Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 30, 2009

The Long Blog: Its (our risk analysis) projection in practical policy on official level

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 30, 2009

Editorial Note:  This is the sixth in a series of posts on resilience as a proposed focus for a homeland security strategy.  This strategizing is organized around the approach taken by George Kennan in a seminal 1946 document.  Links to prior posts are provided below.


In the third element of his five-part Long Telegram Kennan shows how Kremlin neuroses can be used to predict official Soviet policies.  I want to remove or reduce the influence of US neuroses on homeland security policy and strategy.

I have prescribed embracing the tragic.  How would this untie the knots of our own neuroses?

Previously in this series of posts four preliminary deductions were offered:

1. The United States is, by-far, the most powerful single player on the planet.  

2. Despite our great power, the United States confronts a strategic context  much more unstable than 1946. 

3. As a result, the contemporary strategic context is much less predictable than 1946. 

4. With very limited predictability regarding our threats, national policy and strategy should aim to optimize our adaptability to a range of risks.  

If  this strategic analysis is broadly accurate (there were some concerns expressed, which are addressed in comments to this post), it describes a situation which many will  find frustrating. 

In most cases, this frustration emerges from being unable to sufficiently influence — and certainly not control — our strategic context.  

Desire for control is closely linked to neurosis.  Just in itself the pursuit of control creates the potential for cognitive dissonance.  How does this jive with our proclaimed national commitment to liberty? But without more control, how can we guarantee safety?

In embracing the tragic it is acknowledged very little can be guaranteed. No complex system can be fully controlled.  Can goals be cultivated? Certainly.  Encouraged?  For sure.  Influenced? Yes.  Guaranteed?  No, even the effort will amplify tragic consequences.

The exercise of power — even when animated by noble purpose — will have surprising and, too often, ignoble outcomes.  Embracing the tragic gives you this fore-knowledge.  This fore-knowledge need not constrain your exercise of power, but it will inform your expectations.

It may also inform how power is exercised.

Recognizing tragic potential we accept the probability of surprise and the  possibility of failure.  In any community — with formal democratic traditions or not — this recognition encourages shared decision making.  Key participants may try (and succeed) to  manipulate the process, but  even at-worst the illusion of participation and collaboration will usually be fostered. 

Historically, tentative and limited participation in decision-making has often been extended, either through increments or revolution.  Societies, cultures, and institutions that foster participation and collaboration in decision-making seem to have a long-term comparative advantage.

There is a growing body of evidence that this comparative advantage emerges from how participative networks increase the feedback available to the system, thereby enhancing the ability of the system to maintain rough equilibrium. This is a key aspect of resilience.

Systems which maximize feedback spawn learning, this builds knowledge, which can extend the boundaries within which the system maintains its equilibrium.  This is not, mostly, a matter of formal learning, but the sort of learning by which complex systems adapt to their environment.  The results can be chaotic, both figuratively and literally, but the outcome is enhanced resilience.  

Here’s my current working definition of resilience: “1) the ability of a system to absorb or buffer disturbances and still maintain its core attributes; 2) the ability of the system to self-organize, and 3) the capacity for learning and adaptation in the context of change.” (Armitage via Walker, Holling, Folke, et al)

(Please see/hear Brian Walker’s 7 minute explanation of resilience.  First video available on linked screen.)

A sense of the tragic tells us — and resilience directs our attention to — “systems experience changes that are unknowable and discontinuous, and involve sudden and dramatic flips.”

The last two quotes are  from Governance and the commons in a multi-level world by Derek Armitage.  This is one of hundreds of digital papers   available from the International Association for the Study of the Commons.  Resilience is a principal concern of this movement, closely related to Elinor Ostrom (the recently announced Nobel Laureate in Economics).

As with our consideration of resilience here at The Watch, Ostrom, Armitage, and others are carefully provisional in their conclusions (caused by an overly developed sense of the tragic?).  But several common attributes of the most resilient systems seem to be emerging.  Drawing heavily on the Armitage paper, but with edits reflecting my own perspective, these attributes include:

Broad based participation, collaboration, and deliberation.

Multilayered and polycentric organizational structures.

Networked organizational structures with mutual accountability built into how the network functions.

Content-rich and meaningful interaction regularly occurring across the network.

Facilitative and/or catalytic leadership (in sharp contrast with authoritative or control-oriented leadership).

All the preceding attributes and their activities produce knowledge of both the system and its environment. 

All the preceding attributes contribute to individual and system-wide learning, which is the application of knowledge to maintaining and/or potentially extending the boundaries within which the system maintains its equilibrium.   (I have purposefully left out one generally recognized common attribute: trust.  I plan to come back to this with a fuller consideration).

These are fundamental components of any effective strategy.  Only when most of these attributes are reflected in strategy, operations, and tactics will our homeland security effort generate a long-term comparative advantage.  

When our attitudes or actions are contrary to these attributes, we contribute to our disadvantage.  When our attitudes and actions are consistent with these attributes we enhance the resilience of whole system.

 The less a system is characterized by these attributes, the more neurotic it will be; in other words the more dissociated from reality.  Kennan recognized the deep neurosis of the Soviet Union’s centralizing, controlling, and excluding tendencies.  He predicted its collapse.

What about our homeland security system?  More on Monday.


Previous posts in this series:

The Long Blog:  A strategy of resilience (October 19)

The Long Blog: “Basic features” of US risk and resilience (October 21)

The Long Blog: Four preliminary deductions from seven premises (October 23)

The Long Blog: Background of this perspective on risk, the role of neurosis (October 26)

The Long Blog: Background of this perspective on risk, embracing the tragic to avoid the ironic (October 28)

If you have just tuned it, you are reading an experiment in serialized strategizing.  I am not entirely sure where this will end up, but with the help of readers I have taken the loose framework of George Kennan’s Long Telegram and am attempting to fill-in the framework with a crystallization of our discussions over the last nine months on the role of resilience in homeland security.  We are roughly half-way through the process.

The Long Blog: A path taken, then retraced

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 30, 2009

Editorial Note:  This is an unfinished draft post that I decided to discard… or at least not  further explore at this time.  I perceive the need to move from arguing strategic concept to justifying strategic benefit, as I have begun to do in the post immediately above.  Before the digital age this would never have left my desktop.  But just in case, you are digging through these posts in an effort to fall to sleep…


After explaining the origins and implications of Soviet neuroses, Kennan proceeds to predict how the the neuroses will be expressed in practical policy at both the official and unofficial levels of Soviet decisionmaking.

In two previous posts I argue American neuroses must be seriously engaged by any effective homeland security strategy.  On this Friday before Halloween we could proceed like Kennan to describe how our neuroses are already playing out at both official and unofficial levels. 

Several posts at Homeland Security Watch have told these horror stories.  The most widely read since I joined the blog was the recent, “Do I have the right to refuse this search?” 

There are several ways to read Chief Walker’s report on her encounters with the TSA.  Perhaps you will join me in perceiving official behavior that,

is preoccupied with details, rules, lists, order, organization, or schedules to the extent that the major point of the activity is lost,

is reluctant to delegate tasks or to work with others unless they submit to exactly his or her way of doing things,

shows rigidity and stubborness.

These are three of eight symptoms listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) as criteria for Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder.  This disorder is described as, “a pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency…”  A preliminary diagnosis requires evidence of at least four of the eight criteria. 

Considering the crates of fingernail files, scissors, and other flotsam gathered at security lines, I wonder about the DSM-IV criterion that reads, “is unable to discard worn-out or worthless objects even when they have no sentimental value.”  But I am stretching the point.

By now you have either conjured your own examples of neurotic official behavior or you have rejected my hypothesis that an unresolved conflict between  national ideals and current experience is America’s greatest vulnerability.   

While we needed a specialist like Kennan to explain Soviet neuroses, most of us have the background and ability to assess the condition of our immediate context.  Whether we have the wisdom, skill, and will to do so is another matter.  Self-awareness is much more difficult than other-awareness.

I will depart from Kennan’s predictions of how neurosis will play out in policy and strategy. My goal is to reduce the role of neurosis in our homeland security policy and strategy. 

Fundamental to a less neurotic approach, as outlined in Wednesday’ post, is to embrace the tragic.  In doing so we can reclaim what I perceive is an essential — but misplaced — core American value.

The Declaration of Independence starts solemnly enough, but can we deny the embrace of tragic potential at its close? “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”   The Federalist Papers are gripped with a sense of tragedy and argue only a system that accepts such reality might mitigate its effect.

At Gettysburg and in his Second Inaugural, Lincoln’s eloquence is  the explicit outcome of his implicit embrace of the tragic.  In 1933 the new President’s great challenge was to give a suffering nation renewed courage.  Early in his first inaugural Roosevelt sets out,

In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days. In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunk to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; and the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone. More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.

Accepting our tragic condition is a prerequisite to making meaning of our situation.  In that dark reality is the potential for transcendence.  This is the essential foundation of resilience.

When I first began to press for resilience as a strategic priority — nearly three years ago — I was told it was wise and hopeless.  “It implies hardship. No politician is going to offer hardship,” is what one long-time emergency manager told me. “They’ve got to promise protection, come what may.” If that’s true the United States is done-for. 

Most over the age of twelve know that any such promise is a lie.  Alfred North Whitehead wrote, “The deepest definition of youth is life as yet untouched by tragedy.” In our personal lives we are well-acquainted with tragedy. We understand its inevitability and its potential. 


