Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 19, 2009

Black Saturday: Royal commission’s interim report released

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on August 19, 2009

Monday the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission released an interim report on the February 7 inferno — known as Black Saturday — that killed 173.

The findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission may shift the Australian model of bushfire (wildfire) response closer to that of the United States.  In a Tuesday editorial on the interim report The Age of Melbourne offers,

The commission’s recommendations leave in place the policy of ”Prepare, Stay and Defend or Leave Early”, commonly known as ”stay or go”, which has long been the core of Victoria’s bushfire response strategy. But they do not leave it intact. Indeed, the commission has advised a reinterpretation of ”stay or go” so thoroughgoing that the policy can no longer be applied as traditionally intended. Hitherto, ”stay or go” has rested on the understanding that the safest tactic, for those who are adequately prepared, is to stay and defend their homes. That assumption is turned on its head by the report: in future, it recommends, firefighting services should make clear to householders that the safest option is always to leave early.

The Royal Commission’s work is focused tightly on risk readiness and response to wildfire.  But I found many of its findings and recommendations to have implications for a range of hazards.  The following is taken from the interim report’s executive summary.  Replace the noun “bushfires” with a threat of your choice.  I expect the principle will continue to be valid.

Timely warnings save lives. The community expects and depends on detailed and high quality information prior to, during, and after bushfires. The community is also entitled to receive timely and accurate bushfire warnings whenever possible, based on the intelligence available to the control agencies.

Though they are distinct concepts, the provision of information (Chapter 5), warnings (Chapter 4) and the response to emergency calls (Chapter 12) are inextricably linked. Ongoing information about bushfires prepares the community and educates on the appropriate steps to take if a warning is issued. In contrast, a bushfire warning is specific advice about an imminent event. Such a warning should propel the community into action in response to a specific threat — ideally, armed with the information and education which has prepared them to respond.

Prior to 7 February the State Government devoted unprecedented efforts and resources to informing the community about the fire risks Victoria faced. That campaign clearly had benefits, but it could not, on its own, translate levels of awareness and preparedness into universal action that minimised risk on the day of the fires. Indeed, no campaign will have universal success. The effectiveness of any campaign depends on the quality of information, the modes of dissemination and the willingness and capacity of people to hear, understand and act on the message. This is a shared responsibility between government and the people.

The interim report makes fifty-one recommendations, many focused on improving near-term preparedness for the forthcoming wildfire season in Australia.  The recommendations address very specific issues of intelligence,  incident command, evacuation, command authority, and much more.

But the vast majority of recommendations focus on public communication  during  — and even more importantly, before — a wildfire emergency.  Unless a serious investment in public education is made prior to an  emergency, even the best communications during an emergency will be considerably less effective.

More background:

Findings highlight systemic failure (The Age)

Prepare for worst fire season ever (Sydney Morning Herald)

Victoria names 52 towns most vulnerable to bushfires (The Australian)

Confusion over ultimate authority (Herald-Sun)

Review to lock in crisis command (The Age)

August 18, 2009

Mehsud said to be dead (again)

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 18, 2009

The BBC is reporting, “The chief spokesman for the Taliban in Pakistan, who was arrested on Monday, has confirmed that the group’s leader is dead, Pakistani officials have said. A minister from North West Frontier Province said Maulvi Omar had stated that Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone attack earlier this month. The Taliban had previously denied US and Pakistani reports that he was dead.”

Additional reports are available from DAWN and prior coverage by HLSWatch is available here and here and here and here.

UPDATE (Wednesday, August 19)

Claiming Mehsud is still alive, but “seriously ill,” a deputy has claimed leadership of TTP forces.  See following reports.

Pakistan Taliban commander claims leadership (AFP)

Faqir Mohammed takes command (The Long War Journal)

UPDATE (Sunday, August 23)

Kamran Haider with Reuters is reporting, “There’s confusion. Two days ago, Fariq Mohammad claimed he’s acting chief and now he says Hakimullah is,” one senior intelligence officer in northwest Pakistan said. “It’s a trick.” Intelligence officials insisted Hakimullah was killed or gravely wounded in a shootout with a rival days after Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a U.S. missile strike on Aug. 5

A “Grand Challenge” of its Own

Filed under: Business of HLS,Congress and HLS,General Homeland Security,Technology for HLS — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on August 18, 2009

President Obama nominated Tara O’Toole as Under Secretary for the Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) earlier this summer.   While approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee and sent to the full Senate, her nomination was one that did not make it through in the final days before the Congressional August recess.

If and when Dr. O’Toole is confirmed, she will have a significant job ahead of her at S&T.  Tasked with being the research and development arm of DHS, S&T has a budget of nearly $933 million (FY 2009) and is in charge of research in such areas as Chemical/Biological, Infrastructure, Command, Control and Interoperability (CCI), Explosives and Maritime.  The Directorate also oversees the Department’s Centers of Excellence/University programs and runs partnerships with a number of the Energy Department’s labs.

S&T also oversees the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA),  an entity which has struggled to find its mission.  Originally, it was intended to be Homeland’s equivalent of the Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a scientific arm that focuses on high-payoff, innovative, and potentially risky R&D.  HSARPA, in its early days, focused significantly on conventional R&D that was not cutting edge but potentially provided some better returns.  In the past year or so, there was a push to mold HSARPA into the DARPA model but it hasn’t quite gotten there yet.

One idea that Dr. O’Toole and others at DHS may want to consider as they take the helm is to create a “Grand Challenge” for HSARPA, similar to the well-known and successful DARPA Grand Challenge.   The DARPA Grand Challenge, for those not familiar, is a competition sponsored by DARPA to facilitate robotic development for national security purposes.  Teams from the robotics, automotive, and defense industries, as well as from academia and elsewhere, design autonomous ground vehicles to complete a course set up by DARPA, with the winners of the competition receiving cash prizes.  There have been three DARPA Challenges to date, with the Urban Challenge, held in 2007, offering prizes of $2 million, $1 million, and $500,000, respectively, to the top three teams.

The theory between the DARPA Grand Challenge is that it “mobilizes the technical community to accelerate research and development in critical national security technology areas.”   If that is the case, why not develop a Homeland Security Grand Challenge?

There are countless specific technological challenges in the homeland security space that need to be addressed.  The Department has continued to struggle with pairing technology with solutions in a number of areas, including in the areas of border security, transportation security, and infrastructure protection.   As a result, Congress continues to mandate deadlines for implementing certain programs – deadlines that the agency has not always been able to meet.

A few ideas on some potential HSARPA Challenge subjects:

  • Technology to address the 100% maritime cargo scanning mandated by the “Implementing the 9/11 Commission’s Recommendations Act of 2007.”
  • Improved technology for identifying weapons, liquids, explosives, and the like at TSA security screening points to facilitate quicker and more effective travel.
  • Technology to improve border crossing times at the Southern and Northern Border Ports of Entry (POE), especially at peak travel times and during special events.
  • Technology to improve perimeter and access security at critical infrastructures and federal government buildings.

Admittedly, there are a couple of private sector-run security challenges already in existence.  Those may be good for generally promoting emerging technologies for general homeland and national security purposes. They are not the same as a government-initiated challenge to a specific problem. If anything, those programs would compliment what the government could be doing to furthering security technologies.

