Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 7, 2009

Making meaning of the QHSR

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

Secretary Napolitano is seeking your help to resolve a perplexing issue.  She says, “Your breadth of knowledge and insight will provide… a better understanding of what homeland security truly means.” (See  and hear the Secretary’s video message on YouTube.)

To grapple with the issue of meaning, we are being asked to participate in a National Dialogue on the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review where we  are offered six topics:

  • Counterterrorism and Domestic Security Management
  • Securing our borders
  • Smart and tough enforcement of immigration laws
  • Preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disasters
  • Homeland security national risk assessment
  • Homeland security planning and capabilities

If you didn’t notice, these are the four external elements of the Secretary’s oft-repeated five responsibilities (or priorities or goals… the nature-of-being  can shift ever so subtly) plus two processes that might influence how the responsibilities are fulfilled. (Please see Jessica Flanigan-Herrera’s prior post on the National Dialogue.) 

Imagination is the organ of meaning. (C.S. Lewis)

Is the sum of these parts the meaning the Secretary has asked us to help with?  Are these — or some synthesis of these — what we mean by homeland security?

Is the Secretary asking a question of epistemology?  Is she attempting to define and organize knowledge that already exists?  Or seeking to better understand how we might understand?  Maybe she just wants confirmation that her four categories and two processes conform with what the demos considers meaningful.  The Sophists would have argued this is the only knowledge — or meaning — that matters.

Perhaps the Secretary has a more ontological goal. She offers four categories and two processes that are presumably in relationship with each other and with other categories and processes.  Are we to help her conceive and craft an architecture of homeland security?

If particulars are to have meaning, there must be universals. (Plato)

Personally I tend toward teleological explanations.  What is the purpose of homeland security?  Once purpose is clear it is often easier to discern meaning — or potential meaning.

In her five responsibilities, goals… or whatever, the Secretary has set out some action-objectives, but her purpose is unstated (or, at least, incomplete).  I think she and many others presume the purpose of homeland security is self-evident.  Maybe to you, but I would prefer an explicit statement.

On the National Dialogue site one of the QHSR study teams recommends  the following first-draft mission/vision statement for Counterterrorism and Domestic Security Management:

To mobilize the American effort for preventing terrorist and other attacks, preparing for disasters, and assuring the resilience of civil society and the critical networks and functions that are essential to preserving a free and prosperous nation. We achieve this by providing active leadership, removing barriers, and providing incentives for the sustained engagement of the American people, the public, private, and non-profit sectors, and our international partners.

I focus in on the reference to “resilience of civil society” and a “free and prosperous nation.”  Those sound like purposes.  Are these the right purposes? How might we know? Is “sustained engagement of the American people,” a purpose or a method? 

Are we to help the Secretary discern homeland security purposes and distinguish between ends and means?  Or is this just an instrumental exercise in tasking the Department of Homeland Security… something considerably different than determining what homeland security means.

No finite point has meaning without an infinite reference point.(Jean Paul Sartre)

The Department of Homeland Security exists.  The Department does things, including counterterrorism, border security, immigration enforcement, and disaster preparedness, response and recovery. 

I exist.  I do things. The Department and I are both very busy doing things. Does this establish our meaning?  Maybe.  If so, my meaning is pretty  ephemeral.

There is a temptation — especially when a pedant begins to throw around philosophical jargon — to decide its nothing more than words.  But Sartre also wrote, “Words are more treacherous and powerful than we think.” From our own experience we know this truth.

Perhaps what determines meaning is why we do what we do.  What is our motivation? Our rationale? Our intent? What is our envisioned outcome and  our actual outcome? How do we make sense of the difference between intended and actual?  Are we prepared to take specific responsibility for both the what and why — and consequences — of what we do?  Have we given it enough thought to even know why?

Your knowledge, insight, and  imagination is being solicited for comments on the QHSR.  Section 2401 of the 2007 Act implementing recommendations of the 9/11 Commission requires, “Each quadrennial homeland security review shall be a comprehensive examination of the homeland security strategy of the Nation, including recommendations regarding the long-term strategy and priorities of the Nation for homeland security and guidance on the programs, assets, capabilities, budget, policies, and authorities of the Department.”

The first phase of  dialoging  ends on Sunday.  As of yesterday, the survey responses on the site suggest that 100-200 folks have made specific  contributions.  You are being  invited to make meaning.  That’s a generous invitation. It is worth some weekend thinking and writing.

She has asked for your help.  I think she — and we — need your help. Join the National Dialogue at http://www.homelandsecuritydialogue.org/


Editorial Note:  If you have not already done so, please review Catherine Dale’s (Congressional Research Service) study entitled,  National Security Strategy: Legislative Mandates, Execution to Date, and Considerations for Congress.   Ms. Dale’s study is especially helpful in situating the QHSR within the broader framework of national security strategy-making.  Further, while her language is more attuned to systems management than to philosophy, I was encouraged to my comments above by several of her insights.)

August 6, 2009

Baitullah Mehsud may or may not be dead

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 6, 2009

At an early dinner my handheld was vibrating so much, I broke my longtime rule, was rude to my guests, and watched the Emails cascade down the screen.

