Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 19, 2009

Resilience as public policy: moving from the individualistic to the systematic

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on July 19, 2009

Last week as part of a reasonably extended discussion of resilience Pat Longstaff commented, “I’m sure it takes all three of the attributes (cited): self-awareness, humility, and courage…  But let’s give some serious thought to how a government would make public policy for a system where the individual people and organizations are not similarly situated.”

Pat’s challenge reminds me of Peter Drucker’s admonition that effective management is  a system that amplifies individual performance. We should be able to say the same for public policy. How do we get beyond depending on individual virtue and craft a virtuous system?

As last week’s post tried to show, resilience is fundamental to the human condition.  But it can be obscured or advanced, discouraged or encouraged.  How can public policy advance resilience?

First, by identifying resilience as a high priority.  President Obama and Secretary Napolitano have occasionally said good things about resilience.  They have not given it priority.  The Secretary has offered five priorites:

  1. Guarding the nation against terrorism
  2. Securing the nation’s  borders
  3. Enforcing immigration laws
  4. Preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disasters
  5. Unifying the Department of Homeland Security

Each of these priorities focus on a problem.  Is there — should there be — a homeland security priority that goes beyond problem-solving?  

HLSwatch has previously referenced eleven Mayo Clinic recommendations for developing enhanced individual resilience.   There are some possible analogues for how public policy could encourage community resilience.  For example:

Get connected: A few years ago the police and fire chiefs of Washington D.C. required their neighborhood  leadership teams to meet once a week for coffee (or whatever).  There was no other requirement, just once a week the leading cops and the firefighters get connected.  From this has flowed a range of operational and strategic collaborations and significantly improved  communications  overall.  Public policy can use conferences, grants, training, online methods and more  to ensure the wide range of homeland security professions get better connected.

Accept and anticipate change:  Despite powerful evidence to the contrary, most of our formal systems — both public and private — assume substantial continuity and control.  In one of his last books Peter Drucker wrote, “We face long years of profound changes.  The changes are not primarily economic changes.  They are not even primarily technological changes.  They are changes in demographics, in politics, in society, in philosophy, and, above all, in worldview… There is no social theory for such a period… The only policy likely to succeed is to try to make the future… To try to make the future is highly risky.  It is less risky, however, than not to try to make it.”  (Management Challenges of the 21st Century, pages 92-93)  Public policy is currently oriented toward avoiding mistakes.  This is bad policy for a period of profound change.  We need a public policy that will engender and embrace action-learning.

Learn from experience:  What are our prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery success stories?  Current public policy tends to focus mostly on short-comings and problems… and too often treats failure as cause for punitive action.  More often we need to learn from, rather than punish, failure.  We absolutely need to more fully recognize success.  Positive experiences can be almost hidden. Public policy can use connection opportunities to highlight good practice and strong outcomes. We should also celebrate “rich” failures.

Keep a journal:  For individuals journaling is a  way to make explicit what is churning beneath the surface, to reflect thoughtfully on what is made explicit, and to consider possibilities to take action on what is churning.  The same benefits can be generated for organizations and networks through blogging, social networking, tweeting, and more.  But for this to avoid a rapid descent into whining or worse, we need to practice disciplined and largely positive  communications (such as advocated by Appreciative Inquiry).

Work toward a (small) goal:  Currently public policy is  biased toward big problems requiring complicated solutions implemented over a very long period of time.  In the real world the challenges of change are most effectively addressed through a large number of innovative experimentations — most of which quickly fail.  Quick failure is part of the key to adapting to rapid change.  Filtering through goal-oriented   failures and finding the few flakes of success is like panning for gold.   But each golden flake can be worth a great deal and in the policy world each successful innovation can be rapidly replicated across the system.

Take action: Often public policy is too heavily oriented toward the world of words: planning, gathering data, reporting, and evaluating.  Words are an important part of constructing and making sense of reality.  But action counts even more. Imagine a DHS grant program with maximum awards of $10,000.  A public blog is used to solicit and submit grant proposals.  Solicitations are open for three weeks.  Public comment  is encouraged, in real time, on all solicitations and submissions.  All submissions — solicited or not — must be answered within three weeks.  Grants made must be expended within twelve weeks, and a narrative report is posted to another element of the blog for public discussion within three weeks of the expenditure of funds.  A $520,000 annual appropriation would support making a grant-a-week for the year.  This is a public policy approach to encouraging resilient thinking and action.

The Mayo list of individual resilience recommendations also includes, “Start Laughing.”  Any thoughts on a public policy analogue? I have a few, but will save them for another time.

Additional resources on resilience:

Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania

Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Approach to Building Cooperative Capacity by Frank Barrett and Ronald Fry

UK Resilience Homepage, Cabinet Office of the United Kingdom

July 18, 2009

Jakarta attacks: avoid the blame game and stick with reality

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 18, 2009

INDONESIA-BLAST    Photograph of the Ritz-Carlton restaurant after the attack (Daily News/Getty)

The Marriott International security chief, Alan Orlob,  was conducting a Jakarta site visit at the time of the attacks.  Friday morning CNN’s John Roberts  interviewed Orlob on the phone.  During the interview Roberts suggested the attacks’ success was evidence of a “significant gap” in hotel security.  How so?

So far evidence is pointing to a meticulously planned, patiently executed, and carefully calculated attack.   The effort expended suggests to me that any gaps were well-closed.  Instead, it appears the terrorists had to operate along the most narrow of seams.

When we are unhappily surprised — whether or not we should be surprised — our first reaction is often to find someone to blame.  The media is too often at the vanguard of this tendency.