In addition, there are companies who claim they have technologies that can address the issues described above.  Allowing those companies, along with others, to openly and transparently demonstrate capabilities in a “crisis” designed environment would go far in getting these technologies out of the lab and pilot programs and into the field.   This effort may also help Congress better understand what can and can’t be done with technology and what R&D still lies ahead.

August 17, 2009

The Epistle of Paul to the Governors (updated)

Filed under: Homeland Defense — by Philip J. Palin on August 17, 2009

Last week’s late Thursday post on the National Governors’ Association response to a DOD proposal generated more readers than any post since I joined HLSWatch.    But it was a post about the NGA response to a proposal not seen, at least not seen here.

The NGA response was — predictably — less-than-enthusiastic.  Here’s the proposed legislative language being offered by DoD:

(1) IN GENERAL.-Chapter 1209 of title 10, United States Code, is amended by inserting after section 12304 the following new section:
Ҥ 12304a. Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, and Air Force Reserve: order to active duty to provide assistance in response to a major disaster or emergency
“(a) AUTHORITY.-Notwithstanding any other provision of law, to provide assistance in responding to a major disaster or emergency (as those terms are defined in section 102 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5122)), the Secretary of Defense may, without the consent of the member affected, order any unit, and any member not assigned to a unit organized to serve as a unit, of the Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, and Air Force Reserve, under the jurisdiction of that Secretary to active duty for a continuous period of not more than 120 days.
“(b) EXCLUSION FROM STRENGTH LIMITATIONS.-Members ordered to active duty under this section shall not be counted in computing authorized strength of members on active duty or members in grade under this title or any other law.
“(c) TERMINATION OF DUTY.-Whenever any unit or member of the Reserves is ordered to active duty under this section, the service of all units or members so ordered to active duty may be terminated by order of the Secretary of Defense or law.”
(2) CLERICAL AMENDMENT.-The table of sections at the beginning of such chapter is amended by inserting after the item relating to section 12304 the following new item:
“12304a. Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Air Force Reserve: order to active duty to provide assistance in response to a major disaster or emergency.”.
(b) TREATMENT OF OPERATIONS AS CONTINGENCY OPERATIONS.-Section 101(a)(13)(B) of such title is amended by inserting “12304a,” after “12304,”.

Further, at the close of this post  is the late July letter of Paul N. Stockton, Assistant Secretary of Defense (Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs) to the NGA chairman regarding the proposed legislative language. 

Through a staff colleague, Dr. Stockton has also passed along this further response:

Philip J. Palin’s August 13, 2009 article “Govs to DoD: Thanks, but no
thanks” was a great overview of the debate on the Department of Defense legislative proposal that seeks the authority to order Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force Reserves to active duty to assist in responses  to major disasters and emergencies in the United States.  I would like to emphasize that our proposal does not seek to usurp the authorities of Governors but rather ensure the federal government is able to respond with ALL available and appropriate resources when requested by a state.   As AP reporter Lolita Baldor aptly wrote, “California officials grew irate when they saw helicopters sitting idle at Camp Pendleton as fires raged through the countryside.”  While the Pentagon was able to direct active duty Marine helicopter units to respond to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s request for aid, (DoD) could not order the nearby Marine Corps Reserve units to do the same.  If passed, our legislative proposal will ensure that our Nation is able to access and utilize all of our capabilities during a disaster to include those in the military reserves, when requested by a Governor.

Tracking the surge of new readers on Friday and Saturday it is pretty clear that many readers of last week’s post are concerned about an incremental acquisition of power by the central government producing a slippery slope to tyranny.   As Dr. Stockton’s comments suggest, this concern is in tension with taking prudent steps to ensure a constitutional and effective federal response to a catastrophic disaster. 

Is there a reasonable accommodation of the tension?  Probably worth a real discussion that includes some careful listening by all sides.

Following are two JPEG images of Paul Stockton’s original letter.  I understand these are barely readable.  I will eventually pound out a text version of the letter, but given other commitments today, this is the best I can do and get this to you in a timely way.




A domestic non-integrating gap

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 17, 2009

Last week Kamal Hassan admitted to a Minneapolis federal court that he was trained in para-military operations by al-Shabab, a Somali movement listed as a terrorist organization by the Department of State.

According to Patrick Condon, reporting for the Associated Press, “As many as 20 young men have traveled to Somalia to join in fighting there. Family members in Minnesota, where the nation’s largest population of Somali immigrants is concentrated in Minneapolis, say at least three have died.”

“Two others also have pleaded guilty to terror-related charges. Salah Osman Ahmed, 26, of New Brighton, pleaded guilty in July to providing material support to terrorists. Ahmed acknowledged that he worked with al-Shabab in Somalia. Ahmed said he did menial labor at a training camp but acknowledged he also was trained to use guns.”

“Abdifatah Yusuf Isse, 25, of Seattle, pleaded guilty in April to one count of providing material support to terrorists. Isse also spent time in an al-Shabab camp in the lawless Horn of Africa country.”

There has been no indication so far of the al-Shabab recruits being used for terrorist purposes inside the United States.   According to Dina Temple-Raston of NPR,  “As many as four young men (including Hassan) have returned from Somalia. Officials close to the case said none of them came back to the U.S. with plans to attack, and most were trying to put their experiences in Somalia and the brutality of a civil war behind them.”

But as reported on August 5 by HLSwatch, Australian authorities have arrested several alleged terrorists who claim they were trained by al-Shabab in Somalia.   According to intelligence and law enforcement officials the terrorist team was close to launching a suicide attack on military installations near Sydney.

On the same day that Kamal Hassan was pleading guilty in Minneapolis, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a new report entitled, The Second Wave: Return of the Militias.  According to the widely-respected SPLC analysis:

Almost a decade after largely disappearing from public view, right-wing militias, ideologically driven tax defiers and sovereign citizens are appearing in large numbers around the country. “Paper terrorism” — the use of property liens and citizens’ “courts” to harass enemies — is on the rise. And once-popular militia conspiracy theories are making the rounds again, this time accompanied by nativist theories about secret Mexican plans to “reconquer” the American Southwest. One law enforcement agency has found 50 new militia training groups — one of them made up of present and former police officers and soldiers. Authorities around the country are reporting a worrying uptick in Patriot activities and propaganda. “This is the most significant growth we’ve seen in 10 to 12 years,” says one. “All it’s lacking is a spark. I think it’s only a matter of time before you see threats and violence.”

There is some evidence that social factors spurring members to join right-wing militias are  similar to those motivating a few Somali-Americans to join the al-Shabab militias.

In the main, Muslim-Americans are well-integrated into American life.  The vast majority are citizens.  Their average income and level of education is above the national average.  (See more details from the Pew Research Center.)  But the Somali-American process of integration — so far — has been slow and less successful. For details please see a University of Minnesota, Humphrey Institute report (large doc.).

With apologies and appreciation to Thomas P. M. Barnett, I perceive the Somali-American situation and any nativist resurgence as expressions of another kind of “non-integrating gap.” Speaking in terms of the broadest geo-strategy, Barnett has written:

Show me where globalization is thick with network connectivity, financial transactions, liberal media flows, and collective security, and I will show you regions featuring stable governments, rising standards of living, and more deaths by suicide than murder.  These parts of the world I call the Functioning Core, or Core.  But show me where globalization is thinning or just plain absent, and I will show you regions plagued by politically repressive regimes, widespread poverty and disease, routine mass murder, and—most important—the chronic conflicts that incubate the next generation of global terrorists.  These parts of the world I call the Non-Integrating Gap, or Gap. 