Then I was probably going to consider the difference between dealing with a population of citizens compared to a population of consumers.  This might have involved discussion of how the last half-century of mass communications has masked our experience of tragedy. I would have  argued  (not sure I would have convinced myself, much less you) that the consumer culture does not — at least not yet — define the culture as experienced. But it has undermined what we understand to be a citizen and the role of citizens.  An even bigger problem with citizenship is the tremendous geographic mobility of the last half-century.  While all of this masks tragedy, it does NOT alter the real experience of tragedy… and may even sharpen and romanticize tragedy.  But you see why I decided this winding path was not appropriate for the purposes of this blog.  I certainly would not have finished my swan-song by Thanksgiving.  So this is — at least for now — a dead end.

October 29, 2009

Homeland Security’s War On Subjectivity

At first I thought they were being funny.

“Let’s hold a hearing about measuring preparedness and do something wacky to see if anyone’s paying attention.  Let’s attack something for being subjective.  And use subjective data to support our claims.”

On Tuesday, the Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness, and Response held a hearing titled “Preparedness: What has $29 billion in homeland security grants bought and how do we know?” [You can read the prepared testimony and watch a video of the hearings here].

During the hearings, members of Congress criticized DHS for using a particular assessment tool — something called “Cost to Capability.” Otherwise known as C2C

The primary criticism: the tool was too subjective.

And what data were offered to demonstrate how subjective the tool was?

Opinions of the committee members.  Opinions of witnesses. Opinions of constituents.

Two examples (with my emphasis):

The tool “… remains entirely subjective. Grantees are simply asked to guess the impact of the grants on their grants.” said Chairman Henry Cuellar (according to his prepared remarks).

“I am … concerned that the tool requires a subjective judgment of our base capabilities and perhaps more importantly how much an investment has increased a capability,” said the unfailingly gracious Dave Maxwell, Director and State Homeland Security Adviser of Arkansas’ Department of Emergency Management.

Were Cuellar and Maxwell offering objective or subjective assessments?  Aren’t opinions — even informed opinions — subjective?

If they were being subjective, what’s so bad about subjectivity?  Why do intelligent, well-meaning people seem to be at war with it?
Tuesday’s hearings were not a joke.  Anyone interested in this topic can see a dozen thoughtful, knowledgeable and concerned people struggling over this very wicked problem: “What has $29 billion in homeland security grants bought and how do we know?”

Those are important questions.  They seem ripe for what FEMA Deputy Administer Tim Manning later described as “rigorous analysis and the development of precise metrics which will enable us to connect dollars spent to results achieved and ultimately to improvements in preparedness.”

How hard could it be to figure out some objective way to answer those questions?

“I thought C-2-C was supposed to get rid of the guesswork.” said Chairman Cuellar.

No wonder he thought that.  Here’s how C2C was marketed:

With the tools generated by the C2C Initiative, [homeland security] grantees will be able to maximize their local preparedness investment strategy with respect to the Nation’s Homeland Security priorities. By design, these tools will adapt to changes in the Nation’s Homeland Security Strategy, translating national priorities into a clear prioritization of capabilities-based investments that all levels of government can use. C2C tools will inform grantees’ use of limited grant funding and better measure how grants increase the capability of States and local communities to respond to all-hazards.

Tools, maximize, preparedness, strategy, adapt, priorities, prioritization, capabilities-based, investment, limited funding, better measures, all-hazards — one can hear buzzers going off all over the place.

Whatever C2C is supposed to do, one is comforted by the promise that it will provide tools.  Tools are things we can hold in our hands.  We use tools to fix things.  So C2C will fix things.  It will fix the thorny problem of how to measure preparedness.


I do not want to add to what Cuellar described at the end of the hearings as “a tsunami of concerns” about C2C.  In my view, C2C is only the latest iteration of the quest to measure preparedness — the homeland security equivalent of trying to turn straw into gold.

In 2003, Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8 commanded that there be an annual status report of the nation’s preparedness.

I do not believe that command was ever obeyed.  But I do know of a half dozen pilot efforts to figure out how to do it.

In 2006, the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act reissued the command as a requirement to establish a “comprehensive system to assess, on an ongoing basis, the Nation’s prevention capabilities and overall preparedness.”

Three years later, from C 2 shining C, the nation still waits to find out. (I am sure I am not the first to make that horrible pun. Still, I do apologize.)

Congressman Cuellear wrote his 1998 doctoral dissertation on government performance: “A Comparative Analysis of Legislative Budget Oversight: Performance Based Budgeting In The American States.” He volunteered to help FEMA and offered what he called “free advice” (on a single piece of paper) about how to measure preparedness: figure out the mission and what preparedness means, determine your goals, your strategy, your performance measures….

Really smart people have worked on this wicked problem for six years. If it were as straight forward as Dr. Cuellear suggests, perhaps it would have been done already.

That national preparedness hasn’t been measured – in spite of major efforts to do so — ought to count as objective data to support the hypothesis that perhaps it cannot be done.

Cueller said (regarding C2C) “It’s better to not defend something that’s not working.”

Maybe those words should be directed to those who believe we can measure preparedness objectively.


Can we try something different?

Perhaps an approach could be built around blatantly subjective impressions of preparedness.  The impressions would come from the professionals charged by their constituents with the mission to make sure their communities and the nation are prepared and resilient. Maybe we can trust that — in general — they know what they are talking about.

Here’s an example: One of the witnesses was Kathy B. Crandall, Director of Homeland Security & Justice Programs from the Columbus, Ohio Urban Area.  She said, in response to a question, that “Yes, we have solved the [interoperable communications] problems in the Columbus urban area.”

You read that correctly.  She actually said the interoperability problem in her jurisdiction had been solved.

Was she being subjective?  I think she was. She offered no objective data to support that claim.

But I believed her.

Should other people believe her?  Can we build a national assessment program around trusting the “word” of people in a position to know whether or not they are prepared?

But what if the people we ask have other motives?  What if they are just in it for the money and will say whatever they think they need to say?  What if they lie?

On the other hand, what if they are giving as accurate a picture of preparedness as we are ever likely to get?


The War on Subjectivity is fundamentally about not trusting each other.  I can’t trust what you tell me because, being human, you probably have some hidden motive for what you’re saying.  Or worse, you may not even know what you’re talking about.

And you can think the same about me.


Preparedness — as the participants in Tuesday’s hearings acknowledged in one way or another — is not an “external object” subject to the same kinds of measurement processes as physical objects.  Preparedness – like the resilience Phil has been writing about this week – is a subjective concept.

We can objectify it as much as we care to.  But like the term “homeland security,” preparedness means different things to different people.  That’s not likely to change anytime soon.

So what has $29 billion in homeland security grants bought and how do we know?

Tim Manning provided a compelling answer:

Intuitively, we could answer the question “Are we better prepared?” with a “yes.” We could validly point to the amount and type of equipment that has been purchased, the physical security improvements that have been made, and the planning and training improvements that have occurred, and conclude that we are better prepared. Our national, state, local, tribal and territorial efforts have certainly increased our interagency planning across the spectrum of preparedness. This is in itself an achievement that greatly improves our ability to act decisively in a crisis.

I think it’s more than intuition that allows one to say that.  Talk with any experienced practitioner in a homeland security-related activity and ask if we are better prepared for a variety of events than we were on September 10, 2001.

When I ask that question, the subjective but consistent response is almost always yes.

Ask the same question about equipment, training, collaboration, information and intelligence sharing, border and transportation security, immigration, interoperability, critical infrastructure protection, private sector preparedness, attention to privacy and civil rights concerns, terrorism finance, weapons of mass destruction — pick your list.

Are we better prepared now than we were on September 10, 2001?

When I ask, the answer is almost always yes.


Don’t get me wrong.  There is still a lot to do in all of these areas.  I have objective evidence to prove that assertion.

And while we’re at it, the preparedness grants I want for my community ought to get priority attention from Congress, DHS and FEMA.

But that’s an argument for a different hearing.

Our country has enough wars going on right now.  We do not need another one.

I propose we open negotiations with Subjectivity.  We should seek at least a tentative peace with it.

I believe once we trust — and verify — what Subjectivity has to say, we will learn that we are an increasingly prepared nation. And homeland security can move forward from there.

Of course that’s just an opinion.

October 28, 2009

The Long Blog: Background of this perspective on risk, embracing the tragic to avoid the ironic

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 28, 2009

Editorial Note:  This is the fifth in a series of posts on resilience as a proposed focus for a homeland security strategy.  This strategizing is organized around the approach taken by George Kennan in a seminal 1946 document.  Links to prior posts are provided below.


Kennan’s key to defending the United States is to recognize and, when appropriate, exploit Soviet neuroses.  To defend the United States and advance our interests in the 21st Century we must attend effectively to our own neuroses.

President Bush famously asked of the 9/11 terrorists, “Why do the they hate us?”  He answered the question, “They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”  The terrorists hate us for our virtues.

While the values argument put forth by the President should not be dismissed, Osama bin-Laden offers a considerably different rationale.

 It should not be hidden from you that the people of Islam had suffered from aggression, iniquity and injustice imposed on them by the Zionist-Crusaders alliance and their collaborators; to the extent that the Muslims’ blood became cheap and their wealth became as loot in the hands of the enemies. Their blood was spilled in Palestine and Iraq. The horrifying pictures of the massacre of Qana, in Lebanon, are still fresh in our memory. Massacres in Tajikistan, Burma, Kashmir, Assam, the Philippines, Fatani, Ogadin, Somalia, Eritria, Chechnya and in Bosnia and Herzegovina took place,massacres that send shivers through the body and shake the conscience. All of this the world watched and heard, yet not only didn’t respond to these atrocities, but also, with a clear conspiracy between the USA and its allies and under the cover of the iniquitous United Nations, the dispossessed people were even prevented from obtaining arms to defend themselves. (Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places, August 23, 1996)

These massacres are unfamiliar to most Americans. US culpability for these horrific events will strike most as absurd. Yet bin-Laden is not alone in finding Americans complicit in the unjust suffering of Muslim millions.  According to recent surveys,  most Pakistanis readily agree.

