Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 18, 2009

Anal Secrets and the Coming Tempest in Homeland Security

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

First take off your shoes.

Then show us your liquids.

Tell me you didn’t see what comes next.

Act 1 – The Adaptive Enemy

You may have missed the story in New Zealand’s Sunday Star Times about an August 28th terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia. I did miss it. But the people at Homeland Security Newswire didn’t.

A guy tried to kill Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi deputy interior minister. “[T]he bomber obliterated himself but the prince survived shaken but unharmed.”

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said they were behind the attack. “No one will be able to know the type of this device or the way it was detonated,” they simpered.

According to the Star Times story, however, the U.S. private sector intelligence group STRATFOR learned “the terrorist adopted the novel tactic of concealing an improvised explosive device (IED) in his anal cavity.”

[Pause here to reflect on what this could mean for future airline boarding procedures.]

Dr Carl Ungerer, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the anal device “does pose real issues for airline security if the bomb is inside the person.”

STRATFOR agreed: “One other concern about such a device is that it would likely have a catastrophic result if employed on an aircraft, especially if it were removed from the bomber’s body and placed in a strategic location on board the aircraft.”

[STRATFOR’s strategic analysis of the incident, written by Scott Stewart, can be found here.  If for some reason you can’t get access to that site, it is also posted on a fishing website called “Stripersonline.” And yes, I had to check a dictionary to make sure “stripers” and “strippers” were two different words.  But I digress.]

The New Zealand article ended with an uncomfortable reminder about the link between prevention and response:

“In 2001 a man on a US Airlines flight was caught trying to set off an IED concealed in his shoe. Passengers on many routes must now remove shoes and subject them to X-ray screening.

In 2006 British authorities thwarted a plot to smuggle liquid explosive aboard trans-Atlantic airliners. There are now limits on quantities of liquids passengers can take aboard international flights.”

Obviously an anal explosive device can radically alter the culture of preparedness.

As Australia’s Dr. Unger concluded, “That’s why perhaps there is now going to be a real push for these scanning type machines.”

Wait a minute.

What push?  What “scanning type machines?”  I didn’t see anything in the story about scanning machines.

I wondered what kind of devices he had in mind.

Act 2 – Enter the Boss

Anal secreting – if that’s the right term – has been used by drug smugglers and prisoners. So I figured there must already be a technological fix for this threat.

Not knowing quite where to begin, I stumble across Chris Irvine’s story in the Daily Telegraph, noticed and slightly re-titled by the ever vigilant “White-Pride-World-Wide” folks at stormfront.org: “Anus Scanners to be Introduced in UK Prisons.

The story highlighted a chair-like scanning machine called the B.O.S.S. — short for Body Orifice Security Scanner.

[Pause here to wonder if the people who named this machine “The BOSS”:

A) have a sense of humor,

B) are into S&M – not that there’s anything wrong with that,

C) acknowledge the sociology of prison culture,

D) are completely tone deaf, or

E) all of the above.]

What is a Body Orifice Security Scanner? Well, you can let your imagination loose, or you can go to the B.O.S.S. website and get the facts.

You can watch a BOSS nine minute instructional video here or here.

The video shows you how to operate the BOSS. It also includes helpful operational details like what the default password is for the BOSS and, once you have control of its computer brain, how to modify the sensitivities of the various scanning parameters.

I’m absolutely certain, however, that someone who owned the BOSS would change the default “1-2-3-4-5-6” password to something else.

Well, fairly certain.

Caution: If you do watch the video, be aware that near the 3 minute mark the film’s music track gets a bit disturbing. It starts to sound in places as if a cat were — well– being “Bossed” (in a manner of speaking).

Act 3 – A Gift from the American People

You’re a busy homeland security professional. What do you do if you come across a story headlined “U.S. State Department to give El Salvador anal and vaginal scanning systems”? 

Do you read it or do you go back to your regular job keeping America safe?

Propelled by both scholarly and prurient interest, I read the August 11th story by Government Security News’ Jacob Godwin. It had more information about the BOSS:

“This [the BOSS scanning chairs] is actually a gift to the El Salvador government,” said a spokesperson for the company that received the State Department contract. The scanners will be used in several El Salvadorian prisons to prevent people from smuggling contraband.

The company spokesperson “sees a growing demand for these metal detection security scanning devices, particularly in the United Kingdom, where British officials have recently mandated their use in various courts and prisons.”

With apparently no sense of irony, the spokesperson also told Government Security News, “This chair is only penetrating 15 percent of its potential market.”

Act 4 – A Gift From Canada

The BOSS is designed to find metal objects. But what if metal is not used? Is there any technology available to find other anal cavity threats? Is this something TSA’s millimeter wave whole body imaging machines can catch? Does this mean more funding for those scanners?

The questions just kept coming.

At this point my wife suggested I take my head out of my own anal cavity and work on something a bit more productive.

“Ok,” I compromised, “just one more search.”

A few minutes later I discovered United States Patent 4393974, better known by its more formal name: “Waterproof plastic container.”

The patent was issued to a Canadian named Michel Levesque on July 19, 1983.

