Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 30, 2009

Afghan Policy – Making a Presidency

Filed under: International HLS,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on November 30, 2009

Tomorrow at 8pm, President Obama will be giving one of the most important speeches to date of his presidency at West Point.  In it, as has been widely reported today, he will be laying out his Administration’s strategy for dealing with the crisis in Afghanistan. He met yesterday with his top advisers, including  Vice President Joe Biden, Admiral Mike Mullen, General James Cartwright and David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.  He also spoke to General Stanley McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, about his decision.

He was scheduled to spend most of today calling world leaders telling them about his strategy and asking for continued and renewed support Afghanistan.  He already secured a commitment from Britain, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown announcing today to Parliament that the country would send 500 new troops to Afghanistan next month, bringing the United Kingdom’s totals to 10,000 (9,500 troops plus 500 special forces).  France has commitment to maintain its presence, though has not indicated whether it will increase its numbers.

Here is what to expect of President Obama tomorrow:

  • A 40 minute speech outlining the strategy
  • The deployment of an additional 30,000 to 35,000 U.S. troops, bringing the U.S. totals in the country to 100,000
  • Increasing the number in the Afghan army to 240,000 and the Afghan police to 160,000 by October 2013
  • An announcement that the U.S. will ask its NATO partners for 7,000 to 10,000 more troops (currently U.S. allies have 36,230 troops in country)
  • An acknowledgement of the “limits” on U.S. resources -both in manpower and funding – for the war
  • Some details of an exit strategy

It is not expected that the President will go into great details about the cost of the escalation or that he will touch upon the proposals by some in the Democratic party, led by House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, for a “war tax.”

Chairman Obey conveyed to CNN recently that he has to “to look at the entire federal budget, as chairman of the committee, for instance. I have to see what $400 billion or $500 billion, $600 billion, $700 billion, over a decade, for this effort, will cost us on education, on our efforts to build the entire economy.”

Chairman Obey’s words sum up perfectly why tomorrow’s speech is perhaps one of the most important speeches of this young Presidency.  With an ambitious domestic agenda, President Obama must convince the left tomorrow that spending on Afghanistan is the right thing to do and that his domestic priorities will not suffer.  At the same time, he has to convince the right (and most of the moderate middle) that he is tough enough on terrorism and that spending on both domestic and international priorities can be done simultaneously.  What the President says and how convincing he is tomorrow will set the tone for politics in D.C. for 2010.

November 27, 2009

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? The Secret Service Challenge

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

Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan issued the  statement below today in response to reports that Virginia couple Michaele and Tareq Salahi attended Tuesday’s White House State Dinner, despite the fact that they allegedly did not have invitations.  According to the statement, the Secret Service’s internal investigation determined that “established protocols” were not followed at the “initial checkpoint” to determine whether the individuals were on the guest list.  The statement also stated that the individuals still went through the magnetometers and others levels of screening.  The Secret Service took responsibility for the event, noting that the “failing is ours.”

The Secret Service and Director Sullivan deserve credit for taking responsibility for the situation, however the facts may play out.  As I noted in a post last month, the Secret Service is an agency that is underfunded, overwhelmed, and in need of more resources and personnel.  With just 3,200 Special Agents and 1,300 Uniformed Division Officers, there is certainly a need to plus up its national efforts. (I still maintain that the Department of Homeland Security should explore merging the Federal Protection Service, which recently moved over to the National Protection & Programs Directorate, with the Uniformed Division in light of the similar mission of the two entities though that is a different issue than the one discussed herein).

With regards to the State Dinner fiasco, there is a delicate balance that the Secret Service must maneuver for major events.  For regular White House visits, people visiting have to be pre-cleared through the WAVES system, presenting identification upon confirmation that they are on the WAVES list.  Reporters, with permanent White House credentials have a different process.

For major events, the Secret Service is often tasked with quickly checking photo IDs of VIPs, many of whom are certainly not used to being asked who they are, against a printed list.  Once checked, the guests, often dressed up to the nines in tuxedos and evening gowns (as in Tuesday’s incident), are shuffled through a magnetometer.  Assuming that is the scenario that played out on Tuesday, it should not be surprising that the Salahis – dressed for the part and used to circulating in power-broker (or wanna-be power-broker) circles – slipped through the gates and onto the red carpet.  Based on past observations of White House events, it is safe to say the printed lists are not always perfect or foolproof and that invitees whose names do not appear properly or at all can be frustrated and difficult – making the jobs of the Secret Service much more difficult.

That does not, however, excuse the failings of Tuesday night, especially considering that the Salahis managed to get their picture taken with Vice President Biden and allegedly met President Obama in the receiving line.  If protocols were not followed  then the Secret Service will need to determine the  action(s) to be taken, whether they be criminal charges against the couple, disciplining the officers involved, and/or taking other appropriate steps to assure that such an incident does not occur again.  The agency should also be allowed and encouraged to put in place processes that are more sophisticated than those used by bouncers at elite night clubs, even if VIPs and others have to be turned away at the White House gate.  What should not happen, however, is increased bashing of the Secret Service to gain political points or push an agenda of moving the Secret Service out of DHS.  If anything, Tuesday’s incident further demonstrates the need to shore up the Secret Service.

Statement by Director Mark Sullivan

November 26, 2009

Three Thanksgiving Stories From Turkey

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on November 26, 2009

Obama’s election helped improve the global image of the U.S. But, according to a PEW global attitudes survey a few months ago,

… opinions of the U.S. among Muslims in the Middle East remain largely unfavorable, despite some positive movement in the numbers in Jordan and Egypt. Animosity toward the U.S., however, continues to run deep and unabated in Turkey, the Palestinian territories and Pakistan.

I was interested in learning if the people attending the Defense Against Terrorism conference in Ankara last week shared that animosity.

I spoke with 30 people at the 60 person gathering of academics and military officers from old Europe, new Europe and the Middle East. I heard two negative things about the United States.  One came from a British army officer who had served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We were extremely disappointed!” he said, pounding the table at dinner. “Why didn’t the American people stop your government from invading Iraq? What a waste! What a complete and utter waste!”

He got quiet, waiting for me to explain why we allowed the invasion.  I did not try to answer his question.  It’s almost 2010.  Explanation seems sort of irrelevant.

“I love America,” he said sadly. “You know I really love America.”

The other negative view was from a Pakistani officer who wanted to know why the United States had not captured or killed bin Laden and Zawahiri.

“I see the technology your military has on the battlefield,” he said. “I refuse to believe you cannot find these killers if you really wanted to. Why do you allow them to remain free?”

No answer for that one either.

The image I got from the people I spoke with at the conference — none of whom seemed reluctant to express negative opinions when they felt like it — was the United States is still that “shining city upon a hill.”

Clearly we are nation with deep flaws and much left to accomplish on our continuing quest for a more perfect union.  But I was overwhelmed at times listening to the high regard these young military officers, many from the former Soviet Union nations, held for the United States.

What incredible expectations they have about our capabilities, our way of life, and our people.

One officer from Moldova put it this way, “I have three wishes in my life. The first one is to see the USA.”

