Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 22, 2009

Homeland security this week

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

Monday, June 22

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Privacy Office  hosts a public workshop bringing together leading academic, private-sector, and public sector experts to discuss the privacy issues posed by government use of social media.

National Sheriffs Association 2009 Annual Conference opened on Saturday.  Continues through Wednesday.

Metropolitan Fire Chiefs 2009 Annual Conference opened on Sunday.  Continues through Thursday.

World Conference on Disaster Management opened on Sunday. Continues through Wednesday.

Tuesday, June 23

2009 Joint CBRN Conference opens.  Continues through Thursday.

12 noon Washington D.C. –  The Cato Foundation hosts a seminar on Pakistan and the future of US policy.

5:30 pm (eastern) Washington D.C. – House Committee on Homeland Security meets for a full committee markup of the H.R.2868, the “Chemical Facility Antiterrorism Act of 2009.”

Wednesday, June 24

10:00 am (eastern) Washington D.C. – House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment holds a hearing on the FY2010 Budget for the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

10:00 am (eastern) Washington D.C. –  The Heritage Foundation hosts Sheriff Chuck Jenkins of Frederick County, Maryland discussing the role of local law enforcement in immigration enforcement.

Thursday, June 25

9:30 am (eastern) Washington D.C. – The Senate Armed Services Committee meets for full committee mark-up of the FY2010 National Defense Authorization Act.  This meeting is closed.

Friday, June 26

June 19, 2009

Homeland security and the new media

Filed under: Strategy — by Christopher Bellavita on June 19, 2009

Iran is not the only place where social media challenges professional entrainment (a word which, in this context, refers to expert certainty about the right way to do something).

Clay Shirky’s 17 minute video on TED (available here) illustrates how the loose collaboration enabled by new media applications (collectively known — at least for a few more days — as Web 2.0 ) can change the way homeland security strategy evolves.

The video is not directly about homeland security.  Instead, you get a quick tour of how collaborative media undercuts top down control of strategic communication.  The implication for homeland security (not just for DHS, but for all of homeland security) is related to what I wrote about in “Stakeholders in the process of our protection”

Now, how to find a way to encourage that “loose collaboration” …

New version of global terrorism database available

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on June 19, 2009

From: The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to
Terrorism (START).  START has released a new version of its Global Terrorism
Database (GTD).  The database can be found here.

The GTD is an open-source database including information on terrorist events
around the world.  Unlike many other event databases, the GTD includes
systematic data on domestic as well as transnational and international
terrorist incidents that have occurred during this time period.  For each
GTD incident, information is available on the date and location of the
incident, the weapons used and nature of the target, the number of
casualties, and—when identifiable—the perpetrator.  Over 80,000 of these
incidents have been included in the updated database, and this information
can be extracted from the database to provide reference data as it was after
the attacks in Mumbai.

The history of the Global Terrorism Database can be found here.

According to the website, the GTD:

  • Contains information on over 80,000 terrorist attacks
  • Currently the most comprehensive unclassified data base on terrorist events in the world
  • Includes information on more than 27,000 bombings, 12,000 assassinations, and 2,900 kidnappings since 1970
  • Includes information on at least 45 variables for each case, with more recent incidents including information on more than 120 variables
  • Supervised by an advisory panel of 12 terrorism research experts
  • Over 3,500,000 news articles and 25,000 news sources were reviewed to collect incident data from 1998 to 2007

DHS Appropriations: lessons for the laity in scripture and commentary

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS — by Philip J. Palin on June 19, 2009

As we learned in sixth grade social studies, the power of the purse is the premier legislative power.

Recently a Congressional Budget Office staffer was part of a discussion  about defense strategy.  He noted, “I pay less attention to what they say about strategy than where money is spent.”  Indeed.

The power of the purse is especially concentrated in the hands of Congressional appropriators and, if anything, as politics, finance, policy, and strategy has become more complex, the comparative power of  appropriators has grown. 

The House Appropriations Committee has reported out its Bill for the FY2010 DHS budget.  The 93 page document is easily available from the Committee website.

Often less readily available is the Report together with Additional Views of the House Appropriations Homeland Security subcommittee.  But the International Association of Emergency Managers has made this 211 page document available on their website.  Thank you IAEM.

The Report together with Additional Views  and — even more — the later Appropriations Conference Report, where House and Senate differences are resolved, is a Talmud for our budgetary scripture.  The chairs of the appropriations sub-committees are known as the Cardinals and the reference is to the Vatican, not Busch Stadium.  How the Bill is interpreted by the Cardinals is often what matters most.  The Report together with Additional Views is a Magisterium for our secular republic.

For the next several weeks, at least once a week, HLSwatch will excerpt a passage from the Report together with Additional Views for the House Appropriations Committee’s DHS Bill.  It will be offered for your close reading and commentary.  If I feel compelled to comment I will join you “behind the wall” in the comment function.

I will proceed through the report as it is written, excerpting what seems interesting to me.  You are welcome to use the comment function to give attention to passages I neglect. 