You can read a detailed description of Mr. Levesque’s device here. But perhaps an excerpt from the abstract will suffice for now:

His waterproof plastic container is “A utility capsule that is characterized by its simple and watertight construction and a smooth outer surface to be harmlessly concealed in one’s anus for transportation of small things such as could be used by secret agents, swimmers or any other person.”


Act 5 – A Gift From Shakespeare

O, wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here!

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,

That has such people in’t!

September 17, 2009

Noordin M. Top declared dead (again)

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

I have been off-line most of the day, so you have probably already heard, but Indonesian police say they have confirmed the death Noordin M. Top. 

According to Imron Royyid, reporting from the AP, “Police hunting for suspects in Jakarta hotel bombings raided a hide-out in central Indonesia, sparking gunfire and an explosion Thursday that left four suspected militants dead, (the national police chief) said, including the Malaysian fugitive. Three alleged terrorists also were captured… Fingerprints in a police database matched the body to Noordin.”

Top is suspected in the July bombing of two Jakarta hotels and several prior attacks.

Terror kingpin Noordin shot dead (The Age)

Death of Noordin Top ucovers links with Al Qaeda (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Top’s death a breakthrough in fight (The Australian)

An intelligent defense of intelligence

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Philip J. Palin on September 17, 2009

Tuesday night a new National Intelligence Strategy was given its public premiere.  Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence, gave a speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.  Attendant to the speech an eighteen-page strategy document was made available.

It’s worth reading.  In straightforward language it sets out a vision,  philosophy and approach to intelligence that Blair and his leadership team perceive will give the US a comparative advantage. 

The homeland security aspect of the the NIS is mostly reflected in four elements.  First, there is significant attention given to combating violent extremism. 

Second, the strategy continues a trend away from focusing only on specific threats and increases attention to broader threat-capabilities.  While Iran, North Korea, China, and Russia each get a shout-out, there is significant priority given to intelligence requirements related to climate change and energy competition, technological change, and pandemic disease.  It is, essentially, an all-risks strategy.

Third, the NIS gives priority to “Understand, detect, and counter adversary cyber threats to enable protection of the Nation’s infrastructure.” This emphasis has gotten quite a bit of media attention. (See: Politico, AFP, and NextGov.)

Fourth, the strategy highlights the need to, “Strengthen existing and establish new partnerships with domestic, public and private entities to improve access to sources of information and intelligence, and ensure appropriate dissemination of intelligence Community products and services.” (I added the bold highlights.)

In an interesting coincidence (?) the day before the DNI’s speech, the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security announced a new intelligence initiative  focused on state and local partners:

Under this initiative, select fusion center personnel with a federal security clearance will be able to access specific terrorism-related information resident on the DoD Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet)—a secure network used to send classified data. This classified data will be accessed via DHS’ Homeland Security Data Network (HSDN). DHS will be responsible for ensuring that proper security procedures are followed.

“With this action, DoD continues its work in supporting states and localities who are leading our efforts to secure the nation from domestic terrorism attacks,” said Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs Paul N. Stockton. “We look forward to exploring other opportunities where DoD can help our state and local partners effectively defeat terrorism.”

I happened to be in the Bay area and was joined by some friends who had just left Admiral Blair’s Tuesday evening speech.  It helps that he is a good speaker.  There are some real laughs in the speech, not a trivial achievement given the context. Partly because of the laughs, the DNI did not come off as Dennis-the-Menace.  He projected class, competence and  character.

More important, of course, is the content of his remarks and, especially, his strategy.  This is the second National Intelligence Strategy to be made public.  This tradition should be continued and extended. 

I have some concern with FOIA free-for-alls.  Confidentiality and discretion can be helpful in finding common ground… of which I wish we could find a bit more. But I don’t see how a major strategy can be secret in a democracy. Several core strategies of the Bush administration — including HSPD-15 on counterterrorism and HSPD-23 on cybersecurity — are classified and no public version has been released.  What does it mean for a democracy to have a secret strategy?

The operational who, when, where, and how of strategy may not be appropriate to share.  But for government by consent of the governed to have any chance of working there is a fundamental need for the whats and whys of strategy to be brought before the people and their representatives. 

The biggest threat Dennis Blair faced Tuesday night was the mistrust of his fellow citizens. There were plenty in the room concerned that their government had been spying on them, behaving outside the law, and subverting the constitution. 

Americans may not know much history, but we know enough to understand that among great powers, liberties have usually been lost to internal “guardians” long before the external enemy shows-up. 

It is a bit sad — but nonetheless appropriate — that Blair’s official Vision for the Intelligence Community concludes, “Moreover, the Intelligence Community must exemplify America’s values: operating under the rule of law, consistent with Americans’ expectations for protection of privacy and civil liberties, respectful of human rights, and in a manner that retains the trust of the American people.”

Once we might have taken this for granted. No more.

September 16, 2009

When information sharing starts to buzz

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christopher Bellavita on September 16, 2009

I spent last weekend talking with a dozen state and local homeland security executives.  During our conversation I was surprised to hear that “information sharing” has evolved into a buzzword.