Pakistan Taliban chief likely killed, Pakistan’s Interior Minister was being quoted as saying.

Pakistan Taliban chief Mehsud may be dead, an unnamed US official told AFP.

There were lots more links from NPR, CNN, BBC, and other alphabet combinations. I cannot say the news had any effect on my appetite.

Then a few moments ago another ping arrived from the Long War Journal.  Bill Roggio reports, “Baitullah Mehsud was not killed in yesterday’s airstrike in South Waziristan, US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal. ‘Baitullah is alive,’  one official told The Long War Journal. “We’re aware of the reports that he might have been killed and we are looking into it, but we don’t believe he was killed.”

So I guess we will have to wait a bit longer for the rest of the story.  Good night and good luck.


As of 0430 (eastern) on Friday, media reports — and official comments — seem to be leaning in favor of Mehsud’s death.  The Guardian (see below) reports, “In perhaps the strongest sign that Mehsud is dead, reports emerged that his organisation, the feared Tehrik I Taliban Pakistan (TTP), plans to hold a leadership council today to elect a successor. Mehsud’s most senior lieutenant, Hakeemullah Mehsud, is the favourite candidate.”

Baitullah Mehsud dead: FM Qureshi (DAWN)

Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud believed dead in air strike (The Guardian)

Mehsud’s rival tribesman says Baitullah killed in drone attack (Bloomberg)

UPDATE (August 8):

At the Long War Journal Bill Roggio offers his analysis of the implications if Baitullah is dead.  Among  several important outcomes, he writes, “The death of Baitullah will cause a crisis in the Pakistani Taliban’s leadership, and may disrupt operations in the short term. Although the Pakistani Taliban has often been described as disparate, Baitullah effectively united the factions and directed operations that led to the Taliban’s takeover of significant territory in Pakistan’s northwest. The Taliban will expend time and effort determining Baitullah’s successor, restructuring the group’s leadership, and outlining its new direction. Attacks in Pakistan already had decreased over the past month as the Pakistani Army took on the Taliban in Swat. Since going underground, the Pakistani Taliban have been regrouping and are planning the next phase of their insurgency. It is unclear if the Taliban will refocus effort onto Afghanistan or continue attacks against the Pakistani state.”

An exegesis on the words of John (Brennan)

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 6, 2009

Below I have excerpted most of the second half of Mr. Brennan’s CSIS speech from earlier today.  The long preface — not provided here — is available from Foreign Policy and worth your reading.  His answers to questions, and any deviation from text,  are available  by listening to the CSIS webcast.

In the following Mr. Brennan sets out  five-points which he claims will distinguish this administration’s approach to counterterrorism. My preliminary exegisis — really just  a stream-of-consciousness — is shown in blue italics.


SO THERE SHOULD BE NO DOUBT. As the President has told us privately and as he has said publicly, this administration “will do everything in our power to keep the American people safe…with certainty that we can defeat al Qaeda.”

At the same time, the President understands that military power, intelligence operations, and law enforcement alone will never solve the second, longer-term challenge we face: the threat of violent extremism generally, including the political, economic, and social factors that help put so many individuals on the path to violence. And here is where I believe President Obama is bringing a fundamentally new and more effective approach to the long-term obligation of safeguarding the American people. This new approach has five key elements.

So does violent extremism — whether religious, ideological, nationalist, or otherwise — replace “terrorism” as our target?

First, and perhaps most significantly, the fight against terrorists and violent extremists has been returned to its right and proper place: no longer defining — indeed, distorting — our entire national security and foreign policy, but rather serving as a vital part of those larger policies. President Obama has made it clear that the United States will not be defined simply by what we are against, but by what we are for-the opportunity, liberties, prosperity, and common aspirations we share with the world. 

We fell into the trap purposefully set by our adversaries.  We  self-defined  ourselves primarily as counterterrorists.  This is the worst of deficit thinking.  We will gain mind-share, market-share, and self-respect by reclaiming an America which advocates the hopes and dreams of humanity.

Rather than looking at allies and other nations through the narrow prism of terrorism-whether they are with us or against us-the administration is now engaging other countries and peoples across a broader range of areas. Rather than treating so many of our foreign affairs programs-foreign assistance, development, democracy promotion-as simply extensions of the fight against terrorists, we will do these things-promote economic growth, good governance, transparency and accountability-because they serve our common interests and common security; not just in regions gripped by violent extremism, but around the world.

The Peloponesian War continues to teach.  When Athens reduced its moral leadership to nothing more than military advantage it lost battles, treasure, and influence.  Acting out of fear or vengeance   Athens too often  squandered its strength.  But there were also periods of confident leadership that might have preserved Athenian ascendence. John Brennan sounds a bit like a latter-day Nicias. I hope he will end up better.  I am tempted to compare the President to the supremely gifted Alcibiades, but the surface similarities mostly serve to emphasize that we live in a very different time and place.

