Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 31, 2009

Johnstown flood: May 31, 1889

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on May 31, 2009


Main Street of Johnstown in the flood’s immediate aftermath.

One-hundred twenty years ago today the Johnstown Flood killed 2209 people.  The bodies of 900 victims were never recovered.

As with Hurricane Katrina, the Pennsylvania flood had both natural and human origins.  A powerful storm delivered six to ten inches of rain in twenty-four hours.  Then the natural deluge overwhelmed a neglected dam 14 milles upstream from Johnstown. 

At 3:10 in the afternoon the dam failed  releasing twenty million tons of water. The wall of water was traveling  roughly 40 miles per hour as it inundated the city under 60 feet of water.

Concern regarding the dam’s integrity had been raised by several parties, but no action had been undertaken. The natural cause could not be prevented, but was entirely predictable.  The catastrophic consequence was entirely man-made. 

Related information:

Johnstown Area Heritage Association Museum

New York Times stories from May and June, 1889

Johnstown Flood National Memorial

A civil engineering study of the dam failure

May 30, 2009

Designing the National Security Staff and the Resilience Policy Directorate

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 30, 2009

The President’s statement on the creation of the new National Security Staff references standing up a White House Resilience Policy Directorate.  In their remarks at the Homeland Security Policy Institute the co-chairs of the PSD-1 study identified this Directorate as a potential “center of gravity” for state, local, tribal, and private-sector involvement in homeland security policy.

Next week — and perhaps for a few weeks — I hope we can give this concept some sustained attention and discussion.  In his HSPI comments Randy Beardsworth, one of the study’s co-chairs,  applied an architectural metaphor.   Adapting the metaphor to my purposes, the President’s decision has initiated building of  a new policymaking structure.  The President’s decision and the PSD-1 Review have identified several functional requirements for the the new structure and offer a rough rendering of an architectural concept for the final structure.

The actual form of the structure is far from finalized.  There are no detailed blueprints.  But the carpenters are on site and at work even this weekend.  You and I — and our neighbors — will reside in whatever structure emerges.  

The next few weeks will be the best opportunity we have for offering our thoughts on how the structure is built-out.  I expect the property developers (John Brennan, General Jones, President Obama, et al) might  appreciate some principled, practical, and considered advice.  They clearly listened during the PSD-1 study, they are likely to continue listening if we write with some clarity and insight.

The advice most likely to be considered will reflect the goals set out by the President and reflect prior discussions that produced the current architectural concept.  For this purpose here is a reading list.   Please review:

Presidential Study Directive 1

The President’s statement on creation of the National Security Staff.

Listen to and watch the PSD-1 briefing at the Homeland Security Policy Institute.

The Homeland Security Advisory Council report on Critical Infrastructure and the HSAC’s report on the Top Ten Challenges, giving particular attention to Challenge 7 focused on resilience.

Steve Flynn’s Foreign Affairs piece (or book) on resilience.

The Reform Institute’s report on Building a Resilient Nation.

The House Homeland Security Committee’s collection of testimony on resilience: May 6, 2008May 7, 2008, May 14, 2008, and  May 15, 2008.

The National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at Harvard has also explored the key role of leadership — and especially meta-leadership — in the emergence of resilient capabilities and capacity. 

Please use the comment function to add to this reading list.

Below Chris Bellavita thinks out loud about how we create the future.  He does not say so, but I will add that too often destructive cynicism is mistaken for intelligent commentary.  Analysis — the breaking apart of knowledge —  can be a first step in the creation of new knowledge.  But analysis alone is deadening.  Analysis should be the servant of creativity.  Please read Chris’ piece on the value of imagination and appreciative inquiry.  I hope our consideration of resilience — and the new policymaking structure — will feature analysis, appreciative inquiry, imagination, and creativity.

Measuring Preparedness One Flower At A Time

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response,Strategy,Technology for HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on May 30, 2009

How do we know when we, as a nation, are getting better at this homeland security business?  How do we know when the effort all levels of government, the private sector, and the people who live in this country have been making is actually improving things —  that we are better prepared, more resilient, and more secure than we were on September 10, 2001?

I think the country – writ large — responded very well to Chapter 1 of the to-be-continued H1N1 saga.  I think that response is one indicator the nation is better prepared than it used to be.

But I use anecdotes – stories — filtered through my biases to support that belief.    My subjective perception seeks examples that help me sustain my hope that we are doing better.  I tend to dismiss counter examples as, “Well, nothing’s perfect.”

I don’t know what objective data I would accept that would lead me to believe we are less prepared, less resilient, less secure.  I have no performance measures.  I don’t think I want any.

In April, GAO reported on FEMA’s efforts to coordinate national catastrophic preparedness efforts.  In one of the more understated sentences in recent homeland security memory, GAO noted, “The size and complexity of the nation’s preparedness activities and the number of organizations involved make developing a national preparedness system a difficult task.”  That difficulty did not prevent GAO from measuring FEMA’s performance anyway.

For reasons David Snowden described elsewhere , I don’t think the traditional understanding of performance measures will help answer the big questions about national preparedness or resilience.  Performance measures may work very well for engineered systems.  My experience is they provide a distorted picture of performance in complex systems.  And whatever else homeland security may be, it clearly is — as Carafano and Weitz (along with GAO) argued last month – a multi-dimensional complex system.

Some things one has to see before one believes.  For other things, belief may have to come before sight.

You may have seen the Washington Post article last week  about a group of science fiction writers, called Sigma, who offer to use their imagination to help homeland security.

According to the article, the DHS deputy director of research thinks fiction writers can “help managers think more broadly about projects, especially about potential reactions and unintended consequences….”