A rigorous 2005 study by David Freilich and William Pridemore, A reassessment of state-levil covariates of militia groups, called into question several hypotheses for the emergence of such groups (and critiqued SPLC data methods). But the scholars also cite evidence that domestic militia members tend to emerge from displaced farmers and other rural workers whose fundamental sense of social identity has been undermined.  This is especially the case in combination with social disorganization such as family disintegration and physical displacement.  Militia membership is more likely to emerge from situations where long-term sources of social integration have been lost and not replaced. 

On the surface, there are significant differences between those recruited by a far-right white supremist group and those recruited by al-Shabab.  But the deeper one looks several similarities seem to emerge.

In the Humphrey Institute report linked above, several findings and recommendations are identified for closing-the-gap between Somali-Americans and the broader community.  These include,

We found that maintaining cultural identification, higher parental educational attainment, English proficiency, participation in structured programming, strength of peer and family relationships, and involvement with religious organizations all had a positive effect on being civically engaged, achieving higher levels of education, and obtaining employment.

Might the same hold true for those joining the militias?  Somali or not, these are seldom the characteristics of someone who seeks out a fight. At the very least, we can listen to one another.  Nothing marginalizes, alienates, and generates anger so effectively as being ignored or dismissed.

While the President was focusing on another issue, some comments in his Saturday radio address apply to how we might begin to close-the-gap.  Mr. Obama said, “I know there’s plenty of real concern and skepticism out there. I know that in a time of economic upheaval, the idea of change can be unsettling, and I know that there are folks who believe that government should have no role at all in solving our problems. These are legitimate differences worthy of the real discussion that America deserves – one where we lower our voices, listen to one another, and talk about differences that really exist.”


Much more on Terrorist Group Formation and Recruitment (both foreign and domestic) is available from the National Consortium on the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism.

America Abroad, producers of radio documentaries, has brought together a great piece on Integrating Islam: Muslim immigrants in Europe and the US.

In his 2005 CFR essay and in his more recent book, Robert S. Leiken considers “Europe’s Angry Muslims” and implications for the United States.

August 15, 2009

This weekend: Save the world from X flu

Filed under: Biosecurity — by Philip J. Palin on August 15, 2009


The Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands, in cooperation with Ranj Serious Games, has produced an online game focused on preventing, mitigating, and responding to pandemic.

It’s a great idea reasonably well executed.  If you are on broadband you can access the game at http://www.thegreatflu.com/.  Don’t try unless your connection is solid and speedy.

According to the game-makers website, the goal of the game is “to increase the awareness and the level of knowledge about viruses and the complex way viruses spread and evolve.” 

The Great Flu is fundamentally a strategy game where you deploy assets in anticipation of or in response to emerging events. You decide what and where you should invest and you only have so much budget, so every choice begins to limit future choices.

If you make bad choices the number of infected and dead increase more rapidly.  If you make good choices body-count slows and the spread across the planet can even be stopped.

Here are some of your action options and their cost.  You have a budget of 2 billion Euros at the start of the game.

  • Distribute face masks: 7 million Euros
  • Improve health care: 20 million Euros
  • Close schools: 10 million Euros
  • Close markets: 5 million Euros
  • Close airports: 250 million Euros
  • Isoloate symptomatic individuals: 80 million Euros
  • Establish early warning system: 100 million Euros
  • Inform civilian:s 5 million Euros
  • Improve research facilities: 200 million Euros
  • Stockpile vaccine type A: 120 million Euros
  • Stockpile vaccine type B: 120 million Euros
  • Stockpile antiviral medicine: 100 million Euros

The game is slow to load and is mostly a visually enhanced interactive spreadsheet.  By adjusting variables in one cell you impact other cells.  Anyone who has played around with “dynamic” budgeting knows the basic drill.

The key to winning, if it can be called that,  is timing.  Early investments in research, surveillance, and basic health care will pay big benefits.  The timing of where and when to stockpile vaccines and antivirals can get complicated and expensive.  In this game, you are more likely to lose than win.  And most “wins” still involve lots of disease and death.  So does Grand Theft Auto.  In managing a pandemic, so does the real world.

On Thursday Treale Fristoe, a thoughtful critic of gaming, complained that, “It takes quite a while before the virus even appears, during which time the player can do nothing but wait (or quit, which I expect many players would do).”  This is not precisely true.  Because I know something about pandemic mitigation, I started deploying assets before there were any disease reports.  But there is no way most players will realize this.  Otherwise I agree with Fristoe’s balanced critique of what is good and bad in the game.

Fristoe  hightlights the need for a tutorial.  Even more helpful would be a user-friendly backgrounder.  Most gamers don’t mind losing.  In fact many find losing motivational.  But then they want some clues to doing better.  That would be a great moment to have easily available a user-friendly primer on pandemic preparedness… including washing your hands.

I bet the budget for The Great Flu was under $200,000 and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was designed and delivered in less than nine months (six months?).   The return on investment will be high.  It would have been even higher with a bit more investment.  Just as in fighting a pandemic.


For the last ten years, until my semi-retirement last June, I was CEO of a small company that developed, among other things,  “serious games” for corporate, defense, and homeland security clients.  So I am biased, but this approach to public information and public education has enormous potential when it is done right.

August 14, 2009

Choosing the cusp of chaos

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

pacific-earthquakes   The graphic shows measurable seismic events in the Pacific Rim.

“Eastern Japan has been hit by a third strong earthquake in less than a week, prompting speculation that the recent underground activity may be the precursor to a massive — and overdue — tremor in the Tokai region,” Julian Ryall tells us in the Telegraph’s Thursday report.

This week I am working in California, where another “big one” is past due.   As in Japan, California will soon enough be hit with a quake measuring above 8.0 on the Richter Scale.  Similar catastrophic events are certain for the Cascadia fault (Washington and Oregon Coast) and the New Madrid fault (Mississippi River valley, and that’s Mad-rid as in the magazine not the Spanish capital for all you high-falluttin coastal dwellers.)

Thursday morning’s quake was “centred 170 kilometres (105 miles) from the Japanese capital — the world’s largest urban area with 35 million people,” reports Harumi Ozawa with AFP. “The quake, which US seismologists measured at 6.4, was only ‘a rehearsal for us in preparing for a bigger, real disaster’, said one resident, fisheries official Masaki Yamada, in the port of Yaizu near the offshore epicentre. The experts agree. The Earthquake Research Committee warns of an 87 percent chance that a magnitude-eight earthquake — 100 times more powerful than this week’s tremor — will strike the same region within the next 30 years.”

Some experts expect a major shift in either the San Andreas or Tokai faults to be preceded by a series of magnitude-five quakes.  Japan’s Earthquake Assessment Committee does not, however, believe this week’s first two quakes  are precursors. As I write this, no word yet on Thursday morning’s prophetic potential. (See more from Atsushi Miyazaki and Kiyohikio Yoneyama in the Yomiuri Shimbun.)