Happy Thanksgiving

November 25, 2009

In Memoriam: David Stone, Former Administrator of TSA

Filed under: Aviation Security,General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on November 25, 2009

CQ and AviationNews.net reported late this afternoon that David Stone, a former Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, passed away this past weekend in Arlington, VA. He was 57. 

Read Admiral Stone was a graduate of the Naval Academy and spent 28 years in the Navy before retiring in April 2002. He then became the first federal security director at Los Angeles International Airport, where he oversaw the creation of a 2,700 federal security workforce for passenger screening checkpoints at the airport.  At the end of 2003, he was named the third administrator of TSA.  He resigned that post in June 2005 and has since served as a security consultant. Recently, he was based out of Bangalore, India, working for Cisco.  He had come to the U.S. in the past week for an awards event honoring TSA employees.  He is survived by his wife Faith.  Cause of death is unknown.

In a statement, TSA said “The TSA community is deeply saddened to share the news that former TSA Administrator David Stone has passed away… We are grateful for his service to our country and his dedication to the mission and people of TSA.”

Big Lessons from a Little Country: The Games We Play

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on November 25, 2009

This is the second in a short (but as yet indeterminate) series of posts arising in part from my reflections on living abroad.

A few months ago I read somewhere that President Barack Obama had included the novel Netherland by Joseph O’Neill on his summer reading list. The choice intrigued me, so I picked up a copy myself.

The novel, set largely in and around New York City in the months after 9/11, follows the experiences of an expatriate Dutchman as he grapples with the changes in his life following that devastating event. O’Neill’s narrator, Hans van den Broek, turns to playing cricket on weekends with a ragtag assembly of other expats as he struggles to overcome the darkness that envelopes him after his wife flees the city with their son to take refuge with her parents in London.

The sport of cricket and those with whom Hans plays provide him with an intimate outlet for his energies while introducing him to an exotic and sometimes sinister world beyond the comfortable experience of his existence before the attacks. In cricket, Hans finds a connection with his past. As Hans forges new friendships with other immigrants through cricket, he rediscovers the importance of relationships and in doing so reconnects with himself and his family.

When I learned that the president was reading this book, I was intrigued because it followed the story of a 9/11 survivor (albeit fictional) who was not an American and told the story through his experiences with a game unfamiliar to most Americans. As I followed its narrative, I could not help but wonder what lessons the president took from its pages.

Americans are not alone in their penchant for sports metaphors and analogies. Like its alleged descendent, baseball, cricket has been the source of a rich cultural idiom, which is often reflected in our language. But unlike baseball metaphors, which tend to emphasize power and domination, cricket metaphors tend to emphasize fair play, equanimity, and the vagaries of life.

In baseball-speak hitting a homerun or whiffing suggests two opposite outcomes from the confrontation between the pitcher and hitter. In cricket – the game’s name itself is often used as a synonym for candid and impartial conduct – one might find oneself ‘on a sticky wicket’ such as the difficulty confronted by both the bowler and the batsman when the bowled ball bounces in a flat or inconsistent fashion due to a too wet bowling surface.

As an American weaned on baseball, I found it difficult to understand cricket when I first moved to New Zealand. A test match between national sides can last for up to five days, and sometimes ends in a tie. As an American used to certain outcomes from sporting contests, the confusion produced by watching a lengthy contest that ends in such an ambiguous fashion is only compounded by the realization that the players and fans often see this ambivalent ending coming after just two days of play. Yet they routinely continue the competition anyway.

The games we play affect more than the language we use. Insofar as they arise from our experience of the world, they affect the words we use to describe it. In turn, they also become metaphors for our relationship to the world and others in it.

In light of this, is it any wonder then that India and Pakistan (two of the world’s greatest cricket-playing nations) would – even after watching the Cold War end leaving both former adversaries armed but unsure whom to target – choose to arm themselves with nuclear weapons even though they arguably have little or no intention of using them against one another much less anyone else?

Tomorrow here in the United States we will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. For many of us, sporting contests will feature prominently in our family rituals. It strikes me that these particular sports and the central role they play on such a significant national holiday say a lot about our own culture and values as well.

This seemed evident enough on Tuesday at a news conference after President Obama’s meeting with Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, when the president, being questioned about his decision on General McChrystal’s troop request and the impending announcement of a new strategy for America’s involvement in Afghanistan, spoke of his intention to ‘finish the job’ and reiterated his administration’s intention to disrupt, dismantle, and destroy al-Qaeda. Which sporting metaphor fits these sentiments best, and what does it say about our opponents and our expectations?

With few exceptions, Americans enjoy sports that have gained little following or purchase beyond our own shores. The sports in which most of the world engages involve inherent ambiguities and often outright contradictions (as we witnessed this week in the dispute arising from the errant hand ball in the soccer World Cup qualifier between France and Ireland).

The officials in these games must often apply considerably more discretion than the balls and strikes or safe-at-home calls reserved to baseball umpires or the flag throwing and whistle-blowing of football referees.In some instances, these officials act as finders of fact and interpreters of law and can literally decide to call or not call an obvious infraction. Their decisions can and often do have a consequential influence over a contest’s outcome, yet their judgments leave no recourse for either side. Notwithstanding this situation, players and fans of these games consider these contests worthy of intense attention and most fervent devotion, which often means the heated debate after the match over a few pints is every bit as much a part of the action as what happened on the pitch between the sides.

As we look forward to the trials of the alleged 9/11 terrorists co-conspirators in the federal courts in the year ahead, we would do well to ask ourselves what we expect of these impending contests and how sport informs our judgments about what will happen in them. Does our decision depend on the outcome?

Likewise, we would do well to consider how others will see these tests. Is it likely that someone, although comfortable with ambiguity and more fluent in the contradictions of an uneven pitch and the vagaries of officials’ human fallibility, will see these trials or their outcomes as fair and just?

November 24, 2009

Homeland Security is about destroying terrorism

Filed under: International HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on November 24, 2009

I spent two days in Turkey last week. I had been asked to give a paper about “Homeland Security in the U.S. After 9/11” at a NATO counter-terrorism conference.  Somehow I had the impression it was supposed to be an academic paper. So that’s what I wrote.

Once the conference started, it took me about 15 minutes to realize none of the 60 participants would have much interest in hearing  about “U.S. homeland security as the emergent consequence of a complex adaptive system.”

When it was  my turn to present, I made up something else to talk about. I hobbled through my 30 minutes doing, I think, little lasting damage to U.S. — NATO relations.
The homeland security vision outlined in the 2007 strategy says that “along with our partners in the international community” we “will work to achieve a secure homeland that sustains our way of life as a free, prosperous, and welcoming America.”

When Phil Palin wrote for this blog, he would occasionally write about the international part of homeland security. His perception was most people were not interested in that topic. Count me as one of those people. There’s enough to focus on domestically, and one has only so much mental bandwidth.