At its best a Committee Report gives context and expands on Congressional intent.  At its worst a Committee Report seeks to manage specific Department decisions with little context or explanation. I expect we will encounter examples of each end of the continuum and everything in-between.

Starting on page 7 and continuing on page 8 of the Report together with Additional Views to accompany H.R. 2892:

In fiscal year 2008, DHS’s immigration agencies set several new records: deporting the most people in any year in U.S. history (369,409); holding more people in immigration detention per day than ever before (30,429); and initiating 1,191 worksite enforcement investigations that resulted in 6,287 arrests, the largest numbers since the formation of DHS. These figures reflect the billions of dollars the Committee has invested in immigration enforcement activities since 2003. But rather than simply rounding up as many illegal immigrants as possible, which is sometimes achieved by targeting the easiest and least threatening among the undocumented population, DHS must ensure that the government’s huge investments in immigration enforcement are producing the maximum return in actually making our country safer. A closer examination of the data may give some pause:


·         Since 2002, ICE has increased the deportation of non-criminals by 400 percent, while criminal deportations have only gone up 60 percent.

·         Of the nearly 370,000 deported by ICE in fiscal year 2008, less than a third, or 114,358, were ever convicted of a criminal offense. This, despite the fact that up to 450,000 criminals eligible for deportation are in penal custody in any given year, according to ICE estimates.

·         Less than one-quarter of those interdicted by ICE’s Fugitive Operations Teams last year were actually convicted of criminal offenses.

·         Over three-quarters of those arrested in ICE worksite enforcement raids last year were not charged with any crime.


Since 2007, the Committee has emphasized how ICE should have no higher immigration enforcement priority than deporting those who have proved their intent to do harm and have been convicted of serious crimes. In fiscal year 2008, ICE received $200 million to identify incarcerated criminal aliens and remove them once judged deportable. In fiscal year 2009, ICE was directed to use $1 billion of its resources to identify and remove aliens convicted of crimes, whether in custody or at large, and the Congress mandated this be ICE’s number one mission. In this bill, the Committee directs ICE to use $1.5 billion of its budget to expand efforts to locate and remove those criminal aliens who have proved they are a threat to our communities.

June 18, 2009

“Stakeholders in the process of our protection”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on June 18, 2009

The Obama Administration continues to use blogs and other social media to get citizens more involved in governing.  According to the Federal Times, “The traditional [rule making] approach [to the regulatory process] relies on a back-and-forth dialogue between the rule-issuing agency and affected groups that comment in writing on draft rules. The new approach would expand that so the debate on future rules includes interested groups and citizens.”

To me, the “new” part of this is using 2.0 technologies to actively solicit citizen involvement.

The idea might eventually make its way into the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR), a process that already includes “stakeholders.”

Stakeholders is an interesting word, originally referring to someone who holds the bets while a game is going on.  Stakeholders no longer stay on the sidelines.  They haven’t for awhile. I suppose just holding the money was ultimately not as rewarding as getting into the game.

The QHSR legislation requires DHS to “comprehensively examine the homeland security strategy, make recommendations regarding the long-term homeland security strategy and priorities, and provide guidance on the programs, assets, capabilities, budget, policies, and authorities of the Department of Homeland Security.”

What would it be like if regular people got involved in the QHSR?  — people not directly affiliated with the “more than 100 associations” who got a June 3rd email explaining “the QHSR process and scope and requesting substantive input … by June 26th.”

Several months ago, the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School (where I work) sponsored an essay contest open to just about anyone interested in homeland security.  The theme was to offer some homeland security-related advice to the new administration. (Information about the wining essay and finalists can be found here )

The contest generated about 150 responses.  Some of the essays were spectacular.  A few made me fear for my country.  But all of them came from the hearts and minds of people who care about homeland security not because it’s their job, but because they want to make the nation safer and more secure. I wonder how many other Americans would jump at the chance to become involved in the first ever Quadrennial Homeland Security Review?

Here, and in future posts, I will share some of the insights offered by people who wrote  essays.

These people aren’t stakeholders in the institutional sense.  They are Americans who want to get off the sidelines and get into the game.  As one of the essayists wrote: “We must all become stakeholders in the process of our protection.” The QHSR might provide an opportunity to advance that goal.