We see this new approach most vividly in the President’s personal engagement with the world-his trips, his speeches, his town halls with foreign audiences-where he addresses terrorism directly and forcefully. At the same time, terrorism is recognized as one of the many transnational challenges the world will face in the 21st Century. We saw this in his speech in Cairo, where he spoke of a “broader engagement” with the world’s Muslims, including the issues important to them: education, public health, economic development, responsive governance, and women’s rights.

Here are the values we advocate and for which we would be known.

Indeed, it was telling that the President was actually criticized in certain quarters in this country for not using words like “terror,” “terrorism” or “terrorist” in that speech. This goes to the heart of his new approach. Why should a great and powerful nation like the United States allow its relationship with more than a billion Muslims around the world be defined by the narrow hatred and nihilistic actions of an exceptionally small minority of Muslims? After all, this is precisely what Osama bin Laden intended with the Sept. 11 attacks: to use al Qaeda to foment a clash of civilizations in which the United States and Islam are seen as distinct identities that are in conflict. In his approach to the world and in his approach to safeguarding the American people, President Obama is determined not to validate al Qaeda’s twisted worldview.

It is tempting to be defined by what we hate.  It is almost always more attractive to be defined by what we love.

This leads directly to the second element of the President’s approach: a clear, more precise definition of this challenge. This is critically important. How you define a problem shapes how you address it. As many have noted, the President does not describe this as a “war on terrorism.” That is because “terrorism” is but a tactic-a means to an end, which in al Qaeda’s case is global domination by an Islamic caliphate. Confusing ends and means is dangerous, because by focusing on the tactic, we risk floundering among the terrorist trees while missing the growth of the extremist forest. And ultimately, confusing ends and means is self-defeating, because you can never fully defeat a tactic like terrorism any more than you can defeat the tactic of war itself.

Likewise, the President does not describe this as a “global war.” Yes, al Qaeda and other terrorists groups operate in many corners of the world and continue to launch attacks in different nations, as we saw most recently in Jakarta. And yes, the United States will confront al Qaeda aggressively wherever it exists so that it enjoys no safe haven. But describing our efforts as a “global war” only plays into the warped narrative that al Qaeda propagates. It plays into the misleading and dangerous notion that the U.S. is somehow in conflict with the rest of the world. It risks setting our Nation apart from the world, rather than emphasizing the interests we share. And perhaps most dangerously, portraying this as a “global” war risks reinforcing the very image that al Qaeda seeks to project of itself-that it is a highly organized, global entity capable of replacing sovereign nations with a global caliphate. And nothing could be further from the truth.

Our adversaries have used us to amplify their credibility.  We will no longer be as generous.

Nor does President Obama see this challenge as a fight against “jihadists.” Describing terrorists in this way-using a legitimate term, “jihad,” meaning to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal-risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve. Worse, it risks reinforcing the idea that the United States is somehow at war with Islam itself. And this is why President Obama has confronted this perception directly and forcefully in his speeches to Muslim audiences, declaring that America is not and never will be at war with Islam.

Words matter.  We should be careful with the words we use and how they will be heard.  We should be especially careful when we are using words unfamilar to us.

Instead, as the President has made clear, we are at war with al Qaeda, which attacked us on 9/11 and killed 3,000 people. We are at war with its violent extremist allies who seek to carry on al Qaeda’s murderous agenda. These are the terrorists we will destroy. These are the extremists we will defeat.  

Even as the President takes a more focused view of the threat, his approach includes a third element: a broader, more accurate understanding of the causes and conditions that help fuel violent extremism, be they in Pakistan and Afghanistan or Somalia and Yemen.

The President has been very clear on this. Poverty does not cause violence and terrorism. Lack of education does not cause terrorism. But just as there is no excuse for the wanton slaughter of innocents, there is no denying that when children have no hope for an education, when young people have no hope for a job and feel disconnected from the modern world, when governments fail to provide for the basic needs of their people, then people become more susceptible to ideologies of violence and death. Extremist violence and terrorist attacks are therefore often the final murderous manifestation of a long process rooted in hopelessness, humiliation, and hatred.

Therefore, any comprehensive approach has to also address the upstream factors-the conditions that help fuel violent extremism. Indeed, the counterinsurgency lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan apply equally to the broader fight against extremism: we cannot shoot ourselves out of this challenge. We can take out all the terrorists we want-their leadership and their foot soldiers. But if we fail to confront the broader political, economic, and social conditions in which extremists thrive, then there will always be another recruit in the pipeline, another attack coming downstream. Indeed, our failure to address these conditions also plays into the extremists’ hands-allowing them to make the false claim that the United States actually wants to keep people impoverished and unempowered.

It is important to note that these factors not only help fuel violent extremism but also contribute to a wide range of national security threats – from other types of organized violence and sociopolitical instability to resource competition. And addressing these factors will help the United States deal with a wide range of threats, including violent extremism.

We deploy strategy to shape the “battlefield” to our advantage.  The very best strategy still requires operational capacity and tactical competence, but the shaping of the environment should make operational and tactical success more likely.

