Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 24, 2009

South Carolina fire is four miles wide

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on April 24, 2009

“The largest Grand Strand wildfire in more than 30 years continues to burn this morning, creating billows of smoke so thick that roads are closed and visibility is near zero in areas north of Myrtle Beach. Officials say it might be days before the fire, which destroyed 70 homes and damaged 100 more early Thursday, can be brought under control,” reports the Charlotte Observor.

At about 7:30 Friday morning the SC Forestry Commission estimated the fire was about 40 percent contained.  The Commission’s spokesperson added, “that could all go out the window” if winds start blowing Friday.

In a landmark study, Fire in the Earth System, published today in Science Magazine (membership required) a team of twenty-two scientists argue, “Fire influences global ecosystem patterns and processes, including vegetation distribution and structure, the carbon cycle, and climate. Although humans and fire have always coexisted, our capacity to manage fire remains imperfect and may become more difficult in the future as climate change alters fire regimes.

According to a Scientific American review of the study, “‘This is a critical move away from the thinking that fires are just a disaster,’ says David Bowman, a professor of forest ecology at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia, and a lead author of the report. Taken in isolation, each conflagration can cause massive human, economic and natural devastation, but as a broader force fire wields a much larger power”

SCIAM continues, “Across the globe, fires have been getting larger and stronger. ‘We are witnessing an increasing instance of these megafires,’ says Thomas Swetnam, director of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona.  This year alone has seen an increase in both the magnitude and deadliness of conflagrations sweeping Australia and the U.S. Southwest. In the past 20 years, the area scorched by fire in the western U.S. was six times greater than in the two decades that preceded it. These infernos are in large part a result of longer, drier summers, which are only poised to get worse with climate change, Swetnam explains.”

Also see a collection of stories from Scientific American on wildfires and the climate.

Taliban claims to withdraw from Buner

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 24, 2009

Several media reports, including from the BBC, indicate the Taliban has instructed its forces to withdraw from an area of Pakistan occupied in recent days.  But at least one other simultaneous report suggests a more confused situation. 

According to Declain Walsh reporting from Islamabad for The Guardian, “Militants ambushed a convoy of soldiers deployed to prevent extremists taking over a district only 60 miles from the capital. Snipers opened fire on police escorting four platoons of Frontier Corps paramilitary troops into Buner district, a day after militants overran government buildings and looted western aid offices. One policeman was killed and one injured, an army spokesman said. Locals said the ambush had forced the Frontier Corps to retreat. “Now Buner is ruled by the Taliban,” one resident told the Guardian by phone. “They go anywhere they want.”

(See more information from Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal)

The claim — or perhaps promise — of a Taliban withdrawal came after intense US pressure on Pakistani authorities.  The tepid response to Taliban advances in Buner has also increased domestic pressure on Pakistan’s coalition government.

Republicans growl at but do not bite Janet

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Philip J. Palin on April 24, 2009

There are times when “Dog does not bite man” is news, as when the dog is considered rabid.  This is apparently the case now. 

Thursday several GOP leaders were at the White House and, according to Patrick O’Connor at Politico, they did not mention Janet Napolitano, much less call for her head to be delivered on a silver tray. 

O’Connor writes, “Conservatives are still incensed about a Homeland Security memo that draws attention to the possible threat of “right-wing extremists” here in the U.S. But Democrats and other Napolitano supporters argue the memo itself originated with the Bush administration.  On Wednesday night, a quartet of seething conservative Republicans, led by Texas Rep. John Carter, spent an hour on the House floor trying to make a case for Obama to remove his secretary of Homeland Security. Other colleagues have echoed those complaints, but many fellow Republicans were eager for this whole episode to blow over. Even Boehner questioned the origins of the memo itself — while calling on Napolitano to offer Congress a more complete explanation.”

Postscript: In researching this quick piece I stumbled across this list  of those attending a “bipartisan” reception held at the White House on Thursday night.  Well… I guess whenever two or three are gathered, the spirit of bipartisanship can be claimed.

April 23, 2009

Mudd nominated as Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Organizational Issues — by Philip J. Palin on April 23, 2009

According to a DHS news statement released at 4:31 pm (eastern), “Today, the White House announced its intent to nominate Philip Mudd as U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis. I am also appointing Bart R. Johnson as Principle Deputy Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis. Both of these individuals bring extensive intelligence and national security experience to the Department.”