Here (lightly edited) are some of the ideas:
1.    Replace “Homeland” with “Domestic.”  What a ridiculous word “homeland” has turned out to be!  Abolish it from the U.S. government.  The Constitution used the word “domestic tranquility” not “homeland tranquility.”  We have a National Football League, not a Homeland Football League.  “Homeland” sounds like a word from Nazi Germany or from the Borat movie.  It is not part of the U.S. culture – replace it across the board with “domestic.”
2.    Develop a comprehensive trust architecture to protect computer systems and data.
3.    Establish a national resiliency award to recognize efforts to create resilient critical infrastructure.
4.    Leaders should take the time to walk around DHS and talk to the people on the ground about how things are going.
5.    Link emergency response and public health with the poison control system to increase collaboration and coordination during disasters and emergencies.
6.    Create a national intelligence fusion center network that formally links state, local and federal fusion centers.
7.    Enact a Goldwater-Nichols style program to help integrate DHS agencies.
8.    While seeking to improve the security of the homeland, do not neglect or abandon the country’s well-tested comprehensive emergency management system.
9.    The President should shift the focus of homeland security away from the vague, immeasurable purpose of combating international counterterrorism and instead focus on returning the primary responsibility for the security of America back to the American people.
10.    Make sure President Obama does not take unnecessary risks and identify and neutralize those who would do him harm.
11.    In order to accomplish the objectives of the National Strategy for Homeland Security and ensure that the many different agencies and organizations responsible for implementing homeland defense programs across all levels of government conduct business in a manner that justifies the continued large scale spending, we need to enforce consistent performance measures with real repercussions for those who do not meet the standards.
12.    Homeland security and defense of this nation is everybody’s problem, challenge and responsibility – say it early and often, in words and deeds.
13.    I suggest that President Obama’s administration consider the establishment of a Department of Homeland Security Initiative for Community Empowerment and Security (ICES) that focuses upon utilizing (and improving upon) the existing relationship between the Department of Homeland Security and local populations, schools, and businesses through city government.
14.    Clarify and redefine not only the purpose of Homeland Security, but its scope and priorities.
15.    Radical Islamic terrorism and illegal immigration are the two most important threats to the security of the homeland.
16.    Another approach [to improving intelligence] is to use a sport model: hire intelligence professionals who are “at the top of their game,” pay them accordingly and let them go when they no longer bring value to their field.
17.    The events of September 11 have revealed the United States to be in much greater jeopardy from international terrorism than had previously been believed. It stands to reason that our civil liberties will be curtailed. They should be curtailed, to the extent that the benefits in greater security outweigh the costs in reduced liberty. All that can be reasonably asked of the responsible legislative and judicial officials is that they weigh the costs as carefully as the benefits.
18.    I propose a link between the theories of Osinga, Boyd and Orr, using Information Theory and mathematics to define the elements that would be used to comprehend and then disrupt an enemy information network.
19.    I came on [Border patrol] duty with a base pay of $28,000 per year. My pay has almost tripled; the benefits are good, especially for my family if I die on the line of duty. Muslim extremists on the other hand do not take on a radical cause for money or benefits. They fight for a greater cause. In their minds we are the enemy against their religion. Moreover, their religion is their life.  Conversely some Muslim extremists dedicate and give their lives to a terrorist cause. The sooner we realize as a nation what we are against, the better off we will be.
20.    If you really want to know what the American people think, ask them.  Pick up the phone, call a number, and ask whoever answers what they think.  They will tell you.

June 16, 2009

Collaborative counterterrorism: US and EU

Filed under: International HLS,Legal Issues,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on June 16, 2009

Yesterday, June 15, the United States and the European Union issued a joint statement on Guantanamo and “future counterterrorism cooperation.”  Most media are focusing on the implications for placing Guantanamo detainees.  It is reported that EU member states have agreed to receive fifty current detainees.

The Luxembourg declaration is also a mile marker for  negotiations that began even before the inauguration to ensure closer cooperation between Europe and the United States on a whole range of CT issues. 

The Guardian reports, European diplomats are “saying that the aim was also to come up with a new transatlantic strategy on counter-terrorism, as well as on a broader joint agenda for fighting international organised crime, intelligence sharing, international travel security and data protection. The ambitious aims are bedevilled by legal wrangles and mismatches between US and European legal systems, with Europeans, for example, enjoying higher standards of privacy protection.”

Negotiations are continuing on a comprehensive CT agreement between the US and EU.  Some reports suggest progress is sufficient that it may be ready by the end of the year.

Yesterday’s agreement set-out principles on which the fuller agreement is expected to be based. “Efforts to combat terrorism should be conducted in a manner that comports with the rule of law, respects our common values, and complies with our respective obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law, refugee law, and humanitarian law. We consider that efforts to combat terrorism conducted in this manner make us stronger and more secure.”

The potential for greater cooperation between the US and EU is underlined by the first-ever EU-Pakistan summit which will begin tomorrow in Brussels. Taliban and al-Qaeda present a shared threat to the US, EU, and Pakistan. US military operations on the Afpak border (and incursions across the border) make a crucial contribution to containing — and eventually eliminating — this node of terrorist planning, training, and operations.

The same US operations complicate bilateral relations with Pakistan in a way that limits Washington’s ability to contribute to shaping a post-Taliban/after-al Qaeda future.  Greater involvement by the EU in supporting democratic and social resilience in Pakistan can pick up where the US cannot go.