They say — whoever “they” are — travel broadens one.  I now consider myself getting a little broadened.
The conference included representatives from 19 countries.  What I thought would be an academic conference turned out to be a meeting filled (mostly) with young (30 to 40 year old) military officers primarily from eastern European and Asian nations — Moldova, Ukraine, Romania, Azerbaijan, Jordan, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Bosnia, Singapore, and several other countries.
There also were half a dozen senior army officers from Pakistan. A few weeks ago they had been in the midst of the Afghanistan/Pakistan battlefields. I asked them who they were fighting, who the enemy was, and why they were fighting. I was told, in the rhythmic speech patterns of the Pakistani version of English, “Good question. We don’t know. We are soldiers. We follow orders. We fight.”

The answer surprised me a little. Actually it surprised me a lot.
The conference was conducted in English. While not all the participants spoke English fluently, they all understood English quite well. (How is it the language of a small island in the upper latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere turned into the common tongue of the world? I’m sure there are books that explain how that happened. Maybe someone can suggest one of those books for my holiday reading.)
There was no doubt Turkey is at war. As we entered our hotel, we had to pass through metal detectors and our baggage was screened, just like the airport. The road to the conference was peppered with barbed wire enclaves, concrete blocks, sniper towers, and other martial artifacts. The meeting facility was in a compound, secured by seriously armed soldiers. (During one of the breaks, I watched a helmeted soldier, weapon at the ready position, looking straight ahead at the highway, about 100 yards in front of him.  I watched him for 5 minutes.  He did not turn his head once.)

Terrorism is real not just for Turkey, but for practically all the states represented at the conference. (Heard anything lately about the Tartar separatists in Crimea?) In the world represented by the participants at the security conference, the reality of terrorism is substantially different from what I experience the “terrorist threat” to be in the United States.

Despite the somewhat numbing title of the conference — “NATO Advanced Research Workshop: Homeland Security Organization in Defense Against Terrorism” — the officers were not at the conference to listen to research findings. They wanted something practical to take back to their own “homeland.”
In subsequent posts I will summarize some of what I consider to be highlights of the conference, including  Al Qaeda’s most significant success in the terrorism wars, the difference between Mohammad’s Mecca and Medina periods and its impact on understanding the concept of jihad, Singapore’s strategy for countering radicalization, and what comes next after “homeland security” is no longer in vogue.
I’ll conclude this introductory post with two observations.

First, some people may think the word “homeland” is an awkwardly Teutonic name for national security. But the term seems to be in the process of being adopted in both old and new Europe, and in parts of Asia.

That surprised me.

In the U.S., it is not unusual to be cynical about the phrase “homeland security.” Elsewhere in the world, it symbolizes a new opportunity to shape — for good or for ill —  security futures.

Second, I am persuaded by people like Louise Richardson (“What Terrorists Want”) and others that terrorism cannot be defeated. But, like the old Soviet Union, it can successfully be contained. I think there is substantial theoretical and historical support for that position.

During my thirty minute presentation, I explained how in the United States “homeland security” is often used as a synonym for concern about fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and other incidents — in addition to terrorism — that constitute “all hazards.”

The participants listened politely.  But they were not buying any of it.  For them, homeland security is only about terrorism.  And the people in that conference room want terrorism destroyed.

November 23, 2009

And in this corner…immigration reform

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on November 23, 2009

And in this corner, hoping to make a comeback after being knocked out in 2007… immigration reform.

A little over a week ago, HLSWatch provided a synopsis of Department of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano’s speech at the Center for American Progress on immigration.   In response to the speech, there has been a good amount of chatter on immigration and the possibility that it is next up in the queue in policy priorities for the Administration and Congress.

Here is a quick summary of some of the lines that are being drawn on the issue:

  • On November 19th, House Judiciary Committee Republican Members, led by Ranking Member Lamar Smith and Immigration Subcommittee Chair Steve King, held a forum entitled””American Jobs in Peril: The Impact of Uncontrolled Immigration.”   The forum focused on data from the Department of Homeland Security that the Members said demonstrated “dramatic drops in worksite enforcement.” Rep. Smith focused increased unemployment to the jobs issues, stating that “[t]here are 16 million Americans out of work.  And yet, the administration has chosen to ignore the fact that there are nearly eight million illegal immigrants in the workforce.  Those stolen jobs should be returned to out-of-work citizens and legal immigrants. The Obama administration should put citizens and legal immigrants first, especially when it comes to jobs.”   DHS responded to the forum by noting that the data presented at the Forum was outdated.
  • In response to the economic concerns that many are trying to link to immigration, The Hill reported this morning that House Democrats are making changes to their immigration legislation to take into account the high unemployment rate.  The paper quotes Rep. Luis Gutierrez, one of the biggest advocates for comprehensive immigration reform, as saying “Each bill is reflective of a time. And with unemployment over 10 percent I think we need to have language that is very carefully tailored.”
  • Secretary Napolitano and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Secretary John Morton announced on November 19th that DHS was launching the “I-E-Verify” program, a program that allows employers to go online to check the legal status of potential employees.  They also announced that DHS would begin a significant workplace  audit of more than 1,000 employers nationwide — mostly focused on businesses connected to public safety and national security.
  • On November 19, Secretary Napolitano also announced that the Global Entry program, a “U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) voluntary initiative that streamlines the international arrivals and admission process at airports for trusted travelers through biometric identification” would become permanent.

Expect more on the immigration front in the coming weeks as the sides prepare for the potential big bout of 2010.

November 20, 2009

Creators, Peepers & Security

Filed under: Privacy and Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on November 20, 2009

“We’ve moved from an era of privacy keepers to one of privacy peepers and data-mining reapers who want to turn our information into products…The product is our records, our privacy, our family’s history. We wouldn’t let the government do this, so we have to protect against companies that want to do this.”

Congressman Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), House Energy and Commerce Subcommittees on Commerce, Trade, and Commerce Protection and Communications, Technology, and the Internet Hearing on “Exploring the Offline and Online Collection and Use of Consumer Information.

In the past month or so, there have been a number of hearings in Congress exploring privacy issues relating to the collection, distribution and use of consumer information online and the emergence of new technologies (such as Web 2.0 and social media sites). While not “homeland security issues” in the strictest sense, the increasing synergies between the two that HLSWatch has explored this week make them relevant to the larger security efforts of our nation.

Rep. Markey’s quote above is not only poetic it raises a deeper problem. In his rhyme, he has focused on the keepers, peepers, and reapers – assumingly the companies that are collecting and marketing consumer information.  The various “eepers,” however, have little to do if creators are not creating. (Unfortunately, I could not come up with a synonym for “creator” that ends in “eeper” though I welcome suggestions.)

It seems in today’s increasingly online society, the new generations just are not as concerned about privacy as their parents and grandparents.   Chris Bellavita’s post on Tuesday on security clearances and facebook/twitter is a testament to that growing phenomenon.   In some ways, social networks have become our public diaries where we record our thoughts, dislikes, likes, indiscretions, and, in some cases, our every action.

As a society we have created a market for peepers and reapers.   So what does it mean for privacy as we have traditionally thought of it when the expectation is distorted with the emergence of new technologies? Will those who grew up on facebook and twitter even care in twenty years? Those are certainly topics worth exploring in future postings.  Getting back to Rep. Markey’s quote – what does it mean for homeland and national security that so much information is out there for gathering?  Putting aside the debate over what the U.S. government and the corporate world should be doing, should we be worried about what potential foreign and intelligence operatives are doing with that information (assuming it can be accessed through open source culling or, in more sinister cases, through social engineering or hacking)?

