Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 2, 2009

Weekend mix of bugs, thugs, floods, and ughs

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 2, 2009

MONDAY UPDATE:  The CDC reports 226 confirmed diagnoses of H1N1 in thirty states. (As of late Friday, the CDC reports 141 confirmed diagnoses of H1N1 in nineteen States.) There has been one death in the United States. The WHO pandemic alert continues at Phase 5 and WHO reports, “15 countries have officially reported 615 cases of influenza A(H1N1) infection.”  Of this total, 397 are in Mexico. As of Monday there are now 20 nations with confirmed contagion and 985 laboratory confirmed cases. 

At mid-day (US eastern time) on Saturday, the BBC is reporting, “WHO Director of Global Alert and Response Dr Michael Ryan told a daily press briefing: “We have no evidence of sustained community spread outside of North America.”  This has continued to hold true through Monday morning.

There are credible claims that the number of Mexican deaths from H1N1 may have been over-reported.  The laboratory-confirmed number of Mexican fatalities stands at sixteen.  But Mexican health officials have been reporting numbers in excess of 100. Some media have reported numbers of 200 or more.  (See related story in today’s New York Times)

UPDATE: Late Saturday, according to the BBC, the Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said it appeared that the outbreak could be levelling off. “Each day we’re seeing fewer serious cases and therefore the mortality rate is dropping,” he said.  “It would still be imprudent to say that we’re past the worst of it but I do think… we are in a stage of stabilisation.”

During Friday evening’s All Things Considered, Robert Siegel interviewed Dr. Sylvie Briand  of the WHO who wondered aloud if some of the reported Mexican deaths from pneumonia — a reasonable indicator of H1N1 — may not prove to be the result of seasonal flu or other causes. (Very helpful overview of the epidemiological aspects of the situation from Science Friday  and the link  will answer a reader’s question regarding the whereabouts of Dr. Fauci.)

With the media reporting that at least 430 US schools were closed in an effort to mitigate the spread of H1N1, Secretary Napolitano and Education Secretary Arne Duncan were the principals at the PFO’s Friday pandemic news briefing.

In his weekly media message, President Obama suggests there are benefits to anticipating and taking precautions for a worst case that may not arrive.  He says, “It is my greatest hope and prayer that all of these precautions and preparations prove unnecessary.  But because we have it within our power to limit the potential damage of this virus, we have a solemn and urgent responsibility to take the necessary steps.  I would sooner take action now than hesitate and face graver consequences later.”   If you don’t want to watch and listen to his remarks Bloomberg has a reasonable and contextualized summary or you can read the White House transcript.

It is worth highlighting the following paragraph in what is always a short Saturday Presidential message, “Finally, thanks to the work that the last administration and Congress did to prepare for a possible avian flu pandemic in 2005, states and the federal government have fully operable influenza readiness plans and are better prepared to deal with such a challenge than ever before. ”

The Mexican battle against drug warlords continues.  The BBC reports, “Gregorio Sauceda Gamboa was arrested in a raid on a house in the city of Matamoros, near the US border. He is accused of being one of the kingpins of the notorious Los Zetas drugs gang, the armed wing of the Mexican Gulf Cartel.”

With attention to H1N1 seeming to moderate a bit and the 100 day mark behind us, many are predicting the Cybersecurity review will soon be released.  The Wall Street Journal reports, “President Barack Obama’s cybersecurity review has ignited turf battles inside the White House.”  What a surprise, I can’t imagine.  Sometimes, though, I wonder what differentiates a “turf battle” from questions and honest differences of opinion. 

As the White House prepares for a Wednesday Summit of Presidents Obama, Zardari, and Karzai, heavy fighting continues Northwest of the Pakistani capital.  But there is some sense in Washington and elsewhere that the very intensity of the fight may be good news.  Some say we could see the Pakistani military begin operations in the Swat Valley itself.  Taliban-allied forces have effectively held the valley since at least 2005.