In an interview with the Financial Times, “Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the (Pakistani) foreign minister… said Pakistan would need up to $2.5bn (€1.8bn, £1.5bn) in emergency relief and for long-term reconstruction of the Swat valley and the surrounding region, once the fighting between government troops and militants, now in its final stage, had ended. That figure compares to the $1bn in aid initially estimated by government officials. The warning comes as Pakistan widens its military offensive to other areas suspected of providing a haven to the Taliban, such as the Waziristan tribal region along the border with Afghanistan.”

The US and EU can benefit from collaboration in many other areas — intelligence sharing, border controls, planning, training,  joint exercises, and more — but especially as Pakistan’s military begins operations in South Waziristan, the potential in terms of this trilateral relationship is especially important.

June 15, 2009

The Blog @ Homeland Security

Filed under: DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on June 15, 2009

The Department of Homeland Security — like the rest of government — continues its trudge into 2.o communications with the announcement of The Blog @ Homeland Security.  According to the site:

The Blog @ Homeland Security provides an inside-out view of what we do every day at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The Blog lets us talk about how we secure our nation, strengthen our programs, and unite the Department behind our common mission and principles. It also lets us hear from you.

One hopes the conversation there will be as human as the exchanges at … full stop.

I almost wrote “as human as the exchanges at the TSA Evolution of Security blog.”  But when I went there to check out the url, I discovered the Evolution of Security blog evolved into the disturbingly literal “The TSA Blog.”  I missed when the title change went into effect. However the blog does retain its tag line: Terrorists Evolve. Threats Evolve. Security Must Stay Ahead. You Play A Part.

I’m digressing now, but I thought the [old] TSA blog was the best blog I knew about in government. I did not agree with everything the authors wrote, but one could tell there were human beings explaining, defending, and disagreeing with those who objected to some part of TSA’s practices.  Government and the governed were talking about homeland security, and sometimes to each other.

More importantly, to me, the blog acknowledged that since terrorists and threats evolve, security too has to evolve — a stance seemingly premised on [old?] TSA’s understanding of complex adaptive systems (which TSA describes here).  That attitude helped create what I thought was a healthy dialectic on the blog.  The dialectic may still be there.  The title is not.  Survival of the suitable?

Back on point: it’s my hope that The Blog @ Homeland Security comes closer to the affect of the [old?] TSA Blog than to the luncheon speech tone of the [old?] DHS Leadership Journal [blog]

Welcome to the InterTubes, The Blog @ Homeland Security.

Homeland security this week

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 15, 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.

Monday, June 15

National Institute of Justice 2009 Conference opens in Arlington.  Continues through Wednesday.

The Biodefense Vaccines and Therapeutics Conference opens in Washignton D.C. Continues through Wednesday. 

3:00 pm (eastern), Washington D.C., The Woodrow Wilson Center hosts a panel discussion on climate change and water. (Webcast available)

Tuesday, June 16

10:00 am (eastern), Washington D.C.,  House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on the Chemical Facility Antiterrorism Act. (Webcast available)

10:00 am (eastern, Washington D.C., The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts a speech by Gen. Victor Renuart, USNORTHCOM, followed by a panel discussion.

The Security Analysis and Risk Management Association conference will open in Arlington, Virginia.  Continues through Thursday.

Wednesday, June 17

10:30 am (eastern), Washington D.C., The Heritage Foundation hosts a panel discussion on America at Risk.

12:30 pm (eastern), Washington D.C., The Center for American Progress hosts a panel discussion on Domestic Human Rights and National Security

The National Disaster Recovery Exposition opens in New Orleans.  Continues through Thursday.

Thursday, June 18

10:00 am (eastern), Washington D.C., The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts a panel discussion on conflict and religion in US foreign policy.

11:00 am (eastern), Washington D.C., The Woodrow Wilson Center will host a briefing on the status of internally displaced people and relief operations in northwest Pakistan.

Friday, June 19

June 12, 2009

Other than war, pandemic, and murder… how was your week?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 12, 2009


Important developments this week to which HLSwatch had hoped to give more attention:

On Tuesday Craig Fugate testified on FEMA’s FY2010 Budget.  Documentation and a video of the House Appropriations Committee hearing is available online.  The Administrator’s prepared remarks give particular attention to intergovernmental and public-private collaboration. “FEMA will work even more closely with our partners in other federal agencies, states, territories, tribal nations, local governments, first responders, voluntary organizations, business, industry, and individuals. Included among these will be key partners who, though often critical to an effective response at the local level, are often on the outside looking in during response planning: local charitable organizations and health care delivery organizations. We need to ensure that these critical grassroots organizations are effectively integrated into our response planning and strategies.”

The New York Times reported that FEMA  officials, “are struggling to calculate the fiscal impact that climate change could have on the nation’s troubled public flood insurance program, amid predictions of intensifying downpours and more potent hurricanes. The mission is proving extremely difficult, according to one researcher, who said the effort so far has failed to reveal even ‘squishy assumptions’.”