For example, should we be doing more to educate government employees, especially those with sensitive but not necessarily classified, responsibilities on what they should be saying about themselves and their work online?  Something as innocuous as someone broadcasting their travel itinerary or favorite restaurant could set someone up for becoming an unknowing source of information from a  friendly stranger.  Likewise, in the corporate realm,  should companies be thinking about economic espionage and how to keep their employees protected in today’s open society? We know that some agencies and companies have banned the use of social media while on the job but will we see others go as far to try to ban their employees from even participating in the social media phenomenon, putting aside the obvious 1st Amendment issues?

At the same time,  can an argument be made that we have strengthened some aspects of our national security  by making people less susceptible t0 blackmail and compromise by becoming a society that advertises our flaws and weaknesses?   In today’s reality tv environment, we are so much likely to post our embarrassing moments or, at the very least, have friends who will do it for us.

We started the week at HLSWatch wondering if the U.S. government should be using social media and emerging technologies more to prepare and protect its citizens.   We end asking whether our citizens social media participation is providing adequate protections to U.S.  security.

November 19, 2009

Web 2.0 Technologies and Tools: A Very Brief Guide For Decision Makers

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Technology for HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on November 19, 2009

Today’s guest blogger is Glen Woodbury. The issue — pictured in the spectrum below —  is how homeland security decision makers can think about their options to handle web 2.0 (or 3.0, 4.0, etc.) technologies and tools.

( The material in this  post was developed out of discussion at the OGMA Workshop held at the NPS Center for Homeland Defense and Security 30 June – 1 July, 2009 in Monterey, CA.)


Suppress – An organization issues policies or directorates that forbid the use of a particular technology. For example, an agency issues a prohibition on their employees’ ability to access Facebook. Or an intelligence fusion center forbids its analysts from accessing social networks due to civil liberty and privacy concerns.

Defer – (ignore, abstain, dismiss) An organization decides to not use or not engage in technologies or tools even though their use is evident in their operating environment. For example, a public safety agency decides not to observe or utilize Twitter, Facebook, blogs, or other information sources even though they know that these forums are providing information to the public they are serving. Or the agency determines that engagement in a particular social networking information source would strip resources away from other requirements.

Adapt (Reactive) – An organization observes the use of technologies and tools in their environment and decides to adjust its policies and procedures in order to participate in the same technological environment. For example, a fire agency discovers that the public is relying or acting on information from Twitter sources, so it decides to enter Twitter forums and generate its own content.

Adopt (Proactive) – An organization decides, in advance of an event, to use technologies and tools that already exist and are being utilized in the public domain. For example, a police department decides, and plans for, the use of Facebook to provide information to the general public during a planned mass gathering event.

Influence – An organization deliberately influences how a particular technology or tool is being used, maintained or operated. For example, a public health agency asks a technology provider to delay scheduled maintenance on its system so that important information can be delivered to the public at a certain time. Or the same agency asks the technology company to change a characteristic of its technology to better serve the requirements of the agency.

Design – An organization determines requirements that might be served by new technologies and tools and seeks a design and production of a system to serve those needs. For example, an emergency management agency desires a new way to hold collaborative planning discussions in a virtual environment and engages with a technology provider to build the product.

November 18, 2009

Big Lessons from a Little Country: The Entrance Exam

Filed under: Privacy and Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Mark Chubb on November 18, 2009

This is the first in a short but indefinite series of posts in which I intend to explore, among other things, the lessons I learned while living in New Zealand. Living in a foreign land – even a friendly one – as the events of 9/11 unfolded and the nation went to war (twice), gave me an opportunity to gauge how others see our country and its leaders. It also forced me to consider my relationship to American values I once took entirely for granted. As I was asked to defend my nation’s policies to overseas friends and colleagues, I gained a greater appreciation of our aspirations and their expectations of American leadership. The insights I gained during this period are as much about the place I was living and my experience of it as they are about the country of my birth. I think we can learn a lot from the experiences of others, and, after reading the posts in this series, I hope you will agree.

The invitation to contribute to this blog on a regular basis and the information emerging in the aftermath of the shooting at Fort Hood got me thinking about what it takes to fit in. How do we discern our role in a community and how does that process affect our relationships with others, particularly when we find those others or ourselves in new circumstances?

As I pondered this question, I recalled what happened when I moved to Alabama from the DC metropolitan area in the early 1990s. Within 15 minutes of meeting almost anyone for the first-time I was asked the same three questions, in essentially the same order:

  1. “You’re not from around here are you, boy?”
  2. “What church do y’all go to?” and
  3. “Who y’all gonna root for boy, Auburn or Alabama?”

At first, these questions caught me by surprise, and left me feeling uncomfortable. In time, I came to refer to this inquisition as the Alabama entrance exam.

As a Yankee, I stood out like a sore thumb, so the first question was more or less redundant. The second question struck me as very personal, but after awhile I realized it wasn’t aimed so much at discerning my faith (or potential lack thereof) as seeking to understand where I fit socially, since a good part of Southern life is organized around faith-based communities. The real religion question, as it turned out, was the last one. As the only college graduate in my family who did not attend The Ohio State University, I thought I knew a little bit about football addiction. I was wrong. Utterly and completely wrong.

Alabama was not a closed society, but people were a bit skeptical when it came to outsiders. If you withstood the inquisition without getting upset or defensive about the entrance exam questions, you were off to a good start. In exceptional cases, you might even get to the bonus round where you faced questions like, “Y’all like grits?” and “You got a pocket knife on you boy?” If you got these answers right, you might never be a Southerner, but you would get on just fine with folks.

After about six years in Alabama, I accepted a new job in New Zealand. By then, people had got used to me and I to them, and they responded with surprise when they learned I was leaving Alabama and wondered why I was heading overseas without joining the military and receiving orders to go abroad. New Zealand struck them as obscure and even a bit mysterious, especially when they learned I could not take guns with me (not that I owned any). “Haven’t they heard of the Second Amendment?!” people asked. I responded patiently, “Why, yes, they have. That’s why I can’t take guns with me.”

When people asked about my reasons for leaving for New Zealand, I responded with the same good nature with which I had greeted the entrance exam, “Well, I found I liked it in the south so much that I decided to just keep heading farther south. You know, you can’t get much farther south than New Zealand unless you’re on an icebreaker.” Folks did not appreciate the irony or enjoy the humor in this observation, so they decided that it was probably a good thing after all that I was leaving.

When I got to New Zealand, I discovered that they too had an entrance exam. Now, as you know, it is not unusual for border officials to ask people a few questions when someone seeks entry to a country. These questions seek to establish the purpose of travel, the means of support, and one’s intentions with respect to eventual departure.

That other citizens, in general, might have questions about us (as opposed to for us), may strike us as a bit odd. Since Alabama had been my first experience of this, I took it as a bit strange when New Zealanders too led with questions after an initial introduction.

