Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 30, 2010

Quadrennial Homeland Security Review: Update

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on January 30, 2010

Going over my notes from last week’s House hearing on the Flight 253 event, I recalled Deputy DHS Secretary Jane Holl Lute saying DHS was finished with the QHSR, and that it was at the White House for coordination.

I believe next week the Homeland Security Advisory Council is meeting.  Perhaps they will be briefed on the Review.

And eventually so will Congress and regular people.

January 28, 2010

A Fine Day for Homeland Security Bananafish

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on January 28, 2010

Yesterday was a fine day for watching national homeland security leaders.

The day started (for me) watching the House Committee on Homeland Security hearings: “Flight 253: Learning Lessons from an Averted Tragedy.”

It ended with President Obama’s State of the Union talk.

The hearings were nominally about “what happened on December 25th on Northwest Flight 253, how it happened, and what can be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

But it was also a display of the multiple varieties of leadership that fills some of the homeland security ecosystem.

Democrats and Republicans complained about Secretary Napolitano’s absence from the hearings.

Her representative, Jane Holl Lute, Deputy Secretary of DHS, stayed forcefully and persistently on the “layers of security” message.

Patrick F. Kennedy, Under Secretary for Management at the Department of State, leaned into the microphone smoothly, but a tad unctuously, assuring everyone that improvements had been made since Christmas.

Michael E. Leiter, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), seemed impatient to get back to work, instead of spending  three hours in a meeting that could have been finished in maybe 30 minutes .

Chairman Bennie G. Thompson and ranking member Peter T. King showed different ways to lead — one conducted like he was directing an orchestra; the other barked.

Peter DeFazio, a democrat, praised the former leader of TSA, Kip Hawley, and complained about a “wacko republican” who believes unionizing TSA employees will threaten national security.

Paul Broun, a republican, said Napolitano should resign and be replaced by “someone who’s not in LaLa land.”

Candice Miller reminded people that Attorney General Eric Holder helped defend Guantanomo terrorists, and for free.

Bill Pascrell pointed out this was the 4th congressional hearing held on essentially the same topic.  He claimed the bureaucracy — especially in the intelligence community — is as great a threat to national security as anyone else.  Intelligence is a bureaucratic nightmare, he said, no one’s accountable.  “That’s why we create bureaucracies.”

Sheila Jackson-Lee, Daniel Lungren, Al Green, Pete Olson, Yvette Clarke, Dina Titus, Mary Jo Kilroy, Charles Dent, Christopher Carney, Michael McCaul, Emanuel Cleaver, Mark Souder, Mike Rogers, and Jane Harman all took a brief turn channeling the voice of the American people, or at least the voices they hear.

They spoke about controlling and sharing intelligence, whether anyone was disciplined for the December 25th incident (not yet), what the State Department does, the role of the NCTC, Miranda rights for the attacker, “preparing, not scaring” the public, “the part of the system that did work was the aware public on Flight 253,” how to revoke a visa, using dogs that can smell “the vapor wake” when someone walks past, the fiscal obligations of other nations to assist us, continuing vulnerabilities, whether NCTC has the money, people and authority it needs (no), new and improved technology, are Custom agents trained to interrogate terrorists, we’ve tried terrorists before in criminal court and it worked out ok, how to avoid political correctness, how to build a system that will be able to detect an adaptive enemy that tomorrow might show up as a blond Anglo Saxon, and whether anything could be done to make sure Congressman John Lewis is not always getting hit by secondary screening.

I’m not sure what I learned about homeland security leadership watching the hearings.  But it did strike me that the representatives are as pressed for time, and their cognitive bandwidth as compressed, as everyone else in the complexity that is the homeland security enterprise.

I’m not sure I know what the country wants or expects from its homeland security leaders.

“Do the best you can,” one of the congressman said.  Anything less is unacceptable.

I think that’s what all the people at the hearing were doing: the best they could.