Urban Dictionary — my favorite on line semantic arbiter – defines buzzword as a “term or phrase that sounds good, but means nothing.”

“Someone sends out a blast email,” one of the homeland security executives said, “and they consider that to be information sharing.”

The other folks in the room nodded in immediate agreement.

OK, maybe they’re right, I thought.  But maybe they’re also being a touch cynical.

Today I opened the following email message (slightly edited for publication).  The information was sent on Monday, but I didn’t get to it until Tuesday — you know how emails can pile up:

All users and organizations of the FEMA Secure Portal must cease operations.  The system will be taken off line midnight EDT, September 14, 2009.  All organizations using the Portal must make alternate arrangements for information sharing until the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) is operational and Communities of Interest are activated on or about October 29, 2009.

The transition from the Secure Portal (https://xxxxxxxxxxx.dhs.gov) to the DHS Homeland Security Information Network, as previously announced in Information Bulletin #317, will be carried out between September 15, 2009 and approximately October 29, 2009.  During this time, disused Portal organizations will be deactivated and their information stored according to FEMA records management policies.  Portal organizations with a continued need for Sensitive But Unclassified information sharing will be migrated to HSIN.  No changes made to Portal organization data or membership made after 9/14/09 will be transferred to HSIN.  The Secure Portal will be decommissioned on or about 10/30/09.

FEMA Secure Portal users can obtain answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) from a document named Migration Frequently Asked Questions in the Secure Portal Portal Migration folder. Questions can also be directed to CSID at 1-800-xxx-xxxx or xxxxxxx@fema.gov.  Grant program stakeholders may also contact their Program Analyst for further information.

I’m not sure who sent me the information, or why.  But whoever it was, thanks for sharing.


September 15, 2009

Osama bin Laden transcript

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 15, 2009

A full translation of the just released audio-taped message credited to Osama bin Laden is available (without subscription or other cost) from the blog Informed Comment.

Whatever else may be said, bin Laden (or whoever) does have a sense of audience. In this case, his intended audience is the American people.  The arguments and evidence are organized for our ears and expectations.  There are far-left and far-right leaders in the United States who could be quoted saying 80 to 90 percent of what bin Laden offers in these brief remarks.

For someone who, we suppose, is constantly on the move from one safehouse to another in the most rugged and isolated region of Afpak with very limited staff support, the remarks demonstrate significant familiarity with American debates over the wars and our relationship with Israel.  Very few American leaders would be as adept in discussing a similar range of issues related to the Arab world.

My best guess is that the first draft of the script was produced by Adam Yahiye Gadahn. The reformed death metalist, early web-surfer, and one time California boy is apparently continuing to google from somewhere in the Hindu Kush.

The Rubicon once seemed so far away

Filed under: Homeland Defense,State and Local HLS,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 15, 2009

Six powerful Congressmen and Senators of both major parties request a GAO study of  NORTHCOM’s “coordination when exercising in collaboration with the very State, local, and tribal governments that the Command was created to support.”  Then the study’s results are published on the eighth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

Might we discern an agenda?

Following are three GAO findings.  Each is a quote, but I have pulled the quote out of a longer narrative.  I then add a personal comment in italics. (You can see the original report courtesy of the House Homeland Security website.)

Thus sayeth GAO, “One of DOD’s challenges is adapting its exercise system and practices to accommodate the coordination and involvement of other federal, state, local, and tribal agencies that do not have the same kinds of practices or level of planning effort.”

Most other jurisdictions or agencies don’t have money or trained staff to effectively hold their own with NORTHCOM’s exercise development capacity.  The financial ratio is hundreds-to-one, the NORTHCOM staff advantage might be close to the same.

Thus sayeth GAO, “NORTHCOM also faces the challenge of balancing its training objectives with those of state agencies and organizations, particularly given the limited resources and funding states have available to exercise. While state and local governments seek to exercise their first responder capabilities before having their resources overwhelmed and needing to seek federal assistance, NORTHCOM’s goal is to exercise its capability to provide support to civil authorities when local, state, and other federal resources are overwhelmed. As a result of this challenge, officials from 5 states told us that all of their needs were not fully met during the exercises, for example, due to large-scale, unrealistic scenarios that overwhelmed the states’ resources before they had the opportunity to exercise their training objectives.”

This reality, which the language above makes clear enough, has a troublesome follow-on implication. Law, doctrine, and DOD training emphasize defense support for civil authority.  But because DOD exercises simulate the essential collapse of state and local civil authority, it is more accurate to say exercises are aimed at restoring civil authority.  The more difficult and helpful exercise would be to simulate disasters where federal military assets are deployed at the request of the Governor(s) and where local and state authority remains partially — even unpredictably — intact.  This will exercise unity of effort in a manner that will challenge the military chain of command to more effectively adapt to the tactical, operational, political, and constitutional realities of domestic service.