What really struck me as odd though was that their questions seemed to have more to do with them than with me. Alabamians wanted to know where I fit. New Zealanders wanted to know where they fit. “Why did you decide to move here? How do you like it here?” and “Do you think you might decide to stay?” were usually among the most prominent questions I heard.

Americans have no firm historical ties with New Zealand, at least not in the same way the British, Dutch, Australians, and many Pacific Islanders do. In discussions with my New Zealand acquaintances, it became clear that many considered it odd to many that someone from a distant and prosperous free state would seek to live in such a geographically isolated nation.

Of all the places I have lived, Alabama and New Zealand are the only two where I can recall having been subject to the entrance exam ritual. Over the years, this has caused me to wonder what gave rise to this custom in these places, and why it took such a different form in each instance.

In Washington, DC and Portland, Oregon, where I live now, a sizable proportion of the population comes from someplace else, although these “imports” find themselves attracted to each place for entirely different reasons. Communities with a large number of highly mobile, well-educated residents seem to have a more atomistic culture. Individuals in such places belong simultaneously to many smaller communities, many of which do not identify themselves or their members based on place of residence. As such, many residents of these places often identify with the larger community in name only or possess only a vague or temporary sense of affiliation with the civic life of the wider community.

The complexity and interdependence of the social and economic orders in such places often imbues them with a self-confident character that often seems dismissive of the views of newcomers even when their inhabitants do not disdain such feedback entirely. People in such places have no questions for newcomers because they are either pretty sure they already have all the answers or see no need to pause and ask the questions that might yield them. If and when it turns out they do not know all the answers, these communities often delay their recovery by seeking to establish responsibility even before they have repaired the damage. Smaller, poorer, or more isolated communities do not often have this luxury.

In Alabama and New Zealand, people knew who they were, but wondered anxiously whether they could sustain their identities in the face of globalization. Buffeted by the winds of social and technological change, their questions revealed a latent and barely acknowledged sense of wonder as to whether their cultural and political ties were strong enough to hold their economies and societies together. Despite their past tragedies and their triumphs over them, people in these places confronted their uncertainty about their ability to shape the future and their roles in it in the ways they greeted newcomers.

The uncertainties underlying these questions have profound implications for any culture or society. The fact that such questions have not come to the fore in our homeland security discussions may suggest misplaced confidence in our ability to stand up against the threats we face, which is reflected in our haste to lay blame rather than repair the damage.

In the face of the tragic killings of 13 people at Fort Hood on November 5, I have wondered anew whether we are, in fact, asking the right questions of one another and ourselves. As communities, the military and the medical profession have cultures that are as strong and distinctive as any we could observe, imagine, or define. Both communities embrace and indeed embody the cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity that makes the United States unique among nations. Yet, despite ample evidence that someone in their midst was not fitting in, the members of these communities did not seem to ask themselves the most important questions of all: “Why doesn’t Major Hasan seem to be fitting into our community, and what can we do to help him feel more at home (or at ease) among us.”

These questions and Major Hasan’s answers to them would have given us a clear opportunity to mitigate the threat he allegedly posed without ever requiring us to stretch our imaginations to consider his potential ties to terrorist organizations or to wonder openly about his soundness of mind. Taking care of our community would not have required anything like the investments in surveillance technology and effort underlying his alleged communications with suspected terrorists.

Instead of asking these questions, efforts to address the seemingly abundant evidence of his problems fitting in with military and medical colleagues seem to have taken two decidedly unproductive turns: 1) On one hand, it seems as if his supervisors and peers sought to address issues with his performance as if they were purely technical rather than adaptive problems, and 2) They seem to have decided that his eventual transfer to Fort Hood and deployment to a war zone might make him someone else’s problem, focus him on the mission, or give him a chance to start over. These approaches seem almost as cynical as they are shortsighted and misguided.

Evidence of Major Hasan’s apparent detachment and unsociability should trouble us not because we know the toll his alleged actions took on his comrades at Fort Hood, but because an all-volunteer force relies upon a strong sense of community that reflects a shared sense of sacrifice and commitment to certain values. If anyone is responsible for the failure to prevent Major Hasan’s alleged attack, we all are. As a community, we have an obligation not only to ourselves, but also to one another to help each other figure out how to fit in.

Asking questions of newcomers may make some sense. But we better be sure too that we understand what our questions say about us. The questions being asked about this incident suggest we have a lot to learn about what it takes to make our communities and our society safer and more inclusive places to live. How we answer them will tell us a lot about how well we are adapting to the realities we first acknowledged following the attacks on 9/11.

November 17, 2009

Facebook and Twitter can be dangerous to your security clearance’s health.

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on November 17, 2009

[Please see below for a November 23 update to this post.]

Or at least that is the informed opinion of Greg Rinckey now making its way around the web.

Greg’s ideas add an additional dimension to the emergent discoveries of the pros and cons of social networking: the communication process that refuses to be controlled. (See Jesse’s post from Monday.)

The November 2, 2009 article, available for view here, apparently first appeared on federaltimes.com.  The article describes Greg as “a former military and federal attorney, …[now]  managing partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC, a law firm with offices in Albany, N.Y., and Washington.”

Here’s a lightly edited version of the original article:


Commentary: Social sites risk security clearance

November 02, 2009

If you hold a security clearance or if you ever want to apply for one, be mindful of your postings and contacts online, particularly on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. These sites pose risks to gaining and keeping a security clearance.

Question 14 of the National Agency Questionnaire (SF-86) asks for names of your relatives and associates. The term “associate” is defined as any foreign national that you or your spouse “are bound by affection, obligation, or close and continuing contact.” Continuing contact with a foreign national used to include a clear exchange between both parties — visits outside the country, mail, phone calls or e-mails. Social networking sites bring a gray area into the definition of an associate and continuing contact. Your list of friends on Facebook may include foreign nationals, or you could have foreign followers on your Twitter page.

Is giving a foreign national access to your social networking page as a “friend” considered close and continuing contact even if you never directly message them? Is having access to your updated information enough for a person to be considered an associate? Unfortunately, this uncharted territory can ensnare a potential or current clearance holder.

Foreign intelligence agencies use social networking sites. They have been known to befriend Facebook users who automatically accept their “friend” requests. I had a client who lost her security clearance after using an online chat room. She was seeking advice on how to beat a computer game while attending a gaming convention. The “gaming” experts she chatted with online were foreign intelligence agents working out of China.

You may want to eliminate any foreign nationals from your social networking sites to eliminate any potential security concerns.

A clearance holder also needs to be responsible for what he or she posts online. These sites are considered “open source intelligence,” and mining information from them is simple. Anyone can do a Web search and bring up postings from Twitter and Facebook.

Technology companies are developing more sophisticated ways to monitor social networking sites, offering the ability to scan millions of online social conversations at once. Intelligence agencies around the world are taking advantage of this technology to gain valuable information.

Social networking sites are creating new territory for many workplaces. Just this month a Staten Island, N.Y., judge had to be transferred to a new location because of his Facebook use. The judge reportedly used the site to update his whereabouts and post pictures of his courtroom.

