Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 31, 2009

The Top Homeland Security Story of 2009

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 31, 2009

Earlier this month we asked readers to identify what they considered to be the top homeland security story of 2009.  We asked for something they thought significantly shaped homeland security during the year.

Here (lightly edited) are the top entries.  The winner of the $33.62 Amazon gift certificate will be announced at the end of this post (so you can skip ahead if waiting is too stressful).


The top story of 2009 is the H1N1 Flu and the reaction at all levels government to prepare for and combat the spread of the virus.  Lacking a single catastrophic event or a clear cut prevention of the same, my measure for determining the importance of an issue isn’t the immediate impact of the incident but what it tells us about our ability to prevent or respond to a catastrophic event.

The H1NI virus gave us the opportunity this year to examine our capabilities as they relate to biological attacks or pandemics.  On many levels we succeeded, some examples of these successes include:
·         The early identification of the virus in Mexico and the subsequent risk communication about the virus, including messaging to properly name the virus.
·         The actions to increase anti-viral production and the successful use of Tami-Flu.
·         The ability of state and local governments to implement and deliver vaccinations.
·         The ability of local government to develop vaccine prioritization plans and implement the same without significant public push back.

Prior to the outbreak, the status of these capabilities were in question.  Since the outbreak, at the very least, we have now practiced these capabilities and been able to test plans and identify specific gaps.  In a sense – what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.

Homegrown Terrorists

I think the top Homeland Security story of 2009 was the continuing concern over homegrown terrorism. It began with the FBI’s revelation, in February 2009, of Shirwa Ahmed as the first USA citizen to carry out a suicide bombing. This revelation led to a series of stories about the radicalization of Somali youth in Minneapolis and Seattle, and finally to the current homeland security concern over the “homegrown” terrorist.

As we look back on 2009 the Amhed story was just the first of many. He was soon followed by Najibullah Zazi, Major Nidal Hasan, David Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana from Chicago, and Ehsanul Islam Sadequee and Syed Haris Ahmed, recently sentenced in Atlanta.

The list continues with Brooklyn-born Betim Kaziu who was charged with attempting to join a Pakistani-based Al Qaeda affiliate in hopes of killing U.S. troops; Michael Finton, a 29-year-old Illinois man who idolized American Taliban John Walker Lindh, and was arrested on charges of plotting to bomb a federal courthouse; Long Islander Bryant Neal Vinas who was arrested in July for allegedly training with Al Qaeda in Pakistan, joining rocket attacks on U.S. forces and giving “expert advice” on the subways and Long Island Rail Road. Finally, the recent arrest of five American men in Pakistan on suspicion of trying to join militant Islamist groups triggered significant concern about whether the United States has become complacent about homegrown terrorism.

Help Wanted: U.S. Citizens with Passports Looking for Adventure

Recently the nation received welcome news that the U.S. trade deficit has steadily declined over the past few months. This is due in part to a rise in export of U.S. goods and services. One service that is increasingly being offered is the export of long-standing legal residents and U.S. citizens wishing to undertake terrorism related training and join the global jihad against the west.

A disturbing trend occurred in 2009 that highlights the “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here” mentality of the previous eight years. While we were focused on keeping the bad guys away from our shores and out of the country, it appears that a trend was developing internal to the U.S. whereby self or technology-assisted radicalized citizens were venturing overseas to receive terrorism related training and undertake operations. Such activity has the potential to place our desire for a more perfect union at risk. Aside from the direct threat these individuals pose to U.S. global security interests, specifically possessing an ability to travel undetected back to the homeland to do harm, one might wonder what the federal response to this trend might be.

In 2010, will we see further encroachment on U.S. privacy and civil liberty protections by intelligence and law enforcement agencies undertaking increased domestic surveillance in hopes of reducing the exportation of this highly sought after service?


The top “international breaking news” in homeland security for 2009: A renewed consensus by powerbrokers in both the US and amongst its principal allies to mitigate the terrorist threat in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region (known as AfPak). Whether this proves to be efficacious or not, the investment of effort, treasures, and lives will frame our counter-terrorist policy for years ahead.