Even in seeking to do good, we can cause suffering. In his assessement of our situation in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal explains,

Preoccupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us — physically and psychologically — from the people we seek to protect.  In addition, we run the risk of strategic defeat by pursuing tactical wins that cause civilian casualties or unnecessary collateral damage.  The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves. 

A United Nations report found that in the first six months of 2009,  three hundred Afghan civilian casualties — roughly 30 percent of the total — were caused by coalition forces.  During the same period the US/NATO coalition  suffered nearly the same number of fatalities. In his September interview with 60 Minutes, Gen. McChrystal said, “Since I’ve been here the last two and a half months, this civilian casualty issue is much more important than I even realized. It is literally how we lose the war or in many ways how we win it.”

In his October 7, 2001 announcement of  the invasion of Afghanistan, President Bush anticipated the potential conflict between purpose and practice.

The oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America and our allies. As we strike military targets, we will also drop food, medicine and supplies to the starving and suffering men and women and children of Afghanistan.

The United States of America is a friend to the Afghan people. And we are the friends of almost a billion worldwide who practice the Islamic faith. The United States of America is an enemy of those who aid terrorists and of the barbaric criminals who profane a great religion by committing murder in its name…

We’re a peaceful nation. Yet, as we have learned, so suddenly and so tragically, there can be no peace in a world of sudden terror. In the face of today’s new threat, the only way to pursue peace is to pursue those who threaten it.

We did not ask for this mission, but we will fulfill it. The name of today’s military operation is Enduring Freedom. We defend not only our precious freedoms, but also the freedom of people everywhere to live and raise their children free from fear.

In pursuing peace we have killed the innocent.  In defending freedom we have imprisoned — and worse — those who have done us no harm.  We have betrayed what we love in an effort to protect what we love.

It would be a serious error to see this as merely hypocritical or cynical.  During the eight years of our current war there have, no doubt, been  instances of hypocrisy and cynicism.  But it is crucial to recognize these seeming contradictions are the inevitably tragic consequence of exercising power. Purity of purpose is hard enough.  Purity of practice is beyond our capacity.

“The tragic element in the human situation is constituted of conscious choices of evil for the sake of good.  If men or nations do evil in a good cause, they cover themselves with guilt in order to fulfill some high responsibility; or if they sacrifice some high value for the sake of a higher or equal one they make a tragic choice.”  (Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History)

The powerful cannot avoid tragedy.  It is innate to the nature of power.  It has been part the American experience from our founding.  As our power has multiplied, so has our tragic potential.  But the American psyche struggles to deny this reality.  We point to innocent intention. We seek individual scapegoats — Lynndie England or Dick Cheney —  for our collective guilt. We propagate neuroses to obscure our role in tragedy.

Our effort to escape tragedy is more threatening to our integrity of purpose — and essential innocence — than any tragic choice we undertake.  In refusing to embrace the tragic, we invite the ironic… a much more insidious condition.

“If virtue becomes vice through some hidden fault of virtue; if strength becomes weakness because of the vanity to which strength may prompt the mighty man or nation; if security is transmuted into insecurity because too much reliance is placed upon it; if wisdom becomes folly because it does not know its own limits — in all such cases the situation is ironic… It is differentiated from tragedy because by the fact that the responsibility is related to an unconscious weakness rather than to a conscious resolution.”  (Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History)

The United States can no longer afford to deny the paradox inherent to power.  We can no longer indulge our neuroses in seeking to avoid the tragic.

In Lear the plot is set when the old King is unwilling to accept Cordelia’s honest, if paradoxical, expression of love.  Based on Niebuhr’s definition — and your curtain-closing take on Lear’s sense of self — Shakespeare may not have written a tragedy, but a grand irony. From Lear’s vanity and denial unfolds catastrophe. (Ponder sea coast construction in hurricane country,  urban wildfire, flood plain development, and much more.)

There is plenty of death and disaster in Oedipus the King, but Sophocles’ masterpiece conforms closer to Niebuhr’s definition of tragedy, and to my own hope for the United States.  By most measures Oedipus lives a happy and productive life.  The trouble he causes is as unintentional as it is inevitable.  And in contrast to Lear, the trouble caused by Oedipus emerges from nobility, not vanity. At the close of Oedipus at Colonus  the Theban king might even be said to transcend the tragic. 

But only after fully embracing his tragic condition.

On Friday we will move on to the third of Kennan’s five parts: Its projection in practical policy on official level.  If you have persisted this far, I appreciate your patience.  I do not apologize for the analysis, but I realize this is not an approach typical to our times.  I hope you will see its practical benefit in the next few posts.


Previous posts in this series:

The Long Blog:  A strategy of resilience (October 19)

The Long Blog: “Basic features” of US risk and resilience (October 21)

The Long Blog: Four preliminary deductions from seven premises (October 23)

The Long Blog: Background of this perspective on risk, the role of neurosis (October 26)

October 27, 2009

The Right to Be Left Alone…

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Privacy and Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on October 27, 2009

“That the individual shall have full protection in person and in property is a principle as old as the common law; but it has been necessary from time to time to define anew the exact nature and extent of such protection…

Recent inventions and business methods call attention to the next step which must be taken for the protection of the person, and for securing to the individual what Judge Cooley calls the right… “to be let alone…

— Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis, THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY, 4 Harvard Law Review 193 (1890)

Spencer Hsu of the Washington Post reports today that 28 groups and individuals belonging to the Privacy Coalition are calling for Congress to investigate the Department of Homeland Security’s Privacy Office. The Coalition, in a letter to House Homeland Security Committee, questioned the adequacy of the Office’s work, especially as it relates to the following technologies:

  • Fusion Centers and the Information Sharing Environment
  • Whole Body Imaging
  • Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) Surveillance
  • Suspicionless Electronic Border Searches

The group seems to be most concerned with the Privacy Officer’s first responsibility, under Sec. 222(a) of the Homeland Security Act, to assure that “the use of technologies sustain, and do not erode, privacy protections relating to the use, collection, and disclosure of personal information.”   The group also finds fault with the Office’s certifications for exemptions to its obligations under the Privacy Act.

The letter’s premise is interesting in that it furthers the privacy versus security rhetoric that has permeated homeland security.  Rather than noting how the two can co-exist, the letter places each against other, with little room for mitigation or reinforcement — which is at odds at how the Homeland Security Act – rightly or wrongly- put together the Privacy Office’s responsibilities.

The Coalition notes that the Department’s Privacy Compliance Group “manages statutory and policy-based responsibilities by working with each component and program throughout the Department to ensure that privacy considerations are addressed when implementing a program, technology, or policy.”  The letter discusses the Compliance process and then criticizes the Department for focusing its efforts on Privacy Impact Assessments to assure that implementing programs build in privacy protections.   That said, it admits that the assessment process is a possible avenue for the Department to protect privacy and then proceeds to criticize the agency for not providing enough examples in an annual report, even though every PIA is listed.

If the Privacy Office is doing all of the above-  it is doing its job.  The Coalition, it would seem, is requesting, in part, that programs be dismantled.  For example,the letter’s section on whole body imaging  suggests that the technology itself is the problem, not the assessment of what privacy measures should be in place.  According to TSA and the Privacy Office’s assessments, TSA has put in place privacy protections regarding the use, collection and disclosure of personal information in the case of whole body imaging.  According to TSA’s website, the following procedures are in place:

  • The officer who assists the passenger never sees the image the technology produces.
  • The officer who views the image is remotely located, in a secure resolution room and never sees the passenger.
  • To further protect passenger privacy, millimeter wave technology blurs all facial features and backscatter has an algorithm applied to the entire image.
  • The two officers communicate via wireless headset. Once the remotely located officer determines threat items are not present, that officer communicates wirelessly to the officer assisting the passenger. The passenger may then to continue through the security process.
  • This state-of-the-art technology cannot store, print, transmit or save the image. In fact, all machines are delivered to airports with these functions disabled.
  • Officers evaluating images are not permitted to take cameras, cell phones or photo-enabled devices into the resolution room.
  • Each image is automatically deleted from the system after it is cleared by the remotely located security officer

If the Privacy Office evaluated the program during its implementation and worked with TSA to require these protections, hasn’t its statutory duty been met?  The Coalition suggestions on the Privacy Office’s responsibilities would require a reinterpretation of the statutory language so as to delete the “protections relating to the use, collection, and disclosure of personal information.”  The Coalition, it seems, would have  the Privacy Office be both judge and jury in deciding whether technologies in and of themselves “erode” privacy in the broadest sense.  That, however, is not the Privacy Office’s mandate.

Don’t get me wrong, the letter does raise some legitimate issues that the Privacy Office does need to address.  For example, in the section relating to Fusion Centers and Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) Surveillance, it suggests that the Privacy Office should have pushed harder for mandatory privacy protections, rather than guidelines and voluntary efforts.   To the degree DHS has procurement, grant, and partnering decisions over such programs, then  stronger protections should be pursued.