Obama outlined his idea about the best we can do toward the end of his speech:

Throughout our history, no issue has united this country more than our security. Sadly, some of the unity we felt after 9/11 has dissipated. We can argue all we want about who’s to blame for this, but I’m not interested in re-litigating the past. I know that all of us love this country. All of us are committed to its defense. So let’s put aside the schoolyard taunts about who’s tough. Let’s reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values. Let’s leave behind the fear and division, and do what it takes to defend our nation and forge a more hopeful future — for America and for the world.

All in all — amidst symbol, stupidity, caring, tediousness, anger, posturing, thinking, reacting, recommitting, hoping —  it was a pretty good day for bananafish.



J.D. Salinger, 91, Is Dead

It was a bizarre coincidence.

Last night I used J.D. Salinger’s “A Fine Day For Bananafish” (later published as a “Perfect Day for Bananafish”) indirectly, as a broad theme for the post.  I hadn’t thought about Salinger or Bananafish for maybe a decade.  Not sure why I thought about him last night.

Around 11 AM Pacific time today (January 28th), I learned J.D. Salinger died in his New Hampshire home.

I had nothing to do with his death.

I hope no one criticizes the New Hampshire authorities  for failing to connect the dots.

January 27, 2010

Today’s Big News: No News

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on January 27, 2010

Just in case you’ve been hiding in some undisclosed secure location for the past week, it’s worth noting that Apple CEO Steve Jobs, on the heels of announcing record profits, intends to reveal the company’s latest offering today. In a much anticipated and widely discussed move, he is expected to unveil Apple’s latest foray into the tablet computer market. If successful, as expected, Apple’s product will establish a whole new category, which Jobs himself has claimed to be the most important work of his life. Others have simply hailed it as a “game changer.”

Okay, now that I have your attention, I would like to recap some of the other issues competing for your attention today:

  • President Obama will address a joint session of Congress tonight in his first State of the Union Address; he is expected, among other things, to call for a freeze in non-defense discretionary spending in an effort to curb the federal budget deficit.
  • Massachusetts voters in a stunning defeat for Democrats elected Republican Scott Brown to fill the unexpired term of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, undermining the Democrats’ filibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it clear that the U.S. House of Representatives lacked sufficient votes to pass the Senate health care reform bill in its current form, which resulted in calls for a stripped down agreement or at least further delay.
  • Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden claimed credit for the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. jetliner by a Nigerian radical.
  • Oregon voters, counter to the assumed public backlash over tax-and-spend business-as-usual politics, voted to raise their own taxes.
  • A series of bombing in the Iraqi capitol killed scores of people and raised questions about the effectiveness of Iraqi security forces.
  • Iraq executed convicted mass-murderer and Saddam Hussein cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed, better know in the west as “Chemical Ali” for his gas ttacks against the country’s Kurdish and Shiite minorities in the north and south, respectively.
  • In a striking precedent, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned two of its own precedents, deciding by a 5-4 majority to allow corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of cash to national electoral campaigns.
  • And, oh yeah, hundreds of thousands of Haitians died after a massive earthquake struck their impoverished nation leaving millions homeless.

Now, which of these stories has the most sweeping implications for U.S. national security?

For my money, it’s the Supreme Court decision. In an almost unprecedented statement yesterday, retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor criticized the decision as an, “arms race” that will be a “problem for maintaining an independent judiciary.”  Her concerns do not reflect the lingering Senate stalemate over appointments to the federal bench rooted in partisan bickering over judicial ideology. Rather, she’s concerned that the vast majority of state and local judges are elected.

Confidence in and the independence of the judiciary represents an important bulwark against the deepening partisan divide and associated erosion of public confidence in the other two branches. Without it, confidence in government, or for that matter our constitutional form of government, becomes increasingly suspect if not downright untenable.

The vastly different electoral results in the Massachusetts Senate race and the Oregon tax referendum only serve to illustrate the difficulty characterizing the political mood of the country with any precision. That said, both illustrate deep skepticism and growing cynicism surrounding the established political order.