While there have been some successful efforts at earthquake prediction, Thursday’s quake in Japan apparently did not activate an extensive network of Japanese seismometers until the actual event.  In any case, a warning is likely to provide no more than 20 to 30 seconds for preparation.

More valuable — at least to my way of thinking — is what living with the prospect of certain catastrophe does for the mindset of preparedness.  The risk readiness and counterterrorism work  I do in California always starts at a much higher level than anywhere else I have (so far) worked.

In the Golden State “first responders” accept catastrophe as fundamental to their condition.  And I am not making a political comment, despite Sacramento’s perpetual budget battles.

Like a good Buddhist (“Life is suffering“), Stoic, (“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Epictetus), Existentialist, or careful reader of Job and Ecclesiastes, California cops, firefighters, public health, and other public safety professionals assume that, if not today, then tomorrow will bring the great quake, city-sweeping wildfire, or population-pummeling plague.  It’s not a question of if, but when.

Discussions with these particular Californians tend to start at a very different place than with people who do not live quite so close to the edge, both literally and figuratively.  It is certainly not difficult to find Californians laughing and dancing to the precipice, but the public safety community is characterized mostly by caring and competent realists.

We all live on the cusp of chaos, whether we admit it or not.  In California it is just harder to deny it.  As a result, California is doing more to prepare for and mitigate catastrophe.  Sure, even more needs to be done.  But compare California’s readiness for an 8.0 earthquake to, say, Memphis or St. Louis — both likely to be hit hard by the next shift in the New Madrid fault — and we are back to comparing apples to orange seeds.

Cass Sunstein concludes his Worst-Case Scenarios with, “For most of us, worst-case scenarios rarely deserve sustained attention.  Life is short, and we might as well enjoy it.  But if we are alert, on occasion, to the worst that might happen, we should be able to enjoy life a lot longer.”

With the rare exception, my California public safety colleagues laugh alot, eat well,  know their Napa from their Sonoma wines, love their families, and live large.  They are not lively despite their understanding of risk, rather they are more fully engaged in life because they — better than most of us — know well the loose  seams and ragged edges of living.  This is, it seems to me, the foundation of true resilience.

“Difficulties are things that show a person what they are.” Epictetus (again)

A few resources on catastrophic possibilities:

Latest earthquakes: Last seven days (US Geological Survey)

Yellowstone Supervolcano (National Geographic Magazine)

National Hurricane Center (National Weather Service)

Study finds big storms on a 1000 year rise (New York Times and Nature)

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (US Department of State)

Managing the Atom Program (Belfer Center, Harvard University)

Emergency Preparedness and Response Site (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Center for Biosecurity (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center)

Near-Earth Object Program (NASA)

Deadly Skies: Tracking Near-Earth Objects (PBS)

August 13, 2009

Govs to DoD: Thanks, but no thanks

Filed under: Homeland Defense,State and Local HLS — by Philip J. Palin on August 13, 2009

On August 7 the National Governors Association replied to a letter evidently received from Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Stockton.  The content of this letter is extracted below.

I have not yet seen a copy of the original letter from Dr. Stockton.

According to Matthew Rothschild in The Progressive, the letter signals an intention to seek Congressional approval to post almost 400,000 military personnel in the U.S.  Rothschild continues, “This request has already occasioned a dispute with the nation’s governors. And it raises the prospect of U.S. military personnel patrolling the streets of the United States, in conflict with the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.”

 AP reporter Lolita Baldor offers a more expansive explanation for the governors’ concern.  “At the heart of the disagreement is who will exercise the muscle to command reserve troops when they are sent to a particular state to deal with a hurricane, wildfire or other disaster. The governors see the Pentagon move as a strike at state sovereignty, while the military justifies it as a natural extension of its use of federal forces.”

Writing in The Hill, Reid Wilson, reports, “A bipartisan pair of governors is opposing a new Defense Department proposal to handle natural and terrorism-related disasters, contending that a murky chain of command could lead to more problems than solutions.”

A regular reader of HLSwatch suggests there is very helpful background in a  November 2008 CRS report, written by Jennifer Elsea and Chuck Mason, entitled: Use of Federal Troops for Disaster Assistance: Legal Issues.  The first paragraph is a great one, “Recognizing the risk that a standing army could pose to individual civil liberties and the sovereignty retained by the several states, but also cognizant of the need to provide for the defense of the nation against foreign and domestic threats, the framers of the Constitution incorporated a system of checks and balances to divide the control of the military between the President and Congress and to share the control of the militia with the states. This report summarizes the constitutional and statutory authorities and limitations relevant to the employment of the armed forces to provide disaster relief and law enforcement assistance.”

At this point, I don’t have anything to add that you can’t find in what these reporters and researchers have produced. Please access the original stories.  If anyone has a copy of Paul’s letter, please let me know.


The Honorable Paul Stockton
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense
and Americas’ Security Affairs
The Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301

Dear Assistant Secretary Stockton:

On behalf of the nation’s governors, we would like to thank you for your letter regarding the legislative proposal to provide the Secretary of Defense with expanded authorities to assist in the response to domestic disasters. While we appreciate the outreach, governors remain cautious about changes to the military’s authority to engage independently in domestic emergency response situations. The proposal you suggest may have merit, but its consideration must be preceded by a discussion regarding the tactical control of forces serving inside a state in response to a disaster or emergency.

It is our position that to carry out our homeland defense and homeland security responsibilities, governors must retain command and control over the domestic use of their own National Guard forces (Title 32 or State Active Duty status), supporting National Guard forces from other states, and Title 10 forces operating within the supported governor’s state or territory. Consequently, when a dual status command has not been established under 32 United States Code 325, governors, acting through their Adjutants General and Joint Force Headquarters-State, must have tactical control over all Title 10 active duty and reserve military forces engaged in domestic operations within the governor’s state or territory.

We are concerned that the legislative proposal you discuss in your letter would invite confusion on critical command and control issues, complicate interagency planning, establish stove-piped response efforts, and interfere with governors’ constitutional responsibilities to ensure the safety and security of their citizens. One of the key lessons learned from the response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 was the need for clear chains of command to avoid duplication of effort and to ensure the most effective use of response resources. Without assigning a governor tactical control of Title 10 forces assisting in a response, and without the use of a dual-hatted National Guard commander to ensure coordination between Title 32 and Title 10 forces, strong potential exists for confusion in mission execution and the dilution of governors’ control over situations with which they are more familiar and better capable of handling than a federal military commander.

We look forward to discussing potential tactical control solutions. For example, current military doctrine explicitly allows members of the United States armed forces to serve under the operational direction of foreign commanders, with the President retaining ultimate command over U.S. forces. If the command relationship with the President can be maintained while American active duty personnel are operating under the control of foreign commanders, we see no convincing reason why it cannot be maintained while active duty personnel are under the control of a state governor acting through the Adjutant General. The Commission on the National Guard and Reserves’ Second Report to Congress dated March 1, 2007, specifically recommends governor direction of state and federal military assets to synchronize the military response to disasters:

“Recommendation 8. As part of Department of Defense efforts to develop plans for consequence management and support to civil authorities that account for state-level activities and incorporate the use of National Guard and Reserve forces as first military responders (see Recommendation 19), the Department of Defense should develop protocols that allow governors to direct the efforts of federal military assets responding to an emergency such as a natural disaster.”