Thus sayeth GAO, “Inconsistencies with how NORTHCOM involves states in planning, conducting, and assessing exercises are occurring in part because NORTHCOM officials lack experience in dealing with the differing emergency management structures, capabilities, and needs of the states. Inconsistencies are also occurring because NORTHCOM has not established a process for including states in exercises, such as consistent procedures for requesting state involvement in exercises through DHS/FEMA or the National Guard Bureau. Without an informed and consistent process, NORTHCOM increases the risk that its exercises will not provide benefits for all participants, impacting the seamless exercise of all levels of government and potentially affecting NORTHCOM’s ability to provide support to civil authorities.”

Well, yes… but GAO’s language is so careful, it is potentially misleading.  It is reasonable to wonder if AFRICOM might show greater restraint and do more to involve and upgrade local capacity than does NORTHCOM. There is a passive aggressive aspect to NORTHCOM that reflects unresolved issues — urgently needing resolution — of having a fully functioning Combatant Command “responsible” for the United States.  Better processes are certainly needed, but the issues go much deeper.  NORTHCOM was created quickly, spontaneously emerging from the forehead of Rumsfeld, so to speak.  There is a Combatant Command clubhouse in which careerists at Colorado Springs will naturally want to play.  No disrespect need be implied by insisting NORTHCOM should not be part of that clubhouse.

Full disclosure: Until my semi-retirement in June 2008 I worked closely with a NORTHCOM function related to training and exercising.  Every person with whom I worked recognized the  problems outlined above — though they may be uncomfortable with the language I use.  They actively invited more involvement of state, local, and tribal authorities.  They welcomed the initiative of such authorities.  They were ready to adjust exercise designs and training regimes to involve more locals and more non-military federal personnel.

But it was like an NFL team welcoming the local high school team to play with them.  The prep team might initially be excited by the prospect.  But the match-up would usually be so uneven as to be dangerous… for all involved.

Strategically and operationally — but most especially constitutionally — this is an issue that requires (among other measures) long-term, very significant upgrades to state, local, and tribal capacity in training, educating, and exercising.

(The headline references the Rubicon River.  Ancient Roman law forbade any Legion to cross the river, roughly 200 miles north of Rome, without specific permission of the Senate.   The law was designed to minimize the Republic’s risk of internal military mischief.  The Rubicon was famously crossed by Julius Caesar and his Gallic Legions in 49 BC, leading to the demise of the Republic.)

Nabhan killed in US operation on the Horn

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 15, 2009

“One of Africa’s most wanted al-Qaida suspects has been killed in a U.S. raid in southern Somalia, “Mohamed Olad Hassan reports for the Associated Press

“Citing intelligence reports, Abdi Fitah Shawey (deputy mayor for security in the Somali capital) confirmed that Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan was killed in Monday’s attack in an insurgent-held town near Barawe, some 155 miles (250 kilometers) south of Mogadishu. U.S. military officials say American forces were involved in the raid… Nabhan is a Kenyan wanted for questioning in connection with the car bombing of a beach resort in Kenya and the near simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner in 2002. Ten Kenyans and three Israelis were killed in the blast at the hotel. The missiles missed the airliner.”

“Somalia’s extremist Islamist militia has vowed to avenge the killing of an al-Qaeda leader in a dramatic raid by American special forces,” according to Philip Naughton writing in the Times (London). “US commandos killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in a helicopter raid on his convoy as it travelled through the Barawe district in lawless southern Somalia. US officials said that another foreign militant had been killed and two men captured.”

While I was posting previous Jeffrey Gettleman and Eric Schmitt filed to NYTimes.com with the best round-up yet.

Nabhan had been instrumental in forging links between the Somali nationalist movement al-Shabab and al-Qaeda.  He has also been suspected of seeking to broaden al-Shabab’s anti-Ethiopian and Somali unification  mission.

Over the last several months US intelligence and law enforcement have given significant attention to al-Shabab as a possible source of domestic radicalization in the Somali-American community.

More Background:

FBI background on Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan

BBC profile of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan

BBC suggests a French connection

Late August AP feature story on al Shabab

Collection of New York Times stories on al Shabab

(Interesting wrinkle, around 7:30 eastern I made several attempts to access the Special Operations Command website www.socom.mil.  It was not accessible.)

September 14, 2009

Feds raid NYC area apartment

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

8:30 pm (eastern) CNN and the New York Daily News are reporting that, “A terror threat led cops and FBI agents to storm several homes in Queens early Monday in a search for explosives, authorities said. A federal search warrant reveals cops were looking for bomb-making components, explosive powders, gels, TNT and fuses.”


More from the New York Times and the New York Post.   Each news report includes a few different details.

Homeland security short stories

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

Mystery SolvedKaren Kaplan in the Los Angeles Times tells us about the newly uncovered origins of H1N1.  She writes, “The new H1N1 strain is based primarily on an unusual influenza virus that has been circulating widely in U.S. pigs since the mid-1990s. That “triple reassortant” flu is actually a combination of classical swine flu, a North American avian flu, and a strain of human flu. Somehow, a single pig became simultaneously infected with that virus and a pure swine flu strain found in pigs in Europe and Asia.”