I can’t find a White House statement yet. (It showed about 4:45, you can find it here.)  But Philip Mudd has been the FBI’s Associate Executive Assistant Director of the National Security Branch.  According to his Bureau bio:

“Prior to his arrival at the FBI, Mr. Mudd served as Deputy Director of the DCI Counter Terrorism Center (CTC), a position he was appointed to in December 2003. In his capacity as the Deputy Director, CTC, Mr. Mudd was responsible for overseeing operational, analytical, and support programs in the Center.”

“Mr. Mudd joined the CIA in 1985 as a leadership analyst responsible for South Asian issues and continued as a political analyst specializing in South Asia until the early 1990s. He first shifted to work at CTC during 1992-1995, focusing largely on terrorism in the Middle East in general, with an emphasis on Iranian state-sponsored terrorism. He later joined that National Intelligence Council for a tour as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Near East and South Asian issues. Mr. Mudd worked as the Executive Assistant to the Associate Deputy Director for Intelligence in 1998-1999 and then spent two years as chief of CIA’s analytic group directed against Iraq. From February 2001 to January 2002, he was the Director for Gulf Affairs Near East and North African Affairs at the National Security Council. He then returned to become the Deputy Director of the Office of Terrorism Analysis, the analytic arm of the CTC.  Mr. Mudd earned a Master of Arts in English Literature from the University of Virginia (1984), with a specialty in fiction from the Victorian era, and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Villanova University (1983). He speaks French and is an avid fisherman.”

Bart Johnson is currently with the office of the Director of National Intelligence where he has been Director of Homeland Security and Law Enforcement, but the DHS news statement emphasizes his state and local connections, “Formerly, Johnson spent 25 years in the New York State Police, where he rose from Trooper to Colonel, serving in narcotics-enforcement and counterterrorism leadership positions along the way.  He holds a B.A. from Empire State College and has completed Leadership in Counterterrorism training through the FBI.”

“Sauerland cell” trail begins in Dusseldorf

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 23, 2009

On Wednesday German prosecutors opened their case against four men accused of planning a substantial terrorist operation against US interests in Germany. 

According to Deutsche Welle,  “Police allege the four suspects planned to use car bombs to attack US army bases in Germany in 2007, as well as bars, restaurants, airports and the Federal Prosecutors’ Office. Prosecutor Volker Brinkmann said, ‘The defendants were driven by the will to destroy the enemies of Islam – and in particular US citizens – in Germany, on a scale of the September 11 attacks on the United States.'”

“Germany’s biggest terror trial since leftwing extremists were prosecuted in the 1970s is expected to last two years. The defendants are charged with preparing bomb attacks and being members of a terrorist organisation. If convicted they face up to 15 years in prison,” reports the Guardian. “The case has forced Germany to confront “homegrown” terrorists. Two of the four, Fritz Gelowicz, 29, and Daniel Schneider, 23, are German-born converts to Islam. Atilla Selek, 24, is a German of Turkish origin and Adem Yilmaz is a Turkish citizen.”

A video threatening terrorist attacks on Germany has been been posted online.  According to Bild, “The video, created by the Islamic Movement Uzbekistan (IBU), has been released to mark the start of the trial of alleged terrorists in Düsseldorf.”

(It is my intention to give this trial some continuing attention focusing on terrorist motivations, patterns of behavior, and planning.)

Five frames for organizing Napolitano’s (and the nation’s) complicated challenge

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 23, 2009

On Wednesday Secretary Napolitano gave a speech with potentially broad implications. Her audience was the Anti-Defamation League. But the audience was probably less important to the contents of the speech than the timing. Official and media-oriented Washington are now very much in the wind-up to the 100-Day evaluations.

As if preparing for the first big test of the semester, the Secretary is thinking through the questions likely to be asked. “With 22 different agencies, 22 different histories, 22 different legacies—how do you create a department, and a unified department, under those circumstances? And what is the Department’s charge? All these missions. What is its basic mission and what are we here to do?”