We do not yet understand how the legislative proposal would increase the number of DoD personnel available to assist disaster victims. Under existing legislation, DoD has the authority to order members of the Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, and Air Force Reserve to active duty to assist in responses to major disasters and emergencies in the United States. Further, we are not yet convinced the proposed legislative changes would increase the responsiveness of DoD personnel. Under existing legislation, when emergency conditions dictate, local military commanders and responsible DoD component officials are authorized to respond to requests from local authorities and to initiate immediate response actions to save lives, prevent human suffering, or mitigate great property damage under imminently serious conditions.

As you know, a similar proposal was contained in the House of Representatives’ version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, but was removed during conference because of governors’ concerns. In the Joint Explanatory Statement that accompanied the bill, Congress made clear that DoD should engage governors to address their concerns before moving the proposal forward:

“The Department of Defense should engage with the community of governors to work out an understanding of unity of effort during domestic terrorist events and public emergencies. This key underlying issue must be addressed to allow this and other promising proposals to be enacted.”

Governors and their Adjutants General would welcome the opportunity to work with you and others at DoD and the National Guard Bureau to discuss tactical control during disasters and to identify legislative and operational opportunities to improve our response to such events. The best way to facilitate such consultation and communication is for DoD to quickly establish the Council of Governors as required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008. Doing so will provide an appropriate forum to address these issues and other aspects of defense support to civilian authorities.


Governor James H. Douglas

Governor Joe Manchin III

The Honorable Robert M. Gates, Secretary of Defense
The Honorable William J. Lynn, III, Deputy Secretary of Defense
Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
The Honorable Michèle Flournoy, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
General Victor E. Renuart, Commander, U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command
General Craig R. McKinley, Chief, National Guard Bureau

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

A Healthy Homeland

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on August 13, 2009

There is something intuitively appealing to me about possible parallels between a healthy homeland and a secure homeland.

Homeland security is about terrorism, disasters, national security and a few other things. Could it also be about health care?

The national attention is  focused on health care. From an “all imaginable hazards” perspective, one might make the case that health care is a homeland security issue. I think there is a case, but its pulse is weak.

Public health is the most obvious connection to homeland security. Presumably a significant fraction of the country’s 50 million uninsured will delay seeking professional care if they develop flu-like symptoms this autumn. In a naïve theory about how things happen, this delay in seeking treatment could speed the spread of a Round Two H1N1 event.

But the little I know about pandemics suggests insurance status will not be a huge part of a prevention strategy. By the time symptoms show up in anyone — insured or not — the virus has already been shared.

If H1N1 or a related biological event gets really bad this fall, that might shine a wide light on the inadequacy of the country’s medical surge capacity. We already know there are nowhere near enough ventilators, for example, to take care of the hundreds of thousands of people who might need to be hospitalized. Where else is our medical care system vulnerable?

Public health and hospital capacity are  important concerns. But it would be a stretch to tie them to the current health care debate.

Is there a compelling economic argument that can link homeland security and health care?

Approximately 20 cents of every dollar spent in this country goes to health care — actually, medical care; but any productive discussion about the difference between the two concepts has been drowned out by the squealing over euthanasia gulags.

If health care spending were contained, reduced, or directed more efficiently and effectively (pick your argument) that might free up funds for other concerns more directly related to preparedness, resilience, or rebuilding our infrastructure (pick your argument).


Congressman Peter DeFazio represents the district I live in. He held a town hall meeting on Wednesday to talk about health care and to find out what his constituents have to say.  DeFazio is also a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. I asked him (on a local radio talk show Wednesday morning) if there was a link between security and health. He tried to make a connection, but it didn’t sound like his heart was in it.

He was about to head off into the uncertainty of an August 2009  town hall meeting.  My sense was he was primed more for death camp, socialism, and Obama-wasn’t-born-in-this-country questions, rather than noise from left field (ok, right field).

I went to his 9:30 AM town hall meeting.  I was expecting to see a few youtube moments.

When I arrived, there were more than 400 people waiting to get into a room that held 250 people. They were waiting to talk about health care.  The room was too small, so someone decided to move the meeting into a parking lot.

400 people. And this is in a town where three people in front of you at Safeway is a crowd, and something to talk about at night.

My initial thought when I saw all the people was “What would we have to do to get 400 people to show up to talk about the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review or about anything that has to do with homeland security?”

I couldn’t think of anything.

DeFazio answered questions for an hour. He agreed with some people and disagreed with others about a full plate of the usual issues: tort reform, payment systems, abortion, immigrants, quality of care, choice, costs, insurance companies, Medicare.  Even euthanasia and socialism had the opportunity to rear their vacuous skulls.

No one brought up homeland security.

Facts, rumors, and more than a few sad personal stories and fears about medical issues filled the sometimes raucous parking lot. A few people yelled and interrupted questions and answers with talking point slogans. But only a very few.

(In a caricature of media distortion, at least one local television station featured a video that focused mostly on the screechers.)

There were a half dozen police officers standing in the wings. But the crowd policed itself, occasionally lifting signs that asked for discussion instead of disruption.

At the end of the hour, DeFazio said his goodbyes and moved on to the next town hall. Most of the 400 people left to resume their day. But a lot of people hung out in the parking lot talking about health care.

I doubt anyone’s mind was changed by this shchi of Q & A and street theater.  I went away still unable to make a convincing connection between homeland security and the current health care conversation.

Or so I concluded as I walked back to my car.

During the rests of the day I thought about people in Iran who had been arrested and tortured for daring to do what the people in my town unreflectively consider their inalienable right. Someone made those signs that asked for Discussion and not Disruption, or warned about the Evils of Obamacare, or demanded a Single Payer System. In many countries, getting caught with a political sign can shift your life forever.

One thing our present fixation on health care demonstrates is that in many parts of the country representative democracy is pulsatingly alive.  In spite of youtube and other media tumescence, people can come together in a public place, talk with — occasionally yell at — elected officials, agree or disagree about issues they care about. But they care.

I wish we could see that kind of passion in homeland security.

But maybe I did.

Perhaps that’s what I saw today.


August 12, 2009

Pandemic planning and communicating: Not too hard nor too soft, but just right

Filed under: Biosecurity,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on August 12, 2009


In a recent discussion with the USA Today editorial board, Secretary Napolitano said:

You can speculate about a 1918-type situation, (but) the data suggest that we will have an outbreak more similar to what happened in the ’50s, or perhaps what happened in 1968. I prefer that we educate people about what we are more likely to experience: a heavy outbreak in the fall that has a focus on young people, including college-age and pregnant women. Then, we will focus on what we need to do to work our way through that, such as keeping schools open as much as possible.

That’s entirely reasonable, given what we know about the virus today — especially given how H1N1 is presenting in the Southern Hempishere during the winter flu season there.  With rather rare exceptions, the new virus has been no more virulent than the seasonal flu of recent years.

But is the Secretary’s tone potentially too reasonable? 

Focusing on those germ-factories — otherwise known as schools — makes a lot of sense.  Great gobs of written guidance has been made available to school administrators.   This is even more important than usual given the youth-oriented targeting of this virus. Most confirmed cases have involved  individuals 19 years of age and younger. (See the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control H1N1 Risk Assessment)

But none of the teachers or school administrators I know had seen or heard of the pandemic plans until I sent them along. 