In its closing the letter notes that if DHS’s internal privacy office cannot “protect the privacy of American citizens, through investigation and oversight” then “the situation calls for an independent office that can truly evaluate these programs and make recommendations in the best interests of the American public.” The Privacy Office’s mission, as envisioned by the Homeland Security Act, is not that of an independent voice. That voice was created in the 2004 Intelligence Reform Act with the creation of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which is neither staffed nor active.  That is where the Privacy Coalition should be focusing its attention.

Indeed, in a letter today, Rep.  Jane Harman and Sen. Susan Collins rightly raised concerns with President Obama re the delayed status of nominations to that board.  That independent board is the watchdog for evaluating the privacy in the programs that the Privacy Coalition has raised.  Its mission includes

in providing advice on proposals to retain or enhance a particular governmental power, consider whether the department, agency, or element of the executive branch concerned has explained—

(iii) that the need for the power, including the risk presented to the national security if the Federal Government does not take certain actions, is balanced with the need to protect privacy and civil liberties.

Notably this responsibility is not included in DHS’ Privacy Office job description. Rather than re-interpreting the DHS Privacy Office’s role or creating ANOTHER independent body – the focus should be on getting the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in place so that a voice exists to help the government  to determine when security and our “right to be left alone” clash and what steps need to be taken to assure that our nation is secure and our fundamental values and rights are protected.

October 26, 2009

The Long Blog: Background of this perspective on risk, the role of neurosis

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 26, 2009

Editorial Note:  This is the fourth in a series of posts on resilience as a proposed focus for a homeland security strategy.  This strategizing is organized around the approach taken by George Kennan in a seminal 1946 strategy document.  Links to prior posts are provided below.


In the second part of his Long Telegram George Kennan argues,  “At bottom of Kremlin’s neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity.”  (Telegraphing, like twittering, tended to dispense with articles.)

Kennan argues that understanding the sources and symptoms of this neurosis will allow US decision-makers to avoid unnecessarily provoking the Soviets and potentially take advantage of the Kremlin’s neurosis.  An effective strategy engages reality, even if the reality that matters is neurotic.

Modern psychology has moved away from the mid-20th Century concept of neurosis.  But when Kennan wrote,  neurosis was understood as a manifestation of unresolved conflict between unconscious motivations and explicit purpose.   A contemporary psychologist explains, “neurosis means poor ability to adapt to one’s environment, an inability to change one’s life patterns, and the inability to develop a richer, more complex, more satisfying personality.”

The environment in which the United States finds itself has changed dramatically since 1946.  Since, at least, the mid-1970s the speed of change has been rapid and the direction erratic.  We have not adapted gracefully to the change.  We resist changing our national life patterns. Similar to the Soviet leadership, so helpfully analyzed by Kennan, we are increasingly neurotic in our effort to justify inconsistencies between our self-image and experience.  

The strategic context emerging from this change has not, by-in-large, been friendly to the attitudes and habits Americans developed after World War II.  We have become more and more dependent on increasingly expensive foreign sources of energy.  Other nations, and alliances of nations, have emerged as competent competitors. Our comparative advantage in a wide array of fields has narrowed or we find ourselves at a disadvantage. An industrial economy has been replaced with a consumer economy that can seem precarious. Our financial indebtedness, both foreign and domestic, has increased dramatically.  Our unequalled military prowess has been unable to forestall the first successful foreign attack on the continental US since the War of 1812.  Even the “defeat” of our long-time Soviet enemy has not seemed to produce a practical return.

We are, undoubtedly, the most powerful nation on the planet.  But it sure doesn’t feel like it.

In Man and His Symbols, Carl Gustav Jung offers,

In order to sustain his creed, contemporary man pays the price in a remarkable lack of introspection. He is blind to the fact that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by “powers” that are beyond his control. His gods and demons have not disappeared at all; they have merely got new names. They keep him on the run with restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an insatiable need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, food — and, above all, a large array of neuroses…

Mankind is now threatened by self-created and deadly dangers that are growing beyond our control.  Our world is, so to speak, dissociated like a neurotic…  Western man, becoming aware of the aggressive will to power of the East, sees himself forced to take extraordinary measures of defense, at the same time as he prides himself on his virtue and good intentions.

What he fails to see is that it is his own vices, which he has covered up by good international manners, that are thrown back in his face… shamelessly and methodically.  What the West has tolerated, but secretly and with a slight sense of shame (the diplomatic lie, systematic deception, veiled threats), comes back into the open and in full measure from  the East and ties us up in neurotic knots.  It is the face of his own evil shadow that grins at Western man from the other side…”

Jung does not — and certainly I do not — suggest resolving the neurosis by denying our good intentions or presumption to virtue.  But neither will any resolution come from a willful denial of our struggle to square what we believe with what we have done or perceive we must do.

We have in the Department of Homeland Security and its various concerns a totem giving form to a wide range of unresolved conflicts: liberty v. security, insider v. outsider, privacy v. transparency, individual v. community, local v. national, good v. evil… the list of dichotomies could continue.  Never before has a single government agency served as a repository for so many potential neuroses.  It’s predisposition to neurosis is especially strong because of its domestic — we might say, self-absorbed  — focus.

Nearly a century has passed since Sigmund Freud wrote an essay (later to become Totem and Taboo) entitled, On Some Points of Agreement between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics.   In this he offers that totemism is an elaborate, ritualized effort to resolve the deep ambivalence that exists in most fearing what we most love.

In creating the totem — is this why St. Elizabeth’s was selected as DHS headquarters? — we are attempting to externalize and objectify the ambivalence that is the source of our neurosis.  But without great care, the totem can merely institutionalize both ambivalence and neurosis.  Something more is required to resolve the tension.

On Wednesday we will consider how to move beyond projecting our neuroses on the totem and engage our problems more directly.


Previous posts in this series:

The Long Blog:  A strategy of resilience (October 19)

The Long Blog: “Basic features” of US risk and resilience (October 21)

The Long Blog: Four preliminary deductions from seven premises (October 23)

October 23, 2009

The Long Blog: Four preliminary deductions from seven premises

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 23, 2009

Editorial Note:  This is the third in a series of posts on resilience as a proposed focus for a homeland security strategy. 

The Long Blog:  A strategy of resilience (October 19)

The Long Blog: “Basic features” of US risk and resilience (October 21)


In his February 1946 Long Telegram from Moscow to Washington D.C., George Kennan set out reality-as-perceived-by-our-adversary.  He then derived four deductions from this analysis.

So much for premises. To what deductions do they lead from standpoint of Soviet policy?

Kennan’s deductions de-mystify the strategic perspective of the Soviet leadership.  It is a reality warped by ideology.  But precisely because Soviet perception is so ideologically blinkered, it is predictable. Kennan argued the US could best advance  its interests when it acted with this  predictable worldview as a principal target.

If the prior post’s assessment of  our context — and the National Intelligence Strategy — is reasonably accurate, the other-awareness advocated by Kennan is no longer sufficient. 

Many of the threats confronting the United States today are beyond the scope of accurate analysis or, even, consensus judgment.  The unpredictability of the H1N1 pandemic is good evidence. The potential implications of  climate change, resource shortages, and the range of weapons and targets available to our adversaries challenge the imagination and arguably exceed our analytical capacity.

A colleague who served for many years in the intelligence community has critiqued the National Intelligence Strategy as fatally flawed because it is so far-reaching.  In his view it is undisciplined in target-selection and thereby condemns the intelligence community to almost certain failure.  Their limited assets will be stretched too thin.

His operational concern is undeniable.  Yet I perceive the greater flaw is in too narrowly defining  threats as externalities.   In 1946 the Soviet threat was clearly primus inter pares.  In 2009 choosing among threats can sometimes seem a game of musical chairs.

A deep knowledge of an other is helpful, but no longer sufficient. Other-awareness must be complemented with self-awareness.  Risk emerges from threat and vulnerability.  Threats are often beyond our reach, vulnerabilities  are usually self-generated.  We require a deep understanding of our self.  

Kennan found four action principles flowing reasonably from his seven perceptual premises.  For a Soviet leader who has confidence in his  perception of reality, the prescriptions for action are self-evident.  Kennan encourages his Foggy Bottom masters to recognize the internal logic of the adversary’s worldview.

Broadly accepting the worldview set out by the National Intelligence Strategy, I propose four action principles:

1. The United States is, by-far, the most powerful single player on the planet.  More than most, we are masters of our own fate.  We have the resources, systems, and culture to actively participate in shaping the future.  Despite this, some perceive the best days are behind us.  Certainly,  many would say, 1946 was golden compared to our reduced  current  condition.  That could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. But three factoids:
GDP compared to principal putative adversary:  

1950:  US:$1.45 trillion v. Soviet Union: $510 billion (1991 $)

2007: US: $14.2 trillion v. China: $4.4 trillion

US federal deficit as a percentage of GDP:

1946: 121.7 percent

2009: 66.2 percent (projected)

US median household income (constant 2007 dollars):

1947: $25,260

2007: $46,207

Some will argue China’s trajectory is stronger than the Soviet Union’s.  I do not disagree, that seems likely.  But in 1946 central planning  had not yet fallen out of favor.  That year Britain nationalized both the mines and banks. Many in the capitalist world were expecting a repeat of a big post-war depression, “just like” 1929. Communism was still seen as a realistic alternative to capitalism in producing reliable economic prosperity. Present problems can diminish our memory of past concerns.

2. Despite our great power, the United States confronts a strategic context  much more unstable than 1946.  Today there are many more nodes of significant influence than in the immediate post-war period.  The interactions — social, intellectual, economic, and political — between the various nodes constitute a rich web  much beyond that of 1946.  The spread of H1N1 was much faster than any prior pandemic and going viral is no longer limited to viruses.  The pace of change has accelerated.  We have much more virtual proximity to — and real dependence on — decisions and actions occuring well-outside the direct influence of the United States. 