Drug (war)lords continue their fight against the Mexican government.  Shoot-outs involved scores of fighters in Durango, Mexico’s third largest city, and Acapulco, perhaps its best known tourist destination. According to AFP, “US border czar Alan Bersin warned Mexico’s brutal drug cartels Tuesday that threats to target law enforcement officials on both sides of the border would be met by a ‘significant response.’  Bersin said a recent call by one cartel kingpin to ramp up violence against US and Mexican law enforcement agents was potentially of ‘grave significance’ and was being ‘taken seriously’ by the administration.

The cartel’s threat to US law enforcement is of particular concern given the deep roots of the criminal gangs in the United States.  The Department of Justice estimates Mexican drug organizations operate in 230 US cities.

DHS and the Justice Department  have announced further plans for curtailing drug transport along the Southern BorderABC News explains, “The new strategy aims to combat these cartels by establishing new channels of communication between involved agencies and utilizing new personnel and technologies to expand the amount of information available. It includes a call for increased prosecutorial and disruptive efforts, including the assignment of attorneys from the Department of Justice’s Violent Crime and Gang Unit to the southwest border and additional resources for the offices of southwest U.S. Attorneys.” (More from the Washington Post and you can access the complete Counternarcotics plan from the White House website.)

Important judicial proceedings this week included the conviction of Syed Haris Ahmed, a former Georgia Tech student,  in Atlanta.  The Judicial Committee of the House of Lords, the so-called “Law Lords,” largely rejected the use of secret evidence in the trials of suspected terrorists.  According Deutsche Welle, “Four suspected Islamist militants on trial for plotting to kill Americans in Germany have told a Duesseldorf court they are prepared to confess.”

Jane Harman, Chair of the Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment  of the House Homeland Security Committee, has proposed legislation to close down the National Applications Office.

A Senate hearing was held Wednesday on the nomination of Dr. Tara O’Toole to serve as DHS Under Secretary of Science and Technology.  Some have criticized Dr. O’Toole as an “alarmist” regarding bio-terrorist threats. (More from HSToday.) But despite some sustained questioning by Senators, confirmation still seems likely.

FEMA has extended its comment period on Criteria for Preparation and Evaluation of Radiological Emergency Response Plans and Preparedness in Support of Nuclear Power Plants.

Last week HLSwatch reported on the appointment of a new Homeland Security Advisory Council.  Since then considerable attention has been given the — admittedly unusual — pick of Jeff Moss, a well-known hacker.  Less has been said about other appointees, including the Governors of Maryland and Georgia, the mayor of Miami, the Sheriff of Los Angeles County, the Police Commissioner of the City of New York, President of the Navajo Nation, and several other public and private senior executives. Much has been said about more actively seeking the counsel of State, local, tribal, and private sector leaders.  HSAC members have the experience and political weight to provide very meaningful advice.  What is worth watching is whether or not these senior leaders will make the sustained investment of time and energy that is necessary to be more than a typical blue ribbon panel.

Of course there was even more — much, much more — and if you consider something worth immediate consideration or ongoing coverage, please add your issues using the comment function.

June 11, 2009

WHO counts to six

Filed under: Biosecurity,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on June 11, 2009


A sharper version of this H1N1 distribution map is available at the WHO website.

The World Health Organization — as long expected — has declared a Phase 6 pandemic. It is a breaking story with plenty of coverage, including from the BBC, New York Times, and the WHO itself (a bit delayed).

UPDATE:  At about 1:00 eastern Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, offered a public explanation of  the Phase 6 Declaration. “This particular H1N1 strain has not circulated previously in humans. The virus is entirely new. The virus is contagious, spreading easily from one person to another, and from one country to another. As of today, nearly 30,000 confirmed cases have been reported in 74 countries. This is only part of the picture. With few exceptions, countries with large numbers of cases are those with good surveillance and testing procedures in place. Spread in several countries can no longer be traced to clearly-defined chains of human-to-human transmission. Further spread is considered inevitable.”

Within 60 minutes of Dr. Chan’s news conference, DHS and HHS released a joint statement from Secretaries Napolitano and Sebelius.  “Today’s decision by the WHO was expected and doesn’t change what we have been doing here in the United States to prepare for and respond to this public health challenge. Once we saw how fast this virus was spreading, we activated our pandemic plans and started doing all the things we needed to do to keep the public as safe and secure as possible,” said Secretary Sebelius. “What this declaration does do is remind the world that flu viruses like H1N1 need to be taken seriously. Although we have not seen large numbers of severe cases in this country so far, things could possibly be very different in the fall, especially if things change in the Southern Hemisphere, and we need to start preparing now in order to be ready for a possible H1N1 immunization campaign starting in late September.”

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that, “full pandemic flu vaccine production will start in two weeks.”

Several media organizations clearly had stories pre-loaded for the long-delayed and long-expected announcement.  As a result, most of the  early reports are measured in tone.  The most serious concern is focused on how the H1N1 virus might mutate during the Southern Hemisphere’s flu season that is just beginning.  Early reports from Chile indicate that H1N1 is crowding out older versions of the seasonal flu.

James von Brunn: criminal predicate, but reasonable suspicion?