At the same time, the overwhelming, even unprecedented public response to the humanitarian crisis in Haiti should give us hope. Most Americans still care deeply and passionately about the plight of others. They want to help. But as the mood attending events in Iraq and Afghanistan illustrate, they do not like getting their hands bit by those who benefit from aid.

This leaves me wondering what Jobs’ announcement today and the veritable furore surrounding it says about us as a country and a people. Apple is not just a huge, profitable company that produces innovative products. Its brand has taken on the air of cultural metaphor. Despite some recent criticism of the company’s environmental record, Apple has often been credited with doing well by doing good.

This brings me back to the potential threat posed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. If the global financial crisis has taught us anything, companies have no inherent moral code that impels them to do right by others. In contrast, biological evidence of an evolutionary bias toward altruism among individuals is well-established and growing.

When assembled in a group, our tendency toward altruism finds expression in efforts to conform our behavior to perceived group norms. When those norms run contrary to morals or accepted notions of the public good, we often have difficulty detecting the discrepancy much less changing the overall mood of the group. We’re more likely to consider our own views aberrant than that of the perceived group will. This pack mentality makes us susceptible to all sorts of unintended, and more importantly, unsuspected, evil.

An independent judiciary provides an important check on the pack mentality that often infects corporate bodies, including mobs in the legislative and executive branches of government. Allowing corporations, often under the control of interests hostile to the public good and sometimes under the influence of foreign nationals or others not otherwise allowed to participate in elections, to contribute freely to campaigns, especially judicial campaigns, poses an unchecked threat to our liberty.

Threat to our liberty are neither limited to nor dominated by international terrorism and the radical extremism that breeds it. A failure to give adequate expression to our best intentions by providing a durable and independent check on our own impetuous behavior poses just as great a threat to our liberty.

If the anticipation surrounding Apple’s announcement is any indication, we may need intervention of the clinical rather than the political sort sooner rather than later. With any luck, we will see the error of our ways and insist on the essential distinction between our individual and corporate lives.

In the meantime, enjoy your iSlate, iTablet, MacPad or whatever it’s called and don’t forget to vote. Take it away Steve Jobs …

January 26, 2010

Do you have what it takes to be an intelligence analyst?

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christopher Bellavita on January 26, 2010

In yesterday’s post, Jessica rhetorically asked if it’s “the case that intelligence challenges are unfixable and as a nation we need to reassess how we work around them.”

The question reminded me of a meeting I was in a few weeks ago.  For reasons that now escape me, someone showed the brief (3 minute and 10 second) Richard Wiseman video, featured below.

Immediately after the video was over, one of the meeting participants — who has been a member of the Intelligence Community for more than 2 decades — said, “That’s just what it’s like to be an intelligence analyst.”

The video is called “The Colour Changing Card Trick.”

Your task — should you decide to take the test — is to watch the video and see if you can figure out the trick.

The only rules are to watch the video once, and don’t look at any of the “here’s how it’s done” comments on the website.  At least not before you watch the video.

So if you have a few minutes, click on the video and then come back.


In 1978, Columbia University professor Richard Betts wrote an article (in World Politics) called “Analysis, War and Decision: Why Intelligence Failures Are Inevitable.”

He argued the problems we keep running into are less about the intelligence process, and more about context. He said, “Policy premises constrict perception, and administrative workloads constrain reflection. Intelligence failure is political and psychological more often than organizational.”

If Professor Betts’ thirty year old claim remains correct (or if — like me — you failed to connect the card-trick-dots), some enduring intelligence challenges may indeed be unfixable at a fundamental level.

As a nation we will need to explore options beyond remodeling organizations and composing rules.  We need to reinvent intelligence.