She starts her answers with terrorism— and this time she uses the term — as the Department’s first and most important mission. “The issue of terrorism, counterterrorism, in the broader sense is the number one mission of the Department. It is why it was founded, and it is what we grapple with every day.”

The former Arizona Governor then takes up border security making the distinction between “securing” rather than “sealing” the border. In a series of recent speeches the Secretary has emphasized that borders “are almost like living, breathing organisms.” To extend the analogy, the organism has had difficulty with its immune system and is experiencing occasional convulsions. The goal is to stabilize and strengthen the organism; to keep out the bad while nurturning long-term quality of life.

Next on the list is immigration, which may be the issue that put Napolitano on the top of the President’s list for DHS Secretary.  She is especially clear on the issue’s center-of-gravity. “The bulk of illegal immigration into our country is labor migration… So if you’re going to deal with illegal immigration, you have to deal with not only the supply, the workers, but those who are creating the demand, the employers as well. And that has given rise to a shift in focus on immigration enforcement, and that is to really assemble cases against employers who consistently and intentionally use the illegal labor market as opposed to the legal alternative.” 

“Improvement in preparation for and recovery from natural disasters” is the fourth mission priority the Secretary highlights. “Katrina was an eye-opening experience in so many different ways, a tragedy that could have been prevented in so many ways. Nonetheless, our job is to say, all right. What are we going to do so we never have an episode like that in our history again? And what lessons learned, and how do we improve overall our preparation for not just hurricanes but earthquakes, forest fires, all the other natural disasters that can occur?”

“Our fifth and last one is to foster a common culture of unity within the department… I think those of you who have ever been managers of a business or any kind of a large organization, you can appreciate—when the department was formed, it didn’t have offices together. It didn’t have a common e-mail system. It didn’t have stationery. It didn’t have any common purchasing principles, program management principles, all the kind of nuts and bolts you have to have to have a large department with a complex mission move forward. Those things are now in place, and the department is moving forward as one Department of Homeland Security.”

It is difficult to find time to really think. This is true for most of us, but is especially the case for a cabinet secretary. As a result, our senior officials sometimes think out-loud with us in their speeches.  Political and policy speeches were once the output of thinking.  They are now more often an exploratory predicate to thinking.  We should respect the effort, listen carefully, pose helpful questions, and not be too quick with our own unthinking response.

POP: Policy Oriented Potpurri

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 23, 2009

In answering questions yesterday after a speech to the Anti-Defamation League, Secretary Napolitano signaled a shift on Real ID.  Here is what she said, “And so we’ve been, over the last weeks, meeting with governors of both parties to look at a way to repeal REAL ID and substitute something else that pivots off of the driver’s license but accomplishes some of the same goals. And we hope to be able to announce something on that fairly soon.  Stateline.org reports, “Congress and the Obama administration are considering ceding key ground in a long-running battle between the federal government and the states over Real ID, the 4-year-old federal program that requires all states to start issuing more secure driver’s licenses by the end of the year. Proposed legislation being circulated on Capitol Hill would give states more time, flexibility and money to meet federal Real ID requirements.”

Today’s hearing on FEMA indpendence has been postponed.  House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee staff tells CQ that a scheduling conflict has emerged.  Craig Fugate’s strong statement yesterday (see prior posts) on FEMA remaining part of DHS is widely suspected to have played a role.

A wildfire is quickly spreading near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  Brush fires have complicated travel across Florida’s Alligator Alley.   The California drought increases the likelihood of a bad wildfire season.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating two cases of swine flu detected in children in the San Diego, California, area last week…  The children were infected with a virus known as swine influenza A H1N1, which has a unique combination of genes not previously seen in flu viruses in either humans or swine – although it shares similarities with a virus that has been circulating in pigs since 1999,” according to CNN. UPDATE (late Thursday): The CDC now confirms seven with swine flu, five in California and two in Texas. (More from CNN)

Yesterday during his nomination hearing John Morton was pressed for ICE leadership in coordinating the federal response to violence on the Southwest Border.  According to Government Executive, ‘Morton said he was aware of the problems and a top priority would be to solve the jurisdictional issues among the agencies. ‘As a federal prosecutor I’m very familiar with the issue of turf wars. I don’t think they have a place in the federal government as a general matter, and I particularly don’t think they have a place on the southwest border,’ he said.”