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Legal Issues,Privacy and Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 11, 2009

James von Brunn, the alleged assailant in yesterday’s  fatal shooting of Stephen Johns at the Holocaust museum, has a long history of racist, anti-semitic, anti-government speech and action.  Would he have been a proper target for law enforcement intelligence gathering?

Mr. von Brunn is an 88 year-old,  military veteran with a prolific and, until today,  easy-to-access collection of writings attesting to his hatred of certain groups.  Many of these writings and rambling threats have been available at www.holywesternempire.org.  This morning the URL  announces: “HTTP 403 Forbidden.”  He is the author of a 1999 book entitled, Kill the Best Gentiles.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed Mr. von Brunn’s website among its large collection of “hate sites.”  The Anti-Defamation League has also monitored Mr. von Brunn. (See more from USA Today.) Would it be appropriate for local, State, or federal law enforcement agencies to collect and store similar information? Or does such information fall within the constitutional provisions of protected speech?

Arguably the most common legal standard for answering the question is 28 CFR, part 23 (or Title 28 of the Code of Federal Regulations, part 23).  This regulation was established, in part, to counter abuse of protected speech by law enforcement agencies in the 1960s and 1970s.

The core legal standard for gathering, collecting, and sharing information (or not) is set out as follows.

§ 23.20 Operating principles. (a) A project shall collect and maintain criminal intelligence information concerning an individual only if there is reasonable suspicion that the individual is involved in criminal conduct or activity and the information is relevant to that criminal conduct or activity. (b) A project shall not collect or maintain criminal intelligence information about the political, religious or social views, associations, or activities of any individual or any group, association, corporation, business, partnership, or other organization unless such information directly relates to criminal conduct or activity and there is reasonable suspicion that the subject of the information is or may be involved in criminal conduct or activity. (c) Reasonable Suspicion or Criminal Predicate is established when information exists which establishes sufficient facts to give a trained law enforcement or criminal investigative agency officer, investigator, or employee a basis to believe that there is a reasonable possibility that an individual or organization is involved in a definable criminal activity or enterprise. In an interjurisdictional intelligence system, the project is responsible for establishing the existence of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity either through examination of supporting information submitted by a participating agency or by delegation of this responsibility to a properly trained participating agency which is subject to routine inspection and audit procedures established by the project.

 In the case of Mr. von Brunn was there reasonable suspicion?  How about criminal predicate?  Were there a sufficient number of “trained law enforcement or investigative agency” personnel assigned to establish reasonable possibility?

I am not a trained law enforcement officer.  But I sometimes train such officers.  If I had, before yesterday’s attack, read Mr. von Brunn’s writings, I would not have perceived strong grounds for “reasonable suspicion.”  I would have had difficulty reading much of the hate-filled, often turgid prose and would have quickly moved on to other targets of concern. (Even last evening, with the day’s events underlining the potential importance, it was a slog to read.)

If for some reason I was motivated to do additional research, I might have established “criminal predicate.”  In 1983 von Brunn was convicted of several charges and imprisoned for an armed attempt to “arrest” Paul Volcker and other members of the Federal Reserve Board.  But even with criminal predicate in hand, given the quarter-century elapsed and the age of the suspect, it is unlikely I would have established  “reasonable possibility.”

Which would have done nothing to save the life of Stephen Johns and — if not for the response of Mr. Johns and other security guards — my inaction could have led to the death and injury of many others at the museum.

I am not arguing for an easy answer.  I am suggesting the need to wrestle with a very tough question.  We can invest so much in defending pre-established positions that, too often, there is little energy left for crafting an imperfect, but principled solution.

Related background:

Russell Porter testimony: Report Card on Homeland Security Information Sharing

Practical Guide to Intelligence Led Policing

Intelligence Led Policing: New Intelligence Architecture

The Constitution Project: Liberty and Security

America’s growing surveillance state

Intelligence Agency Does Not Distinguish Between Terrorism and Peace Activism

(This event’s connection with the withdrawn DHS report on right-wing extremism is covered by Ed O’Keefe in this morning’s Eye Opener. And if you are looking for evidence of the energy invested in defending pre-established positions, check out the comments on O’Keefe’s report.)


Museum Suspect’s Writings Had Not Triggered a Probe (Washington Post)

Shootings show threat of ‘lone wolf’ terrorists (Associated Press)

June 10, 2009

Can we take advantage of our adversary’s arrogance? It would require containing our own, which is never easy

Filed under: International HLS,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on June 10, 2009


Map of Northwest Pakistan, from the BBC

Seven weeks ago Taliban allies in the Swat valley over-reached.  After accepting a deal with the Pakistani government that consolidated their religious and civil authority, they attempted to extend that authority to a neighboring district.

In early May the newspaper DAWN explained, “the Swat militants apparently shot themselves in the foot by going back on their commitment on the peace deal even after their main demand for the Sharia regulation was met, virtually rejecting Pakistan’s constitution and its superior courts, and continuing barbaric killings and other activities to enforce their own brand of Sharia that only caused revulsion at home and abroad.”