January 25, 2010

Severe Threats

Last week, Congress held a series of hearings on the December 25th attempted bombing.  More hearings will follow this week.   While there have been countless analysis and assessments of the hearings, here is my 17 syllable assessment:

Intelligence Failed

Technology Will Save Us

Send More Money, Please

On Friday, the United Kingdom raised its threat level from “substantial” to “severe.”  The level, made by the U.K. government upon recommendations of the Joint Terrorism Analysis Center (JTAC), “means that a future terrorist attack is ‘highly likely,’ although not necessarily imminent.” The UK threat level had been at substantial since last July, when it had been lowered after two years at the “severe” level.  The level, previous to that, had shifted between severe and critical since the July 2005 attacks on the London Underground and on a Double Decker bus.  Interesting, U.K. officials were very quick to point out that its move was not related to the December 25th underwear bomber attack, though little information and lots of speculation as to the real reason has emerged.

Also on Friday, India raised its threat level, deploying air marshals and issuing a Civil Aviation Ministry security alert to airports and airlines for the “the stepping up of security arrangements at all concerned airports and airlines following inputs received from security agencies as well as the Ministry of Home Affairs.” The alert was issued just days before tomorrow’s celebration of Republic Day, which notes the country’s adoption of a constitution (following its independence form the U.K.).

Also, on Friday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano met with members of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in Geneva regarding aviation security standards.  IATA represents approximately 230 airlines and 90 percent of the world’s air traffic. IATA raised several issues with the Secretary including industry operational capacities, better mechanisms for sharing passenger information, more input from airlines into security measures, and better international coordination between governments imposing security on the aviation industry.

These announcements came before the weekend reporting of a new video recording from Osama bin Laden claiming responsibility for the Christmas Day attempted bombing AND reports of non-Arab female suicide bombers, carrying Western passports, possibly attacking the U.S.

Collectively, this past week of events and announcements provide insight into the various challenges faced by the U.S. and its global partners in their terrorist-fighting efforts, both here and abroad.

Here are some observations:

  • Congressional Hearings: The hearings made clear that eight and a half years after 9/11, intelligence sharing, culture, and assessments still are lacking –  Commissions, Administration reorganizations, and Congressional actions not withstanding.  Whether posed as failures or challenges, it is clear that some change is needed — what that change is remains the question. Or is it simply the case that intelligence challenges are unfixable and as a nation we need to reassess how we work around them?
  • International Efforts: Despite the “homeland” in homeland security, the actions in the U.K. and India remind us that terrorism is an international issue that links us all together.  Terrorism is not only a threat against the U.S., but one that has harmed a number of our allies.   Consequently, our efforts – both on the intelligence and counterterrorism fronts – have to be bigger than the U.S.  They also have to be bigger than the Inside-the-Beltway fighting over who “owns” terrorism as an issue within the political parties.
  • Private Sector as Partner: The IATA-Napolitano meeting demonstrates that security is not  a government-only function.  The government’s efforts affect the private sector, requiring the private sector to be a key partner in any security efforts.  Add the international angle, then this partnership becomes even more complicated and in need of constant communication.  While much of the attention relating to the December 25th bombings have focused on the airlines and aviation industry, it would behoove the government and DHS to reach out (or better publicize) its efforts with others affected by security measures.  After all, it was the traveling public that diverted the underwear bomber attack.
  • Terrorists Come in Different Sizes, Colors, and Genders: The threat of people who may not “look like Al Qaeda terrorists” is one that experts and Congress have raised on numerous occasions over the past several years.  In reality, none of us know what a terrorist looks like – we just know who has attacked us in the past.  That image is constantly evolving and changing as more attacks are thwarted and responsible individuals come to light.   What’s becoming clear is that we cannot and should not rely on “profiling,” as we will be left unprepared.
  • Bin Laden as Boogie Man: Interestingly, after Bin Laden took credit for the December 25th attack, a number of U.S. intelligence agencies stepped up to adamantly discredit the claims. Does it really matter if he was behind the attacks to the average American? Well, it may or may not but there are reasons for these strong assertions.  First, if Bin Laden wasn’t involved, then there is evidence of a continued splintering of Al Qaeda and its strength, though such splintering could arguably make our terrorist-fighting efforts even more difficult.   Second,  if Bin Laden was involved, it is just a reminder that he is still out there and has not been captured or brought to justice.  Third, Bin Laden epitomizes terrorism to many average Americans and his omnipresence in all episodes that are terrorism make him an even more iconic figure to those who would follow him.