Taliban fighters spilling out of the Swat Valley have swept across Buner, a district 60 miles from Islamabad, as Hillary Clinton warned the situation in Pakistan now poses a “mortal threat” to the security of the world,” the Guardian reports. “The US secretary of state told Congress yesterday that Pakistan faced an “existential” threat from Islamist militants. “I think the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists,” she said. Any further deterioration in the situation “poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world”, she said.” BREAKING NEWS at 0800 (eastern): Reuters is reporting that a few (perhaps a platoon) of Pakistani paramilitary troops are being reinserted into the Taliban-taken area.

According to Computerworld, “Endorsing a viewpoint that’s been gaining currency in the security industry, President Obama’s acting senior director for cyberspace Wednesday called for a more direct White House role in coordinating national cybersecurity efforts Melissa Hathaway, who just completed a 60-day review of the government’s cybsersecurity preparedness at the president’s behest, said that while cybersecurity needs to be a shared private and public sector effort, the task of leading it ‘is the fundamental responsibility of our government.'”

Last night several Republican Congressmen expressed their anger at Secretary Napolitano and called for her resignation.  But the conservatives were calm compared to some Canadians.   The Calgary Herald asks of Napolitano, “Where do they get these people?”  The Globe and Mail asks, “What is Bush throwback Janet Napolitano doing in Obama’s cabinet?” Dispensing with the questions, the Gazette (Montreal) headlines its editorial, “US Security Boss Guilty of Borderline Stupidity.”  The northern media is responding to the Secretary’s comment on Monday, “to the extent that terrorists have come into our country or suspected or known terrorists have entered our country across a border, it’s been across the Canadian border. There are real issues there.”  Some in Canada have issues with the accuracy of that statement.

April 22, 2009

Fugate’s vision of FEMA’s Future

Filed under: Organizational Issues,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on April 22, 2009

During this morning’s nomination hearing Mr. Fugate and the Senators joined in ritual obeisance to the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act.   The Senators — as authors of the act — pointed to the sacred text and Mr. Fugate  promised fealty to the sacred text.   The ritualistic nature of the performance does not distract from its value or meaning; for me it enhances the meaning.

The hearing’s headline will be FEMA to Stay in DHS.  But the shared understanding of what FEMA will do inside DHS is more interesting. Here is what the sacred text says is FEMA’s mission:

(1) lead the Nation’s efforts to prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the risks of natural and man-made disasters, including catastrophic incidents;

(2) partner with State and local governments and emergency response providers, with other Federal agencies, with the private sector, and with nongovernmental organizations to build a national system of emergency management that can effectively and efficiently utilize the full measure of the Nation’s resources to respond to a catastrophic incident or other natural or man-made disaster;

(3) develop a Federal response capability that, when necessary and appropriate, can act effectively and rapidly to deliver assistance essential to saving lives or protecting or preserving property or public health and safety in a natural or man-made disaster;

(4) fuse the Department’s emergency response, preparedness, recovery, mitigation, and critical infrastructure assets into an integrated organization that can effectively confront the challenges of a natural or man-made disaster;

(5) develop and maintain robust Regional Offices that will work with State and local governments and emergency response providers to identify and address regional priorities;

(6) under the leadership of the Secretary, coordinate with the Commandant of the Coast Guard, the Director of Customs and Border Protection, the Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the National Operations Center, and other agencies and offices in the Department to take full advantage of the substantial range of resources in the Department that can be brought to bear in preparing for and responding to a natural or man-made disaster;

(7) carry out the provisions of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5121 et seq.);

(8) provide funding, training, exercises, technical assistance, planning, and other assistance to build local, State, regional, and national capabilities (including communications capabilities), necessary to respond to a potential natural or man-made disaster;

(9) implement a risk-based, all-hazards-plus strategy for preparedness that builds those common capabilities necessary to respond to both terrorist attacks and natural disasters while also building the unique capabilities necessary to respond to specific types of incidents that pose the greatest risk to our Nation; and

(10) promote and plan for the protection, security, resiliency, and postdisaster restoration of critical infrastructure and key resources of the United States, including cyber and communications assets, against or in the event of a natural or man-made disaster, in coordination with other agencies of the Federal Government and in cooperation with State and local government agencies and authorities, the private sector, and other entities.