All Alone and No-where to Go — Writing in the Guardian, Ian Black and Richard Norton-Taylor tell us, al-Qaeda’s

activity is increasingly dispersed to “affiliates” or “franchises” in Yemen and North Africa, but the links of local or regional jihadi groups to the centre are tenuous; they enjoy little popular support and successes have been limited. Lethal strikes by CIA drones – including two this week alone – have combined with the monitoring and disruption of electronic communications,  suspicion and low morale to take their toll on al-Qaida’s Pakistani “core”, in the jargon of western intelligence agencies…”Core” al-Qaida is now reduced to a senior leadership of six to eight men, including Bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, according to most informed estimates.

Tag-Teaming Northcom — In an unusual display of bicameral cooperation, on Friday, September 11 both the House Homeland Security Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee gave headline attention to “insufficient coordination and synergy” between Northern Command and the state and local civilian authorities the DoD operation was established to support.  Both committees point to a GAO report, obviously timed to be released on 9/11, entitled, Homeland Defense: U.S. Northern Command Has a Strong Exercise Program, but Involvement of Interagency Partners and States Can Be Improved.  As of early Monday morning, GAO has not yet made the report available to the public, but the House Committee website is providing a link to the full report.

The Watch will give extended attention to the GAO report and related issues on Wednesday… if not before.

Mystery Continued —  Jason Gale, with Bloomberg, reports on continuing efforts to determine why and how H1H1 “is lethal to a portion of young people in good health.”  He leads with the attention-grabbing tale of  “a 34-year-old New Zealander with no pre-existing medical conditions, (who) spent 11 days in a coma induced by doctors in a last-ditch effort to save his life.”

I like to Watch — California Watch, a new project of the Center for Investigative Reporting, is premiering with an indepth series on alleged fraud, waste, and abuse in expenditure of Homeland Security funds.  According to the CW blog, the “series of stories written by reporter G.W. Schulz focus on waste and mismanagement in the state’s homeland security grant programs. He had a lot to work with. Schulz, a staff member at the Center for Investigative Reporting, found scores of examples of waste, questionable expenditures and a lack of oversight.”

This week in homeland security

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

Following are a few homeland security events for the coming week.  For more information  access the embedded links.  Please use the comment function to identify other events you would like to bring to readers’ attention.  If you are attending or monitoring any of these events, please use the comment function to report out to the rest of us.

Monday, September 14

Fall World, a business continuity and disaster recovery conference continues through Wednesday in San Diego.

9:30 am (eastern) Washington DC, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism hosts a meeting on Global Conflict and Terrorism Trends

10:00 am (eastern) Washington DC, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs conducts a hearing on cybersecurity.

Tuesday, September 15

8:00 am (eastern) Washington DC, Partners in Preparedness Symposium and CEO Summit.

Wednesday, September 16

2:00 pm (eastern) Washington DC, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs conducts a hearing on the nomination of Richard Serino as FEMA Deputy Administrator.

Thursday, September 17

9:30 am (eastern) Washington DC, the Woodrow Wilson Center hosts a meeting on police reform in Mexico.

10:00 am (eastern) Washington DC, House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Border, Maritime, and Global Counterterrorism will conduct a hearing on the Secure Border Initiative.

10:00 am (eastern) Washington DC, American Enterprise Institute hosts a meeting on US strategic communications with the Muslim world.

Friday, September 18

September 11, 2009

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on September 11, 2009

Earlier today at Ground Zero in New York, the Vice President of the United States quoted from the following poem by Mary Oliver.


You do not have to be good. 
You do not have to walk on your knees 
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. 
You only have to let the soft animal of your body 
love what it loves. 
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. 
Meanwhile the world goes on. 
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain 
are moving across the landscapes, 
over the prairies and the deep trees, 
the mountains and the rivers. 
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, 
are heading home again. 
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
the world offers itself to your imagination, 
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place 
in the family of things.

The President’s remarks at the Pentagon

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 11, 2009

From earlier today at the Pentagon, these are the remarks of the President of the United States.


Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen and members of the Armed Forces, fellow Americans, family and friends of those that we lost this day — Michelle and I are deeply humbled to be with you.

Eight Septembers have come and gone.  Nearly 3,000 days have passed — almost one for each of those taken from us.  But no turning of the seasons can diminish the pain and the loss of that day.  No passage of time and no dark skies can ever dull the meaning of this moment.  
So on this solemn day, at this sacred hour, once more we pause.  Once more we pray — as a nation and as a people; in city streets where our two towers were turned to ashes and dust; in a quiet field where a plane fell from the sky; and here, where a single stone of this building is still blackened by the fires. 

We remember with reverence the lives we lost.  We read their names.  We press their photos to our hearts.  And on this day that marks their death, we recall the beauty and meaning of their lives; men and women and children of every color and every creed, from across our nation and from more than 100 others.  They were innocent.  Harming no one, they went about their daily lives.  Gone in a horrible instant, they now “dwell in the House of the Lord forever.”

We honor all those who gave their lives so that others might live, and all the survivors who battled burns and wounds and helped each other rebuild their lives; men and women who gave life to that most simple of rules:  I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper.