This is why the President’s approach includes a critical fourth elementthe recognition that addressing these upstream factors is ultimately not a military operation but a political, economic, and social campaign to meet the basic needs and legitimate grievances of ordinary people: security for their communities, education for children, a job and income for parents, and a sense of dignity and worth.

The extremists know this; wherever governments are unable to provide for the legitimate needs of their people, these groups step into the void. It is why they offer free education to impoverished Pakistani children, where they can recruit and indoctrinate the next generation. It is why Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza provide so many social services to the poor even as they commit heinous acts of terror. It is why the terrorist warlord in Somalia can so easily recruit a destitute teenager who sees nothing but a future of poverty and despair.

Evil depends on — really thrives on — indifference.

President Obama understands that successfully defeating these extremists over the long term requires breaking this bond-exposing al Qaeda as nothing but the death cult that it is and isolating extremists from the people they pretend to serve. Often, the extremists do this themselves. Time and again, their barbarism, brutality, and beheadings have provoked backlashes among ordinary people, from Afghanistan under the Taliban to al Qaeda in Iraq and increasingly in Pakistan today.

Going forward, people must come to see that it is the likes of al Qaeda and the Taliban, Hezbollah, and Hamas-not the United States-that is holding their aspirations hostage; that of all those al Qaeda has killed, most have been Muslims; that the murder of innocent civilians, as the President said in Cairo, is not how moral authority is claimed, but how it is surrendered; that the future offered by extremists is not one of peace but violence, not of hope and opportunity but poverty and despair.  

But… there are aspects of US power and policy that play into the mythology of America-as-Crusader-Nation.  In the Q&A session Mr. Brennan was more forthcoming and self-critical.  It is a tough and vulnerable honesty that must be maintained.   Stephen Decatur famously remarked, “My country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be right;  but our country, right or wrong!” And so it is especially valuable to loyally and lovingly admit error.

Indeed, it is people in these countries, not the United States, who ultimately will isolate these extremists: governments that provide for the basic security and needs of their people; strong and transparent institutions free from corruption; mainstream clerics and scholars who teach that Islam promotes peace, not extremism; and ordinary people who are ready to choose a future free from violence and fear. Still, the United States can and must play its part. For even as we condemn and oppose the illegitimate tactics used by terrorists, we need to acknowledge and address the legitimate needs and grievances of the ordinary people those terrorists claim to represent.

This is an expression of honest humility with which I agree and which I expect will attract some criticism.  The violent extremism that we confront is not really of our creation and fundamentally does not have much to do with the United States.  Rather we are a convenient excuse and pliable symbol to deploy.  The extremism that is fueling violence  is the outcome of historical, cultural, and demographic factors that will be resolved in ways that we can help or hurt, but over which we are not in control.

Which leads to the fifth and final part of the President’s approach-integrating every element of American power to ensure that those “upstream” factors discourage rather than encourage violent extremism. After all, the most effective long-term strategy for safeguarding the American people is one that promotes a future where a young man or woman never even considers joining an extremist group in the first place; where they reject out of hand the idea of picking up that gun or strapping on that suicide vest; where they have faith in the political process and confidence in the rule of law; where they realize that they can build, not simply destroy-and that the United States is a real partner in opportunity, prosperity, dignity, and peace.

It is, again, a matter of long-term strategic engagement.  There will be tactical wins and losses, but this approach will play to our strengths and amplify their weaknesses. Too often in the last seven years we have let the adversary define the battlespace, especially in the information war.  We will no longer play to their stereotypes or reinforce their conceits.  We will lead with our substantive strengths and expose their real weaknesses… in ways and terms that will persuade the broader world.

That is why President Obama is committed to using every element of our national power to address the underlying causes and conditions that fuel so many national security threats, including violent extremism. We will take a multidimensional, multi-departmental, multi-national approach.

We will use our military power, not only to take down al Qaeda and its allies, but to train and build up the capacity of foreign militaries and security forces-as we are doing from Iraq to Afghanistan to Africa-because if these militaries and security forces can uphold the rule of law, if these countries can take responsibility for their own security, then militias, warlords, and terrorists will find it harder to win sympathizers and recruits with the false promise of security and stability. So the President has increased funding to help build the capacity of foreign law enforcement, border security, and judiciaries.

We will use our power to demonstrate that seemingly intractable problems and legitimate grievances can be resolved through diplomacy, dialogue, and the democratic process. That is why we are supporting national elections in Afghanistan and helping to protect the rights of all Afghans. That is why the President has made clear that our relationship with Pakistan is grounded in support for Pakistan’s democratic institutions and the Pakistani people. That is why we support an Iraqi government that promotes national unity and is nonsectarian. And that is why the administration is aggressively pursuing negotiations to achieve the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.   

We will also use our economic power to promote opportunity and prosperity. This will help restore people’s hope in the political process and in legitimate institutions. In Afghanistan, this means a dramatic increase in our development efforts-working with the government to end corruption, improve the delivery of basic services and build an economy that isn’t dominated by drugs. In Pakistan, it means a billion and a half dollars in direct support to the Pakistani people every year for education, health care, and infrastructure, as well as opportunity zones to spark development in the border regions. And we are harnessing our economic power to make substantial increases in foreign assistance generally-including poverty reduction, global health, and food security-not as a crutch for societies in need, but as a catalyst for development, good governance, and long-term prosperity.