The response, preparing-to-respond, recovery, and preparing-to-recover focus of the legislative decalogue is undeniable.  By mission assignment number 10 we might discern some attention to prevention, but not much.  (Is it just me or does the word “mitigate” in mission assignment number 1 seem thrown in at the last moment?) 

Mr. Fugate seemed entirely comfortable with these preparedeness, response, and recovery expectations.  He is insistent regarding his focus on preparing for the next disaster. 

When asked about internal morale,  bureacracy, or other possible problems, Mr. Fugate was inclined to repeat what I expect will become the mantra of his tenure, “Are we ready for the next disaster?”  If other questions are suggested, they will probably be dismissed as distractions.

There is a need for an effective and focused federal response and recovery agency.  Fugate may be the leader who will make FEMA do the job wisely and well.  He is going to have the chance.  But what about prevention and mitigaton? What about recognizing risk in advance and investing in risk reduction before a disaster? What about serious and sustained attention to mitigation and resilience?

EDITORIAL NOTE: Please access — and contribute to — the comments on this post.  They are extending the discussion in some very important directions.

UPDATE: Coverage of the nomination hearing by the  Congressional Quarterly, Miami Herald, and  Associated Press.

DHS nominees appear before Senate committee

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 22, 2009

W. Craig Fugate and John T. Morton are appearing this morning before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The nomination hearing can be viewed via webcast at: http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?Fuseaction=Hearings.Detail&HearingID=14b3986d-420f-40fd-b3df-fc1d2d15fdf7

Mr. Fugate (see Time magazine bio) has been nominated to serve as the Administrator of FEMA.  Mr. Morton (see DHS news release) has been nominated to serve as DHS Assistant Secretary for immigration and customs enforcement. 

The various statements and Q&A should point to policy priorities — and potential differences between the executive and legislature — in regard to homeland security.

10:05  Senator Lieberman opens hearing.  Following are quick-takes in real-time.

Senator Lieberman’s opening statement sets several markers in regard to the Post-Katrina  Emergency Management Reform Act  and especially the importance of keeping FEMA inside DHS. Chairman Liberman notes that FEMA is a, “stronger agency — much stronger agency — than it was before Katrina.”

It is interesting that many of the senators’ comments focus on Fugate’s tactical and operational experience.  As FEMA Administrator he will presumably serve mostly at the policy/strategy level.

Fugate’s opening statement focuses on how the PKEMA has redefined FEMA and the emergency management profession in the US.   He especially emphasizes the focus on all-hazards and preparation for catastrophic disasters.  Fugate also highlights the need to be prepared for the unprecedented.

Fugate says that as far as he is concerned FEMA is and should remain part of DHS. He says, “that debate is over.”

In response to what is evidently an off-the-cuff inquiry from Senator Lieberman regarding FEMA’s role in cybersecurity, Fugate emphasized a capability-based as opposed to a threat-based approach to preparedness.

Fugate’s opening statement also gave priority to involving citizens and perceiving “citizens as resources.”  In response to a question from Senator Collins, Fugate emphasizes his readiness to use a full range of communications technologies to engage citizens.  His track-record in Florida suggests that citizen readiness and  resilience may get much more attention at the federal level.

10:50  Unfortunately, I have to go to a professional obligation.  Please use the comment function to highlight what you think is most important in the remainder of the testimony.

Animal rights “activist” added to FBI list of top terrorists

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 22, 2009

Daniel Andreas San Diego has been added to the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists.

According to the FBI, “Daniel Andreas San Diego is wanted for his alleged involvement in the bombing of two office buildings in the San Francisco, California, area. On August 28, 2003, two bombs exploded approximately one hour apart at the Chiron Corporation in Emeryville. Then, on September 26, 2003, one bomb strapped with nails exploded at the Shaklee Corporation in Pleasanton. San Diego was indicted in the United States District Court, Northern District of California, in July of 2004.”

The FBI announcement continues, “San Diego has ties to animal rights extremist groups. He is known to follow a vegan diet, eating no meat or food containing animal products. In the past, he has worked as a computer network specialist and with the operating system LINUX. San Diego wears eyeglasses, is skilled at sailing, and has traveled internationally. He is known to possess a handgun.”