We pay tribute to the service of a new generation — young Americans raised in a time of peace and plenty who saw their nation in its hour of need and said, “I choose to serve”; “I will do my part.”  And once more we grieve.  For you and your families, no words can ease the ache of your heart.  No deeds can fill the empty places in your homes.  But on this day and all that follow, you may find solace in the memory of those you loved, and know that you have the unending support of the American people.

Scripture teaches us a hard truth.  The mountains may fall and the earth may give way; the flesh and the heart may fail.  But after all our suffering, God and grace will “restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”  So it is — so it has been for these families.  So it must be for our nation.

Let us renew our resolve against those who perpetrated this barbaric act and who plot against us still.  In defense of our nation we will never waver; in pursuit of al Qaeda and its extremist allies, we will never falter. 

Let us renew our commitment to all those who serve in our defense — our courageous men and women in uniform and their families and all those who protect us here at home.  Mindful that the work of protecting America is never finished, we will do everything in our power to keep America safe.

Let us renew the true spirit of that day.  Not the human capacity for evil, but the human capacity for good.  Not the desire to destroy, but the impulse to save, and to serve, and to build.  On this first National Day of Service and Remembrance, we can summon once more that ordinary goodness of America — to serve our communities, to strengthen our country, and to better our world. 

Most of all, on a day when others sought to sap our confidence, let us renew our common purpose.  Let us remember how we came together as one nation, as one people, as Americans, united not only in our grief, but in our resolve to stand with one another, to stand up for the country we all love. 

This may be the greatest lesson of this day, the strongest rebuke to those who attacked us, the highest tribute to those taken from us — that such sense of purpose need not be a fleeting moment.  It can be a lasting virtue.
For through their own lives –- and through you, the loved ones that they left behind –- the men and women who lost their lives eight years ago today leave a legacy that still shines brightly in the darkness, and that calls on all of us to be strong and firm and united.  That is our calling today and in all the Septembers still to come.

May God bless you and comfort you.  And may God bless the United States of America.


SEPTEMBER 12 UPDATE: In this morning’s Washington Post, Scott Wilson offers an interesting report and analysis of how the 9/11 attacks and aftermath have influenced the President’s policies.  The report asserts, “The attacks and the steps that the Bush administration took to prevent another one have defined the way Obama views the world and have influenced, more than any other event, his understanding of national security.”

COG Commission — “What If Catastrophe Hits our House?”

Filed under: Congress and HLS,General Homeland Security,Legal Issues — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on September 11, 2009

CQ’s Rob Margetta posted a story last night, “Panel Worries Congress Isn’t Ready for Worst,” that reminds us of the “what ifs” of 9/11 – what if the Capitol and White House had been successfully hit?  What if that or another event was so catastrophic that it caused mass casualties among our political leadership? What if there were few to none left in Congress to legislate after such an event?

Margetta  profiles the Continuity of Government Commission, formed in 2003, by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Brookings Institute, which has  “pushed for years for a constitutional amendment that would allow emergency interim appointments to replace members of Congress who are casualties of a catastrophic emergency.”

The Commission, co-chaired by former Senators Alan Simpson and David Pryor, issued its second report earlier this summer, which concluded that our nation’s current legal and constitutional framework is not well-suited for resisting a catastrophic attack on our nation’s Capitol.  As Margetta notes, the Commission gathered “in a largely empty conference room” this week to continue it push “for a constitutional amendment that would allow emergency interim appointments to replace members of Congress who are casualties of a catastrophic emergency.”

Currently, existing law does not readily allow such action as the Constitution provides that governors whose states have Congressional vacancies shall call for elections to fill such vacancies or, in the case of the Senate, may temporarily appoint persons, if state law allows.   Under this provision, House Members cannot be appointed, even temporarily.  As a result, in the event of a catastrophe, some states that have longer time-frames for calling and hold elections, could be left without representation.

To be fair, Congress has taken some action to deal with catastrophic circumstances debilitating its bodies. House Rule XX contains a requirement that if the “House shall be without a quorum due to catastrophic circumstances,” then quorum shall be determined based upon the provisional number of the House.  This “provisional number” shall be the number of Members who are able to respond.

That said, while the House may be “operational” in the very basic sense of the word, its legitimacy and functionality could easily be called into question, especially if controversial measures are undertaken.  AEI’s Norm Ornstein, who played a critical role in putting together the Commission, has written extensively on this issue.  As he noted in Roll Call column on October 4, 2001 in an article entitled, “What If Congress Were Obliterated? Good Question:

Even if it could convene, for Congress to operate under those circumstances for long–passing sweeping anti-terrorist laws, emergency appropriations and economic recovery measures–would tax its legitimacy, particularly if there were much greater partisan and regional differences among the surviving (and ambulatory) lawmakers than existed in the full House.

Imagine the uproar if the USA Patriot Act were passed today with 15 votes.  What if economic recovery funding were determined by a handful of Members concentrated in one region?

A handful of proposals have floated around since 9/11 to overcome these potential issues. Most of these were last seriously considered in 2003.  The House, after rejecting a proposed constitutional amendment,  actually approved legislation (H.R. 2844) that would require states to hold special elections within 45 days after the announcement of vacancies resulting from a catastrophe.  The Senate, however, did not take up the House bill or move any of the bills introduced in the Senate on the issue.