Apologies to both you and Mr. Brennan.  This was pounded out in less than 20 minutes.  Such is blogging.  I hope your commentary and analysis will be more thoughtful.

John Brennan at CSIS

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 6, 2009

John Brennan, Deputy National Security Advisor and Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, gave a speech late this morning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  The speech and a Q&A session concluded about 12:30.

A video of his remarks is available from the CSIS website.

Yesterday Mr. Brennan gave an interview to the Washington Post that places the remarks in an interesting context.  This morning’s Post headlines its report as, “Obama’s battle against terrorism to go beyond bombs and bullets.”

The speech is worth  analysis — and consideration of connections with other homeland security initiatives —  but I am on the run.  Please offer your reactions and analysis using the comment function.

(About an hour later) A bit more, while I wait for my next meeting to begin:

Here are some early news reports:

Obama’s counter-terrorism advisor denounces Bush-era policies (Los Angeles Times)

Brennan says al-Qaeda remains greatest threat to US (Bloomberg)

White House: “War on Terror” is over (Washington Times)

Obama replaces “global war on terror” in strategy shift (AFP)

John Brennan outlines Obama’s counterterrorism strategy (Washington Independent)

I hope there will be a transcript.  The remarks strike me as most valuable for their nuance, but nuance is better assessed by engaging the written word.  Clearly I have no future in broadcast punditry.

(Two minutes later) Ask and ye shall receive, thanks to Foreign Policy a transcript is now available.  Please access: A new approach to safeguarding Americans.

Locate, Target, and Destroy the Attackers: Filling the gap between NIMS/ICS and the law enforcement initial response in the age of urban paramilitary terrorism

Today’s guest blogger is T.J. Moody, the Assistant Sheriff for Law Enforcement Operations, with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.  He argues that homeland security needs more than the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS) if we are to meet the threat of paramilitary terrorism.

The 1828 edition of Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines “doctrine” as “whatever is laid down as true by an instructor or master.” The definition also notes “… a doctrine may be true or false; it may be a mere tenet or opinion.”

The National Incident Management System is unarguably a core part of Homeland Security’s (mostly uncollated ) doctrine.

As described by the NIMS Resource Center, NIMS :

… provides a systematic, proactive approach to guide departments and agencies at all levels … to work seamlessly to prevent, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of incidents, regardless of cause, size, location, or complexity, in order to reduce the loss of life and property and harm to the environment.

NIMS was “laid down as true” in the early days of homeland security.  As doctrine, it grew out of the proven wildfire success of the incident command system.  NIMS is the public policy equivalent of being satisfied with any needle in a haystack, instead of continuing to look for the sharpest needle.

Few people routinely use the 1828 version of Webster’s dictionary.  As our understanding of language evolves, so too do our lexical tools.

NIMS as a practice also evolves.  I do not know any public safety professional with significant experience using incident command who believes NIMS provides a mechanical procedure for every operational situation.  It’s proponents present NIMS as a framework, a template; the basis for improvising intelligently around the details of a specific incident.  NIMS might not be perfect, they argue, but it gets better incrementally as we gain more experience using it.

Sometimes waiting for incrementalism to do its evolutionary work is the wrong approach.  Homeland security environments can change rapidly.  Structures and processes that worked in the past may be, as Lincoln wrote, “inadequate to the stormy present.”    When situations change, leadership may need to point to a new direction.  That is the subject of T.J. Moody’s post.
Recent developments in tactics used by terrorists in India and Pakistan demand an urgent re-examination of the urban policing model currently employed in the United States.  The National Incident Management System and the Incident Command System are tools which, in some circumstances, have an important role within law enforcement. However, these command and control structures may represent an anachronistic paradigm which could be inadequate to the evolving needs of law enforcement first-responders.  Dogmatic command and control paradigms that are heavily reliant on communications technology and centralized control often fail, and are likely to be of little value during the initial response phase to attacks such as those that occurred in Mumbai, India, and Lahore, Pakistan.

Without regard for the type of event involved, NIMS and ICS erroneously assume a consistent concentration of situational awareness at the top, and place ultimate authority in the hands of a few.   In light of recent international attacks, such assumptions may be dangerous and unreasonable.  They may lead law enforcement to train for unlikely scenarios, to the exclusion of more reality-based, practical training.

This fallacy of command and control continues to form the basis for most emergency management training in the U.S.  By consuming valuable time, resources, and attention, it may actually reduce the preparedness of law enforcement in case of an actual paramilitary terrorist event.

NIMS and ICS aspire to create a head, which, due to confusion, chaos, and unreasonable technological expectations, will be unlikely to function effectively during the initial law enforcement response to acts of paramilitary terrorism. A head is subject to decapitation in a worst case terrorism scenario, and may leave free lancing police tacticians highly vulnerable to the military style tactics and stout resistance increasingly demonstrated by Islamic terrorists.