3. As a result, the contemporary strategic context is much less predictable than 1946.  Kennan’s fundamental thesis was that the ideological rigidity of the Soviet regime made it predictable and thereby manageable.  There is evidence he was right and during the Cold War US policymakers and strategists often (not always)  were guided by this insight.  But the range and type of challenges facing the US today are not anything as predictable. Rather than a  “simple” bi-polar (pun intended) world, we are surrounded by random outbreaks of mass neuroses and peculiar psychoses.

4. With very limited predictability regarding our threats, national policy and strategy should aim to optimize our adaptability to a range of risks.  

In his four deductions Kennan is more concise — perhaps purposefully provocative –than the preceding.   But then in Part 2 of the Long Telegram he proceeds to analyze “certain aspects” of what he has confidently exposed.  Please come back on Monday as we undertake to do the same.

(Some readers have indicated their intention to take up the discussion over the weekend, so you might even look in — and join in — before Monday.)

October 22, 2009

How to Improve Homeland Security: Pets, Kids, and a Yellow School Bus

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on October 22, 2009


ALEXANDRIA, VA – October 10, 2005 — With the successful identification of … [a] two-year old boy [pictured above] found on the roadside in Bremen, Georgia, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) reported today that all of the children who were alone in post-Katrina shelters have now been identified and reunited with family members.”

There are about 74 million children in this country, almost one quarter of the US population.

According to the October 14, 2009 interim report of the National Commission on Children and Disasters (available here], “… when it comes to disaster planning and management across our great nation, children are not placed on par with adults. In fact, state and local emergency managers are required by federal law to meet the needs of pets in their disaster plans, but not children.”

The Commission found the disaster planning needs of children are frequently overlooked and misunderstood:

“…children are given a passing mention in disaster plans and strategies or relegated to separate annexes in the back of planning documents, which emergency managers may not have the time or resources to address.

….Terrorist events such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the unprecedented nature of the September 11, 2001 attacks … deeply affected children. In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, thousands of children were separated from their families, and months later, some still remained unaccounted for. Mental health distress and disability remain prevalent in Gulf Coast children who experienced displacement, long after the storms passed through. Wildfires in California, flooding in the Midwest and tornadoes touch the lives of children with increasing frequency, challenging the capability and capacity to respond to frequent local and regional disasters, let alone an event of catastrophic proportions.

Catastrophic or “mega” disasters, whether acts of terror or acts of nature, magnify the weaknesses of our nation’s daily disaster “state of readiness” for children, whether in schools, child care centers, pre-hospital Emergency Medical Services (EMS), hospitals, juvenile detention facilities or families. Moreover, inadequacies for children exist in: emergency equipment and medications; essential supplies and services in mass care shelters; reunification systems; pediatric training of first responders; capacity of EMS and hospital systems to provide acute care; and mental health services across the continuum of disaster management.”

As the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) observe in “Keeping Children Safe: A Policy Agenda for Child Care in Emergencies,”

“… children are not just smaller adults. Their needs are completely different. A sandwich and a cot won’t work for an infant, and certainly not an infant who has been separated from his mother during an evacuation. Children should not have to wait in long lines with their parents to fill out forms, or be exposed to hazardous materials. Because children are left out of emergency planning, this is what typically happens.”

The National Commission on Children and Disasters notes a recent example of treating children as a planning annex:

Throughout this Interim Report, the Commission cites instances of what we characterize as “benign neglect” of children. The consequences of the benign neglect become magnified when children are disproportionately affected by disasters. For example, in April 2009, the H1N1 flu outbreak quickly illustrated this point …. Despite extensive planning for a much larger flu pandemic affecting the general population, the public health concerns of children created by the H1N1 outbreak prompted school and day care closings, creating challenges for accurate and timely communication to school administrators, child care operators, and parents, and economic consequences for families, small businesses and communities. H1N1 serves as a stark reminder of the central position children hold in the family and community.


So let’s add yet one more issue to the mountain of urgent and important concerns.

But what to do about another claim on the diminishing homeland security attention and resource pool?

Today’s guest blogger addresses one piece of this issue in our blog’s occasional How To Improve Homeland Security series. The author is a homeland security executive in a UASI city. Her background is in public health, emergency management and fire services.

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

Institutions that provide residential childcare services should be mandated to maintain disaster preparedness and continuity of operations plans.

Describe your idea in more depth.

To ensure national disaster preparedness, the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act should be amended to include requirements for institutions that provide residential childcare services – such as schools, daycare centers, and summer camps.

Working parents who provide public safety and critical support services will need to continue working during disaster response and recovery operations. Many times, a parent’s ability to remain at work for an extended period of time or to even go to work each day is contingent upon having safe and reliable childcare services.

To prevent the lack of suitable childcare negatively impacting response and recovery capabilities, institutions that provide residential services to children must be required to maintain disaster preparedness plans. Provision of childcare during a disaster should not become the responsibility of the parents’ employers.

Institutions need to have disaster plans and continuity of operations plans. The disaster plan should include provisions for the care of the enrolled population for at least the first 72-hours of a disaster in the event that children are unable to return home.

Plans should complement the local jurisdiction’s disaster plan, but not be contingent upon local government’s ability to provide supporting services. For example, if government officials order an evacuation to a centralized collection point, the institution must have a transportation plan that does not rely on the government to send transportation resources.

Planning considerations and benchmarks should be standardized. Elements specific to the unique mental health and physical needs of children during disasters should be identified and become part of the required planning mandates. Monitoring compliance with planning requirements could become a responsibility of the governmental body that has licensing authority for each type of institution.

What problem or issue does your idea address?

The effectiveness of disaster response operations and the time required for community recovery are largely contingent upon the collective ability of the public safety and disaster services workforces to continue working. Emergency and medical service providers and personnel working to restore basic infrastructure, such as electrical power and roadways, will likely need to work longer hours and possibly for many consecutive days. Mutual aid resources take time to mobilize and may not be available for a few days.

Workers must concentrate on safely performing their job functions in adverse conditions that present unique challenges. Parents must be confident that trusted providers are attending to the needs of their children. A disaster is not the time to have to find a new childcare provider or unnecessarily expose a child to a new caretaker.

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

Children of working parents would benefit the most from this proposed amendment to the Stafford Act. Structured routines create stability for children and help them to feel safe in their surroundings. During a disaster, parents will be challenged to continue to provide an environment in which their children feel safe. Working parents will be confronted with difficult choices between their professional and family obligations. Professional-related choices may impact the health and safety of others; family-related ones will impact those for whom the worker cares most.

Enacting legislation to require institutional childcare providers to maintain disaster plans will decrease the disruptions to daily routines experienced by children who are affected by disasters. Developing standards for the services that an institution must be able to provide will help to ensure that children receive the “right” services that will assist them to begin the personal recovery process of reestablishing feelings of safety in their surroundings.

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

To initiate the process for amending the Stafford Act, an interdisciplinary partnership of national stakeholder organizations is needed. The partnership should minimally consist of a child advocacy group, an organization of state and/or local government officials, and an organization that represents one of the emergency service disciplines. Garnering support from the U.S. Department of Education would  be beneficial since preparedness requirements for schools will increase, and also the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services since they provide expertise on child health and welfare issues. The partnership could conduct a cost/benefit analysis of disaster operations if employees with children come to work and if they stop coming to work. The impacts of separating children from their parents during a disaster must also be assessed. If the benefits outweigh the costs, the partnership must then identify congressional sponsors to champion the issue. [NB: See, especially Recommendation #7 in National Commission On Children And Disasters (NCCD): Interim Report.]

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

The goal of this idea is to minimize disruption to a child’s routine and sense of security while parents continue to perform critical emergency service relief work after the occurrence of a disaster. Measurements of preparedness activities may include the number of institutions that develop plans containing the required components and policy changes made by institutions related to personal preparedness requirements for staff, children, and parents. The true impact of this proposed legislation would only be realized after a disaster. Post-disaster measures may include the number of residential childcare institutions that remain operational in the days immediately following a disaster, the number of children serviced by these institutions, and the impact that the maintenance of a structured routine has on a child’s ability to cope with and recover from the effects of a disaster.


It is parent – teacher conference week in the town where I live. Our school system is experiencing significant and unusual absenteeism due to what local physicians – somewhat euphemistically — are describing as “flu-like symptoms.” It is an ideal time to be asking schools about their disaster plans.

Here are 10 questions that are worth discussing if you have your own parent-teacher conference coming up — or even if you do not: (adapted from NACCRRA )

  1. Do you have an emergency preparedness plan for disasters that are likely to occur here?
  2. How will you safely evacuate my child to a safe, predetermined location?
  3. How and when will I be notified if a disaster occurs when my child is in your care?
  4. If I cannot get to my child during or after a disaster, how will you continue to care for my child?
  5. Have you received training about how to respond to my child’s physical and emotional needs during and after a disaster?
  6. Will you teach my [older] child what to do during an emergency?
  7. Do you have a disaster or supply kit with enough items to meet my child’s needs for at least 72 hours?
  8. Do relevant emergency management agencies and responders know about your facility and its plans?
  9. How may I help you before, during and after a disaster?
  10. After a disaster occurs, how will I be notified about your plan to reopen?


Among the competing priorities facing teachers, parents, responders, emergency managers, homeland security professional, and public officials, why should the disaster needs of children claim any special attention?