Since then the Pakistani military has largely been successful in reasserting central government authority in a region where the government had long seemed  irrelevant.

On June 1 Taliban allies kidnapped nearly 400 students who were being convoyed to Bannu.  The military responded quickly rescuing most.  But the audacity of the attack shocked Pakistani public opinion.

Monday the Pakistani military rolled into Bannu, a district on the eastern edge of North and South Waziristan. This morning the Pakistani military began anti-Taliban operations. From Bannu the supposed hideouts of Osama bin-Laden and others along the Afpak border are comparatively close-at-hand.  Several reports suggest that is where the fight will go next.  Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal provides a great tactical brief.

Last Friday a suicide bomber killed 35 in a Shiite mosque in Haya Gai in Pakistan’s Dir district.  That afternoon local people retaliated against local Taliban leadership.  According to the BBC, “Officials say they have been joined in their fight by residents from two villages and a town. There are now about 2,000 of them fighting 200 surrounded Taliban militants.”  The Pakistani military is sending support. (More from the New York Times.)

Yesterday a truck bomb decimated the Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar, the principal city of Northwest Pakistan with a population of 3 million. It is too soon to be sure of how this will influence public and official attitudes in Pakistan.  But given recent examples, we might expect further stiffening of the spine.

A stiff spine will not be sufficient.  An overly stiff response might even be counter productive. The challenge is significant.  The battle for Buner continues.  Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, is convulsed in violence of its own. The hundreds-of-thousands of internally displaced will create serious new problems  The economic, social, and political character of Pakistan is innately fractious.

At the end of April, Gen. Petraeus was, we are told,  predicting the Pakistani state could be overthrown in two weeks.  Since then Taliban arrogance has motivated unprecedented political and military action.   Many long-time observers (and here) suggest that what has transpired is a real turning point.

For many years the terrorists have tried — and often succeeded — to tempt us into over-reaction. They have used our own strengths against us. Osama bin-Laden has behaved as a master of Ju-no-kata.  He has tried to coach others in the subtle form of converting us into our own worst enemy.  Not every student was attentive and their master is increasingly isolated.

In recent weeks the al Qaeda-Taliban alliance in Pakistan has overestimated its own strength and stumbled badly. We can hope for more stumbles and help Pakistan finish the job. 

But we might also consider the counsel of Kano Jigoro, the founder of Judo, “We should remember that our bodies should not be stiff, but free, quick and strong. We should be able to move properly in response to our opponent’s unexpected attacks. We should also not forget to make full use of every opportunity during our practice to improve our wisdom and virtue.”


Pakistan vows to fight Taliban ‘until the end’ (AFP)

Gains in Pakistan Fuel Pentagon Optimism for Pursuing Al-Qaeda (Washington Post)

Army, people united against Taliban: Zardari (Daily Times)

June 9, 2009

Hey buddy, wanna see my study?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 9, 2009

Following are several recent criticisms and a few creative recommendations for policy and practice in homeland security. Please use the comment function to point us to others.

Natural Risks

Over a month ago GAO reported, National Preparedness: FEMA Has Made Progress, but Needs to Complete and Integrate Planning, Exercise, and Assessment Efforts.  But the news is just beginning to be reported more broadly. See more from the Washington Post. (Could and  probably should be considered cross-cutting but GAO focused mostly on preparedness for natural risks.)

A report in Monday’s Proceedings of the National Academies of Science faults recent federal policy and practice in wildfire mitigation and suppression. See more from USA Today.

Congressional Research Service, via the FAS Secrecy Project, releases The 2009 Influenza A (H1N1) “Swine Flu” Outbreak: U.S. Responses to Global Human Cases.

Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism opposes use of BioShield funds for pandemic preparation.  See more from the Washington Post.

On June 3 the GAO updated its report, Influenza Pandemic: Continued Focus on the Nation’s Planning and Preparedness Efforts Remains Essential

The Center for New American Security thinks outloud in a concept paper entitled, Natural Security.  Interesting example of a capability-oriented vulnerability analysis.

Accidental Risks

 US Chemical Safety Board releases findings on two major industrial accidents: the collapse of  a fertilizer tank on the Elizabeth River and a toxic release at a chemical plant in Institute, West Virginia.

Since the beginning of 2009 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has taken eight enforcement actions against reactor licensees.

An early May report in the Oil Drum includes links to several studies focused on the vulnerability of the national electrical grid and the possibility of a cascading failure.

Intentional Risks

RAND tells us about The Lessons of Mumbai.

Congressional Research Service, via the FAS Secrecy Project, releases The Department of Homeland Security Intelligence Enterprise: Operational Overview and Oversight Options for Congress.

Congressional Research Service, via the FAS Secrecy Project (again), releases Mexico’s Drug Related Violence.

The Center for New American Security is pushing, Triage: The Next Twelve Months in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

RAND suggests A Strategic Planning Approach: Defining Alternative Counterterrorism Strategies as an Illustration.