The Pentagon also is weighing if troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan should continue to have social networking access.


The article ends with some advice about what to do if you find yourself in a situation where the desire to be social may conflict with the responsibility to be secretive — i.e., contact an attorney.


Thanks to Susan Reinertson, former FEMA Region 10 Administrator, and former Homeland Security Advisor and Emergency Management Director for North Dakota for alerting me to this article.  I now understand why she refuses to accept my Facebook friend requests.  Or at least I think that’s the reason.


In case you missed the comment from William Henderson:

November 22, 2009 @ 10:17 pm

Mr. Rinckey’s 2 November was retracted at the Federal Times because it was erroneously based on an obsolete version of the SF86. The wording of the “Foreign Contacts” question on the July 2008 (latest version) of the SF86 changed enough from the question on the September 1995 version of the SF86 to severely undermine the premise of his article.

The new question reads,“Do you have or have you had close and/or continuing contact with foreign nationals within the last 7 years with whom you, your spouse, or your cohabitant are bound by affection, influence, and/or obligation?”

November 16, 2009

Homeland in a Haiku Pt 2 – Balancing Quick with Correct

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on November 16, 2009

In Early August I wrote Homeland in a Haiku, an entry about the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to better utilize social media and new technologies in its efforts to promote homeland security and preparedness.  I was reminded of that piece this morning as I was reading CQ Homeland Security and came across Matt Korade’s story, Technology Makes Crisis Communication More, Not Less, Complicated.

Korade writes of the uptick of Tweets from people at Fort Hood, Texas after the shooting attack earlier this month in which Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan allegedly killed 13 people on base and wounded 30 others with a high-powered pistol.

The press, unable to get quick information from the government, turned to Twitter and other social media to get information.  Information that, written in the panic, may not have been accurate or complete.  As Korade reports, at a Friday forum sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute, a panel of experts  discussed how the government faces challenges in crisis communications and how changing media is effecting how we communicate and respond to incidents –  both disaster and terrorist.

In the August piece, I noted that DHS, as it migrates to a social networking model, should seriously consider how to harness the power of the people to be advocates for preparedness or to spread information  on such things as evacuations, routes, and safety information. These individuals, after all, have created a mechanism – often trusted among their circle of friends – for spreading information quickly in a manner that outpaces traditional media.  How much more prevalent, for example, is it becoming for a tweet or facebook status update to report a current event before the “breaking news” emails of the traditional news outlets?

At the time I took a pass in tackling the challenges by noting that putting together such a system would keep the lawyers at DHS busy for awhile.  I also noted that there would be required some thought on how to counter gossip and panicked responses that might not be completely accurate, the situation that occurred at at Fort Hood.  In thinking about it more thoroughly, the only way to effectively take control of the situation is to become the conveyor of unfettered information in real time.  To gain this control, however, the government would have to lose control – control that is already eroding away in today’s “need to know now” landscape.

It would require a change in how the government, especially law enforcement, communicates with the public.  In an incident that involves quick response, the responders should be most concerned about the safety and security around the incident, rather than tweeting and updating.  If that incident is determined to be a crime, then revealing tons of details could be detrimental to an investigation, taint evidence, and potentially harm prosecutorial efforts down the line.  That said, it may be time to reconsider how information is released.  Obviously, the controlled press conferences of the past do not satisfy today’s needs.

Indeed, the use of social media to send out alerts was recently recommended by the Homeland Security Advisory Council in its recent assessment of the effectiveness of the color-coded system.  In its final report, the HSAC states:

# 14   Since 9/11, a revolution has upended media and communications; the Homeland Security Advisory System should stay current with the communications revolution and adopt an “all tools” approach in reaching the general public. In addition to conventional media, this approach should encompass:

  • New media generally (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Wikis, etc.)
  • Bloggers
  • Social media
  • Delivery through PDAs
  • Public sign up for online/PDA alerts

Quite simply, if there was a mechanism for the government or official entity to tweet and update more effectively and accurately it could supplant some of the more viral inaccurate communications out there. (Obviously, it is is never that simple).  To do so successfully, the government should enlist the private sector to help.  The Silicon Valley companies that helped create the social networking phenomenon “get” it and could be a great resource, as could the companies who have created on-demand response and communications systems. Some of these are already being utilized but a more comprehensive approach to building out a system or systems is in order.

November 14, 2009

HLS Watch: 2000 Posts and Counting

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on November 14, 2009

Christian Beckner started Homeland Security Watch almost 4 years ago.  1,444 days later we are at post number 2000.  That’s a million in blog time.

Christian wanted Homeland Security Watch to be a source of “news and analysis of critical issues in homeland security.”  I thought it would be interesting to occasionally feature some of the “greatest hits” from the past 4 years’ worth of posts,  to recall what the hot homeland security issue were, and to consider what those issues are like today.

Here is Christian’s first post.  It says why he started HLS Watch and what the other homeland security blogs are that are he considered worth reading. Compare his list with the current blog roll on the lower right side of this page.


December 2, 2005

Homeland Security Blogs

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on December 2, 2005

One of the reasons that I decided to start HLS Watch was the paucity of good blogs on the subject of homeland security. However, there are a few that are worth reading, which I list below:

1. W. David Stephenson. A thoughtful and frequently updated blog focused on the idea of ’smart mobs for homeland security.’

2. Bruce Schn200eier. A well-trafficked blog by a solid expert on homeland security, focused mainly on the intersections between privacy and security.

3. Counterterrorism Blog. This group blog covers a wide range of opinion, and is the first place to go for rapid-reaction expert analysis on terrorist attacks.

4. Secondary Screening. A blog focused largely on TSA issues and now and then focusing on other aspects of homeland security.

5. Early Warning (on the Washington Post site). Has a lot of very inside-the-Beltway on DOD and intelligence activities related to the broader war on terrorism. Occasionally touches on issues of homeland security.

6. Open Society Paradox. A good blog on privacy and security issues – but on hiatus right now.

I’ve been looking for homeland security blogs for the last two years, and these are the only bookmark-worthy ones that I’ve found so far. It’s a short list. If you have any more to add to it, please suggest in comments. At some point soon I’ll start a HLS Watch blogroll.

November 13, 2009

RECAP/ANALYSIS: A Discussion on Immigration Policy with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano

Filed under: Events,Immigration — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on November 13, 2009


We are both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws.

Everyone recognizes that our current system is not  working and our system needs to be changed.

Those were the central themes this morning when Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano spoke at the Center for American Progress (CAP) on immigration.  As the Obama Administration’s go-to on immigration reform, she has a daunting task ahead as the Administration and Congress tackle an issue that evokes strong positions from Congress, law enforcement, business, labor, religious leaders, and advocates -both pro and anti- across the country and political spectrum.