This morning the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is headlining, “Questions raised on Jakarta security.”  The ABC’s lead captures what I perceive as the contradictions innate to this particular blame game, “Experts say the bomb attacks on two of Jakarta’s luxury hotels would have required months of careful planning, raising questions about hotel security and whether a prevention was possible.”

We are talking about hotels.  The purpose of a hotel is to host people who come and go with equipage and luggage and much more.   A bit more than 24 hours after twin explosions the most prominent explanation for the attacks is, “Indonesian police say the bombers checked into the Marriott Hotel as guests and probably assembled the device in their room.”  Several trips, perhaps even several stays, were required to bring the separate materials inside the security perimeter. (See related CNN video)

Further, the bombs’ blasts were sufficiently contained that reports indicate there has been no structural damage to either hotel. Only those in the immediate vicinity of the blast were injured (see photograph above).  Contrast this with the huge blasts involved in attacks on hotels in Peshawar and Islamabad or  the swarming of the Taj and Oberoi.

There is absolutely the need for a rigorous after-action analysis of what happened in Jakarta and consideration of  additional prevention and mitigation measures.  But — until some true gap is clearly identified — it is unhelpful and misleading to immediately assume that a successful attack implies a lack of counterterrorist due diligence.

Rather, there is a need to prepare ourselves to fully expect terrorist attacks will from time to time be successful, despite the most robust efforts to the prevent, deter, and preempt such attacks. 

Realistic expectations — reflecting the true nature of the risk — are fundamental to our readiness and resilience.  Quickly seeking to blame is a way to deny reality and avoid responsibility for taking risks.

(Editorial note:  I cannot find a transcript or video of the CNN telephone interview with Alan Orlob.  I am sure the word “gap” was used, I am not sure that I am accurately remembering the modifier, but it suggested significant.)

UPDATEBloomberg is filing some further details on Monday, July 20.

July 17, 2009

Jakarta Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels hit

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 17, 2009

“At least nine people, including some foreigners, have been killed in two bomb blasts at luxury hotels in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, police say. One explosion hit the Ritz-Carlton, ripping off its facade, and the other the JW Marriott. At least 48 people were injured,” according to the BBC.

Marriott International — operator of both hotels — has what may be the strongest security program in the hospitality industry, and one of the best in the private sector overall.  It also has one of the strongest American brands and, as a result, is near the top of the terrorists’ target list.

Yesterday, ironically, Bill Marriott’s blog was entitled, “What’s in the Marriott name?” For terrorists, the answer is an innately soft target that is closely identified with the United States. 

Today’s attacks will receive considerably more media attention — especially in the US — than the June attack on the Peshawar Pearl Continental and part of the reason is the power of the Marriott brand. Eventhough those who bombed the Pearl have specifically threatened an attack on Washington DC.

Two weeks ago the New York Police Department’s counterterrorism office released a comprehensive document entitled, “Engineering Security: Protective Design for High Risk Buildings.”  Among its many good recommendations is:

To mitigate the risks associated with explosive or other devices detonated within a building, the NYPD recommends that owners of Medium and High Tier buildings with controllable population flows implement screening systems. The NYPD’s recommendations relating to screening systems span three general categories: people and hand-held bags, delivered packages, and vehicles.

This — and much more — was being done in Jakarta.   CNN quotes one long-time guest of the Jakarta Marriott as saying, “I just don’t know how someone could get in there with a bomb, given the level of security and screening that people have to go through.”  Some early, still unconfirmed, reports suggest  the bombs used were brought into the hotels piece-meal over several days and then assembled.

Mitigation measures, such as those recommended by the NYPD, remain unusual in the United States and will remain unusual until there are a series of successful attacks here.

In the two weeks after Stephen Johns murder at the Holocaust Museum I made a spotty and informal survey of security guards at privately owned buildings in Washington D.C.   I was unable to find even one security guard whose supervisors had responded to the tragic event by communicating anything to Mr. Johns’ peers across the city.

Recent news reports suggest this may also be true of the 13,000 private security guards employed by the Federal Protective Service.

Few of us want to live and work in the equivalent of a high-security prison.  But our tendency to deny real risks — while there is still an opportunity to mitigate the risks — only increases our risk.

Two suggestions:

  1. Just as there are (contending) national and international model fire codes, let’s get serious about developing — and more importantly  adopting — design and construction codes that address a range of catastrophic risks.
  2. Just as most jurisdictions require minimum licensure requirements for real estate brokers, hair dressers, and acupuncturists, let’s develop and  meaningfully deploy minimum licensure requirements for private security personnel.

July 16, 2009

How To Improve Homeland Security: Fund Equipment Maintenance Through the Homeland Security Grant Program

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on July 16, 2009

Homeland security encompasses more than national level policy, doctrine and talk.  It also includes the impact national decisions have on frontline homeland security professionals.  Today’s post is from one of those professionals.  Sara Diaz is the Emerging Technologies Manager for Special Operations with the San Diego California Fire-Rescue Department. She suggests what can be done to sustain some of the preparedness gains of the past few years.

What one sentence best describes your idea about how to improve homeland security?

Allow a maximum of 5% of Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) awards to be used to purchase maintenance contracts for equipment obtained in previous HSGP funding cycles.

Describe your idea in more depth.

Every year state, tribal, and local agencies prepare HSGP investment justifications outlining projects, training, personnel, and equipment to be used to reduce risk in their jurisdictions and increase target capabilities. The goal of HSGP is to enable agencies outside the federal government to prevent, prepare, respond, and recover from incidents, both natural and man-made.  Each year more and more equipment is purchased to address these requirements.  With the current state of budgets, some agencies cannot sustain the cost of maintaining all of this equipment after initial warranties and maintenance contracts end.