Eight years after 9/11, we’ve failed to address effectively one of the most devastating gaps in our nation’s security.  There is no question it is a wonkish and inside the beltway issue to many, especially when compared with first responder funding, security at our airports, and threats to our computer networks.   It is, however, one of the most local issues out there on the homeland front, as residents of almost every district of the House would not want to be without their voice should an incident occur.

Our nation has been fortunate enough (or prepared, depending on who you ask) to have not been successfully attacked again.  It would serve the U.S. government and citizens well for there to be renewed dialogue on the issues that the Commission is calling to be addressed.

Meaning found among fragments of the last eight years: The case for resilience

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 11, 2009

This is the last in a five-part series:

Fragments from September 10, 2001 (Monday)

Fragments from September 10, 2001… Losing momentum with Mexico (Tuesday)

Fragments from September 10, 2001… Climbing carefully into the Hindu Kush (Wednesday)

Fragments from September 10, 2001… A war on terrorists or terrorism? (Thursday)


Eight years on we remain vulnerable to a wide range of terrorist attacks.  Whether the nation is more or less vulnerable depends on an assessment of threat-capacity, specific local and nodal vulnerabilities, and projected consequences… on which experts will disagree.

Katrina confirmed another sort of vulnerability, where human error amplifies natural calamity. As if to pound home the point, this Spring a long-anticipated pandemic erupted… and it is neither Asian nor avian in origin.  But at least — or so far — the pandemic is less deadly than expected.

Our expectations will be overturned again and again. This is not an argument  for fatalism.  It is, though, an argument for some humility. It is also an argument for resilience.

There will be another attack or series of attacks.  A hurricane will shred a major city. The past-due earthquake will make up for lost time. Some combination of the natural, accidental, and intentional will wreak havoc.

Despite every effort to prevent and mitigate, despite the courage and skill of our response, the scale of destruction, injury, and death will shake our individual, social, and political foundations.

But the foundation will stand — and might even be strengthened — if we will admit such suffering is the one expectation in which we can have confidence.  Such realism is the rebar in our foundation.  Just as steel binds with concrete, so can a strategy of resilience strengthen every other aspect of preparedness, response, and recovery.

Government policy can nourish or diminish resilience. When government works too hard to control, or reduce variation, or sometimes even to protect, it lessens the ability of individual and society to explore, experience, and to derive meaning from exploration and experience.

In this use of  “meaning” I want to suggest the sort of strange attractor around which complex systems self-organize.  In the very complex system of a Nazi concentration camp, Viktor Frankl found three equally valid strange attractors.  Frankl wrote, “We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing a something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.” (Man’s Search for Meaning)

How can government policy encourage creativity and action?  How can government policy encourage building relationships?  Should government policy engage the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering?

Creativity and Action

Establish a national not-for-profit to facilitate the  private sector’s role in homeland security.  This would be helpful in collecting risk-assessment data (without FOIA exposure), coordinating voluntary high-risk vulnerability reduction (without potential regulatory complications), and might even become a sort of Ebay for financial contributions, volunteering time, and connecting those that want to help with those who need help.

Initiate a mini-grant program that awards $125,000 in homeland security grants every three months, with a maximum award of no more than $10,000.  Have award recipients selected by a panel of 500 homeland security professionals voting online, with 100 “electors” turning over every three months.

Reconceive Citizen Corps.  Instead of trying to manage its own programs with waaay too little funding, the Citizen Corps could become evangelists of homeland security best practice.  The Citizen Corps at every level — national, state, county, local and neighborhood —  should identify needs and priorities.  Using the Citizen Corps network, the “world leader” in  addressing each need or priority is identified.  The Citizen Corps would also find existing capability to work with the world leader. Then the Citizen Corps communicates results, celebrates victories,  and matches what is learned in one place to needs in other places.  If you don’t like evangelists, think broker or matchmaker or entrepreneur or community organizer or gadfly or Malcolm Gladwell’s connectors and a bit of his mavens and salesmen too.

Building Relationships

Substantially expand federal funding for interagency, intergovernmental, and private-public training and education related to homeland security.  Use learning to build networks of relationships and incent (rather than regulate) good practice.

Establish a federal accrediting process for homeland security training and education.  Replace the slow and often conservative approval process for courses and curricula with an open consumer-driven process consisting mostly of state, local, and private sector personnel. (Encourage creativity and relationships with the same program.)

Subsidize travel and lodging for more homeland security conferences, courses, alliances, consultations, and other reasons to get together.  We all know the biggest value at most meetings is the personal networking.  Even if the speaker is bad — sometimes because the speaker is bad — the side-bar conversations can be fabulous.   If you are concerned about a typical “junket attack,” schedule the meetings for Fargo in February.  In any case, most of the meetings should involve folks from the same region.  So we are talking  about a two hour drive and lunch in Peoria, not Paris in the Springtime.