The chief information officer for the DHS Office of Operations Coordination & Planning believes the writers might help break old thinking habits.  “We’re stuck in a paradigm of databases,” he said …. “How do we jump out of our infrastructure and start conceptualizing those threats? ….”

Bravo for taking such risks with imagination.

Long ago a friend told me, “If you want to get better at solving problems, read detective stories.  If you want to know how to create the future, read science fiction.”

What kind of homeland security future might be created by science fiction writers?

Cory Doctorow’s 2008 book “Little Brother” about good hackers battling the evil DHS immediately comes to mind. (The protagonist, w1n5t0n, pays visual homage to George Orwell’s Winston.)

One blogger, commenting on the Post story, suggests science fiction could lead to an enhanced government program that transported “undesirables” to another planet for … well, enhanced questioning.  Other blogolic apprehensiveness about science fiction/homeland security mashups can be found here, here, and here.

But science fiction can also imagine a better future.

Appreciative inquiry is about imagination.  It is about looking toward what might actually go right in the world.  It rejects a knee-jerk negativity and – in a non-Pollyannaish way – looks instead for the best of what could be.

What would Homeland Security meets Science Fiction meets Appreciative Inquiry look like?

In the wonderful way the Intertube Gods can sometimes work, I found an answer to my question on the Sigma website.  “Fresh Flowers and Small Robots,” written by Michael Swanwick, and reprinted below (permission requested), is a gem crystallized from security, fiction and inquiry.  Please enjoy.

Fresh Flowers and Small Robots

The Open-Security Airport of 2010

Like most Americans regularly subjected to the discomforts and indignities of airport security, I have concluded that it is almost all “security theater.” That is, a series of empty gestures meant to reassure travelers that it is safe to board an airplane. Conceivably it may also help deter would-be terrorists. Certainly it has captured none – or we would surely have been told.

Why not exchange this Theater of Misery, then, for a Theater of Optimism? Something equally reassuring, potentially more effective, and not at all oppressive. It could be done with minimal preparation, modest cost, and no new technology. I propose a voluntary pilot program of one small airport, where security is so easy to pass through that it is once again possible for families to meet a traveling relative as he or she gets off the jetliner.

Imagine this happy airport of the very near future: Gone are the TSA employees who currently check boarding passes to make certain that only passengers enter the waiting areas. They’ve been replaced by or retrained as concierges – politely and efficiently taking coats and carry-on and placing them on the conveyor belts for the X-ray machines. They also answer questions about schedules and airport facilities, which is not technically the job of security, but makes life more pleasant for everybody. There are no lines for the metal detectors, because their numbers have been doubled or tripled. Passengers now stroll through casually, with their dignities and tempers intact.

Most amazingly, nobody takes their shoes off. The possibility of shoe bombs is still very real. But so is the possibility of an obsidian knife or a ceramic gun strapped to a passenger’s body – and only a select few are checked for those. However, no one thinks for an instant that they are less safe than before. This is because small robots trundle up and down the lines, projecting a laser grid over their shoes, and occasionally stopping to inhale a sudden whoosh of air. These robots are not at all threatening – their housing has been designed by Industrial Light and Magic, the same people who created R2D2 for George Lukas’s Star Wars movies – but they are reassuringly high-tech. They are clearly sampling the air for trace chemicals associated with explosives.

While this is a worthy and admirable emphasis for protectors to take, it is also profoundly and narrowly overspecialized.  It reflects a counterfactual assumption that, given sufficient funding, these communities can not only anticipate all future shocks, but prepare adequately to deal with them on a strictly in-house basis, through the application of fiercely effective professional action.

It is not necessary that the robots actually function as bomb sniffers. (Though I’m sure the defense industry would be happy to design such devices.) All that is needed is that they reassure our friends and unnerve our foes. The DHS is widely believed to possess sinister technology and worse intentions. It is time to recognize this as being not a weakness but an advantage.

In this scenario the DHS has embraced its evil image and put it to work. Cheap silvered plastic bubbles, of the sort used to hide surveillance cameras in casinos, are bolted to the walls. Electric cables run to them, painted the same color as the wall, obviously to camouflage them. Sconces directly below the bubbles hold ceramic vases containing fresh-cut flowers. The flowers draw the eye right to the bubbles, while looking like an attempt to disguise their presence. Passengers feel safer. Evildoers assume the worst.

Similar examples of benign deceit come and go, as the DHS fine-tunes public awareness of its presence. Trip-beams cause green lights to flash reassuringly as a traveler passes. Stepping on a pressure plate triggers a musical “all-clear” note. Decorative kinetic sculpture moves gracefully in time with foot traffic.

Passengers chosen for random security checks no longer resent this necessity. They are taken to a pleasant and comfortable room where, after their interview, they are given complimentary chits for food and drink on their airliners. At random intervals, two or three times a day, a bell rings and a cheerful voice announces over the intercom that another lucky passenger being checked has just received a hundred-dollar credit for the duty-free shops. Light applause fills the airport.

In such an environment, a nervous or fearful individual stands out more clearly than is the case today.

All this is done with existing technology. (The wall-bubbles are sometimes used to field-test a variety of passive detectors, but that is just a side benefit.) The added cost is moderate, and the bulk of it – particularly the added space required to make the security process comfortably uncrowded – is absorbed by the airport itself. It is considered a small price to pay for a great deal of positive publicity.

Best of all, since the security process has been simplified and sped up, it is no longer necessary to keep non-passengers out of the waiting areas. Once again, the weary traveler can come up the ramp from the plane to find his or her family waiting with smiles and open arms.

In their hurry to get home, not one in ten passengers notes the plaque reading, “This Facility Meets DHS Open Security Standards.” Nor do they notice the program’s certification that the airport is Security Hardened and Family Safe. They only know that they feel safer and more at ease than any commercial air traveler has since the Twentieth Century.