As equipment is used in training, exercises, and actual incidents, it suffers wear and tear.  If equipment is not well maintained, the reliability and overall usable life of the equipment decreases significantly.  It is not a cost effective use of funds to let equipment deteriorate prematurely; doing so perpetuates a perception that items purchased through grants are “disposable.” The purpose of HSGP purchases is to improve capabilities. Proper maintenance is vital to ensuring equipment will function as expected when needed.

Under current grant guidelines, the grantee is responsible for maintaining equipment past the performance period of the grant.  However, if grant recipients were able to use up to 5% percent of their grant awards to maintain equipment previously purchased through HSGP, local agencies would have an option to ensure equipment is in good working order if local funds were not available for sustainment. The decision would be up to the individual agency to determine if they had equipment that would benefit from an extended maintenance contract, in lieu of purchasing additional or replacement equipment. For agencies facing budget shortfalls, this option would be very attractive as they struggle to find ways to cut costs while continuing to provide additional services related to homeland security.

What problem or issue does your idea address?

Some would say that grant recipients are lucky to receive  funds to assist in adopting homeland security strategies within their jurisdictions. Incidents are a local responsibility, and the federal government’s role is to support and augment resources when local governments are depleted. However, from the local perspective, equipment purchased through the grant programs is often specialized.  As stated in program guidelines, it cannot be used to supplant existing operations. The result is equipment often sits in cabinets, used only during exercises, training, and the occasional incident. The reality is, when faced with budget shortfalls, agencies must decide where to cut costs. Deferring maintenance of equipment seldom used is one viable option for local agencies, one that is often selected over cutting core services. However, from the federal perspective, deferring maintenance is wasteful and leads to less prepared communities.

If the idea were to become reality, who would benefit the most, and how?

HSGP recipients would benefit from having well maintained equipment necessary to prepare, prevent, respond and recover from incidents.  Adopting this idea would extend the usable life and overall reliability of the equipment. The federal government would benefit by maximizing its investment, confident that grant recipients will be able to execute target capabilities the grant programs were meant to support.

What are the initial steps needed to get the idea off the ground?

Program guidelines would need to be updated for the fiscal year 2010 HSGP to outline what equipment is eligible (any equipment on register as purchased through an HSGP award) and the allocation guidelines.  Grant recipients would be encouraged to conduct a business case analysis to determine if there is an advantage to using grant awards for equipment maintenance versus other allowable expenditures.

Describe the optimal outcome should your idea be selected and successfully implemented. How would you measure that outcome?

The expected outcome is equipment purchased through grant funds to prepare, prevent, respond, and recover from attacks against our homeland and natural disasters is well maintained and functions as expected when used during exercises, training, and actual incidents. Local agencies hesitant to apply for federal grant funds because they know they cannot afford to sustain new capabilities would be able to participate, resulting in more jurisdictions with increased capabilities, and a better prepared nation.

July 15, 2009

Summer reruns: HSAS and counterterrorism reform

Filed under: DHS News,Legal Issues,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 15, 2009

Tonight  and tomorrow I have  meetings near a beautiful mid-Atlantic beach.  This morning I am heading down early to walk  the sand and, if the waves permit, ride some crests.  So two reruns:

Yesterday Napolitano announced a 60-day review of the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS). A task force will assess the effectiveness of the system for informing the public about terrorist threats and communicating protective measures within government and throughout the private sector.  A complete announcement and some helpful background is available from the Department of Homeland Security website.

Back in November and December I was invited to review and make recommendations regarding the twenty-four Homeland Security Presidential Directives signed by President Bush. I suggested that six be affirmed and adapted.   Here’s what I offered regarding the HSAS.

HSPD–3: Homeland Security Advisory System

Delegate for review outside the White House and Revise. This is a notorious system that undermines public confidence in Homeland Security. But sudden abrogation would complicate several current procedures for jurisdictional alert and response.

Delegation for review and revision outside the White House was my most common recommendation for most of the HSPDs.

Many are surprised to see President Obama “continuing” several Bush administration anti-terrorism polices.  Examples include extraordinary rendition, the use of military tribunals, preserving state secrets, and other policies and tactics.

This administration’s unfolding approach certainly deserves close-attention (power corrupts and so on…),  but so far I perceive a careful reforming (and occasional rejection) of Bush policies rather than simple continuation.  Obama is as tough a counter-terrorist as Bush or Cheney, but much more attuned to being publicly explicit regarding rationale, legal process, and desired outcomes.

In this — coincidentally or not — I see the administration carrying out what Philip Bobbit recommended in his Spring 2008 tome, Terror and Consent: The Wars for the 21st Century.  In a review published last year by the Homeland Security Affairs Journal, I wrote and quoted as follows:

Bobbitt’s mitigation goes far beyond resilient design of critical infrastructure; it is focused on resilient design of our constitutional order. He argues for vigorous – some will say Draconian – measures of prevention, preparedness, and mitigation. But unlike so many making similar arguments he insists these measures must emerge from thoughtful, transparent, and principled legislation, executive enforcement, and judicial review. We must behave wisely and consistently as a state of consent or – without ever intending so – we are likely to end up living in a state of terror.

“The states of consent must develop rules that define what terrorism is, who is a terrorist, and what states can lawfully do to fight terrorists and terrorism. Unless we do this, we will bring our alliances to ruin as we appear to rampage around the world, declaring our enemies to be terrorists and ourselves to be above the law in retaliating against them. We will become, in the eyes of others, the supreme rogue states and will have no basis on which to justify our actions other than the simple assertion of our power. At the same time, we must preserve our open society by careful appreciation of the threat that terror poses to it and not by trying to minimize that reality or to appease the sensibilities of people who would wish it away… We must do this because an open society depends upon a government strong enough and foresighted enough to protect individual rights. If we fail to develop these legal standards, we will find we are progressively militarizing the domestic environment without having quite realized that we are at war. And, when a savage mass strike against us does come, we will react in a fury that ultimately does damage to our self-respect, our ideals, and our institutions (p. 394).”