Attitude toward Suffering

Lincoln at Gettysburg, Roosevelt in the depths of the depression and again after Pearl Harbor, Reagan when the Challenger exploded…

There is a role for the nation’s leaders — and our government —  in shaping the attitude we take toward suffering, unavoidable or not.

In  the immediate aftermath of 9/11 President Bush understood this role.  At the National Cathedral on September 14, he offered,

It is said that adversity introduces us to ourselves. This is true of a nation as well. In this trial, we have been reminded, and the world has seen, that our fellow Americans are generous and kind, resourceful and brave. We see our national character in rescuers working past exhaustion; in long lines of blood donors; in thousands of citizens who have asked to work and serve in any way possible… In these acts, and in many others, Americans showed a deep commitment to one another, and an abiding love for our country.

Unfortunately, the single greatest influence on the public’s attitude toward suffering after 9/11 was probably a series of Travel Industry of America advertisements with the President calling on Americans to shop, travel, and “enjoy life”. There were sound economic reasons for the message.  But the message was mistaken.

Resilience is not achieved by denial of suffering but in how we embrace its reality.  As individuals we know this well.  As a society, our attitudes are complicated and often conflicted.

It is not the role of government to resolve these conflicts.  But in times of great suffering, it is well for the government to share our grief rather than try to distract us.

Nor should the government seek to diminish our experience of grief when we have chosen to place ourselves at risk.  There is no good purpose for government subsidies, direct or indirect, to mitigate our experience of  avoidable suffering.

We are more resilient when we accept the reality of flood plains, wildfire zones, beachfronts and other high risk contexts.  The distinction between avoidable and unavoidable suffering can be debated, but do we need to debate the principle that government should not  subsidize a persistent denial of demonstrated risk?

We take risks.  Because they are risks, we sometimes fail.  In failure I may suffer.  I can also learn. From the alchemy of suffering and learning, I am empowered to create and act, in creating and acting I come into relationship with others.  Through this cycle of creating, acting, building relationships, suffering or succeeding,  and creating anew we become resilient.

Resilience is mostly an outcome of the home, neighborhood and workplace.  But federal and state policy can encourage resilience with inputs that support — or at least avoid complicating — Frankl’s three sources of meaning.

September 10, 2009

WaPo VoPo: JaNo

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on September 10, 2009


Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, photograph by Alex Wong, Getty

The Washington Post’s Voices of Power series has interviewed Janet Napolitano.  Today’s online coverage includes a transcript of the full interview conducted by Lois Romano.

Mostly the usual questions elicit the expected answers.  But the Secretary’s answers do tend to be more pointed and practical than those of her predecessors. 

There is also a marked tendency for her to answer what is asked and nothing more.  I notice alot of prosecutors and former prosecutors display a similar reticence.   I would expect this of the defense, but most defense attorney’s I know will just keep talking and talking.

Not Secretary Napolitano.  For example,

MS. ROMANO: Another report that came out of Congress recently said–concluded that the world is at greater risk for a biological weapon for mass destruction than it is for nuclear; do you agree with that?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: I think you can’t prioritize in that way.


SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: I think what you have to say is both are known risks and both are things that we need to defend against.

Unfortunately there was no further follow-up, not even another “Okay.”  It sounds like the Secretary may be applying an interesting decision  framework. I would  welcome knowing about that framework… especially in an interview transcript buried on the website.  If you can’t go into depth here, I don’t know where it is possible.

Another interesting fragment, this one got the headline writer’s attention:

MS. ROMANO: What keeps you up at night? When you are laying in bed, what are the things that worry you?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, as I said earlier, you can’t eliminate all risk, and so, try to think of ways that we can work even better, more efficiently–whatever–to reduce risk. It is something that–not just me but everybody in this Department is always thinking about.

I think another thing that concerns me is complacency, the fact that it has been eight years almost now since 9/11 and people just assume the government is going to take care of that.  Well, the government can do many things, and we are, but again, safety, security–a shared responsibility.

So the story headline is Security is a Shared Responsibility, Napolitano Says.  I agree, in general.   But what does the Secretary mean in particular?   Once again no follow-up. 

There’s lots more on emergency preparedness, immigration, and H1N1, but I don’t think any regular reader of The Watch will find anything new.  That’s a shame.  I expect the Secretary would have welcomed the questions.

September 11 Update

Early this morning the Secretary released the following statement (in its entirety):

On the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, our nation pauses to remember a day of sorrow and tragedy, but also a day of heroism and unity. Eight years later, threats to the United States and our allies abroad are persistent and evolving. Homeland security remains a responsibility shared by every individual, community and business. Together, we must build a culture of resiliency and guard against complacency, so we are better prepared for terrorist attacks or disasters of any kind. The President has proclaimed September 11 as a day of remembrance, and also a day of service. By serving our communities and our country today and throughout the year, we commemorate our past while also preparing for our future.

The bold highlight is my own work. If I was of my father’s generation I might have been a Kremlinologist, if of my grandfather’s generation an Old Testament exegete, but to me the shift from the long-abiding (if never achieved) “culture of preparedness” to this “culture of resiliency” is worth special note and is very welcome. 

September 10th Thinking — 2009 Edition

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on September 10, 2009


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