The DHS has won one small, quiet victory in the War on Terror.

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” – A. Einstein

May 29, 2009

Long-Awaited Cybersecurity Announcement and FEMA visit

Filed under: Cybersecurity,Infrastructure Protection,Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on May 29, 2009

At 10:55 this morning, President Obama will announce the long-awaited plans  for dealing with cyber security in his White House.  A cyber czar, albeit at a level lower than desired (special assistant), will be supported by a new cyber directorate within the National Security Council.  That person will also report to the National Economic Council. Expect the announcement will be broad in scope and discuss goals for dealing with the global threat of cyber security, as well as address such issues as a public awareness campaign for the challenges of cyber security and the need for a strengthened technology workforce in the U.S.

The 60 day review (that ended approx 30 days) ago, led by Melissa Hathaway, is the fourth attempt in the last 12 or so years to address cyber security.  In late 1996, President Clinton created the Presidential Commission for Critical Infrastructure Protection (PCCIP) that issued a report on its findings in 1997. That effort led to the 1998 Presidential Directive-63, the emergence of ISACs, and the creation of the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) at the FBI and the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (CIAO) at the Department of Commerce, among other organizations at various agencies.  Those two are worth noting as we continue, a decade later, to see a tension, as evidenced by the dual NEC and NSC reporting announcement expected today, between law enforcement/security and economic/commerce interests in cyber security.   Interestingly enough, the term “cyber czar” originated during that time – Dick Clarke in the White House.

In 2003, President Bush released the Clarke-led National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace which provided recommendations for “government-industry” cooperation.   Soon thereafter Clarke left the government. The strategy laid a framework for how the federal government would try to address cyber issues and promoted public-private partnerships.  DHS’ leadership on the issue was laid out about this time with the merger of most of the major cyber functions (NIPC, CIAO, FedCert, etc) into a new National Cyber Security Division. These efforts led to the creation of sector coordinating councils and the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP).   There was wide-spread criticism that the Director of the NCSD was buried too far into DHS and the nation needed a WH czar. Congress responded by creating an Assistant Secretary position at DHS.

Round three happened in 2008. President Bush initiated the Comprehensive National Cyber Security Initiative.   The CNCI, officially established in January 2008 (though rumored as early as Sept 2007) by National Security Presidential Directive 54/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 23 was a multi-agency, multi-year plan laying out twelve steps to securing the federal government’s cyber security networks.  DHS would have the lead (mostly) on civilian systems while DoD would take the lead on .mil systems.  The role of NSA and the DNI was questioned, though hard for most to pen down given the classified nature of the program. By this point, the White House had a  Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Cybersecurity and Information Sharing Policy, Neill Sciarrone, and a multi-agency task force headed by Melissa Hathaway leading the CNCI efforts.  DHS, meanwhile, also created a Deputy Undersecretary for cyber at the National Protection and Programs Directorate – a role fulfilled by Scott Charbo in the Bush Administration and by Phil Reitinger in the Obama Administration.   Silicon Valley guru Rod Beckstrom was brought in as the First Director of the National Cyber Security Center.  He left several months ago, claiming that the NSA and intelligence agencies were taking too much of a leading role in the cyber efforts.

That leads us to today’s announcement in a few hours.  While in a condensed timeframe, there is much history in the nation’s cyber security efforts. Today’s efforts will set a framework – even if broadly- for how we are going to tackle round four.  The real question will be whether we can advance our efforts or will we be repeating this exercise in a few years.  Stay tuned for a more in-depth analysis of the cyber security analysis this afternoon.

Also worth noting – after the cyber announcement,  the President will attend a hurricane preparedness meeting at FEMA headquarters.  Hurricane season is only a weekend away so FEMA’s preparedness efforts and posture are critical.

May 28, 2009

HSC, NSC, NSS: this is how sausage is made

Filed under: Organizational Issues,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 28, 2009

Yesterday morning the Homeland Security Policy Institute hosted a great discussion of the President’s decision to merge the Homeland Security Council and National Council Staffs into a new National Security Staff.  You can view a video of the event (80 minutes) from the George Washington University website.

This is a remarkably open and detailed discussion of the process undertaken,  recommendations made, and follow-on plans. 

John Brennan, the current and continuing Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism (AP-HSCT) opened by saying the President was clear that in undertaking the study, “don’t do anything to diminish the focus and attention on Homeland Security matters.”

The PSD-1 Review makes fifteen specific recommendations:

1. Retain position of Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.

2.  Fill the position of Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security (DAP/HS).

3. Integrate the NSC staff and HSC staff into one National Security Staff that reports to the National Security Advisor.

4.  Transfer responsibility for long-term recovery policy and coordination outside National Security Staff.

5.  Continue the statutory Homeland Security Council (cabinet and sub-cabinet).

6.  Codify AP/HSCT and DAP/HS ability to convene and chair Principals Committees and Deputies Committees.

7.  Establish Interagency Policy Committee’s for homeland security and CT issue.

8.  Clarify the DC-CSG-DRG relationship during domestic incidents. (DC: Deputies Committee, CSG: Counterterrorism Security Group, and DRG: Domestic Readiness Group; these are related to both Presidential Decision Directive 1 and the National Response Framework, gotta love alphabet soup)

9.  Better integrate state/local/tribal, public and  private sector into the policy process.

10. Develop a single National Security Strategy that adresses the full range of security issues  for the country, including homeland security issues.