I will not be thinking about either of these — or other — important issues as I paddle in place watching for the perfect wave.

July 14, 2009

Mike McDaniel to DOD-Homeland Defense

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Homeland Defense — by Philip J. Palin on July 14, 2009

The Associated Press is reporting, “Brigadier General Michael McDaniel will begin work Aug. 3 as deputy assistant secretary of homeland defense… The 52-year-old East Lansing resident has been in the Michigan National Guard since 1985.”

When I heard the rumor last week I sent Mike a congratulatory note.  When he did not respond, I took that as tacit confirmation.  But now it is public.

Mike has served as the Michigan Governor’s Homeland Security Advisor since 2003.  A general, a lawyer, and someone who has given significant attention to critical infrastructure, Mike is — at least — a triple threat.   His long service at the state level combined with his military background will be of particular value in this new role.

Being familiar with  both Paul Stockton, Assistant Secretary of Defense (Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs), and Mike McDaniel, this strikes me as a great team.  Mike has experiences, skills, and perspectives to complement Paul’s.  And they have known each other sufficiently well that, I expect, they are each entirely aware of what they have in the other.

The State and local emphasis that each man brings to this DOD office could be especially interesting to watch in action.  This also seems a sort of “tacit confirmation” for a rumor I have been hearing regarding what the White House office of personnel is looking for in HS appointments. 

Please see Mike McDaniel’s Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs  official biography.

Fundamentals of resilience in brief

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on July 14, 2009

dna-double-helix_resized  The DNA double helix, an innately resilient structure

The first use of resilience in English that I can find is from 1668.  The neo-Platonist priest  Henry More writes of how dealing with “squalid and forlorn conditions” might yet result in “strong and peremptory Resiliency from this sordid Region of Misery and Sin.”

Resilience is derived from the Latin resilirere plus salire — meaning to leap back, recoil, spring and spring again, re-flow, et cetera.

In solid mechanics resilience is an expression of how a material responds to stress (load applied) and exhibits strain (deformation of the material). 

Solids are principally ductile or brittle.  Ductile materials, including steel, have qualities of elastic deformation.  More simply, they bend.  Brittle materials do not bend.  A highly resilient — or elastic — material can bend under stress and return to its original condition once the stress is removed.

At the molecular level physical resilience is the outcome of  extension (stretching) usually in combination with unfolding and refolding (technically referred to as “reversible unfolding”).  Generally speaking, the less tightly bound  its molecular structure the more elasticity a substance  exhibits.

A mighty oak stands strong before the sky. A willow yields to the  slightest  breeze.  Yet in the fiercest storm, an oak does break while a willow but bends. Which then is stronger in the end?

Resilience is increasingly recognized as a key aspect of psychological health.  Here, too, resilience relates to how much stress can be experienced while  returning to something  similar — or even superior — to the prior state of health, capacity, and function.

Drawing on the work of other scholars, Suniya Luthar, Dante Cicchetti, and Bronwyn Becker have argued, “Resilience refers to a dynamic process encompassing positive adaptation within the context of significant adversity. Implicit within this notion are two critical conditions: (1) exposure to significant threat or severe adversity; and (2) the achievement of positive adaptation despite major assaults on the developmental process.”  This definition is especially helpful in highlighting a need to differentiate adverse experiences.

The Mayo Clinic suggests that greater individual resilience can be cultivated by several behaviors.  Four of the Mayo recommndations  that stand out in a wide range of scientific studies of resilience are:

  • Accept and anticipate change. Be flexible. Try not to be so rigid that even minor changes upset you or that you become anxious in the face of uncertainty. Expecting changes to occur makes it easier to adapt to them, tolerate them and even welcome them.
  • Get connected. Build strong, positive relationships with family and friends, who can listen to your concerns and offer support. Volunteer or get involved in your community.
  • Remain hopeful and optimistic. While you can’t change events, look toward the future, even if it’s just a glimmer of how things might improve. Find something in each day that signals a change for the better. Expect good results.
  • Work toward goals. Do something every day that gives you a sense of accomplishment. Even small, everyday goals are important. Having goals helps direct you toward the future.

Men are born soft and supple; dead, they are stiff and hard. Plants are born tender and pliant; dead, they are brittle and dry. Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death. Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life. The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail. (Tao te Ching)

Homeland Security Presidential Directive 21, focused on public health and medical preparedness, calls for the cultivation of community resilience.  Some — including yours truly — have advocated resilience as a fundamental strategy of homeland security, extending from individual readiness to the design of physical and virtual infrastructure.

A 2007 study by the Israeli Trauma Center for the Victims of War and Terror found that societal resilience can be predicted when groups of individuals widely share,  “a feeling of personal security, social support and optimism…”

In a  Dartmouth Medical School study the authors found, “Community resilience emerges from four primary sets of adaptive capacities–Economic Development, Social Capital, Information and Communication, and Community Competence–that together provide a strategy for disaster readiness. To build collective resilience, communities must reduce risk and resource inequities, engage local people in mitigation, create organizational linkages, boost and protect social supports, and plan for not having a plan, which requires flexibility, decision-making skills, and trusted sources of information that function in the face of unknowns.”

Sounds about right to me. 