Senior commanders armed with radios, cell phones, and the principals of ICS will be among those least likely to have good information about what is actually occurring in a worst-case scenario, and may be faced with significantly degraded communications capabilities. 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.

Sullivan and Elkus, in their 2009 work “Preventing Another Mumbai: Building a Police Operational Art,” envision the need for an “operational—instead of purely tactical—response to paramilitary terrorism” within American policing.  Additionally, there is a need for a strategic response, one which de-emphasizes dogmatic, hierarchical models of command and control.

American urban policing must pursue a paradigm shift which envisions a radically decentralized, mission driven response model.  In the emerging paradigm, small teams will have advance mission knowledge and focus, and will be able to execute their missions in the absence of a highly centralized command authority.  Police officers and their field supervisors, if they are to survive, will need to understand and plan for their mission in advance, and will need to train and discipline themselves to respond as teams. All valuable time remaining before a future attack must be used to fully prepare our law enforcement first responders for the tactical shifts exhibited by terrorists that may represent a new “urban jihad.”

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.

Precinct and field level commanders must have intimate knowledge of the overall agency response plan, and must understand the role of their particular component in support of that plan.  These ad-hoc urban tactical teams will have a clear mission: locate, target, and destroy the attackers.  Centralized command and control, particularly during the first long hours of such an event, will likely have little to offer with respect to the effectiveness and survivability of the response teams.

Our collective mission will be to develop a domestic police force which can continue to perform its day-to-day duties in a way that is acceptable within a free society, but which can adapt quickly to an emerging new paradigm that assumes degraded communications, emphasizes small team leadership, and embraces decentralized command and control.

August 5, 2009

Public health: unilateral disarmament

Filed under: Biosecurity,Budgets and Spending,State and Local HLS — by Philip J. Palin on August 5, 2009

Yesterday the New York Times editorial board highlighted an urgent homeland security threat.  I am not pointing to their second piece, Chemical Plants Could be More Safe.  While undoubtedly a real risk, as far as we know there is no actionable intelligence on plans to attack US chemical facilities.

Tuesday’s lead editorial in the Times is entitled, “States in Distress.”  It outlines consequences of $143 billion in state budget cuts.  In twenty-one States public health funding has been among the biggest losers.

There is actionable intelligence, known vulnerabilities, a specific threat sequence, and potentially ominous consequences for an Autumn pandemic.  Despite this we are accelerating a process of public health disarmament.

The Illinois public health budget has been cut 25 percent and further cuts are threatened.   At one point in late July the Illinois budget  had zeroed out funding for infectious disease surveillance.   Heroic last minute efforts restored the money, but there is still a huge budget deficit to close and the public health budget is still at risk.

In Sacramento County, California the public health department’s budget has been reduced from $9.8 million in 2007-2008 to $5.1 million this year.  The number of county  public health positions has been reduced by one-fourth.  More cuts are possible as the County attempts to adjust to  reduced State funding.

On July 27 the Chief Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court noted in a judgment against the State’s Department of Health and Human Resources, “I conclude that DHHR’s ability to adequately comply herein with its legal obligation was caused not by any desire of a DHHR employee or administrator to do so, nor by the best efforts of DHHR employees and administrators, but rather by the continuing lack of requisite resources which DHHR receives to meet its mission. There is only so much that dedicated DHHR personnel can accomplish without adequate resources. I am deeply troubled and concerned about this continuing resource problem _ a problem which I sense may be worsening and may be becoming systemic.”

The same could be said for a whole host of public health departments and functions across the United States.  Committed professionals are doing their best with less and less.  But  budget reductions, staff cuts, and distraction undermine the fundamental capacity of even the most dedicated professional organization.

Yesterday Secretary Napolitano highlighted the lag-time and increased vulnerability between the beginning of school — late this month — and the hoped-for availability of an H1N1 vaccine in mid-October. Yesterday news reports suggested a possible pattern of H1N1 resistance to Tamiflu in Southern Texas. (See possible correction from CIDRAP).  Yesterday other news reports seemed to confirm that H1N1 had evolved a resistance to Relenza.

 Perhaps H1N1 will ultimately prove to be no more than a tweak of the seasonal flu. It could also be considerably worse.  We don’t know.  There is no way to be certain.  But H1N1 is not the only threat  requiring ongoing care by public health professionals.

Precisely because of the uncertainty, this is the time  to reinforce our front lines of surveillance and defense.  Instead we are reducing our troop levels, withdrawing our artillery, grounding our planes, and moving our ships into drydock.

In considering the current situation of our State and local public health capacity the analogy of a bio-medical Munich  — or at the very least, a kind of summer Sitzkrieg — is hard to avoid.


Inside the fight against a flu pandemic (TIME)

California nurses say swine flu training, protections inadequate (Mercury News)

Some measures won’t help prevent flu pandemic: report  (Reuters)

Public Health and Medical Responses to the 1957-58 Influenza Pandemic (UPMC-Center for Biosecurity)

WHO sees swine flu vaccination from next month  (Reuters)

Melbourne terrorist arrests

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 5, 2009

Early Tuesday a series of arrests were made in Melbourne, Australia of terrorist suspects accused of taking instructions from Al-Shabaab, a Somali insurgent group with ties to al Qaeda.  For several months counterterrorism efforts have focused on a potential Al-Shabbab threat to the United States. (Also see related testimony to Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.)