11. Provide clear policy priorities. 

12.  Inculcate a culture of inclusion and integration within the NSS.

13.  Attract and empower the right people to the NSS.

14.  Institutionalize a culture of collaboration within the NSS.

15.  Codify key decisions from PSD-1 review in a new Presidential Decision Directive.

 My principal concern regarding the elimination of a distinct HSC staff relates to a further diminished voice for state and local priorities and potentially less attention to domestic prevention and resilience.  In her presentation of findings, Dr. Michele Malvesti seemed especially keen to alleviate such concerns.  She emphasized recommendations to:

  • Attract and hire state, local, tribal, and private sector professionals into the new National Security Staff.
  • Reinvigorate advisory councils related to homeland security issues and involve advisory council members with non-federal backgrounds.
  • Engage state, local, and private sector leaders early-on in the policy-making process.

In discussing the development of a new National Security Strategy Dr. Malvesti noted a particular need to ensure that homeland security issues, “are not inadvertently trumped by other security challenges.”

There is a great deal of substance in the 80 minute session.  Please view and then return to the comment section with questions and concerns.   As a reader noted yesterday, this is not just a matter of structure.  This is fundamental to how homeland security will be framed, defined, and executed in the years ahead. 

Here are some aspects of the HSPI briefing that I consider worth our specific follow-up:

  1. Resilience as a goal and center of gravity
  2. Is prevention part of resilience?
  3. Whither goest recovery?

(I have been roaming far outside the beltway for the last few weeks.  I especially thank Arnold, a regular reader and contributor, for pointing me to the HSPI event.)

Niebuhrian Links

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 28, 2009


I have received a handful of requests for more background on Reinhold Niebuhr.  As a student (disciple?) of a student and disciple of Niebuhr, I am especially happy to do so. 

Four of Niebuhr’s texts are especially relevant to our days and the focus of this blog:

Moral Man and Immoral Society

The Irony of American History

Children of Light and Children of Darkness

The Structure of Nations and Empires

The link between Reinhold Niebuhr and Barack Obama is the topic of an April 2007 column by David Brooks.

Earlier this Spring, Brooks joined E.J. Dionne and Krista Tippet in discussing Niebuhr — and his relevance to current affairs — in a Georgetown University panel discussion.  The 82 minute discussion is also available as an edited podcast (53 minutes).

After you have read one or two of his books, you may have some fun listening/watching  to a 1958 interview of  Niebuhr by Mike Wallace.

While Niebuhr was very much a man of his era, he brought to contemporary issues a depth of thinking that is often timeless.

May 27, 2009

Policy, strategy, pragmatism, humility and the new National Security Staff

Filed under: Organizational Issues,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 27, 2009

Yesterday the President explained, “The new ‘National Security Staff’ will support all White House policymaking activities related to international, transnational, and homeland security matters.  The establishment of the new National Security Staff, under the direction of the National Security Advisor, will end the artificial divide between White House staff who have been dealing with national security and homeland security issues.” 

Notice the President’s focus on “policymaking activities.” Policy sets out the government-of-the-day’s  intention and purpose.  Policymaking  decides, articulates, and shapes how the government’s intentions and purposes are achieved.

Whereas objectives are “strategy,” the concentration decision is “policy.” It is, so to speak, the decision in what theater to fight a war.  Without such a policy decision, there can be rules of warfare but no strategy, that is no purposeful action. (Peter F. Drucker)

In his statement the President offers five bulleted paragraphs as a broad framework for how the new National Security Staff will be organized. Then he closes with a truism, “The United States faces a wide array of challenges to its security, and the White House must be organized to effectively and efficiently leverage the tremendous talent and expertise of the dedicated Americans who work within it.” 

Hard to disagree.  Is this policy?  No.  It is a management principle.

The closest the President’s statement comes to  policymaking is at the end of his first paragraph, “the challenges of the 21st Century are increasingly unconventional and transnational, and therefore demand a response that effectively integrates all aspects of American power.”

We are beginning to understand that the policy of this Presidency will tend toward the integrative, holistic, big picture.  Each policy element is connected to and depends on other parts.  This is a White House with a clear right brain bias.  

The visionary has often characterized Presidential rhetoric.  But in actual practice, Presidents have been inclined to focus on a few carefully defined and, whenever possible, preordained wins.  Candidate Obama had a reputation — largely derived from his 2004 Convention Speech — for soaring rhetoric.  President Obama has tended toward careful, modest, and nuanced expositions. Perhaps he has decided our challenges and his high-risk interventions are dramatic enough.

Democracy is finding proximate solutions to insoluble problems.  (Reinhold Niebuhr)

What I have been slow to recognize is the President’s reluctance to articulate his  intentions and purposes with much detail.  I have been waiting and, it is becoming clear, waiting in vain.  But this is my problem, not his, and — I am ready to suggest — not ours.

Some have said the President’s favorite word, and most common stance, is “pragmatic.”  He is interested in what works, what has practical results.  His first and foremost principle is to learn from and adapt to outcomes. Accordingly, his policy initiatives are more often exploratory than explanatory.  In yesterday’s White House statement are vaguely enticing references to new Global Engagement and Resilience Policy Directorates within the National Security Staff. 

No doubt further details are forthcoming. We should not, however,  underestimate how the current lack of detail is  purposeful.  This is, in effect, an expression of policy. 

I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day. (Abraham Lincoln)

A couple of years ago when the University of Chicago decided to publish a new edition of Reinhold Niebuhr’s The Irony of American History, someone was smart enough to ask a recent member of the law school faculty and local State Senator, Barack Obama, for a blurb.  He wrote, “He is one of my favorite philosophers. I take away the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away . . . the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard.”

President Obama is capable of precisely articulating his intentions and purposes.  When he is less than explicit, I am beginning to understand that we should hear what is implicit:  I don’t pretend to know precisely how this will turn out.  There is serious evil in the world.  Spiritual humility and intellectual modesty, combined with thoughtful action, are among the tools we have to confront this evil.  Here is how I am trying to do my very best today.