Cross -Cutting

The Century Foundation produces Local Government Infrastructure and the False Promise of Privatization.

RAND offers Emerging Threats and Security Planning: How Should We Decide Which Hypothetical Threats to Worry About?

Homeland security: House Appropriations sub-committee mark-up

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS,State and Local HLS — by Philip J. Palin on June 9, 2009

Last evening the Homeland Security subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee completed its mark-up of the FY2010 DHS budget.

In his statement, Chairman Price explains, “Overall, the discretionary total in the bill for the Department of Homeland Security is $42.625 billion. This is $2.6 billion, or 6.5 percent, above the comparable fiscal year 2009 amount and about 1 percent below the Administration’s request when you exclude the cost of the Coast Guard overseas operations. This funding level reflects the hard decision Congress made in adopting this year’s budget resolution, which reduced overall funding levels by $10 billion. This Subcommittee had to take its share of that cut.”

In what may be the most significant difference from the administration’s budget request the sub-committee substantially increased funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations on the Southern Border. “The mark provides $97.8 million, or $27.8 million more than requested, for ICE programs that support the Southwest Border Initiative including: a $10 million expansion of ICE investigations of transnational gangs; an additional $10 million for ICE to improve investigations of cross-border weapons smuggling; $5 million more for ICE drug smuggling investigations; and an additional $2.8 million to expand human smuggling and trafficking investigations.”

In its latter years the Bush administration had, winking and nodding, discontinued many first responder grants. OMB knew that these would be restored by the Congress. This year the White House budget included these grants. “DHS requested $3.867 billion for grants to assist them with everything from planning to equipment. The Subcommittee strengthens that commitment to our State and local partners by providing $3.96 billion for comparable grant programs, including: $330 million for Emergency Management Performance Grants, our one true all-hazards grant program; $800 million for Firefighter Assistance Grants to equip our Fire Service and help stem the tide of layoffs that diminish public safety; $950 million for the State Homeland Security Grant Program; and $887 million for the Urban Area Security Initiative, which is security money targeted to the highest risks of terrorism.”

I always associate June mark-ups with my flower garden. The blossoms are beautiful. But the real story is deep in the soil. It is worth digging deeper into the details of both the mark-up and the eventual conference report.

A bit more — including the ever-popular summary table and earmark list — is available from the subcommittee’s website.

Measuring preparedness one flower at a time, one more time

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 9, 2009


Later today I will offer a collection of analyses and assessments. GAO, CRS, this Commission, that Committee, and various senior officials will offer sober findings on various aspects of homeland security.

Several weeks ago in my work outside homeland security I was talking with a disciplined, thoughtful, competent, and motivated federal program manager.  He had inherited a failing project and had pointed it right.

He was self-critical, asking for my assessments, and offering his own evaluations of long-past, recent, and upcoming decisions.

When I asked him about a written assessment I had found helpful in getting ready to work with him, the man literally slumped.  He explained that the report was an accurate historical document.  But responding to the assessment team had been seriously distracting.  When the report came out the facts were nearly a year old, yet Congressional committees, OMB, and the media treated it as breaking news.

“We spent six months explaining how 90 percent of the problems had been fixed eighteen months earlier,” he explained. “Sort of like having the same nightmare every night for two years.”

This afternoon (if I can get an internet problem fixed) I will give you a collection of somebodies nightmares. But before that, below is Chris Bellavita’s post from two Saturday’s ago.  Our readership declines by  two-thirds on the weekend.  The insights here are worth much more than everything I will offer later today.

— +–

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

June 8, 2009

Homeland security this week

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 8, 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.

Monday, June 8

5:00 pm (eastern) Washington D.C. House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Homeland Security will meet to mark-up the FY2010 DHS appropriations bill.

2:00 pm (eastern) Washington D.C.  Brookings Institution hosts a status report on the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

3:00 pm (eastern) Washington D.C. Woodrow Wilson International Center hosts a panel discussion on US-Mexican relations.

Tuesday, June 9

2009 Urban Area Security Initiative Conference opens in Charlotte, North Carolina and continues through Thursday.

Governors’ Homeland Security Advisory Council meets in Arlington, Virginia.

10:00 am (eastern) Washington D.C. House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Emergency Communications Preparedness and Response will hold a hearing on the 2010 FEMA budget.

2:00 pm (eastern) Washington D.C.House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity and Science and Technology will hold a hearing on the 2010 DHS budget.

Wednesday, June 10

10:00 am (eastern) Washington D.C. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will hold a hearing to consider two DHS nominations.

2:00 pm (eastern) Washington D.C. House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection will hold a hearing on the 2010 DHS budget.  (Appears on DHS schedule but not Committee schedule, worth re-confirming.)

Thursday, June 11

10:00 am (eastern) Washington D.C. House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism will hold a hearing on the 2010 DHS budget.

Friday, June 12

3:00 pm (eastern) Washington D.C. Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts a review and discussion on cybersecurity with Melissa Hathaway.

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