Additional coverage from: San Francisco ChronicleWashington Times,  DrugMonkey blog, and commentary by Gary L. Francione.

Editorial Note:  The FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists is different that the FBI’s list of Ten Most Wanted.

Quantity and quality of cybercrimes increasing

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Philip J. Palin on April 22, 2009

“Thousands of confidential files on the U.S. military’s most technologically advanced fighter aircraft have been compromised by unknown computer hackers over the past two years,” the Wall Street JournalCNN and others are reporting.  (It’s not so bad, according to other reports.)

The news story comes as the White House is putting the final touches to its cybersecurity review.  This morning the WSJ reports that, “Defense Secretary Robert Gates plans to announce the creation of a new military ‘cyber command’ after the rollout of the White House review… The cyber command is likely to be led by a military official of four-star rank, according to officials familiar with the proposal. It would, at least initially, be part of the Pentagon’s Strategic Command, which is currently responsible for computer-network security and other missions.”

While “official” hackers may be at the top of the suspect list for penetrating the Joint Strike Fighter, the capability of private cybercriminals is on the rise.  “The world’s largest-ever malware network has been uncovered, affecting 1.9 million corporate, government and consumer computers,” according the the security firm Finjan and several news reports (TGDaily, BBC, and others).

According to Spamfighter.com, “New research (finds that) direct attacks on the financial institutions coupled with organized crime has resulted in the increasing number of online records being hacked in 2008, which aggregated more than the cumulative figures of 2004-2007.”

In his Tuesday keynote, Art Coviello, President of RSA, focused on cybercriminals, “Our adversaries operate as a true ecosystem that thrives through interdependence and constantly adapts to ensure its growth and survival.”

Mr Coviello said that meant it was time for the security industry to come together to defeat the criminal element at large,” according to the BBC.

“We must evolve from acting independently to solve discreet information security problems to acting collaboratively to create a common development process.”

Earth Day and the boundaries of Homeland Security, as a proper noun

Reports of drought, flood, wildfire, hurricane, tornado, tsunami, and various plagues are easy to find.  Happy Earth Day. 

To some the risk of these and other natural threats are atypically — perhaps unnaturally — increasing.  Last year the National Intelligence Council offered,

We judge global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for US national security interests over the next 20 years. Although the United States will be less affected and is better equipped than most nations to deal with climate change, and may even see a benefit owing to increases in agriculture productivity, infrastructure repair and replacement will be costly. We judge that the most significant impact for the United States will be indirect and result from climate-driven effects on many other countries and their potential to seriously affect US national security interests. We assess that climate change alone is unlikely to trigger state failure in any state out to 2030, but the impacts will worsen existing problems—such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions. Climate change could threaten domestic stability in some states, potentially contributing to intra- or, less likely, interstate conflict, particularly over access to increasingly scarce water resources. We judge that economic migrants will perceive additional reasons to migrate because of harsh climates, both within nations and from disadvantaged to richer countries.

Is climate change a homeland security issue?  Is it a Homeland Security issue?

Recently in this blog there was a quick exchange on whether or not Columbine – or school shootings in general – are properly understood as an issue of homeland security.   Maybe you have noticed, my posts have not given any attention to Somali piracy.  In recent days I have been especially tempted to give attention to the interrogation techniques used by military and intelligence officials on suspected terrorists. But I have not. Meanwhile some readers find my reports on the Hindu Kush excessive.

What fits?  What does not?  Why or why not?  The editorial issue is trivial.  But the policy/strategy issue is potentially crucial.

Last June, co-contributor Chris Bellavita wrote in Homeland Security Affairs Journal, “There are at least seven defensible definitions of homeland security, based on claims about what homeland security emphasizes or ought to emphasize. The definitions focus on (1) terrorism, (2) all hazards, (3) terrorism and catastrophe, (4) jurisdictional hazards, (5) meta hazards, (6) national security, and (7) government efforts to curtail civil liberties. In a metaphorical sense, each definition represents a set of interests that seeks a niche in the homeland security ecosystem. As in a biological system, these semantic entities struggle for resources that give advantage for organizational or political survival and growth.”  (See the complete essay at www.hsaj.org.) 