Other responses to the announcement:

Obama combines security councils (Washington Post)

Obama shakes up White House national security structure (AFP)

US revamps national security posts (Wall Street Journal)

Early Wednesday morning I could not find any related coverage at CNN or Politico.  Maybe I didn’t search hard enough.  But, so far, their attention to the President’s decision is either null or deeply buried.  Another implicit message?

May 26, 2009

HSC staff and NSC staff to become NSS

Filed under: Organizational Issues,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 26, 2009

According to the Boston Globe, this afternoon the President announced his long-signaled decision to integrate the White House staff currently assigned to the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council.  The HSC and NSC, consisting of cabinet principals and established by statute, will continue.  But the staff elements will be combined.

As of 2PM eastern I cannot find other confirmation, Nothing related is showing up on the White House website. But the Globe is a trustworthy source.  According to the Globe, here is the full White House  announcement:

As President, my highest priority is the safety and security of the American people. That is why, in February, I issued a Presidential Study Directive to look at how the White House should be organized to deal with the critical issues of homeland security and counterterrorism.  I have carefully reviewed the findings and recommendations of that study, and am announcing a new approach which will strengthen our security and the safety of our citizens. These decisions reflect the fundamental truth that the challenges of the 21st Century are increasingly unconventional and transnational, and therefore demand a response that effectively integrates all aspects of American power.

Key decisions that I have made include:

The full integration of White House staff supporting national security and homeland security. The new “National Security Staff” will support all White House policymaking activities related to international, transnational, and homeland security matters. The establishment of the new National Security Staff, under the direction of the National Security Advisor, will end the artificial divide between White House staff who have been dealing with national security and homeland security issues.

Maintaining the Homeland Security Council as the principle venue for interagency deliberations on issues that affect the security of the homeland such as terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, natural disasters, and pandemic influenza. The Homeland Security Council, like its National Security Council counterpart, will be supported by the National Security Staff.

The establishment of new directorates and positions within the National Security Staff to deal with new and emerging 21st Century challenges associated with cybersecurity, WMD terrorism, transborder security, information sharing, and resilience policy, including preparedness and response.

Retaining the position of Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism (AP/HSCT) as my principal White House advisor on these issues, with direct and immediate access to me. The security of our homeland is of paramount importance to me, and I will not allow organizational impediments to stand in the way of timely action that ensures the safety of our citizens.

Creating a new Global Engagement Directorate to drive comprehensive engagement policies that leverage diplomacy, communications, international development and assistance, and domestic engagement and outreach in pursuit of a host of national security objectives, including those related to homeland security.

The United States faces a wide array of challenges to its security, and the White House must be organized to effectively and efficiently leverage the tremendous talent and expertise of the dedicated Americans who work within it. The creation of the National Security Staff and the other recommendations from the study that I have approved will help to keep our country safe and our Homeland secure.

As regular readers of this blog know too well, I have been an advocate for keeping the Homeland Security Council staff distinct from the National Security Council staff.  The renaming of the National Security Council staff is more of a fig leaf than a substantive shift. But while I regret the decision, I do not question its earnest purpose.  I hope the integrated staff will decisively disprove all of my concerns regarding the threat of a national security mindset overwhelming and misdirecting the Homeland Security domain. 

I am especially encouraged by the decision to name a Resilience Policy Directorate.  This could initiate  and shepherd a very helpful and needed  strategic shift.

(As of 2:21 Eastern I am receiving several Email confirmations from DHS and others, but nothing yet on the White House website.  I am going into a meeting that will keep me offline for at least a couple of hours.  Please use the comment function to point readers to news coverage or the White House announcement. I think the Globe was first, Ambinder was second, and HLSwatch was third, all within the same 40 minutes.)

Homeland security this week

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 26, 2009

Following are a few Homeland Security events for the coming week.  For more information  access the embedded links.  Please use the comment function to identify other events you would like to bring to readers’ attention.  If you are attending or monitoring any of these events, please use the comment function to report out to the rest of us.

Tuesday, May 26

10:00 am (eastern) Brookings Institution discussion on the Merida Initiative on drug interdiction in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Secretary Napolitano will begin a two-day visit focused on the Northern Border.

Meeting of Copenhagen Climate Council will conclude.  A final communique is expected.

Wednesday, May 27

National Harbor Safety Conference opens in Tampa.  Continues through Thursday.

International Hazardous Materials Response Teams Conference opens in Hunt Valley, Maryland.  Continues through Sunday.

Thursday, May 28

National Search and Rescue Conference opens in Little Rock.  Continues through Saturday.

12 noon (eastern) Woodrow Wilson Center book discussion on The Least Worst Place: Guantanomo’s First 100 Days in Washington D.C.

2:15 pm (mountain) National Academy of Sciences, Panel on Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change in Golden, Colorado.  Continues on Friday.

Friday, May 29

May 25, 2009

Fear management and other updates

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 25, 2009

Brewster Rockit by Tim Rickard – May 23, 2009

If you took a Memorial Day break from homeland security news, congratulations. Here’s a quick review of some of the headlines since Friday afternoon.

Economic Mess – In a profile of the Secretary and DHS in Sunday’s Parade Magazine, Secretary Napolitano,  “stands by her contention that hard times could encourage terrorism. The U.S. economic crisis ‘can have a destabilizing effect on other countries, which can result in terror or other acts of violence against us,’  Napolitano warns, adding that some Americans might be radicalized by unemployment and poverty as well.”