Following are links to coverage of the Melbourne arrests by Australian and other media:

Imminent strike foiled (The Age)

Somali extremists on fatwa order from God (The Australian)

Police: Australian terrorism plot targeted military  (Australia Network News)

Somali community leaders say they warned of terror cells (Herald-Sun)

Threat real, but don’t panic, says PM (The Australian)

Melbourne terror accused in court outburst (The Age)

Newspaper terrorism leak risked lives (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Newspaper disturbed by terror raid criticism (The Australian)

Hillary Clinton to pledge US aid for Somalia against Al-Shabab (The Telegraph)

August 4, 2009

Homeland in a Haiku

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on August 4, 2009

Earlier this summer, the Department of Homeland Security  made a push to be high-tech and connected with the American people through the use of social media and Web 2.0.  Indeed, yesterday I wrote of how the agency was gathering opinions and thoughts on the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review through its website, http://www.homelandsecuritydialogue.org.  DHS also has created RSS and Atom feeds for those who want to get the latest going-ons at DHS, online journal and blogs for Leadership- both at headquarters and at components, podcasts, and widgets. Not to be left out of the social networking craze, the agency has also set up sites and pages on outside sites, as noted below.

The Department has made it a priority to be able to communicate with the public in more ways, providing information as quickly and as conveniently as possible.  Twitter users can get their homeland security information in haiku (ok, maybe not quite yet, but there is hope).   One can become a fan of FEMA on Facebook.  TSA has its own podcast on iTunes, where listeners can listen to 1 minute spots on why liquids have to be placed in baggies to why do we need to take our shoes off when traveling.  The Coast Guard is on flickr.  Logging into the “ushomelandsecurity’s Channel” on YouTube this morning, you can catch Secretary Napolitano talking about the QHSR.

These efforts are to be commended as important first steps to recognizing that homeland security is about communities and individuals and has to extend beyond D.C.  That said, one thing that has become apparent in the last month from watching DHS’ efforts is that more can be done to effectively use social media technologies and the talents and first-hand experiences of the public through out the nation.  The social media efforts to date have mostly been used to push information to the public though, to be fair, the QHSR dialogue is serving as a gathering of information.  But why not take the next step to, as Secretary Napolitano noted in her speech CFR last week, utilize the “untapped resources of millions of our own citizens.”

For example, FEMA has run Citizen Corps, a grassroots strategy to bring together government and community leaders to involve citizens in all-hazards emergency preparedness and resilience.  According to the Citizen Corps website, the program asks that you “embrace the personal responsibility to be prepared; to get training in first aid and emergency skills; and to volunteer to support local emergency responders, disaster relief, and community safety.”  Why not create an online Citizen Corps where volunteers can use social media sites to promote homeland security?

Imagine the possibilities.  How many times a week on Facebook do people “donate” their status updates for causes or, as demonstrated in recent weeks, issues such as how to keep Facebook from using your photos in advertising?  What if DHS utilized those same people to encourage their friends and neighbors to be prepared for a all-hazards emergency? In a time of emergency, the same people could be utilized to spread information via Twitter and other sites on evacuations, routes, and safety information.  These individuals are able to get information out on celebrity scandals and world events these days faster than traditional media.  The efforts would also bring homeland security to a local level as individuals would get information from their friends and families – people they live with and know and not just bureaucrats in D.C.

That is not to say there would not be challenges in putting together a system.  It certainly would keep the lawyers at DHS busy for awhile figuring out how to best utilize individuals.  The viral effect of living in a networked world would also requires some thought on how to counter gossip and panicked responses that might not be completely accurate.  If overcome, however,  the value of such resources would be tremendous.

August 3, 2009

A Web 2.0 Dialogue on QHSR

Filed under: DHS News,Events,General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on August 3, 2009

In furtherance of the Obama Administration’s tech-saavy, public-friendly approach to governance, DHS unveiled its “National Dialogue on the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review” today at http://www.homelandsecuritydialogue.org.   DHS is inviting the public to give its opinions between today and August 9 on proposals made by QHSR study groups in four different study areas and two process study areas, including:

Mission Studies:

  • Counter-terrorism and Domestic Security Management
  • Securing Our Borders
  • Smart and Tough Enforcement of Immigration Laws
  • Preparing for, Responding to, and Recovering from Disasters

Process Studies:

  • Homeland Security National Risk Assessment
  • Homeland Security Planning and Capabilities

This is the first of  three “dialogues” with the American public to be held during the summer and fall.  Dialogue 2 is scheduled for August 31-September 6 and will have more information and content from the QHSR study groups on the mission and process concepts.  Dialogue 3, scheduled from September 28 through October 4, will give the public and stakeholders one more opportunity to review and offer comments on the “refined mission goals, objectives, key strategic outcomes and enhancements” to the six priorities.