Two anecdotes:  Last year I made a listening tour of putative Homeland Security leaders.  It was not until the fifth such meeting that I finally discerned my conversation partners were using  “all-hazards” as the term-of-art for hazards other than terrorism.  How “all” came to exclude terrorism is a long story and this is not the place to tell it. Second story: several months ago I had a series of very productive sessions with a smart, experienced, and sophisticated D.C. insider focused on an important issue of HS policy/strategy.  Our co-conspiracy was successful and certain operational steps were implemented.  As the sun set over the Rosslyn high rises and we disconnected from a final teleconference, she turned to me with a smile and asked, “Now Phil, what is homeland security?”

This is a practical question with important implications, depending on how it is answered.  We are currently incapable of meaningful consensus regarding an answer and that is hardly surprising. But I am concerned that we are not doing more — even fussing a bit — to find a more widely accepted definition.  We define in order to better understand and better communicate our understanding.  The definition — even if it is wrong (especially if it is proven wrong) — can assist this process.

While it no doubt sounds pedantic, I will point to Aristotle for a practical start.  He set out ten categories to better apprehend the subject or predicate of a proposition. One of Aristotle’s categories attends to the relation of one thing (homeland security) to others (e.g. law enforcement, emergency management, public health, counter-terrorism, environmental protection, economic security, intelligence, national security, et cetera).

What differentiates HS from those “things” to which HS is related?  What does HS add to the relationship?  How do the others differ from their prior condition because of their relationship to HS?  In modern parlance, what is Homeland Security’s value-add?

April 21, 2009

A Way To Prevent A Pandemic Decades Before It Starts?

Filed under: Biosecurity,International HLS,Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on April 21, 2009

A few days ago, Phil Palin noted the continuing spread of the H5N1 virus in Egypt: “According to the World Health Organization of the 64 cases confirmed to date in Egypt, 23 have been fatal.”

If H5N1 doesn’t ring a bell, it was all the rage in homeland security a few years ago. (I am aiming for  issue-attention-cycle irony, here.  I was unable to find an emoticon to express that.)

A related story yesterday (here) suggested additional H5N1 concerns:

“An unusual pattern of avian flu cases in Egypt — almost all are in toddlers, all of whom have survived — has led some flu-tracking Web sites to speculate that dozens of silent cases are circulating there.”

Other people disagree (with hope): “Right now, it’s all hot air,” said Dr. Robert G. Webster, a flu expert at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. “I hope to hell it’s not happening, because it would mean the virus is adapting to humans. But there’s not a shred of data.”

“Adapting to humans” is code for “1918 can happen again, but really bad this time.

If we keep dodging the H5N1 bullet (or its various mutations), odds are its a matter of time before something else biological threatens the security of the homeland, including the planetary part of the homeland.

In the video below (click on the image), Nathan Wolfe describes his idea for getting a decades head start on future biological threats — “preventing epidemics before they happen, sidelining them via early-warning systems and alleviating the poverty from which easy transmission emerges.”

The video is 12 minutes, but I thought the first 3 minutes and the last 3 minutes capture the core of what he and his colleagues are trying to do.

(The video comes from ted.com.  If the internet did not exist, TED would be a reason to invent it.)


Dry now, fires now, more of each soon

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on April 21, 2009

Much of California, Gulf Coast Texas, and Florida are experiencing severe drought.   Economic, ecological, and other consequences are mounting. 

“The drought is one of the driest on record for Texas and is currently the worst in the U.S., which has seen persistent dry weather across several Western states, Florida and even Hawaii, according to academic and government monitors,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

In California, “The state has said it will deliver only 20 percent of the water typically allocated for cities and farms this year,” according to the Los Angeles Times.   The shortage is increasing competition between urban and rural water consumers.

“We’re beginning to get to the real cost of water,” says Colin Sabol, vice president of marketing for ITT Corporation, the world’s largest provider of pumps and water equipment. He notes that US consumers pay on average only one-third of what Germany pays for its water,” according to the Christian Science Monitor.  Germany “charges a price that allows them to reinvest in their infrastructure,” Mr. Sabol says.