Yesterday Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, Director, Initiative for Vaccine Research with the World Health Organization, said, “Vaccines will be available starting from September or October. If the situation remains as it is, of course the regulatory authorities will certainly want to have a better handle at the safety in clinical trials and doses in clinical trials and these clinical trials will take some time, and therefore, to have a full license of this new vaccine may take until the end of the year. This being said, many countries have provision in their law, so if there is an emergency they can invoke an emergency situation to use vaccine for which you would have already good characterization in terms of pharmaceutical data but not yet, all the data on clinical trials.”  What this suggests is a predictable need for systemic resilience… by individuals, pharmaceutical companies, regulatory agencies, the health care sector, and more.

Additional background:

Transcript of July 13 WHO media briefing (full of great information).

Mechanics of solids and the general theory of elasticity

Psychological Resilience and Positive Emotional Granularity

 What predicts psychological resilience after a disaster?

Resilience and Thriving: Issues, Models. and Linkages

Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, Project on Resilience and Security

July 13, 2009

New CRS reports relevant to homeland security

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 13, 2009

The Center for Democracy and Technology operates a great project called “Open CRS.” Through this website they make available to the public many of the reports the Congressional Research Service generates.  Following are some new reports released on Sunday.

The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and All-Hazard Warnings

Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response: The SAFER Grant Program

Assistance to Firefighters Program: Distribution of Fire Grant Funding

Emergency Communications: The Future of 911

The 2009 Influenza Pandemic: Selected Legal Issues

The Federal Protective Service and Contract Security Guards: A Statutory History and Current Status

The Merida Initiative for Mexico and Central America: Funding and Policy Issues

Homeland security this week

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 13, 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.

My usual sources suggest a suspiciously light schedule this week, here’s hoping you have more to add. 

Monday, July 13

Tuesday, July 14

11:00 am (eastern) Washington D.C.  The Heritage Foundation hosts a panel discussion on secure identification systems, including REAL ID and PASS ID.

220th Anniversary of Bastille Day.  Does the movement from the Tennis Court Oath to constitutionalism, to the reign of terror, to the counter-revolution have anything to tell us about today’s reigns of terror?

Wednesday, July 15

10:00 am (eastern) Washington D.C. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs conducts a hearing about PASS ID.

2:00 pm (eastern) Washington D.C. House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection conducts a hearing on general aviation security risks.

Thursday, July 16

10:00 am (eastern) Washington D.C. House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Border, Maritime, and Global Counterterrorism  conducts a hearing on immigration and border issues.

Friday, July 17

July 12, 2009

Late Sunday retrospective

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

Some recent homeland security stories that we have been watching, but not finding time to write about:

$42.9 billion HS appropriations approved by Senate

“The Senate on Thursday approved a wide-ranging $42.9 billion measure to pay for improving U.S. border security, clamp down on illegal immigration and beef up cyber security in fiscal 2010. The Senate voted 84-6 for the annual spending bill funding the Department of Homeland Security for the year starting October 1, and now lawmakers must work out differences with a $42.6 billion version of the bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month.” (More from Reuters)

Shabbab connection attracts lots of attention

“An examination by The New York Times, based on interviews with close friends and relatives of (several Somali-American) men, law enforcement officials and lawyers, as well as access to live phone calls and Facebook messages between the men and their friends in the United States, reveals how a far-flung jihadist movement found a foothold in America’s heartland.” (More from the New York Times, this was the most prominent story on the Sunday frontpage). 

Napolitano pushes focus on bad guys

“Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano imposed strong new standards on Friday for a federal program that lets local police enforce immigration laws, saying the priority is catching and deporting dangerous criminals in the country illegally, not going after illegal immigrants who commit minor offenses.”  (More from the Arizona Republic and from DHS)

Really bad guys launch coordinated attack on Mexican police

Gunmen have launched a string of attacks on federal police bases in Mexico, killing five people. At least six cities were hit – all in the western Michoacan state, a stronghold of Mexico’s drug cartels. Three police officers and two soldiers are reported to have been killed when the attackers, armed with grenades and assault rifles, opened fire. (More from the BBC)

While battles rage on several fronts across Pakistan

“Three Pakistan soldiers and 14 Taliban fighters were killed as Islamabad pushed its massive assault against militants in the northwest, officials said Sunday.”  (More from DAWN)

And tens of thousands of refugees begin to head home

“Crammed into rickety vans with electric fans and sacks of flour roped to the roof, the first of the two million displaced people have begun returning to their homes after the army said it had expelled Taliban militants from most of their strongholds.” (More from DAWN)

Not exactly the homemade ice cream and fireflies that I remember so clearly from summer Sunday evenings a half-century ago.

Serino nominated as FEMA deputy

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

The President will nominate Richard Serino to serve as Deputy Administrator of FEMA.

Mr. Serino currently serves as Chief of Emergency Medical Services and Assistant Director for the Boston Public Health Commission. In this role, he has helped bolster the city’s response plans for chemical, biological, and radiological attacks and other emergency incidents.

Previously, Serino worked for Boston Emergency Medical Services for 35 years—beginning as a paramedic and rising to Superintendent-in-Chief and Superintendent for Field Operations. He has served as a guest lecturer on homeland security and emergency preparedness issues at Harvard University and Boston University and as a national faculty member for the Domestic Preparedness Program at the U.S. Department of Defense. Additionally, Serino has participated in Senior Leadership programs in national preparedness and homeland defense at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

More from the DHS news release.

More from the Boston Public Health Commission.

July 10, 2009

H1N1: Preparing to be resilient

Filed under: Biosecurity,Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on July 10, 2009

The H1N1 virus is sweeping the Southern Hemisphere.  According to the July 9 edition of  New Scientist, “H1N1 virus seems to be replacing the seasonal flu viruses that circulated till now – classic pandemic behaviour. This raises concerns that seasonal flu vaccine, which some companies are still making, may be useless when the northern hemisphere’s flu season arrives later this year.”