In a joint op-ed published yesterday, Secretaries Duncan, Napolitano, and Sibelius (the three bears?) encourage,

Parents should talk to their employers and make child care arrangements in case their kids get sick. And if a school closes, learning shouldn’t stop. Schools need to create opportunities to learn online and work with parents to find ways for students to bring textbooks and other resources home.  If you’re an employer, you should plan to get by with a reduced staff. You don’t want an employee who’s ill to spread flu in the workplace. If you’re a medical provider, you should plan to handle more calls and patient visits.”

All good advice.  Is anyone listening?

At the NAFTA summit John Brennan, Deputy National Security and Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, was considerably more severe in his tone:

“I think everybody recognizes that H1N1 is going to be a challenge for all of us, and there are people who are going to be getting sick in the fall and die… The strategy and the effort on the part of the governments is to make sure we do everything possible and we collaborate to minimize the impact, and make sure that the severity of the illness is kept at a minimum.”  (More by Sam Youngman at The Hill)

What’s included in “everything possible”?  Some are expressing concern.

In late July CNN reported on some DOD contingency planning for something more than a plus-up of the seasonal flu.  Earlier this week Fox  News reported that the prospect of military involvement in an H1N1 response is prompting angst from both left and right. 

Well, someone is listening. But they are talking about the constitution, not the contagion. 

This suggests a fully functioning civil immune system.  Glad to see it and we are probably in for a veritable explosion of libertarian white blood cells. According to Josh Gerstein at Politico, “The Obama administration is quietly dusting off an effort to impose new federal quarantine regulations, which were vigorously resisted by civil liberties organizations and the airline industry when the rules were first proposed by the Bush administration nearly four years ago.” (See the current Executive Order 13295)

Depending on our personal angles, any of us can quibble with what is being said or proposed or planned.   My quibble is for a bit more of John Brennan’s growl and a bit less of Janet Napolitano’s reassurance.  But my “just right,” is probably too hard or too soft for you.

The biggest challenge today is less a matter of what is being said than what is being heard.  I don’t perceive many are listening.

Do what you can today to be better prepared whatever unfolds over the next few weeks.  Otherwise, an unexpected mutation in the virus could have us all sounding like the end of the story: “Goldilocks woke up and saw the three bears.  She screamed, “Help!”  And she jumped up and… ran away into the forest.”

August 11, 2009

Strategic corporals and mission command

Filed under: State and Local HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 11, 2009

Last Thursday Chris Bellavita and T.M. Moody, Assistant Sheriff for Law Enforcement Operations with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, offered a provocative post.  The comments generated the most substantive conversation HLSWatch has hosted in a very long time.

The original post is worth reading again.  But the key insight and proposition, it seems to me, is:

Urban police forces must train their patrol personnel—who comprise the most critical and vulnerable front line in a major incident—to recognize the signs of a terrorist attack, and to act immediately to deploy safely and effectively in small teams rather than as individuals.  Team leaders must fully grasp their role and mission, and must understand how their actions serve to support other elements of a self-executing all-agency plan, especially in the absence of effective communications.

This reminded some commentator’s of the Marine Corps’ concept of the strategic corporal, which reminded me of how this concept is explained in the current Army-Marine Corps Counterinsurgency (COIN) Field Manual, to whit:

Mission Command is the conduct of military operations through decentralized execution… Successful mission command results from subordinate leaders at all echelons exercising disciplined initiative with the commander’s intent to accomplish missions.  It requires an environment of trust and mutual understanding.  It is the Army’s and the Marine Corps’ preferred method for commanding and controlling forces during all types of operations. (COIN Manual, pages 46-47)

Pause for a moment to consider the import of that last sentence.  The Army and Marine Corps prefers the “disciplined initiative” of subordinate leaders “during all types of operations.” Last week Sheriff Moody noted, “To train large police forces to remain dependent on hierarchical command and control paradigms to the exclusion of other alternatives is to train for failure.”  Roger that.

The COIN Field Manual goes on to explain, “Young leaders — so called ‘strategic corporals’ — often make decisions at the tactical level that have strategic consequences.”  You can’t pick and choose if and when a young leader is given this power.  It is a power that emerges when tactical operations suddenly stumble into a — usually unexpected — strategic inflexion point.  Decisions or non-decisions will be made.  There will be strategic consequences, intended or not.

To take advantage of these occasions — rather than being taken advantage of — Army and Marine Corps doctrine pushes the development of tactical leaders who have a sufficient understanding of mission and purpose to make choices that advance strategy.

This is not simply done and it cannot be fully explained in a typical blog post.  But following is a key paragraph from the COIN Field Manual:

Commanders exercise initiative as leaders and fighters. Learning and adapting, with appropriate decision-making authority, are critical…  Effective senior leaders establish a climate that promotes decentralized modes of command and control — what the Army calls mission command and the Marine Corps calls mission command and control.   Under mission command commanders create the conditions for subordinates’ success.  These leaders provide general guidance and the commander’s intent and assign small-unit leaders authority commensurate with their responsibilities.  Commanders establish control measures to monitor subsordinates’ actions and keep them within the bounds established by commander’s intent without micromanaging… The operation’s purpose and commander’s intent must be clearly understood throughout the force. (pages 242-243)

Consistent with these principles, at its best the military communicates, communicates, communicates and trains, trains, trains and exercises, exercises, exercises.  Through communication, training, and exercising the military can transform a 19-year-old who was uncertain about pizza preferences into an informed, insightful, and decisive warrior or, even more remarkably, an effective peacemaker.

Compare and contrast the investment of time and money in military training, education, and exercising to what is undertaken by the civilian public safety sector.  In too many jurisdictions — and certainly within DHS —  it is like comparing apples and orange seeds (and seedless varieties are popular).

We increasingly turn to the military for solutions because we have invested so much in building their capacity.  There are military lessons-learned that can and should be adapted to civilian organizations.  But to do so will require a similar investment of time and money.

August 10, 2009

Cybersecurity –

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on August 10, 2009

On Friday, I wrote a quick blurb noting that Mischel Kwon, the director of the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had announced her departure.  Her exit from the government cybersecurity realm marked the second in a week, following the highly-covered resignation of Melissa Hathaway, the White House’s Cybersecurity Advisor/Coordinator, earlier in the week.

In both cases,  many politicos and pundits have pondered why our federal cybersecurity efforts seem to be in such disarray.   Kwon was the fourth director of US CERT in five years.  Hathaway was the acting “cyber czar,” though the Administration prefers to call it “coordinator,” a position announced by the President eight weeks ago that few cybersecurity gurus have been interested in taking.

Things, however, may be bad but not be as bad as they appear.  DHS has filled its two (or three, depending on you count) political cybersecurity spots with experienced and smart experts.  Phil Reitinger is the Deputy Under Security for the National Protection & Programs Directorate, overseeing the agency’s cybersecurity efforts.  He is dual-hatted as the Director of the National Cybersecurity Center (NCSC), a position created in 2008 amid internal squabbling that has been duplicative of the agency’s efforts, as well as under appreciated, as demonstrated by Rod Beckstrom’s very public resignation from that position earlier this year.  In consolidating the two positions, Secretary Napolitano has created one point person to strategize and lead the Department’s efforts on a macro level.