Pandemic –  On Friday the World Health Organization concluded its Geneva annual meeting without scaling to phase 6: a full pandemic. Bloomberg reports, ” ‘What has become clear is that it is not just the spread of the virus that is considered important; it really is the impact on the populations,’  said Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director-general for health security and environment, at a press briefing in Geneva. “This input needs to be considered from a phase 5 to phase 6 change.’”  Forty-six nations are now reporting 12,515 laboratory confirmed cases of H1N1.  The actual spread of the contagion is acknowledged to be considerably more wideapread. (See more from WHO update.)

Nuclear Terrorism –  A second North Korean nuclear test on Monday  underlined concerns regarding access to nuclear and radiological weapons by rogue states and terrorist groups.   Stealing or purchasing an existing nuclear weapon from Pakistan or a former Soviet state is generally considered the most likely terrorist tactic.  (See more from the Belfer Center at Harvard.)

Environment –  A  conference on climate change opened Sunday in Copenhagen.  At the meeting former Vice President Gore said, “It’s time to act now… We have to do it this year, not next year,” Gore told the World Business Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen. “The clock is ticking because Mother Nature does not do bailouts.” (More from AFP) But some claim the Copenhagen process has been hijacked.

Hurricane Season– The official NOAA forecast for the Atlantic season anticipates an “average year” of four to seven hurricanes.  FEMA administrator Fugate and Secretary Napolitano, in Florida for the season opening, said FEMA is ready.  The Secretary emphasized what can be done now, “People understand you can’t skimp on preparedness even in tight economic times, and we are working with localities on their preparations now, making sure that centers are set up, equipment and food and water are in position so they can be delivered very quickly.”  Without any hurricane in sight, northeast Florida has been flooded.

Tax-free Preparedness – Louisiana and Virginia have instituted a program of tax-free hurricane preparedness.  Long advocated for broader adoption by In Case of Emergency, Read Blog this program encourages risk readiness with financial savings and corporate communications.  Target stores, for example, are running related full-page advertisements in many Virginia newspapers.  (See more from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.)

Hindu Kush – Pakistani troops and Taliban insurgents are engaged in house-to-house combat in Mingora, the principal city in the Swat Valley.  There are some reports of 2.4 million internal refugees from the fighting in Pakistan’s mountainous northwest.  From a US Homeland Security perspective, Pakistani military intervention is key to disrupting and destroying terrorist training operations along the Afpak border. But even as terrorist training operations in Pakistan are under pressure, some suggest an expanded training shop in Somalia.

Memory and meaning in late May (IV)

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 25, 2009

There were three targets on September 11, 2001:  the World Trade Center, Pentagon and either the White House or Capitol.

It is meaningful to me that while attacks on symbols of American economic and military power were completed, the attack on our political institutions failed.   The passengers on United Flight 93 chose, in the words of Pericles, “to die resisting, rather than to live submitting.”

In the midst of profound confusion and turmoil — and with only about 35 minutes —  free men and women chose what they knew to be self-sacrificing action.

Passenger Jeremy Glick reported  the passengers voted to rush the hijackers.  Passenger Tom Burnett concluded his last cell-phone call with, “Don’t worry, we’re going to do something.”

On Memorial Day we honor our fallen heroes.  It is especially a day to honor those who died in uniform.  But in this century the distinction between combatant and non-combatant will be obscured.  In defense of freedom, we each have a role to play.  We  cannot be sure how and when we will be called to duty.

In the confusion and turmoil of our days, may we recall Lincoln’s charge to the living, “from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Memory and meaning in late May (III)

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on May 25, 2009

Amid the noise of holiday sales and picnics and baseball games and television shows and rushing around to do one more thing before the race officially resumes on Tuesday, how do we make a space quiet enough to actually remember?

I have a colleague whose spouse is in Afghanistan.  Here — shared with permission — is a letter this soldier, wife, mother, daughter wrote to my colleague and to her family last Friday about what she will remember this Memorial Day:


Monday is the official celebration of Memorial Day. We will be having the memorial here for 1Lt Schulte and Mr. Pine and then, a larger Memorial Day service. I have been asked to speak about 1Lt Roz Schulte, at the ceremony so I will work on that today. I am honored to do so for her and her family.

Today, as well, is the anniversary of my graduation from West Point—24 years ago! It is hard to believe it was that long ago. Seems just like yesterday! 28 years I have been a soldier….I have always loved the Army and will until the day I die and I owe it to West Point for giving me the opportunity for a great education and for the honor of serving our Nation, in times of peace and war. West Point will always hold a very special place in my heart. It is difficult to articulate but I know you all know how special it is to me.

Today, I am saddened by the loss of these two fallen warriors and the hardship that their families are now enduring as they have come home to them, in flag draped caskets with all the honors due them for their sacrifice for us. It is a debt that can never be repaid.

I know that when you are in the Armed Forces, that is the risk you volunteer for and the sacrifice you will humbly make, knowing that your ultimate sacrifice is for those you love and for those you serve. The profession of arms links you to all those who have served and to those who have come before and will come after you. There is no greater honor than in service to our Country and in service to others to ensure our freedoms as a Nation are preserved. I am constantly humbled by the dedication, service, commitment and sacrifice of our young men and women who each day, give their best, and one day, may give their all. My prayers are with each of them and with their families, and especially with the families of 1Lt Schulte and Mr. Pine.

Thank you all for your support to me and for what you each sacrifice to provide that support and to give me the ability to do what I love doing—being an Army Soldier.


1st Lt. Roslyn L. Schulte, 25, of St. Louis, Mo., died May 20 near Kabul, Afghanistan of wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device.  She was assigned to the Headquarters,  Pacific Air Forces Command, Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. (U.S. Department of Defense News release No. 0352-09, May 21, 2009)

Army Reserve Lt. Col. Shawn M. Pine was a veteran intelligence officer by trade, but soldiers and family knew him as a crusader for the underdog.   A Ranger, Pine, 51, of San Antonio was killed Wednesday when his SUV hit a roadside bomb near Kabul, Afghanistan. He was a consultant for MPRI, an Old Town Alexandria, Va., security firm. (San Antonio Express-News)

May 24, 2009

Memory and meaning in late May (II)

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 24, 2009


Graves at Gettysburg National Cemetery

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.”