According to DHS officials, the dialogues are intended to transform how the agency engages the American public with regards to an all-hazards approach to homeland security and counter-terrorism. They are also intended to meet the consultation mandate included in 2007’s 9/11 bill (aka “The Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007”).  That bill required the Secretary to conduct the QHSR  in consultation with

  • the “heads of Federal Agencies” (including the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Secretaries of State, Defense, Health & Human Services, Treasury,  and Agriculture);
  • key officials of DHS; and
  • other relevant governmental and nongovernmental entities, including State, local, and tribal government officials, members of Congress, private sector representatives, academics, and other policy experts.

Overall, the Web 2.0 idea  is a fresh approach to communicating to and with the public (at least the connected public) on addressing homeland security issues. The website, hosted by the National Academy  of Public Administration, is easy to navigate and provides a mission statement on each item, as well as goals.   Reviewers who log in are giving the opportunity to rate whether they agree with the overall statements and provide comments. Additionally, participants can suggest their own ideas and alternative proposals for the six study areas.  To date, it appears that between 9 and 44 persons have logged in to provide ratings and comments.

The real test of the success of the dialogues will come over the next several days when we see how many citizens log in and upload thoughts and ideas for DHS.  Even a bigger test will be whether those who do offer opinions are “outside the Beltway,” offering local perspectives from New York, Atlanta, Houston, Peoria, and beyond.  Input from those communities would strengthen the QHSR and be in line with Secretary Napolitano’s comments last week at the Council of Foreign Relations that communities are our “greatest asset” and “you are the ones who know if something is not right in your communities.”

I would encourage anyone reading this to check out the site and offer your thoughts on the goals and priorities of the QHSR. Even better, once you finish doing that, share the site with a few (or few hundred) of your friends around the country so they can do the same.

Homeland security this week (and month)

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 3, 2009

Following are a few homeland security events for the coming week and beyond.  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.

For the remainder of August this Monday morning update will  take a break.  Congress will be out of town.  Conferences are less common.  Even the think-tanks reduce their talk-fests. 

Monday, August 3

Conference on Disaster Planning for Hospitals opens in Chicago and continues on Tuesday.

2009 Summit of the Center for Infectious Diseases and Emergency Readiness (CIDER) opens in Burlingame (CA) and continues on Tuesday.

Tuesday, August 4

10:30 am (eastern) Washington DC, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery Subcommittee conducts a  hearing on “Focus on Children in Disasters: Evacuation Planning and Mental Health Recovery.”

Wednesday, August 5

10:00 am (eastern) Washington DC, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee full committee hearing on the nomination of Kelvin Cochran to be administrator of the United States Fire Administration.

Thursday, August 6

The Center for Strategic and International Studies Project on Nuclear Issues summer conference opens in San Diego and continues on Friday.

Friday, August 7

The Woodrow Wilson Center hosts a discussion on national security and transparency in Mexico.

August 9-13 

The National Conference on Community Preparedness is held in Arlington, Virginia.

August 16-20

The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials holds it annual conference in Las Vegas.

August 19-20

An International Swine Flu Conference will be held in Washington DC

August 21-23

A conference on Influenza in the Asia-Pacific will be held in Beijing.

August 1, 2009

A real 24 hours

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 1, 2009

In the Fox Broadcasting drama, 24 a crack counter-terrorism unit saves the nation in a 24 hours sequence.

I wonder how Kiefer Sutherland would handle the real-deal? Here are a few of yesterday’s public alerts for a typical US city and, of course, these do not capture half of the issues being worked.

0617    Building fire. DDOT reports that 4th Street,NE remains blocked at W Street,NE.  MPD/DC Police is on location for traffic control.

0628  Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) reports that the water main breaks at 13th and Florida Ave,NW & Belmont Street NW, between 13th and 14th Street, NW have been successfully restored.

1006  Virginia Dept of Transportation reports on I-66 (going east bound) all lanes are closed to traffic due to vehicle fire at exit 62

1036  Vehicle fire on on I-66. Two of the lanes on EB I-66 that were closed at exit 62 (VA) are reopened. Other lanes will reopen shortly.

1352  National Weather has issued a Severe Thunderstorm Watch for the Metropolitan Region (Including the District of Columbia) until 9:00 PM today.

1405  Due to the heat emergency it is advised that all with respiratory problems remain indoors.

1412  Severe Thunderstorm Warning for NE DC effective until 2:45PM. Stay indoors if possible and away from windows. 60 mph wind gusts possible.

1432 All lanes westbound are blockedon I-66 in Rosslyn, just west of the D.C. border, due to a downed tree.  (See related Washington Post story.)

To state the obvious: natural and accidental threats abound, direct and indirect impacts on infrastructure can cascade, effective response and recovery requires significant interagency collaboration with quick and accurate public communication.  Less obviously, given this level of ongoing urgent response, it can be a challenge to give sustained strategic attention to less common catastrophic risks.

(Residents of the Washington D.C. area can register to receive text alerts such as those excerpted above by accessing https://textalert.ema.dc.gov)

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