There is no question that Secretary Napolitano’s creds on immigration are second to none.  As Governor of Arizona, she gained hands-on experience on balancing the conflicting complex needs and interests of various interests and organizations.  Arizona, after all, is 30% Latino, shares a 370 mile border with Mexico (which includes the  Tohono O’odham Nation that crosses the border and numerous National Parks) and has such characters as the controversial Mariposa Sheriff Joe Arpaio.   While Governor, she did a tremendous job of balancing the economic, enforcement, and family issues surrounding the border. On one hand, she once criticized the wall-only approach of many in Congress by saying “You show me a 50-foot wall, and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder.”  On the other, she was the first Governor to declare a state of emergency and call for the National Guard to patrol the border.  Having worked on the issues since 1993, Secretary Napolitano gets that immigration is a hard and politically volatile issue.

Her remarks today, however, made it clear that the Obama Administration believes it can make progress on the immigration debate.   The Secretary’s remarks were especially timely as immigration reform is expected to be the next big issue to be tackled by Congress and the Administration after health care  (somewhere in the past month it snuck past climate change, another Administration priority, in the lineup).

In her remarks, Secretary Napolitano made it clear that this was more than just about immigration. She started her speech by talking about a “new foundation for growth and prosperity,” mentioning health care, climate change and educational reform.  Immigration was the fourth item of that foundation, she said, in the Obama Administration’s determination “to deal with long lingering problems.”

She noted that immigration has been a problem that been punted year to year, Congress to Congress,  Administration to Administration.  The Secretary said that the immigration story is one we all know. People sneaking across the border for jobs and economic relief.  Select employers flaunting laws by offering subwages to illegal workers, and a resulting population living in the shadows.  From a national security perspective, she said that the Department of Homeland Security needs reform to do its job of enforcing the law and keeping our country secure.  “Laws need to be reformed.”

The Secretary described immigration reform as a three-legged stool:

  • First, it requires serious and effective enforcement
  • Second, it must address the legal flows for family and workers
  • Third, it must deal with those here in the country illegally

By addressing these three items, the Secretary indicated the government could build responsibility and accountability into the process.  The three-pronged stool, she noted, also required three participants – employers, immigrants, and government.

The Secretary noted that the last big immigration effort – in 1986 – failed, in part, because it promised enforcement but could not deliver.  She said “it would not happen again” and that “America needs enforcement.”  She indicated that the Administration fully intended to pursue reforms that address both immigration and enforcement.

She then alluded to the 2007 attempts to pass comprehensive immigration reform by the Bush Administration (ironically, led by her predecessor Secretary Michael Chertoff, who also faced an uphill battle).  She noted that since then the immigration landscape has changed.   She went on to cite the progress that had been made in a number of areas at the Department of Homeland Security, including:

  • The Southwest Border Initiative announced last March by President Obama which includes assets from DHS, Department of Defense, and Department of Justice.
  • Increased focus on inspection and detection technology.
  • 100% screening of Southbound rail shipments.
  • And increased focus on manpower, technology, and infrastructure.

The Secretary stated that these items are ones that Congress said were lacking in 2007 when immigration reform fizzled and she believes that the needed progress has been made and that the Administration is showing that it is serious and strategic in its approach to enforcement.  Among some things she said shows progress are:

  • The government has replaced policies that look tough with policies that are designed to be effective;
  • The government has redesigned state and local arrangements to attack the serious criminal alien problem;
  • DHS has expanded Secure Communities;
  • ICE has increased auditing of companies suspected in hiring illegal aliens;
  • DHS has been encouraging workplace compliance by expanding and improving E-Verify; and
  • DHS has expanded use of new biometrics technology that has helped increase the government’s ability for countering immigration fraud.

So what can we expect in the near year?  Based on the Secretary’s comments today, here are the priorities for the legislation, which she deems a “sensible solution:”

  • Tougher smuggling laws;
  • An update of laws that don’t cover new means of moving stuff by bad actors (stored value cards were given as an example);
  • Interior and worksite enforcement law changes;
  • Changes to provisions relating to immigration-related fraud; and
  • a legal foundation to bringing illegal immigrants out of shadows.

On this last point, the Secretary emphasized that our nation  won’t have a secure law enforcement/national security system if we have a significant segment of the population that remain in the shadows.   As part of that legal foundation, she would expect that there would be a number of requirements that would need to be met for individuals to gain legal status, including:

  • Registration Requirement
  • Fines
  • Criminal Background Check
  • Requirement to Pay Back Taxes
  • A Requirement to Learn English

The Secretary made it clear that the effort should not just be an enforcement solution and that the reform must address families, businesses, and workers needs.  In sum, she made it clear – just as when she started – that “immigration must be fixed.”

While most of the ideas described by Secretary Napolitano are not new and have been tackled in the past,  her outlined approach, while seemingly heavy on enforcement details, is certainly comprehensive.

What comes next will be the real challenge. Will there be enough “immigration” in the proposed bill to win the support of advocates and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus?  Will there be enough enforcement to win over many of the “enforcement only” or “enforcement first” Members of Congress? Will it be able to maintain the support of a mosaic of business interests (tech companies, agriculture and seasonal employers, etc)?  Will it address the moral and ethic issues that many religious leaders, including the Evangelical right, feel need to be addressed? How does next year being a potentially volatile election year affect the proposed reform, especially for moderate and conservative Democrats (a group that would extend beyond the Blue Dogs, based on 2007 observations and statements)?

If immigration reform is to be a success, the Administration needs a weathered professional who has seen what the fight ahead looks like.  It appears that they may have found their woman in the desert of Arizona in Secretary Napolitano.

November 12, 2009

Nidal Hasan and the problem of connecting the dots

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christopher Bellavita on November 12, 2009

Was Nidal Hasan’s atrocity at Fort Hood an act of domestic terrorism?

According to some news reports, he did yell the violent Islamic radical terrorist’s apparently obligatory Allahu Akbarbefore murdering and wounding almost 50 Americans.

Or did Nidal Hasan snap under what has been termed “emotional, ideological and religious pressures?”

Are there some other reason we don’t know yet?

Should the FBI be blamed for not investigating months ago the “… red flags, and … signs that should have raised alarms?” asked one of the many officials “speaking [to the media] on condition of anonymity.”

Or was it the military who “missed the danger signs?”

Or maybe the entire intelligence community?

Where have we heard this before?

The 9/11 Commission famously wrote:

The importance of integrated, all source analysis cannot be overstated.  Without it, it is not possible to “connect the dots.”

How come no one connected the dots before Hasan’s brutal act?  How many more dots are out there in the military and the civilian worlds that we should be connecting?

People are already asking those questions.   Google “Nidal Hasan” and “connect the dots” and you will find hundreds of hits.  Maybe thousands by the time you read this.


I value the 9/11 Commission Report.  I think it is the best government report I’ve ever read.  It is not perfect.  But it does set a standard for clarity and — in many sections — comprehensiveness.

I do fault the Report for starting – or at least fertilizing — homeland security’s “connect the dots” meme.

I think asking for dot connection confuses real life with what children do with pencils on the already-outlined images of windmills and teddy bears in their Toys R Us booklets.  I think it creates false expectations about what the nation can expect from its intelligence community. And in the process lets the rest of us off the hook when it comes to paying attention.

