Resilience and mitigation may have an initial sticker shock.  However, if we do not have the funding to do it right the first time, how much more will it cost to repair it?

We have exercised great fear manipulation and amplified the threat to justify programs and spending that does not diminish the threat to any great degree.  Lots of drone strikes, 78 fusion centers, trillions spent, diminution of trust, and not a great deal to show for it.  We need water, food, and economies that build resilience and capability.

painted ship upon a painted ocean

 

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April 6, 2015

Another Opening Day has come and gone: the homeland is secure

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Humor — by Arnold Bogis on April 6, 2015

Homeland security is a lot like baseball: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.

 

 

And don’t forget about similarities in regards to the response to natural disasters.

 

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