Australian public health authorities are reporting 60 to 90 percent of flu cases are due to the H1N1 virus, depending on the region.

This morning’s Daily Telegraph of Sydney headlines, “Swine flu threatens to wipe out workforce.”  The report continues, “Health authorities have lost the battle against swine flu, conceding it now makes up about 60 per cent of all influenza cases. And it is only going to get worse as businesses already feeling the impact brace for bigger numbers in staff absenteeism… It is expected to be the worst flu season on record with numbers expected to skyrocket in coming weeks. Health experts yesterday warned workplaces will be hard hit with every worker off at least twice this winter with flu symptoms. Currently 100 out of every 1000 workers are off sick – an increase of 20 per cent from last year…”

 Argentina is facing a similar situation, where the Buenos Aires Herald’s headline reads, “Argentina almost paralyzed by H1N1.”  While mortalities remain at or below averages for seasonal flu, the New Scientist report, above, suggests we should not depend on this continuing.

(See WHO map of H1N1’s current scope and impact.  See July 6 WHO case count by nation.)

White House Flu Summit

Yesterday, calling in from the G8 summit in Italy to the Flu summit in Maryland, the President warned, “It’s clear that although we were fortunate not to see a more serious situation in the spring when we first got news of this outbreak, that the potential for a significant outbreak in the fall is looming…. We want to make sure that we are not promoting panic, but we are promoting vigilance and preparation. And the most important thing for us to do in this process is to make sure that state and local officials prepare now to implement a vaccination program in the fall, but also that they are working on an overall public communications campaign with the White House and the possibilities that we may need to be dealing with schools that are seeing significant outbreaks of H1N1.”

“And we’ve looked at past cases of this being properly handled and situations like this being improperly handled, and one of the most important differences is where it’s well handled, state and local officials have complete ownership over this issue, they are providing good ideas to the federal government, they are critical links to inform us what’s working and what’s not…” (Underline by Philip Palin.)

“We may end up averting a crisis. That’s our hope. But I think that if we are all working together in a thoughtful, systematic way based on the best science possible, that even if this turns out to be a serious situation, we can mitigate the damage and protect our neighbors and our friends and coworkers.”

(The President’s complete remarks and a video of the flu summit are available from the White House blog. More information on the Flu Summit and related is available from www.flu.gov)

Nurturing Resilient Readiness and Response

In late August last year, HSPD-21was released as policy guidance.   It states, “The four most critical components of public health and medical preparedness are biosurveillance, countermeasure distribution, mass casualty care, and community resilience.”

Biosurveillance systems are tracking H1N1.  Countermeasures, such as Tamiflu, have been distributed. Mitigation measures, such as social distancing, were seriously exercised in several jurisdictions during the initial outbreak.  A new vaccine is under development, but may not be ready in time. 

Mass casualty care and community resilience are not sufficiently ready.  In fact, the media frenzy combined with the  mild outcomes of the initial H1N1 outbreak may have undermined resilience efforts. Yesterday’s Flu Summit was an effort to kick-start serious and sustained attention to resilience for the second wave of the contagion coming this fall/winter.

HSPD-21 describes community resilience as the “demand side” of a health emergency, “Where local civic leaders, citizens, and families are educated regarding threats and are empowered to mitigate their own risk, where they are practiced in responding to events, where they have social networks to fall back upon, and where they have familiarity with local public health and medical systems, there will be community resilience that will significantly attenuate the requirement for additional assistance.”

(The complete text of HSPD-21 is available from the Department of Homeland Security.)

Unfortunately, the work to nurture community resilience had barely begun, was delayed by the change in administrations, and has been further complicated by the economic recession.

Assuming we have about 100 days before H1N1 returns with some vengeance,  to what would you give priority in building community resilience?

Additional coverage of yesterday’s Flu Summit and related reports:

H1N1 threat has not passed (FoxNews)

Mass campaign against pandemic may begin in fall (Washington Post)

Obama warns of return of swine flu in the fall (New York Times)

Swine flu summit focuses on preparedness (Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Swine flu vaccination program may target schools (WebMD)

Swine flu’s life cycle defies traditional pattern (Miami Herald)

Businesses hit as swine flu takes over (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

More swine flu coming our way (The Times, South Africa)

Special powers in Chile to drive down H1N1 cases (MercoPress)

Remarks by Secretary Napolitano on HSPD-5 and H1N1 (DHS release)

July 9, 2009

How to Improve Homeland Security: Create a Virtual Joint Terrorism Task Force

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christopher Bellavita on July 9, 2009

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) program started in 1980.

The Department of Justice  says the JTTFs “are small cells of highly trained, locally based, passionately committed investigators, analysts, linguists, SWAT experts, and other specialists from dozens of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. It is a multi-agency effort led by the Justice Department and FBI designed to combine the resources of federal, state, and local law enforcement.”

Other people who pay attention to these things say the Joint Terrorism Task Force wastes resources and threatens First Amendment rights by wrongfully equating nonviolent protest with domestic terrorism.” More specifically, they have been known to try “to redefine legitimate social/political activity as ‘terrorism’. This sort of semantic co-opting of constitutionally protected rights reminds one more of the Communist Chinese Party’s tactics than it does America.”

You probably already know where you stand on this issue: JTTFs are America’s frontline of terrorism prevention, or they are the critical nodes in a miasmically swelling domestic intelligence network.