UPDATE: The social, military, and political situation in Pakistan is too complex to predict with any confidence.  But careful observors increasingly agree that elite opinion — and, perhaps, even popular attitudes — have recently shifted in favor of more coherent and consistent challenge to the Taliban and their allies. Simon Cameron-Moore writes, “Pakistanis don’t often see their country the same way as American presidents, but the fear spread by Taliban fighters turning up a few hours drive from Islamabad has finally put them on the same page.”

The Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Terrrorism was released this week.  The report’s strategic assessment offers, “The terrorist groups of greatest concern – because of their global reach – share many of the characteristics of a global insurgency: propaganda campaigns, grass roots support, transnational ideology, and political and territorial ambitions. Responding requires a comprehensive response that focuses on recruiters and their networks, potential recruits, the local population, and the ideology. An holistic approach incorporates efforts aimed at protecting and securing the population; politically and physically marginalizing insurgents; winning the support and cooperation of at-risk populations by targeted political and development measures; and conducting precise intelligence-led special operations to eliminate critical enemy elements with minimal risk to innocent civilians.”

Ali Sahleh Kahlah al-Marri, “admitted in U.S. District Court on Thursday that he was a member of al-Qaida, that he attended terrorist training camps and he was asked to come here by a high-ranking al-Qaida official “to further their terrorist objectives,” reports the Peoria Journal Star. “While al-Marri’s exact mission wasn’t clear, information on his laptop regarding various cyanide compounds and sulfuric acid, which can be used to create cyanide gas, were “consistent with al-Qaida attack planning regarding the use of cyanide gases,” the plea agreement states.”  This judicial process was delayed and complicated by the Bush administration declaring Mr. al-Marri, a legal resident of the US already under the jurisdiction of the federal court, an enemy combatant and locking him away in a South Carolina brig for over five years.

The Myrtle Beach fire continued well into its second week . Meanwhile a new wildfire was largely contained in the literally Smoky Mountains.  Fire officials in the West predict they will be busy as their wildfire season closes in.

Flooding is being experienced across a wide arc of Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri.  The “southern Red River” in Oklahoma and Texas suddenly doubled in depth.  Despite the lack of national news reporting, the most significant flooding in the United States continues in the Dakotas and along the northern Red River.

As a reader reported here early yesterday morning, Craig Fugate’s nomination as FEMA Administrator has been put on holdThe Miami Herald reports, “Republican Sen. David Vitter says he has blocked Fugate because of his concerns with FEMA. ‘I have a hold on the FEMA nomination because I sent a list of hurricane recovery questions and projects to FEMA, many of which have not been adequately addressed,’ Vitter said in a prepared statement.  ‘I’m eager to get full responses and meet with the nominee immediately.’ The hold — which comes a month before the start of hurricane season — was first reported in CQ Today, a Capitol Hill publication, which noted that Vitter’s home state `bore the brunt of the botched agency response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.’ ”

EDITORIAL NOTE: A reader asks if I could identify future items that have policy ramifications.  Great ask.  Seems to me that each of these blurbs about people and events has a potential implication for policy.  For example, the fire stories strike me as being relevant to everything from local zoning, voluntary vs. professional firefighting, population density, the wildland/urban interface, insurance regulation, and federal/state responsiblities for disaster response and recovery.  I could go on.  It is, however, much easier and quicker to aggregate the the stories than to analyze the policy implications.

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 2, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

Thanks for the roundup. Could you asterik in future tiems you think have policy ramifications?

The Fugate hold in my opinion is nothing but more blackmail of poor FEMA and its appointees to keep the fickle finger of fate from pointing its finger at NOLA this hurricane season when the Cat 1-5 will show that NOLA was, is and will be a wonderful sink hole (subsidence there from disintergrating peat long documented) literally and figurative but mabe there will be enough devalued dollars to fill that sink hole. Notice how seldom we get actual hard numbers on what has been expended in either WTC bombing 9/11 or Katrina? Does anyone really know? Certainly the accounting system in FEMA continues to be documented as highly unreliable. Oh well! Guess NYC and NOLA as deserving as the bankers and hedge funds.

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