From the NCCD report:

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate invokes an ideal metaphor from his experiences in managing disasters in Florida…– there is no stronger indicator of hope and optimism to a disaster-affected community than to see a yellow school bus making its way down a neighborhood street.


October 21, 2009

The Long Blog: “Basic features” of US risk and resilience

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 21, 2009

In his Long Telegram, George Kennan frames a strategy on five related understandings.  He observes reality, gives context to his observations, projects these findings on official policy, acknowledges the role of unofficial policy, and offers practical deductions… or what I would call strategy.

I will follow the same organizational schema:

(1) Basic features of post-war Soviet outlook  risks to the United States.

(2) Background of this outlook perspective on risk.

(3) Its projection in practical policy on official level.

(4) Its projection on unofficial level.

(5) Practical deductions from standpoint of US policy.

Kennan’s “basic features” urges readers to recognize a Soviet take on reality.  This perceived reality — never fully accurate — is the reality that matters.  Kennan’s argument aims to engage, manage, manipulate — choose your verb — the orientation of our adversary.

Sixty-plus years later, the most serious risks facing the United States are where a range of threats, some traditional and some novel, interact with  several vulnerabilities Kennan did not face.

Where Kennan focuses intently on the Soviet threat — and mostly on the Soviet military threat — our threats are more numerous and nuanced.  The recent National Intelligence Strategy (NIS) is helpful in scanning the horizon.  Can we derive the same sort of logical policy premises that Kennan found?

Part 1: Basic Features of Post War Soviet Outlook, as Put Forward by Official Propaganda Machine the Principal Risks to the United States

Are as Follows:

a)  According to the NIS there are four nation-states that present a “challenge to US interests.”  These are Iran, North Korea, China, and Russia.  None present the near-peer level of competition offered by the Soviet Union  immediately after WWII.  Individually or in concert these competitors can constrain the US.  But even in unlikely combination these nation-states do not present the clear-and-present danger the Stalinist superpower could threaten in 1946. (But this shift, more a matter of human will than of fewer warheads, also demonstrates the importance of keeping the nuclear genie contained.)

b) Violent extremist groups, insurgents, and transnational criminal organizations  “increasingly impact our national security” according to the NIS.  But the capacity of these groups to threaten the US with catastrophic harm is modest.  We should not discount the potential terrorist, or even criminal, use of WMD.  But a reasonable and sustained application of the precautionary principle should suffice to manage this risk.  (See Cass Sunstein).  A debate regarding the specific meaning of reasonable and sustained could be entirely worthwhile.

c)  The global economic crisis was early-on identified by Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence, as the “primary near-term security concern” for the United States.  The dependence of the Unites States on foreign holders of debt (especially China), efforts to replace the dollar as the principal international reserve currency, the prospect of  US hyper-inflation,  and a growing sense of financial limitations all increase the nation’s strategic vulnerability.

d) Failed states and ungoverned spaces nurture possibilities available to violent extremists, insurgents, and transnational criminal organizations, according to the NIS. Unconnectedness, ala Thomas P.M. Barnett, breeds all sorts of ugliness.

e) Climate change and energy competition will present new cassi belli and heart-wrenching humanitarian crises.  I’m not clear on why the NIS combines the two-as-one, but dominant powers such as the US generally prefer stability.  These two factors will likely be the source of significant instability.

f)  “Rapid technological change and dissemination of information continue to alter social, economic, and political forces, providing new means for our adversaries and competitors to challenge us,” is how the NIS describes the threat.  The report goes on to note, “while also providing the United States with new opportunities to preserve or gain competitive advantage.”

g) Pandemic disease is also listed by the NIS as, “a persistent challenge to global health, commerce, and economic well-being.”

(In a neat coincidence Kennan also listed his “basic features” as running from (a) to (g).)

Kennan could focus on threat analysis.  Today the NIS outlines a much more complicated mix of threats and vulnerabilities.  By any measure, the US is much stronger than it was in 1946.  But we are also much more vulnerable.  An insightful awareness of  external threat is no longer sufficient.  We also require a self-awareness of vulnerability.  (Threat x Vulnerability) x Consequences = Risk.

In Friday’s post we will follow Kennan’s lead in seeking some meaningful deductions from these seven premises.

October 20, 2009

Secret Service -Its Mission, Its Future

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Investigation & Enforcement,State and Local HLS — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on October 20, 2009

Bryan Bender from the Boston Globe reports this morning on “new questions” about the 144-year-old Secret Service’s “mission.”  Specifically, he notes that the agency, which has dual missions of protection and financial crimes investigations, may be overwhelmed by the protection mission and need, according to some critics, to abdicate its investigative mission.  Bender cites  “the unprecedented number of death threats against President Obama, a rise in racist hate crimes, and a new wave of antigovernment fervor” as reasons for the Secret Service’s strain.  He cites a Congressional Research Service internal report that found that the two mission approach may be “ineffective” and recommends evaluating whether to transfer some of the service back to the Treasury Department.

Splitting the Secret Service by its mission would be devastating.  Currently, the agency has more than 6,500 employees, including 3,200 Special Agents, 1,300 Uniformed Division Officers, and 2000 administrative employees. The Special Agents fulfill the investigative mission, as well as sensitive protective details and investigations. The Uniformed Division provides the “physical” protection to the White House and foreign diplomatic missions in the Washington D.C. area.

The financial and technology crimes investigative authorities of the agency allow it to operate on an ongoing basis in communities throughout the nation. Its 20+ Electronic Crime Task Forces (ECTF), created after 9/11, allow the Secret Service to build a strong local federal, state, and local law enforcement partnerships, that also include industry and academia.  The value of these local connections help reinforce the Secret Service’s protection mission as it allows the agency to build ongoing trusted relationships with local law enforcement officials.   The relationship between federal and state/local law enforcement can be tenuous – even more so when “outsiders” come into a locality and tell state and locals what to do.   Strong relationships are critical as protected officials travel and National Special Security Events (NSSEs) happen throughout the nation.  Isolating the Secret Service by focusing its mission only on protection would not help the protection mission.

In addition, the investigative mission allows the Secret Service to recruit and hire the best and brightest investigators. Specific protection missions such as protecting the President, Vice President and other dignitaries are opportunities given to the best and brightest of the best and brightest.  After completing a grueling and exhausting protective detail, Special Agents often return to their communities in investigative roles, thereby building stronger connections with their communities.

The investigate responsibilities also contribute to the Secret Service’s ability to fulfill its protection mission by allowing it to develop expertise to assist in its efforts to pursue protection missions.  For example, in today’s increased network world, the Internet and technologies are increasingly being used to perpetrate threats (think of the recent Facebook poll on where the President should be killed).  As an agency tasked with computer crime authorities, the Secret Service has the internal capability of pursuing these types of incidents.

There is little question that the Secret Service is overwhelmed but that is because it needs more resources and personnel.  As NSSEs are increasingly declared and more officials are deemed needing protection, the Secret Service’s funding has to be increased accordingly.  In addition, there needs to be more flexibility in getting resources to the Secret Service quickly and effectively, especially when NSSEs and related special events are identified.

The recommendation that part of the Secret Service go back to the Treasury Department is troubling for another reason — it continues the drumbeat of dismantling the Department of Homeland Security piece by piece to return the nation to pre-9/11 days.  FEMA and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), among other agencies, have both been proposed to be moved out of DHS back to their previous status.   Perhaps this is a consequence of what this blog discussed last week – the waning of homeland security.  It may be just continued jurisdictional wrestling.

While the Secret Service’s dual-mission should be strengthened, not dismantled, there could be some reorganization worth exploring.  The Uniformed Services Division, for example, could be made a separate entity or combined with the Federal Protective Services to strengthen its ability to protect across government buildings.  That is a blog topic in and of itself…

Rah-i-Nijat Tuesday update

Filed under: International HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on October 20, 2009

Following are some non-US media links reporting on unfolding events  in Pakistan.

Chief of Army Staff Kayani writes to Mehsud tribal leaders. (DAWN)

DAWN editorial on Wazirstan operation. “It will be difficult to know when ‘victory’ has been won.”

Tuesday  attack on International Islamic University.  Women and law faculty targeted. (BBC)

Pakistan cuts deal with anti-American Militants (AP)

Pakistan forces making progress (Aljazeera)

Pakistan plans to overwhelm Taliban within two weeks (The Telegraph)

It is my perspective that this operation is directly relevant to homeland security given what we think we know about the location of “core al-Qaeda” and the relationship between AQ and the Taliban in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and elsewhere.

October 19, 2009

The Long Blog: A strategy of resilience

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

For the next month — and no more —  I will focus my thrice-weekly posts (and perhaps some weekend bits) on how resilience might serve as an effective, long-term homeland security strategy.

This will be an exercise in serialized strategizing.  You are invited to contribute and critique the work-in-progress.  I expect — even hope — to find myself going down intellectual blind alleys and ending up in logical box canyons.  This is the value of writing and thinking out-loud.

It is often said that journalism is history’s first draft.  If so, blogging is a rough draft. 

To save time and effort — and to more fully invite your contributions — I will not do much refining as we go along.  If we end up with something worthwhile at the end, then we can attend to tightening and polishing. 

There is a ton of worthwhile source material for this effort.  But whatever I produce in the next thirty days will be especially influenced by the following:

The original 2002 National Strategy for Homeland Security.  There are always quibbles, but I thought Richard Falkenrath (principally) did the nation a substantive service in bringing this together.  I am much more critical of the 2007 update.  Even if you disagreed with the original, there was something coherent with which to disagree.  The update goes every which way. 