Whatever your stance, the facts are that JTTFs are in  “… 100 cities nationwide, including at least one in each of [the FBI’s] 56 field offices. ”

My [very limited] experience with JTTFs is similar to what has been said about intelligence fusion centers, “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen one.”

My [less limited] experience with state, local and federal people who work in JTTFs is they take seriously their responsibility to balance the legitimate security responsibilities of government with an obligation not to interfere with people who exercise their freedoms of religion, speech, press, and  assembly.

This week’s How to Improve Homeland Security idea – offered by a colleague as a personal and not an institutional perspective —  takes the position that JTTFs are a national asset that can be improved.

What one sentence best describes your idea about how to improve homeland security?

Expand the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) beyond it current physical limits to a “virtual” JTTF

Describe your idea in more depth:

The JTTF is a Task Force made up of state, local, tribal and federal agencies led by the FBI addressing the terrorism threat in the United States. Individual agencies sign a Memorandum of Agreement and are obligated to follow the FBI policies and rules. Agencies can contribute full-time, part-time or liaison members to the JTTF. The JTTF Task Force Officers (TFO) must have a Top Secret clearance to get access to the FBI computer systems and unescorted access to FBI space. The current JTTF works out of multiple brick and mortar physical locations.

The “virtual” JTTF would create an environment through computer systems to allow agencies to participate as active members of the JTTF without physically reporting to FBI space. These “virtual” TFOs must agree to follow the rules of the JTTF and would jointly work investigations of concern to their agency under the supervision of a JTTF supervisor. They would be granted full access to information, only limited by their level of security clearance and available methods of secure communication. The FBI would need to maximize the amount of data stored at systems in the lowest possible classification level to allow maximum sharing and collaboration. The FBI could use systems like eGuardian and Law Enforcement Online (LEO) to ensure that “virtual” TFOs could participate with the JTTF from every corner of the U.S. The use of modern social networking communication technologies with necessary security could also assist in facilitating expanded collaboration, despite the lack of physical collocation of the JTTF entities and personnel.

What problem or issue does your idea address?

The “virtual” JTTF would allow agencies without sufficient resources to dedicate personnel to the actual JTTF on a full-time or part-time basis to still participate in the “virtual” JTTF to address threats of concern to them. This would also save the time and money associated with getting a Top Secret clearance for all personnel. The “virtual” JTTF has the additional benefit of expanded information sharing, since the joint investigations on a task force allow the FBI to share all the relevant personally identifiable information (PII) with the “virtual” TFO without violating the Privacy Act. The current Attorney General Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations (AGG-DOM) and FBI Policy should allow for the utilization of the maximum allowable techniques to resolve threats. The primary limitation would be on retaining the PII in non-FBI systems, but this could be addressed through joint investigations with a particular agency and the “virtual” JTTF.

If your idea were to become reality, who would benefit the most, and how?

All federal, state, local and tribal agencies interested in investigating terrorism threats would be able to actively participate in these investigations without the traditional resource burdens. The FBI would be a significant beneficiary, since this should lead to enhanced collaboration with a greater number of homeland security related investigative agencies. The sharing of “raw information” should also assist in a greater understanding of the resource, limitations, information and capacity of the FBI and the JTTF.

What are the initial steps needed to get the idea off the ground?

The FBI would need to modify the current Memorandum of Agreement for the JTTF to permit a “virtual” JTTF and to make participation in the JTTF scalable based on the level of clearance and resources of the member agency. The FBI would also need to create or modify current systems to allow for their effective utilization by the “virtual” JTTF. The easiest systems to initially utilize or modify would be eGuardian and Law Enforcement Online ( LEO); however, it would likely ultimately require a new Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) system connected to the FBI classified network (like eGuardian’s current interconnectivity to FBINET) .

Describe the optimal outcome should your idea be selected and successfully implemented. How would you measure that outcome?

The optimal outcome would be an expanded JTTF using the concept and technologies of a “virtual” environment. This would greatly expand active participation and maximize coordination of terrorism investigations conducted by the JTTF and any member agencies. This could also be used as a way to expand joint investigations between the JTTF and other homeland security agencies that do not wish to be limited by FBI rules and/or prefer to maintain copies of all the permissible information from the investigation in their own computer systems without obtaining the information through information sharing requests and procedures.

July 8, 2009

Attack of the drones

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 8, 2009

A Predator drone firing a hellfire missile

Reports from Waziristan suggest drone attacks earlier today were among the most deadly ever. 

“Up to 50 suspected militants have been killed in two US attacks in north-west Pakistan, local officials told the BBC. In the first attack, suspected US drones attacked a Taliban forest camp in South Waziristan, near the Afghan border, killing at least 10 militants. Hours later, officials said about 40 militants died when five missiles hit a vehicle convoy in the same region.”

The Long War Journal has further information on the training camp attack and the convoy attack, as well as a helpful listing of other known drone operations.

While both Pakistani and US military assets are striking a number of targets along the Afpak border, there would be particular satisfaction in the capture or killing of Baitullah Mehsud.  Rahimullah Yusufzai, a journalist based in Peshawar, writes, “No military operation against Taliban militants in NWFP could be decisive without taking on and defeating the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) head, Baitullah Mehsud. The Pakistan army’s action in Swat and the rest of Malakand division and even in Bajaur and Mohmand tribal regions was like a side-show. The major threat was none else but the TTP founder and the main battlefield was always going to be Waziristan.”

More Background

Attack of the military drones, Brookings Institution

US launches another drone plane to patrol Canadian border (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

Homeland Security drone patroling Northern New York (WWTI-News)

Homeland security short stories

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 8, 2009

Boring web sites attacked

The AP is reporting, “A widespread and unusually resilient computer attack that began July 4 knocked out the Web sites of several government agencies, including some that are responsible for fighting cyber crime.”  The BBC reports that similar attacks were experienced in South Korea.  Targets included the Department of Transportation and the Federal Trade Commission.