Floridians are feeling as if they must choose between the frying pan – hurricanes – or the (wild)fire.

The profoundly dry conditions obviously increase the chance of wildfires. “Federal officials report there have already been almost twice as many wildfires this year than during the same period last year, and the outlook through the middle of the year for more fires in Texas, Florida and California is not good,” Scripps-Howard tells its subscribers.

As of mid-April the National Interagency Fire Center found there had been 24,126 open forest and grassland blazes this year, involving more than 668,000 acres.

In the 2009 Quadrennial Fire Review, the several Jeremiah-like findings include:

  • “The effects of climate change will continue to result in greater probably of longer and bigger fire seasons, in more regions of the nation.  What has already been realized in the past five years: Shorter, wetter winters and warmer drier summers, larger amounts of total fire on the landscape, more large wildfires will persist and possibly escalate in an irregular pattern termed asymmetric fire.  Fire mitigation efforts must be prepared to cope with moving potentially to a 10-12 million annual wildfire acres range over the next five years.”
  • “Cumulative drought effects will further stress fuels accumulations. The current drought cycle is expected to last for another twenty years.  In terms of impact, competition for water in ecosystems, continued problems with exotic invasive and insect kill, and faster drying of vegetation will make fuels more flammable and drive fire behavior.  Drought effects in the Southeast, Southwest, and West will make these areas especially vulnerable in terms of fire risk.”

POP: Policy Oriented Potpurri

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 21, 2009

At a Phoenix Senate hearing Chairman Lieberman declares Mexican cartels number one criminal threat to US and adds “this is literally a war.”

Northern Border threats were highlighted in Secretary Napolitano’s Monday interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, suggesting that Canada is the primary portal for terrorists entering the US.

Pakistan says, “no sweat” to handling Swat, while US pushes for SWAT team tactics (Yesterday in its lead story the Washington Post provides a good overview)

“Taleban militants operating in Pakistan’s Swat region who agreed a peace deal with the government have expanded operations into nearby Buner. Dozens of militants have been streaming into bordering Buner to take over mosques and government offices,” according to a new report from the BBC.

Fourteen years after the Murrah Federal Building was bombed, Oklahomans are not worried about another terrorist attack.

DHS is accused of inappropriate profiling by all sides,  according to the Washington Post and Boston Herald.

Napolitano is sued over I&A assessment by radio host Michael Savage and the Thomas More Center.

Schriro talks with Selyukh about moving from state detentions to federal immigration role. 

Vortex 2: Efforts underway to better predict the twists and turns of tornadoes

Hurry, homeland hiring hackers

FEMA financials vetted

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Philip J. Palin on April 21, 2009

Last week the DHS Office of the Inspector General released the auditor’s management letter for the Department.  The letter outlines findings and recommendations from KPMG’s audit of FY2008.  The complete report can be accessed at the OIG website.

As is typical of audits for both private and public organizations, several “financial management comments” are offered. These reflect agency actions — or more commonly non-actions — that the auditors perceive reflect bad practice or non-compliance with laws and regulations.  These may range from trivial to truly troublesome.   Whether trivial or troublesome often depends on context.

I am more familiar with FEMA than with other DHS components.  Below I highlight two auditor findings that strike me as more than trivial.  I hope readers who are familiar with other components referenced in the audit  (or read more between the lines in the FEMA findings) will use the comment function to underline what seems important to you.

The KPMG audit found:

“FEMA has not established a process to verify an applicant’s homeowner’s insurance prior to granting disaster housing assistance… therefore, FEMA does not have controls in place to prevent a violation of Section 312 of the Stafford Act…”

“We randomly selected nine insurance companies to perform procedures over flood insurance premiums written during the period October 1, 2007 through April 30, 2008.  For the nine companies selected, we noted the following internal control deficiencies related to our 405 sample items:

  • Five instances where the check did not agree to the appropriate policy.
  • Six instances where the check received from the insured was not in the name of the company issuing the policy.”

There were a number of additional findings related to FEMA’s role in flood insurance that, taken together, suggest considerable inaccuracies and less than fully effective management controls.  FEMA administers the National Flood Insurance Program.  The NFIP is a perpetual source of controversy

(A recent comment by a reader provides more background on the NFIP.)

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