Some Failures

Failure to improve federal efforts on cyber security.

Failure of Congress to assist in improving Executive Branch efforts on Homeland Security by failure to organize itself properly.

Continued failure to produce adequate linguists for the military, State Department, USAID, DOD generally, DHS, the FBI and of course the INTEL community.

Failure to adopt rumor control mechanisms to deal with rumor spread by new social media in various crisis scenarios.

Someone Who Gets It

Having finally heard several presentations by FEMA’s new Administrator Craig Fugate, I think he gets “It” and that is a big success. It perhaps tops my list. Unfortunately, he will have to succeed in spite of the system, not because the system supports his intiatives. Now of course, unfortunately, the real litmus test is can he and FEMA deliver in a castrophic situation with wide-scale geographic impacts.

The Dawn of Authenticity

The top “emerging trend” in homeland security for 2009: The critical and commercial success of Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell, combined with Elinor Ostrom sharing the Nobel Prize for Economics for her work in polycentrism suggests renewed confidence in the competence of local governance and “informal” mechanisms of governance. Investment in authentic and meaningful local leadership would, overtime, transform homeland security.

And the winner is…

The winning entry —  as determined by an anonymous member of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — is “H1N1,” submitted by Washington D.C. Fire and EMS Battalion Chief John Donnelly.

(I asked the judge why that entry won, but he/she would only comment that the entry spoke for itself.)

John’s gift certificate is, as they say, in the mail.

Thanks to all who took the time to write something.

And while I’m at it, we (Jessica, Mark and I) know you have the choice of many blogs to look at.  (The best estimate I could find is since 2003 an estimated 150 million blogs have been created; about 175,000 new ones are started every day. Every second somewhere in the world, eighteen people post something to a blog.  And that doesn’t even include William Cummin’s posts.)

So thank you for stopping by and, on occasion, contributing to the conversation.

May you and your loved ones — including the people whose ideas you disagree with — have a safe and secure 2010.


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Comment by William R. Cumming

December 31, 2009 @ 6:36 am

Congrats to Chief Donnelly! Certainly a good subject for top story. Perhaps judgment as to state of Pandemic Preparedness including vaccine production, distribution, and utilization will have to await the outcome of what appears to be a high-powered effort by Secretary HSH to find out whether any witches [whichs?] need to be hunted down and eliminated as barriers to this major population protection strategy and effort. In short were the lessons learned all positive or were some in fact disturbingly negative?

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 31, 2009 @ 2:51 pm

Just finished reading a DHS newsrelease itemizing major accomplishments for 2009. DHS takes entire credit for leading the PANFLU response. Interesting but IMO indicative that failure to see their role as cooperative and collaborative may contain seeds of future disasters. Going “it” alone is not the way I would recommend.

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 1, 2010 @ 11:01 am

I believe it has now been confirmed that the “terrorist” paid cash for a one-way ticket to Detroit. The city certainly has it merits and in particular the expansion of agriculture on the west side in old neighborhoods. I also wonder how Governor Granholm’s focus on Homeland Security as a prominent feature of Michigan’s future economic growth is coming? If the trial is in Detroit that certainly will stimulate the economy and usage of Detroit infrastructure.

Comment by George

July 19, 2010 @ 10:47 am

Hisia mazuri ni mengi zaidi kuliko Viagra ™. Wale ambao walikuwa Viagra kuelewa, hisia ya uchovu baada ya ngono na kijinsia ni nguvu, na hapo ni dhaifu na matatizo ghafla hisia. The ingredient ngono homoni ya kemikali si zilizomo, na Satibo kibonge anpassar kazi jinsia ya mwili wa binadamu kwa njia ya att förstärka uwezo secretion ya homoni mwenyewe kabisa, nguvu mwenyewe alionyesha uwezo kabisa, na hisia tajiri wa kujamiiana ni zinazozalishwa . Hiini charm mkuu wa Satibo kibonge.

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