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow, this ground — The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln
The Nicolay Draft (emphases in original)
More from the Library of Congress

May 23, 2009

Memory and meaning in late May

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

If I have dwelt at some length upon the character of our country, it has been to show that our stake in the struggle is not the same as theirs who have no such blessings to lose…  For the nation that I have celebrated is only what the heroism of these and their like have made her… And if a test of worth be wanted, it is to be found in their closing scene, and this not only in cases in which it set the final seal upon their merit, but also in those in which it gave the first intimation of their having any.

There is justice in the claim that steadfastness in his country’s battles should be as a cloak to cover a man’s other imperfections; since the good action has blotted out the bad, and his merit as a citizen more than outweighed his demerits as an individual. But none of these allowed either wealth with its prospect of future enjoyment to unnerve his spirit, or poverty with its hope of a day of freedom and riches to tempt him to shrink from danger…

While committing to hope the uncertainty of final success, in the business before them they thought fit to act boldly and trust in themselves. Thus choosing to die resisting, rather than to live submitting, they fled only from dishonour, but met danger face to face, and after one brief moment, while at the summit of their fortune, escaped, not from their fear, but from their glory.

So died these men as became Athenians. You, their survivors, must determine to have as unfaltering a resolution in the field… You must yourselves realize the power of Athens, and feed your eyes upon her from day to day, till love of her fills your hearts; and then, when all her greatness shall break upon you, you must reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty, and a keen feeling of honour in action that men were enabled to win all this, and that no personal failure in an enterprise could make them consent to deprive their country of their valour, but they laid it at her feet as the most glorious contribution that they could offer.

For this offering of their lives made in common by them all they each of them individually received that renown which never grows old, and for a sepulchre, not so much that in which their bones have been deposited, but that noblest of shrines wherein their glory is laid up to be eternally remembered upon every occasion on which deed or story shall call for its commemoration.

For heroes have the whole earth for their tomb; and in lands far from their own, where the column with its epitaph declares it, there is enshrined in every breast a record unwritten with no tablet to preserve it, except that of the heart. These take as your model and, judging happiness to be the fruit of freedom and freedom of valour, never decline the dangers of war.

For it is not the miserable that would most justly be unsparing of their lives; these have nothing to hope for: it is rather they to whom continued life may bring reverses as yet unknown, and to whom a fall, if it came, would be most tremendous in its consequences. And surely, to a man of spirit, the degradation of cowardice must be immeasurably more grievous than the unfelt death which strikes him in the midst of his strength and patriotism!

Comfort, therefore, not condolence, is what I have to offer to the parents of the dead who may be here. Numberless are the chances to which, as they know, the life of man is subject; but fortunate indeed are they who draw for their lot a death so glorious as that which has caused your mourning, and to whom life has been so exactly measured as to terminate in the happiness in which it has been passed.

Still I know that this is a hard saying, especially when those are in question of whom you will constantly be reminded by seeing in the homes of others blessings of which once you also boasted: for grief is felt not so much for the want of what we have never known, as for the loss of that to which we have been long accustomed…

Turning to the sons or brothers of the dead, I see an arduous struggle before you. When a man is gone, all are wont to praise him, and should your merit be ever so transcendent, you will still find it difficult not merely to overtake, but even to approach their renown. The living have envy to contend with, while those who are no longer in our path are honoured with a goodwill into which rivalry does not enter…

My task is now finished. I have performed it to the best of my ability, and in word, at least, the requirements of the law are now satisfied. If deeds be in question, those who are here interred have received part of their honours already, and for the rest, their children will be brought up till manhood at the public expense: the state thus offers a valuable prize, as the garland of victory in this race of valour, for the reward both of those who have fallen and their survivors. And where the rewards for merit are greatest, there are found the best citizens.

The Funeral Oration, Pericles
Thucydides: Peloponnesian War, Book 2.34-46

May 22, 2009

President Obama’s National Security Balancing Act

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on May 22, 2009

The “national security debate” that the U.S. “never had during last year’s campaign…” is how the Washington Post portrayed yesterday’s speeches by President Obama and former Vice President Cheney.  Philip Palin has given a good overview and his assessment of Mr. Cheney’s speech earlier today.

In his speech, President Obama took a peculiar position for a “debate,” he carefully stayed in the “middle.”  It was the middle because his position was light on facts. It was the middle because it contained broad policy strokes and oration. And it was the middle because it equally criticized the opposite sides of the national security spectrum debate.

For example, the President was highly critical of those who” who make little allowance for the unique challenges posed by terrorism, and would almost never put national security over transparency” and “those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words:  ‘Anything goes.'”  To both he made it clear that while they may be sincere,  “neither side is right.”

So what did he say was right? There were several broad policy strokes. For example, he laid a handful of priorities  -most of which have been previously circulated and analyzed – including:

  • Banning the use of enhanced torture techniques, which he said undermines the rule of law, increases terrorist recruitment, and endangers our soliders;
  • Closing the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay;
  • Reforming the military commissions;
  • Declassifying information and inviting more oversight;
  • Revising the legal regime for dealing with terrorists; and
  • Narrowing the use of state secret privilege.