Beginning in February 2008 I worked with the Obama Homeland Security advisory council and several state and local leaders to draft a new homeland security strategy.  The campaign never took formal action on the full proposal (some portions ended up in speeches and such).  After the election I worked with a few others to produce a thirty-one page working draft of what emerged during the campaign ( linked here).

Our exchanges on resilience here at The Watch will inform whatever is produced in the next month.  There are several posts-with-comments on which I will draw.

Mr. Brennan comes to dinner (June 4)

Fundamentals of Resilience in Brief  (July 14)

Resilience as public policy: Moving from the individualistic to the systematic (July 19)

Choosing  the Cusp of Chaos (August 14)

The Case for Resilience (September 11)

Preparedness, Readiness, and Resilience (September 27)

Does Resilience have a fairy god-mother? (October 2)

Resilience and the Commons (October 12)

As a model for our ultimate product we will follow George Kennan’s Long Telegram.  Written early in 1946, this 2000 word analysis and set of recommendations had a signal influence on US Cold War strategy.  I am unlikely to achieve such cogency, but can aspire to it.

These twelve or so posts will be a long swan-song or —  given the extended character — a Wagnerian final aria.  Before Thanksgiving the fat lady will finish singing and I will hand-over The Watch to others.

My greatest regret regarding The Watch has been the very few occasions for real dialogue.  I am sure this mostly reflects my own style of writing.  I am inclined to obscure references, complicated metaphors, and premature pronouncements.  

In these last few weeks, I will try to avoid these off-putting behaviors. I expect to share uncertainty and lack of resolution.  I especially welcome your critical, questioning, and constructive contributions to seeking resolution.  If this remains a mostly personal product, it will not have much value.

It will also not have much value if I blog my opinion and others respond with their opinions.  That is, sadly, what mostly happened with public contributions to the QHSR… and what characterizes the vast majority of blogging.  Real dialogue requires a vital mix of humility and courage, restraint and generosity, listening and engaging what is heard. (How’s that for a pronouncement?)

If something strategically coherent emerges from a very public process of reasoning together… well, that would be news in itself.

October 17, 2009

Pakistan begins ground operations against Taliban (and AQ) in South Waziristan

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


The map above is provided by the BBC.  It shows real-time reports coming in from journalists and others on the ground as of 0900 Eastern on Saturday.

You can follow local coverage at www.dawn.com.  This is one of the most trustworthy local English language media operations in Pakistan.

Another source of value-added and usually reliable information is Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal (www.longwarjournal.org).

Early reports are available from the New York Times, The Telegraph, and most mainstream media. 

The last time the Pakistani military moved into Waziristan they were badly bruised.  When they withdrew, ancient antagonisms were given new ambition.  This time the army leadership realizes they are probably fighting for the survival of the Pakistani state.  This fight may also improve conditions for a successful outcome of the US/NATO operation in Afghanistan.

In any case, a victory will be hard-won, failure will come at a steep price, and anything in-between will be excruciating.


With reports by Saeed Shah in Lahore, Emal Khan in Peshawar and Dean Nelson in London, The Telegraph has a helpful overview of the operation that was launched about midnight Saturday in Pakistan. 

The long-awaited army ground offensive had been delayed for weeks as army generals agonised over how the country would cope with the militant backlash which would inevitably follow an all-out assault in the Taliban’s heartland.

The breakthrough came late on Friday night when, in a highly unusual move, the Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Kiyani, summoned the all the main opposition party leaders to a meeting at the home of the prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani.

There, they were asked for united support for what would be one of the army’s most controversial operations: the use of overwhelming force against their own people – many of them tribal militants who had once been trained and encouraged by some of the leaders and generals now moving against them.

In an essay filed with The Telegraph from London, Ahmed Rashid, a long-time Pakistani journalist and author of The Taliban, could not be more stark regarding what is at stake in this fight.

Pakistan’s militants are intent on nothing less than toppling the government, assassinating the ruling establishment, imposing an Islamic state and getting hold of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

Regular readers of The Watch will recall that while I have long advocated Pakistani operations in Waziristan, I have not been surprised by the long delay.  If not for the audacious Taliban attacks of the last two weeks, I wonder if delay might have continued right into the winter snows.   M. Ilyas Khan, writing for the BBC from Islamabad, offers his explanation for the doubts that delayed Waziristan attack.


Despite several reports of “heavy” Taliban resistance, the Sunday edition of DAWN includes,

Ground forces launched the three-pronged push on Saturday, starting a much-anticipated assault in a bid to crush networks blamed for some of the worst attacks that have killed more than 2,250 people over the past two years. ‘The resistance is not as stiff as we were expecting, maybe because we are still moving and not yet reached the strongholds of the Taliban like Kotkai, Makin, Ladha and Kanigurram,’ one military official told AFP.

Jay Shankar reporting for Bloomberg has about the best, if still spotty,  description of the tactical situation I can find.  A couple of hours after Mr. Shankar,  at about 9AM eastern, the BBC is providing a good update.

Shortly before 2:00 eastern on Sunday Jane Perlez’ update on the battle appeared in the New York Times.  She reports,

… the Taliban said part of their strategy was to encourage the military to progress deeper into the militant enclave in the center of South Waziristan, and then tie the soldiers down with hit-and-run tactics that would keep the soldiers in a protracted campaign in the inhospitable terrain over the winter. The government forces would be hit hard once they penetrated further into the mountains, the favorite fighting areas for the militants, a Taliban organizer who is not involved in the current fighting said by telephone on Sunday from Wana, the capital of South Waziristan.

Gen. David Petraeus, chief of US Central Command, will arrive in Pakistan on Monday for consultations.

An official report on the first 24 hours of combat is available from the Pakistan Inter Services Public Relations website.  The government operated Associated Press of Pakistan also provides details difficult to find elsewhere.

In a Saturday interview with CNN, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said,  “I’m very impressed with the commitment that the Pakistani government, both the civilian leadership and the military have made… They’re very much focused on also going into the heartland of where the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda are located and where these plots and these attacks are planned and directed.”  The Secretary’s comments came in the context of several questions related to US strategy in Afghanistan. (CNN Transcript via the Boston Globe.)

Nick Meo has an interesting report in the Sunday Telegraph, Taliban’s Afghan allies tell Barack Obama: “Cut us a deal and we’ll ditch al-Qaeda’.


From today’s edition of DAWN:

The army says it has surrounded the militants in their main zone, a wedge of territory in the north of South Waziristan, and soldiers backed by aircraft and artillery are attacking from the north, southwest and southeast… the offensive could be its toughest test since the militants turned on the state, and the army will be hoping Afghan Taliban factions elsewhere in South Waziristan and in North Waziristan stay out of the fight.

Declan Walsh reporting for The Guardian from Islamabad writes,

Soldiers are attacking the Mehsud territory from Razmak in the north, Jandola in the east and Wana in the south. Officials estimate the drive will take a minimum of six weeks and could stretch through the winter. The non-Mehsud parts of South Waziristan, which are controlled by the rival Wazir tribe and border with Afghanistan, have not been affected.

Dean Nelson, writing in the Monday morning Telegraph, offers a sobering analysis of the situation facing Pakistan, including,

After the American-led offensive in Afghanistan that ousted Mullah Omar’s Taliban regime in 2001, several key Taliban figures were protected by the Pakistan army, which still regards them as “strategic assets”. Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son, Sirajuddin, are among them. They continue to organise attacks on Nato forces from Waziristan, unmolested or challenged by the Pakistan army.

The Pakistan military believes the Americans and the British will withdraw from Afghanistan – and when they do they will need old Taliban friends such as Haqqani once again to minimise the influence of its Indian enemy in its Afghan back yard. It is for this reason too that Islamabad has turned a blind eye to the presence of Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura, the ruling council that co-ordinates the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan from a hideout close to the Balochistan state capital.

These leaders are what the Pakistan military have in mind when they talk of “good” and “bad” Taliban – those who pose a threat to Pakistan and those who do not. Those who pose a mortal threat to British and American troops over the border can still be “good Taliban” in Pakistan.

It is the rise of the “very bad Taliban”, such as Hakimullah Mehsud’s pro-al-Qaeda Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – which threatens both Pakistan and Nato forces in Afghanistan – that has brought the largest deployment of Pakistani troops to the tribal areas since the British Indian Army arrived in the Thirties to crush the Faqir of Ipi’s jihad against the Raj.

Senator John Kerry is in Islamabad and Rawalpindi for discussions with Pakistani leadership (as is Gen. Petraeus).  This morning’s Pakistani media is giving significant attention to Sen. Kerry’s comments Sunday morning on State of the Union with John King.  Here’s what DAWN is reporting:

Asked if he believed that a ‘giant US presence’ in Afghanistan would do more harm than good to Pakistan, the senator said: ‘there is a legitimate question about whether or not a certain number of troops, depending on their mission, might drive people into Pakistan, and thereby present further difficulties in the western part of that country or even fuel the extremism there.’

PJB pushes RECCWGs to advance NECP

Filed under: Organizational Issues,Preparedness and Response,Technology for HLS — by Philip J. Palin on October 17, 2009

(Editorial note:  Yesterday Peter J. Brown posted the following as a comment to a post on the 2010 DHS Appropriations Conference report.  Without Peter’s permission, I am copying below the comment, in its entirety.  I have added a couple of  embedded online links.)

This is an appeal to all 10 FEMA regional coordinators to stand up and be counted.