The newly rising echo about dots reminded me of the September 2004 essay that first caused me to doubt the appropriateness of the metaphor for homeland security.  The article, by Max Boisot, is titled “Connecting the Dots: from data processing to pattern processing.” It is from an electronic journal called Omnipedia that I don’t think is being published any more.  But its owners, The International Futures Forum, have kindly made the 14 issues they did publish available (here).   The “Connecting the Dots” article can be download in pdf format here. But since it is brief, I am taking the liberty of republishing a substantial part of it below.


“…we believe that pleading for more dots is to mistake the nature of the problem posed by international terrorism, and that even recognizing the significance of the information is a task that exceeds the capacity of a single organization such as the CIA.

Consider Figure 1 [below] where the relationship between dots, links and patterns is highlighted [dots on the left, links in the middle, patterns on the right]. An arithmetic increase in the number of dots  to play with  –  high quality or otherwise – leads to a geometric increase in the possible connections or links that one can establish between them and to an exponential increase in the number of patterns that can be generated from connected dots.


From this figure we can derive Table 1 below :


If 4 dots lead to 6 possible links – as indicated in Figure 1 – it also generates 64 possible patterns. Add 6 further dots and you get 10 dots generating 45 possible links and approximately 3.5 trillion possible patterns. Now add a further 2 dots and you are dealing with 66 possible links but with approximately 4,700 quadrillion possible patterns.

The implication of this table is that whatever we feel about the need for more high quality dots to connect – and we are not denying that the need is a real one – if we are not to drown in a sea of unprocessable data, we also need to find a way of identifying meaningful patterns among the much larger number of those that are meaningless.

Even if you don’t get the pattern, you get the picture.

This need for variety reduction brings us to an important if much misunderstood distinction between data, information, and knowledge. Simplifying somewhat, dots are environmental signals that register with an agent as data — things that attract our attention because they are anomalous. Links between dots constitute information that an agent extracts from the data, and the patterns that can be derived from such information when properly filtered can become actionable knowledge for the agent. The intelligence challenge is thus one of pattern processing rather than of simple data processing — i.e., processing dots. The two are really quite different. The latter might just be carried out by one organization, no matter how intelligent. The former needs to be distributed to those best placed to sift out significant from insignificant patterns: those closest to the action.

If pattern processing is so much more challenging than data processing, it cannot be done by the intelligence services alone. The only way to deal with the challenge is to apply the concept of neighbourhood watch to problems of terrorism and security and to do so on a global basis. It will pose in a novel way the question: who is my neighbour?

Hopefully it will be someone located in Peshawar who is as disgusted with the terrorist phenomenon as I am. But how, then, do I relocate my potential neighbour in Peshawar into a “love” loop and out of a “fear” loop? Clearly, we are dealing here with a hearts-and-minds issue, and unfortunately, not one that current institutional players have proved very attentive to or competent in dealing with.

November 11, 2009

Mark Chubb: Our Best Selves

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Strategy — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on November 11, 2009

Today’s author is Mark Chubb.  As Phil noted on Monday,  Mark is joining HLSWatch and will be posting regularly on Wednesdays.  Today is his first post.  Please join us in welcoming him to HLSWatch.

A few weeks ago, when Phil approached me about assuming a more active role as a contributor to HLSwatch, I was apprehensive to say the least.  After following and participating in the discussion of resilience strategy he led based on the framework of George Kennan’s Long Telegram, I am now more anxious than ever.

I do not expect to match Phil’s rhetorical eloquence or his evocative sense of history.  His grounding in the classics, his willingness to call upon historical antecedents in his quest for meaning in our current circumstances, and his ability to challenge us to find strategic insights in the detailed tasks that lie before us inspires me but, I fear, lies just beyond my reach.

What I do hope to offer the blog and its loyal readers is a perspective grounded a bit in both theory and practice.  As Phil noted in his introduction of me, I have spent a good deal of my career in local government and the emergency services.  Another big chunk of my career has involved policy analysis, with an emphasis on risk informed decision-making, risk regulation, and hazard mitigation.  While I am affiliated with a couple of academic institutions these days, I make my living advising local government as a practicing emergency manager in a metropolitan city.

I assumed my current responsibilities after spending most of past decade in New Zealand.  My time abroad gave me a much different perspective on homeland security than many of you enjoyed.  I say “enjoyed” with a sense of irony, for I assume that this work was far from entertaining even for those of you who devoted a considerable share of your professional lives preparing yourselves in anticipation of the opportunity to apply your special skills to the defense of our country.

Among the many things that became apparent to me while living in a friendly country that considers itself a limited partner and an occasionally reluctant but nonetheless committed ally of the United States, is that America’s position in the world has changed considerably from what it was for most of the post-war era.  Our friends and foes alike no longer see themselves forced to choose between polar opposites, and see the world in a much more nuanced way than many, if not most, Americans do.

Citizens and subjects abroad share Americans’ apprehensions about the future.  Even in many of the developed nations we count among our closest allies, most people do not wonder whether their children will live better lives than they did.  They know they won’t, at least materially, and have come to order and value their priorities a bit differently than we have.  In doing so, they have come to question things we still seem to take for granted, like the worthiness of capitalism as an organizing principle for their economies.

Their questions about capitalism and the role of the state run congruent if not parallel to a rising tide of ambivalence about democratic institutions that runs at least as deep as Americans’ own distrust of our governing bodies and elected officials.  While we may still have faith in democracy, we seem to have lost much of our commitment to the civil discourse that should accompany it.  Polarization, extremism, demagoguery, and the politics of personal attack have come to characterize many, if not most, of the discussions surrounding important policy issues in our country (see Sunstein 2009 for a thorough discussion of group dynamics and their effect on discourse).

At the same time we wage wars against extremism abroad, we have become increasingly extreme in our own practice of democracy (see Ratcliffe & Lebkowsky 2004 for an interesting review of the effect of electronic media, including blogs on the polarization of public discourse).  As such, is it any wonder that we have continuing difficulty not only engaging our allies, but also in convincing those under the thumbs of our adversaries that we offer a better way?

Divining a new strategy to guide our involvement in the Af-Pak Region, like the effort to renew policies governing our domestic security, depend upon our ability to see these issues not as separate and isolated concerns but as part of a broader policy mosaic.  We cannot afford to see debates about health care, energy independence, climate change, or job creation as separate from homeland security anymore than we can afford to see national security and homeland security as distinctive much less independent policy domains.

In the coming weeks, I hope to focus my contributions on how we might engage our communities in a civil discourse about how we can work within existing institutions, from the bottom up, to renew our democracy and strengthen our security.  In doing so, I hope to explore the ways in which such an effort reflects our best selves and builds the sort of resilience that Phil Palin asked us to consider over the last few weeks.

On this Veterans’ Day, I would be totally remiss if I failed to recognize the sacrifices and contributions of the generations of men and women who have served this country with distinction.  Their efforts have secured for us the liberties we enjoy and celebrate today, while enabling us to share the gifts of our aspirations and ideals – our best selves – with a world in which these values remain almost as unique as they are precious.  It is my most fervent wish to pay homage to the dedication and sacrifice that characterizes the faithful service of our veterans in my contributions to this forum.

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