No place is safe from the GAO

The Washington Post reports, “Investigators from the Government Accountability Office over the past year successfully smuggled bomb-making materials into 10 high-security federal buildings, constructed bombs and walked around undetected.” The GAO report of this investigation is not yet available online and, perhaps for good reason, details seem hard to come by this morning.

Teenager resists usual routine

A San Francisco teenager diagnosed with H1N1, who has since recovered, is the most recent of three patients who have demonstrated resistance to Tamiflu.   But Medpage reports , “Right now this looks like spontaneous mutation in these patients,” Dr. Fukuda (WHO deputy director) told a press conference today. He said all three patients had the same mutation and all three had “uncomplicated”  disease from which they made full recoveries. He added there’s also no evidence of a resistant strain in any of the contacts of the three patients.”

Canadian pigs are being creative

“A new strain of H1N1 flu sickened at least two workers at a pig farm in Saskatchewan, Canadian health officials said. Tests found the strain is different from the pandemic swine flu circulating the globe,” according to Bloomberg.

In retaliation for mean border guards?

Many Canadians perceive “today’s U.S. border officers are meaner,” according to Passport channeling the Globe and Mail.  Might the mutating pig virus be a passive aggressive response?

When you are sick in bed, all the websites have crashed,  and your Canadian friends are unwilling to visit, you can still listen to the radio

“Ocean conservationist David Helvarg says the Coast Guard’s environmental duties are vastly important to marine life and underappreciated in the U.S. military. Helvarg talks with host Jeff Young about his new book, Rescue Warriors: The U.S. Coast Guard: America’s Forgotten Heroes.  You can read or listen to more from Living on Earth.

“Sixty years ago this summer, a fire occurred that redefined modern forest fire fighting. Bob Sallee was just 17 years old when he joined the smokejumpers, an elite new group of forest fire fighters. On his very first jump he parachuted down to battle the Mann Gulch blaze outside of Helena, Mont.  The blaze seemed routine at first – but fueled by high winds the fire suddenly blew up… Soon the crew of 16 was running for their lives.” Hear more from The Story.

Each week from KAMU at Texas A&M there is  a new Homeland Security: Inside and Out.  This week the topic is “Can Twitter save lives during and after a disasters?”

July 7, 2009

Homeland security vision, mission, purpose, and accreditation

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 7, 2009

Last Thursday here at HLSwatch Dr. Matthew J. Blackwood argued, “A standard curriculum and accreditation process for under-graduate and graduate programs focusing on homeland security will assure quality control.” Read his blogpost and related comments here.

I am opposed to a standardized curriculum and skeptical about quality “control” in higher education, but enthusiastic regarding the potential for accreditation. Accreditation usually does not — and to my way of thinking, should not — imply a standardized curriculum.

Others commenting on Dr. Blackwood’s blogpost have suggested it would be premature to settle into a standardized curriculum.  I concur.  Moreover, reading Dr. Blackwood leaves me doubting tight standardization is what he was meaning to suggest. The exemplar he offers is the Accrediting Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET). Quick references were made to other professional accrediting bodies.  In each of the professions he points to there is a diversity of curricula and a track record of educational innovation.

The American tradition of higher education accreditation is federalist  — even individualist — in its values. It seeks to cultivate comity and mutual respect through institutional transparency and explicit communication.  As explained by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), “The higher education enterprise and our society thrive on decentralization and diversity of institutional purpose and mission.” Different institutions or different programs within institutions can pursue considerably different purposes and missions and still be accredited.

Fundamental to accreditation is clarity of vision, mission, and purpose while demonstrating coherence and consistency in executing vision, mission, and purpose.

Demonstration of coherence and consistency is achieved through programmatic self-study and peer review.  The internal process of periodic self-study encourages faculty, administrators, students, and others to take seriously their program’s stated vision, mission, and purpose. The external and usually collaborative process of peer review encourages both accountability and the cross-breeding of good ideas across the field. More on these processes are available from a CHEA document entitled: An Overview of US Accreditation.

Precisely because homeland security is a still emerging and ill-defined profession a meaningful process of accreditation could be immensely helpful.  Accreditation — properly undertaken — encourages communication, collaboration, and ongoing consultation between and among a range of institutions and programs.   Too many so-called HS programs are, as Dr. Blackwood noted, retreads of preexisting academic offerings.  Accreditation would discourage this.  There is a lack of discussion regarding vision, mission, and purpose.  The accreditation process should encourage much more serious attention to these foundations.

In most of the world educational quality assurance is a governmental function focused on minimum equivilencies. In the United States private  accreditation arose as a voluntary process of self-improvement and mutual consultation.  When mindfully and honestly engaged (not always the case, it is true), accreditation encourages diversity and confidence in the value of diversity.

Accreditation empowers innovation by asking innovators to be explicit regarding their goals.  The innovators are then required to defend their plans, processes, and procedures for achieving the goals to those with an ability to ask probing questions. 

In the vast majority of cases, accreditation is a process that encourages self-correction around each program’s unique sources of meaning.

In the long-run the nation’s security and liberty would very much benefit from a serious and sustained argument over the vision, mission, and purpose of homeland security.  This is unlikely to occur — and could be unwise to principally occur — within the Department of Homeland Security.  The accreditation process can provide a conducive national setting for practitioners, academics, policy-makers, private citizens, and others to engage in inquiry, exploration, and rigorous mutual recognition of different — but equally valid — visions, missions, and purposes for homeland security.

« Previous PageNext Page »