In addition, the new Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity & Communications, Greg Schaffer, is well-versed in the cybersecurity space.  Both Phil and Greg have worked together in the past and have private sector and government experience in the operational and legal sides of cybersecurity – something which is much needed at the agency. Hopefully, by working together in a concerted effort, there will be some progress at DHS on the cybersecurity front.  That’s not to say there is not a lot of work to be done and it is a nearly-impossible task, but having some gameplan and a team effort will be critical.

Over at the Department of Defense Secretary Robert Gates created a “Cyber Command” to be headed by  the director of the National Security Agency.  When announcing the new Command in June, Gates issued a memo noting that the new effort will have synchronize “warfighting efforts across the global security environment.”  While there has been some concerns that the New Cyber Command will usurp civilian efforts, its creation is an important step in streamlining and synchronizing our military’s offensive and defense capabilities.  In addition, its creation may help thwart what has been seen as increasing competition between the branches to be responsible for DoD’s cybersecurity efforts.

Which brings us back to the so-called Cyber czar vacancy.  It is important to remember that the White House Cybersecurity Coordinator is a policy position — not an operational one.  The nuts and bolts of protecting government civilian, military, and private sector systems remains with the agencies above, as well as with several others tasked with specific elements of cybersecurity (i.e. Department of Justice with prosecuting cybercrimes, FBI and Secret Service with investigations, countless CIO offices with securing specific agency computers, NIST with standards).  The cyberczar will report both to the National Security Council and the National Economic Council, which suggests that the individual will attempt to balance between homeland security and economic concerns. That dichotomy, however, is not as prevalent as it may have been 10 years ago when Dick Clarke served as czar.  It could change if Congress enacted legislation that was strong on regulation in cyber space.  What is not clear from the creation of the cyberczar is whether that individual will have the authority to direct all the agencies should a cyber-crisis occur.

The inability to fill the “cyberczar” spot, whether it sits in DHS, DoD, the White House, or the Office of Management and Budget, is long-standing.  In the 2002-2004 timeframe, much attention was given to DHS’ efforts on the cybersecurity front and the fact that the cyberczar had gone from being in the White House to the Director of the National Cyber Security Division, a spot buried within the agency’s bureaucracy.   The first Director, Amit Yoran, lasted a little more than a year before leaving,  in part, because of the lack of authority.

Going forward, regardless of what you call the positions or how they are filled, it is essential that there be long-term planning and staffing on the cybersecurity front.  As DHS and DoD get their operational efforts in order,  their successes will be measured on whether their cyber leaders have the authority to do their jobs AND whether they stay for longer than a year or two.   At the same time, when and if the cyber czar position is filled, it will be critical that the chosen person be one who puts supporting  DHS, DoD, and other agencies efforts first and not one who, taken by the czar title, is overly-interested in leaving their personal mark.

August 9, 2009

The living dead: Baitullah and Noordin

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 9, 2009


Reports — or more accurately, rumors — continue to spread regarding a shoot-out at a Taliban Shura to choose a successor to the possibly-probably-dead Baitullah Mehsud.  See a Monday morning report (below) that claims two prominent candidates killed each other.  The picture above is said to be of a more peaceful Waziristan Shura held in November 2008. (photographer unknown)

(Early Sunday morning post) Most news outlets seem increasingly confident in reporting the death of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Taliban-in-Pakistan.  But Bill Roggio with the Long War Journal makes a case for skepticism, or just a bit of restraint.  In a post made very early Sunday morning US time, Roggio writes:

While it is still unknown if Baitullah survived the strike or perished, the Pakistani government’s track record accurately reporting on the death of senior Taliban and al Qaeda leaders is poor [see the list below]. The Taliban, on the other hand, have been honest about the death of their senior leaders. Each time they refuted a claim of a leader being killed, they have been able to prove the commander is alive. (See Pakistani claims… are suspect.)

Yesterday media reports and authoritative sources were proclaiming the death of Noordin Mohamed Top, the most wanted terrorist bomber in Indonesia.

But this morning several news organizations, including the Wall Street Journal, are reporting doubts.  Tom Wright writes:

Police Chief Bambang Hendarso Danuri declined to confirm Mr. Noordin’s death on Saturday afternoon, saying police would wait for DNA tests on the body, which should take about a week. Later, pictures began to circulate of the man shot dead in the bathroom of a farmhouse near Temanggung, a town in central Java, a province on Indonesia’s main island where Mr. Noordin is believed to have spent most of the past six years on the run. Those pictures didn’t look like Mr. Noordin, according to people who have seen them. (See Doubts arise…)

Apparently US, Pakistani, and Indonesian security forces failed to deploy  sufficient silver bullets, ivory crucifixes, and mirrors.   Has anyone considered carpet-bombing with garlic?

HLSWatch typically avoids breaking news stories such as the unfolding saga of these two.   I have broken with our typical focus on policy and strategy because, 1) I have perceived Baitullah as a significant strategic player in Afpak, with ambitions for a wider role.  I believe his demise would/could prompt some interesting strategic shifts. 2) I have a personal interest related to the July Jakarta bombing for which Noordin has taken credit.  3) The coincidence of their presumed deaths and the increasing confusion over whether they are alive or dead raise  issues of strategic communications and operational technique. 4) It’s the weekend and I am less disciplined in making editorial choices.

See yesterday’s aggregation and comments by scrolling to the story with pictures below.

Some Sunday morning coverage:

TTP leader dead in succession fight? (DAWN)

Mystery of Taliban chiefs deepens (BBC)

Deadly shootout at Taliban talks (Aljazeera)

Indonesian police cannot confirm Noordin’s death (Bernama)

Noordin DNA tests could take two weeks (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Jakarta bomb suspect “not killed”(Aljazeera)

Sunday evening update:

Pakistani Taliban leader “ill” (BBC)

Taliban in Turmoil (TimesOnline UK)

Mystery over Noordin Mohammed Top thickens (Long War Journal)

Indonesia needs to destroy Noordin’s network (Bloomberg)

Monday morning update:

Indonesian police “very confident” Noordin M. Top dead (Long War Journal)

Taliban fight over “weapons, cash” after Mehsud’s death (Bloomberg)

Hakeemullah and Wali both dead (DAWN, but reprinted from Associated Press of Pakistan, the official government outlet)

Pakistan: Al-Qaida has role in Taliban succession (AP)

At roughly 9:30 am (eastern) Dera Ismail Khan, a reporter for the Associated Press, filed a one-liner saying he has received a telephone call from an individual claiming to be Hakimullah Mehsud, one of those alledged to have been killed in the Shura shoot-out.  Khan has previously interviewed Hakimullah and said the voice was consistent with his memory of the Taliban leader’s voice.

At roughly 10:40 am (eastern) Zeeshan  Haider, a reporter for Reuters, files a similar — but more complete — report of a telephone conversation with Hakimullah, who claims Mehsud is still alive.  The other party in the alleged shoot-out has also been reported making phone calls.


The BBC is reporting, “DNA tests show that a man killed in a weekend raid was not Noordin Mohammed Top, one of the region’s most wanted men, Indonesian police say.”

August 8, 2009

Cheapened by parasitic blogging

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

Back in May a Yale senior interviewed me for her final paper in a foreign correspondent course.  She was interviewing several bloggers  and asked each of us, “Do you consider yourself a journalist?”  I was, she told me, the only one who responded, “No.”