While I agree that much time and energy has been devoted to standing up 4500 personnel under the current 3 CBRNE Consequence Management Response Forces (CCMRF), there is a valid need for a more agile and responsive force consisting of 10 smaller teams assigned to all 10 FEMA regions. In instances where a specific FEMA regional coordinator calls for additional support, any movement /mobilization of appropriate CBRNE response resources and manpower could accompany a broader EMAC activation in close coordination with HHS /CDC and other components.

However, beyond any CBRNE /CCMRF concerns, it might be a good idea for each of the Regional Emergency Communications Coordination Working Groups(RECCWGs) in each of the 10 FEMA regions to reflect upon the recommendations spelled out Page 61 of the GAO report last summer (see GAO-09-604 Emergency Communications).

Specifically, what is the status of the broad implementation of the National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP), and, if bottlenecks or significant glitches are apparent, what is the impact? A year after the release of the NECP, how relevant and how workable are the milestones, for example?

Whereas this GAO report suggests that each region might want an update from DHS on the status of the Emergency Communications Preparedness Center (ECPC), and how the progress to date and intended outcome of the ECPC project helps or hinders efforts to implement NECP, perhaps the ECPC concept needs further scrutiny in light of overall progress to date on the NECP.

As DHS and FCC attempt to craft a “common vision” and “better collaborate on each agency’s emergency communications efforts” what exactly are the priorities and how do these match priorities at the local and state level in terms of overall planning and coordination efforts — again something that is relevant to the RECCWGs.

Finally, where the GAO recommends –

To help ensure that federal agencies and their communications assets are well-positioned to support state and local first responders in catastrophic disasters, we recommend that the Secretary of Homeland Security provide guidance and technical assistance to federal agencies in developing formal emergency communications plans. These plans could include identifying how federal agencies’ communications resources and assets will support state and local first responders in a disaster. To help DHS and FCC enhance the value of stakeholder groups’ recommendations, we recommend that the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Chair of the Federal Communications Commission systematically track, assess, and respond to stakeholder groups’ recommendations, including identifying actions taken by the agencies in response to recommendations, whether recommendations are duplicative with past recommendations, and opportunities to work with other agencies, as appropriate, to advance recommendations.

Perhaps, given all the time spent on this and related topics to date, the time has come for the RECCWGs in the 10 regions to be empowered to act as one and emerge as a logical overseer of this process. In other words, rather than sitting on the receiving end of the outcome, the RECCWGs could speed the process by setting out what exactly is needed at this point, and set a realistic timetable as well. As end user representatives rather than providers, the RECCWGs are in a good position to take realistic look at where this is all leading, what has been accomplished to date, and how the vendor-driven and real world environment could benefit from the activities in question.

I do not want to sound as if I do not see the value of an NPD task force like the one described here, but at the same time simply from a confidence-building standpoint, I cringe when I hear that another task force of such an immense scope may be forming up to do nothing more than critique the entire national preparedness and response apparatus that has been taking shape during this decade. We should, at this point, be devoting time and energy to a more productive exercise.

Preparing for the Big One

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on October 17, 2009


California’s massive state-wide earthquake drill was, by all accounts, a productive effort to prepare for a past-due catastrophe — in a state with more than its share.

Millions duck and cover (San Jose Mecury News)

This is a test, this is only a test (Los Angeles Times)

Party time for great California shake-out (San Francisco Chronicle)

The image above — of Los Angeles sliding into the Pacific Ocean — does not reflect the latest advancement in conducting realistic emergency exercises.  It is an image from the forthcoming Sony disaster film 2012.

October 16, 2009

There are three major parties in Congress: Democrats, Republicans, and Appropriators

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS — by Philip J. Palin on October 16, 2009

As Jessica Herrera-Flanigan pointed out in her Tuesday post, a Homeland Security authorization bill has never been sent to the President for signature.  In its absence the power of appropriators is amplified, as if appropriators were not already plenty powerful.

In prior posts I have offered an exegesis of what has been said by President Obama, Secretary Napolitano, and John Brennan, the Deputy National Security Advisor.  To be an exegete is to closely analyze what is said or written by another in order to derive guidance. 

Appropriators don’t leave exegesis to others.  The official Conference Report of the House and Senate regarding the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2010 is 149 pages long (and a 12 megabyte download).  It is followed by a semi-official (for lack of a better term) “Joint Explanatory Statement”  that is 12o-plus  pages long (depending on whether you include the list of earmarks).

A House-Senate Conference highlights agreements and resolves differences between related legislation passed by each chamber of Congress. In doing this, provisions of each body’s legislation is adjusted with the agreement of conferees from both bodies. There is much horse trading both before and during a conference.  If the conference is successful, a compromise measure is presented to both House and Senate for passage.  The House approved the Homeland Security Conference Report on Thursday afternoon.

The explicit purpose of the Joint Explanatory Statement is to set-out, “the effects of the action agreed upon by the managers and recommended in the accompanying conference report.”  It is not the law, but it has at least as much power as the law.  I have usually been more interested in what is in the “Joint Explanatory Statement” or its equivalent than in the law itself.

I am usually looking for a single obscure sentence, something that most others will not even recognize as having importance.  But I know — and senior Hill staff and senior public servants know — that this represents the formidable intent of a conferee or conferees.  I assume there are dozens of such discreetly pregnant sentences.  I recognize a few in this explanation.

At times formidable intent is a matter of how much money goes where.  So, for example, on page 67 we read,

The conference agreement provides $64,179,000 for NCSD Strategic Initiatives as proposed by the House instead of $57,679,000 as proposed by the Senate. As discussed in the House report, the total amount includes: $3,500,000 for a Cyber Security Test Bed and Evaluation Center in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina; $3,500.000 for cyber security training at the University of Texas at San Antonio; $3,000,000 for the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) at the New York Office of State Cyber Security and Critical Infrastructure Coordination; $3,000,000 for the Power and Cyber Systems Protection, Analysis, and Testing Program at the Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho; $500,000 for Virginia’s Operational Integration Cyber Center of Excellence (VOICCE) in Hampton, Virginia: and $100,000 for the Upstate New York Cyber Initiative at Clarkson University.

Some will immediately see this as “pork.” I am not so inclined.  Since many of my family and friends raise hogs, I don’t have a prejudice against pork.  Depends on how it is raised and slaughtered.  The proof is in the tasting.

On other occasions the amount of funding is not mentioned, but a preferred “partner” is identified. On page 79 the explanation reads, “The conferees direct FEMA to consider utilizing the National Virtual Translation Center (NVTC) to enhance its translation services. FEMA is to report to the Committees, as specified in the House report, on possible uses of NVTC.”

You can anticipate the outcome.  But, again, I have seen this power-of-the-purse be constructive, even innovative and creatively disruptive.  I have also seen the power cynically abused.

But especially in the absence of an authorization bill, the guidance given through these explanations can go well-beyond what we might reasonably expect of appropriators. The following is excerpted from page 76 of the conferees self-exegesis.

The conferees recognize that since September 11, 2001 there has been a rush to increase, restructure, and reinvest in preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation policies and capabilities. This effort was reemphasized after Hurricane Katrina. Major preparedness and response policies have been developed or reshaped including: the National Preparedness Guidance; National Incident Management System; the National Response Framework; Comprehensive Planning Guidance; Disaster Housing Strategy; and Hazard Mitigation Assistance. Countless guidance documents have been issued to address specific issues or disasters. Additionally, over $27,000,000,000 has been invested by the federal government in grants, and an untold amount at the local and State level. These investments have provided equipment to make our public infrastructure safer, our first responders better protected and prepared to respond to all hazards, and to ensure a more coordinated effort among the levels of government. Efforts to fully assess these investments and improved capabilities have not yet come to fruition, though disparate attempts to find a more comprehensive measure through programs such as Cost-to-Capability, the Target Capabilities List, and the Comprehensive Assessment System are ongoing.

The conferees note that tremendous time and fiscal investments into preparedness have been made to date and believe it is time to take stock of such efforts to find ways to ensure the most efficient investments are made in the future. The reality of a constricted economy and competing interests make it imperative that current efforts related to homeland security and all-hazards response and recovery be streamlined. Therefore, the National Preparedness Directorate (NPD), in cooperation with the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, shall lead the administrative effort of a Local, State, Tribal, and Federal preparedness task force. The task force is charged with making recommendations for all levels of government regarding: disaster and emergency guidance and policy; federal grants; and federal requirements, including measuring efforts. The task force shall especially evaluate: which policies and guidance need updating, and the most appropriate process by which to update them; which grant programs work the most efficiently and where programs can be improved; and the most appropriate way to collectively assess our capabilities and our capability gaps. Representation on the task force shall include: decision makers and practitioners from all disciplines including, but not limited to, firefighters, law enforcement, emergency management, health care, public works, development organizations, mitigation, and information technology, elected officials, the private sector. NPD is directed to brief the Committees within 45 days after the date of enactment of this Act on its approach to establishing this task force and milestones for accomplishment.

I am not questioning the potential value of such a task force.  On the face of it, sounds like an entirely reasonable idea.  I suppose there may be a couple of discreetly pregnant sentences here as well, but too discreet for me to recognize.  Depending on who is appointed to the task force it might be cats fighting over scraps… or saints leading us to salvation.  Don’t know.  Will be interesting to see.

But I do question the wisdom of such a far-reaching endeavor emerging from the bowels of a conference this late in the process.  Someone recently said that reality can be layered, messy, inefficient, and randomly revealed.  This is true of most conference reports.  But that’s not the best benchmark for effective legislation.

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