In identifying these priorities yet not disclosing the specifics on how they would be accomplished, the President portrayed national security as a balancing act. The pundits and press, to date, portrayed this as a defensive approach that did not provide enough to win over votes or support in Congress.  The question,however, is whether the speech was intended to be overly- detailed and wonkish or to bring together these priorities and ideas in one place to move forward the debate.  I perceived it was the latter, especially in light of his statement that “we will constantly reevaluate our approach, subject our decisions to review from other branches of government, as well as the public.” (As an aside, there was a nod -whether intentional or not – to Franklin D. Roosevelt in that comment.  When I heard that line, it reminded me of this quote from FDR, “we have to do the best we know how at the moment… if it doesn’t turn out right, we can modify it as we go along.”)

More interesting, however, is whether the President can be the first to portray national security as a balancing act and actually succeed.  Since 9/11, the portrayal of any “balancing” of security with rights or transparency have resulted in security (or at least what is perceived as security) being more weighty and necessary than the other issues.  There has been some discussion of how the values are not contrary or balancing but reinforcing.  President Obama spoke to that point while also speaking of the balancing act. It was an honest assessment of the state of security, rights, and transparency values, but one that brings challenges of its own.

One last point —  in its final report, the Gilmore Commission(Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction), warned that “governments must look ahead at the unintended consequences of policies in the quiet of the day instead of the crisis of the moment.”  In the rhetoric and speeches of yesterday – this is what I took away as the point being debated.   And one that will continue as the above-mentioned priorities’ implementation unfolds.

Mr. Cheney’s myopic view of our challenge

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

Wednesday night four wanna-be terrorists were arrested in New York.  As you probably know by now, they were arrested after planting what they believed to be bombs outside two synagogues. 

The law enforcement MO in capturing the four sounds similar to that used in the arrest of the Liberty City Six. Five of the six in Florida were recently convicted of various forms of conspiracy to terrorism.

Wednesday night also saw the arrest of seventeen in Bilbao, Spain accused of financing terrorism. 

Earlier in the week Rodolfo Lopez Ibarra, aka El Nito, was arrested along with twelve associates.  CNN characterizes El Nito as “a top Mexican drug cartel suspect.”  Originally only ambitious criminals, over the last two years the cartels have used violence to achieve political purposes. For me political intent  is an important element that distinguishes terrorism from the only criminal.

Last week Italy arrested two French nationals suspected, according to the BBC, of “being key al-Qaeda figures.” (See a related report by TIME.)  On the same day, May 12, a man suspected of involvement in the 2004 Madrid train bombings was extradited from Syria to Morocco to stand trial.

This week Moroccan prosecutors opened their case against eight suspected terrorists.  (See more from Magharebia.com)

Over the last two weeks the trial of the so-called Saurland Cell has listened to police transcripts of conversations between the accused while planning (or at least conceiving) attacks on the US air base at Ramstein, Germany.

The month of May began with Ali Sahleh Kahlah al-Marri, after years in military detention, pleading guilty to several terrorism related charges in a Peoria, Illinois federal court.

There have been plenty of other recent reports of terrorist-related arrests in Egypt, Malaysia (and another), the Philippines, and elsewhere.

Thursday morning former Vice President Cheney told us that the 1993 bombing of World Trade Center, “was treated as a law enforcement problem, with everything handled after the fact – crime-scene, arrests, indictments, convictions, prison sentences, case closed.”

Mr. Cheney went on to explain that this law-enforcement approach was discarded after 9/11. “From that moment forward, instead of merely preparing to round up the suspects and count up the victims after the next attack, we were determined to prevent attacks in the first place,” he said.

The former Vice-President might have contrasted pre-9/11 law enforcement to post-9/11 law enforcement. He did not. Rather, during his remarks at the American Enterprise Institute, Mr. Cheney seemed keen to contrast the limitations of law enforcement with military capability.

“To make certain our country never again faced such a day of horror,” Mr. Cheney continued, “we developed a comprehensive strategy, beginning with far greater homeland security to make the United States a harder target. But since wars cannot be won on the defensive, we moved decisively against the terrorists in their hideouts and sanctuaries, and committed to using every asset to take down their networks.”

To be sure, the former Vice President was focused on justifying the harsher aspects of military capability. He was not directly addressing the inadequacies of law enforcement. But his argument seems to expose an inaccurate understanding of law enforcement capability as only responsive and defensive.

Above is a very partial and quite recent list of proactive counterterrorism activities by law enforcement. Before 9/11 and — especially — since then, the law enforcement community in the United States and elsewhere has been on the frontlines of preventing terrorist operations.

As our military leaders have been the first to explain, our struggle against terrorist adversaries will not be won through military action. Military operations are crucial to a full-spectrum strategy.  But it will be an effective mix of military, diplomatic, intelligence, law enforcement, and a very wide array of community-based prevention activities that will win the war and secure the peace. (And the communities will reach across the planet.)

Fundamental to containing and limiting terrorist ambitions is undermining any pretense of wide-spread support for terrorist operations.  This is more likely as we are able to starve terrorists of funding and recruits by undermining justification for their plans and actions.  International law enforcement is essential to this success.

In what Mr. Cheney may see as his keystone argument (certainly it is the paragraph with the most underlining for emphasis), he said, “But in the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half exposed.”   The former Vice President seems to ignore the value of the high ground — almost always a strategic advantage — while over-valuing the strength of a single measure and under valuing the scope and potential of multiple measures.

There is something in Mr. Cheney’s style that can easily seem monomaniacal.  A careful reading — rather than watching —  of his remarks can correct that impression.  But the same reading finds a strategic and operational myopia.  The short-sightedness begins with an inaccurate perception of law enforcement and then, as one looks about,  excludes more and more.

As any cop, firefighter, public health professional — or Marine —  will insist, really seeing — fully seeing — what’s going on is the first step in both self-protection and preventing the worst.

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