I explained that I am an aggregator, a commentator, and — on a few good days — an analyst.  But I very seldom gather, research, and — more importantly — confirm original information, all of which I perceive to be the very tough — in some places, dangerous — work of real journalists.

This morning this old conversation came to mind while  reading last Sunday’s Washington Post (six days later). 

I have just returned from twelve days of travel. When traveling I depend on my web-based algorithms for details and a scan of the Washington Post, New York Times, and  San Francisco Chronicle homepages for  a quick overview.

But nothing equals a real newspaper (and today too many printed versions can seem practically virtual) with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and some quiet time to read, reflect, and connect those dots from pages A1, A6, C2, and the ad in the sports section.

I am barely half-way through a week-old Post and have already picked up a dozen valuable inputs that I would have otherwise lost.

I depend upon — and everyone who reads my posts depends upon — Daniel Fowler at CQ, Spencer Hsu at the Post, Eileen Sullivan at AP, Chris Strohm at the National Journal Group and others.  Everyday I am simply silent regarding — and too often blatantly ignorant of — important information that these professionals are reporting out.

This riff on the importance of real journalism is prompted by Ian Shapira’s essay in the August 2, Washington Post Outlook Section.  It is entitled, Do me a favor: At least blog this.  The online version is called, The Death of Journalism. It is a report and analysis of how the significant investment in and considerable value of one piece of  journalism was appropriated and cheapened through parasitic blogging. (For what I have done and left undone, forgive me.)

Toward the end of the piece it seems to me that Shapira starts toward — but then backs away from — an assessment of what a certain kind of blogging (all blogging?) does to the economic ecology of journalism.  He does not say it, but I perceive the expectation that information should be free-of-cost is causing a commercial and cultural devaluing of  information, knowledge, and even wisdom. 

Writing this blog is good self-discipline. My professional life requires attention to HS related news, blogging reinforces the care I bring to the task.  It can also be — as with yesterday’s post on making meaning — a happy indulgence.  But from time to time I am haunted by Samuel Johnson’s warning, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, but for money.” 

On the weekends HLSWatch has fewer than half, sometimes less than twenty percent, our weekday readers.  But here are three promises and an ask of you:

1.  I will not just use links to attribute sources. I will consistently identify sources early and often in my text. I have been inconsistent in this regard.

2.  I will  use restraint in quoting from the work of others and, whenever possible, will deploy quotes in such a way to encourage  accessing the original source. I hope I have usually done this.

3.  I will acknowledge reporters by name, not just by the name of their employing organization.  I will find opportunities to express appreciation.  I have done this too seldom.

When reading my posts I ask that  you access original resources and while you are there, give some quick consideration of the time, effort, and cost involved in generating the information provided to you, and even look at the advertisements.  Consider it a secular version of doing the stations of the cross, to remind us that what is truly valuable almost always comes at considerable cost.

Dead or alive: Noordin Mohammed Top and Baitullah Mehsud

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 8, 2009


After a seventeen hour stand-off and shoot-out, reports from Indonesia suggest that Noordin Mohammed Top — suspected in most of the nation’s terrorist bombings — is dead. 

The BBC reports, “Police spokesman Nanan Soekarna said police believed Noordin and two or three of his followers were inside, but could not say whether they had been killed or injured.”

According to Nick Grace at the Long War Journal, there is little doubt of Noordin’s death. “Police made visual confirmation of Top through cameras attached to remote control robots that were deployed into the house and watched as he fled into a bathroom and, surrounded by a woman and three children, blew himself up.”

Noordin Mohammed Top is thought to be the mastermind behind the July attacks on the Jakarta Marriott and Ritz-Carlton. (UPDATE Saturday 3:16 pm eastern: “He’s not yet dead, in fact DNA tests prove that the body that was recovered was not of Noordin Mohammed Top,” Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the Singapore-based centre for violence and terrorism, told Al Jazeera.” This seems, however, to be a singular contrarian voice… at least right now.)

Even as these dramatic reports swirl across Java, word out of Pakistan places some doubt on the supposed death of Baitullah Mehsud.  The BBC reports, “Commander Hakimullah Mehsud said reports of the Taliban leader’s death three days ago in an attack on a house in South Waziristan were ‘ridiculous’.”  Hakimullah has been identified as among Baitullah’s most likely successors.

Baitullah Mehsud has claimed responsibility for several attacks in Pakistan, including the recent bombing of the Pearl Continental in Peshawar.  He is also known to have been involved in planning attacks on Barcelona and Washington D.C.

Today’s front (web)page of the Pakistani newspaper DAWN nicely captures the current state of uncertainty.  The top story leads with, “Good riddance, killer Baitullah. This is one hundred percent.  We have no doubt about his death.”  The second story is headlined, Pakistani Taliban commander denies Baitullah is dead and largely depends on the BBC story linked above.

If his death is confirmed, some predict a split in the Taliban-in-Pakistan movement Mehsud led.  The News (Pakistan) reports the need to select a new leader, “will deal a major blow to the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as its division in splinter groups seems imminent.”

UPDATE (Saturday, August 8, 3:05 pm eastern)

Zeeshan Heider with Reuters is transmitting claims by the Pakistan government that, “shooting broke out between two rivals for the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban, and one of them may have been killed, the interior minister said on Saturday…’The infighting was between Wali-ur-Rehman and Hakimullah Mehsud,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Reuters. “We have information that one of them has been killed. Who was killed we will be able to say later after confirming’.”  At about 3:15 pm eastern Elena Becatoros and Zakar Khan with the Associated Press filed a new story questioning claims by Pakistan’s interior minister regarding the shoot-out between TTP rivals.

About 4:00 pm eastern Ismail Khan, reporting from Peshawar, and Sabrina Tavernise filing from Karachi, share a New York Times by-line for a report entitled, “Feuding kills a top militant, Pakistan says.”  It’s a top-knotch overview with full context.

August 7, 2009

Bits & Bytes: Second Cyber Official Steps Down

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on August 7, 2009

Mischel Kwon has resigned as the director of the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team at the Department of Homeland Security.  Her departure follows the resignation of Melissa Hathaway, the White House’s Cybersecurity Advisor/Coordinator, earlier this week.

Kwon is the fourth director of U.S. CERT in five years.  There is a lot of speculation about Kwon’s departure, with the Washington Post reporting that she ” was frustrated by bureaucratic obstacles and a lack of authority to fulfill her mission, according to colleagues who spoke condition of anonymity.”

In a statement, Deputy Undersecretary for National Protection and Programs Phil Reitinger noted that “President Obama has made cybersecurity a top priority for the Administration.”  He  also stated that DHS is committed to improving “collaboration between public and private sector partners” on cybersecurity issues.

Expect a lot of commentary in the coming days as to whether these resignations signal a de-prioritization of cybersecurity in the Administration.  There also will probably be reports of the need to do a better job of recruiting and retaining qualified candidates in critical cybersecurity positions, especially given the number of individuals who have flipped through DHS and related agencies since 9/11.  The situation, however, is a lot more complicated than it seems.

Check back on Monday for a more detailed analysis/explanation of the state of cybersecurity in light of this week’s happenings…

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