January 21, 2010

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the leaders.”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on January 21, 2010

A few days ago Associated Press reported the discovery of what appears to be a fragment from an early draft of William Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 2

You may recall Act IV, Scene II of the play includes the famous line about “Let’s kill all the lawyers.”

While the new manuscript fragment has yet to be authenticated, it looks like Shakespeare — well known for his horrendous handwriting — actually wrote “leaders,” and not “lawyers.”  So the line should have been “… let’s kill all the leaders.”

All those lawyer jokes … in vain.

Here is the relevant excerpt from the manuscript.  But first, to set the stage, a brief reminder of the story so far.

Off the Atlantic Coast, America is under attack.  Several of the insurgent ships hold dozens of Americans as prisoners, to be ransomed for booty, or worse.

A decent gentleman — a former FBI agent, and current assistant chief of homeland security and intelligence with the Huge City World Airports police department is one of the prisoners.  He’s in disguise.

The Captain of one of the ships divides his gentlemen prisoners among the master, the mate, and Walter Witless.  Witless gets the Assistant Chief.

Each gentleman asks what his ransom shall be, and offers to send for the money.

The Assistant Chief does a double-take when he hears his captor’s name is Witless. Once an astrologer had foretold his death would come at the hands of a witless man.

The Assistant Chief reveals his identity and declares that his honorable blood must not be shed by someone so lowly as Witless or the insurgents. Such men are only fit to serve such nobles as himself, he declares.

The insurgent Captain, annoyed, orders the Assistant Chief to be taken away and beheaded.

The Captain scorns the former FBI agent for his behavior, for having made a mistake 20 years ago, for failing to accurately complete official paperwork, and for daring to think he was sufficiently qualified to protect his country from those who love death more than life.

The other gentlemen urge the Assistant Chief to beg for his life, but he says he is unused to begging, and he would rather stoop to have his head chopped off than bow to any except the American people.

He is a real noble and, thus, exempt from fear, he says.

Witless leads him off and returns with his head.  Sometimes great men die at the hands of low men.

As we rejoin the play, insurgents have reached the shore.  They are discussing Ophagy Scat’s plans for the kingdom. (Scat is a boss insurgent.)

People who actually know something will not be in favor once the new regime takes over, they agree, and only American Idol watchers and people who forward amusing pictures of cats over the Internet will be honored.

Then, Scat enters with Jim the Butcher and Mike the John. Scat makes a speech, announcing his alleged lineage to royalty through the Mortimer and Plantagenet family. After each point, the Butcher mocks him to the insurgents, saying Scat is as far from nobility as one can get.


Drum roll. Enter SCAT,  JIM the Butcher,  MIKE the John and enough people to make it look like a crowd of insurgents.

We are Ophagy Scat, so named by our father —

[Aside] Or rather, named after the Youtube video no one can watch without gagging.


For our enemies shall fall before us, inspired with the spirit of putting down kings and princes.

Jim the Butcher, command silence.


Be brave. For we, your captain, are brave, and we vow reformation. There shall be in this Land seven Cokes sold for a penny; three extra NFL games each season, and I will make it felony to drink lite beer: all the realm shall be in common; and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass: and when I am king, as king I will be,–

God save your majesty!

I thank you, good people: there shall be no money; you shall eat and drink on my invisible hand; and I will apparel you all in the Mall of America, that you may agree like brothers and sisters to worship me, your lord.

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the leaders.

Aye, that I mean to do.

Enter some more people, bringing forward a leader.

‘Tis a Leader of Angels: he can write and read and cast accompt.

O monstrous!

We captured him as he was thinking about how to balance liberty and security in the Transportation Policy Space.

Here’s a villain!

He has a book in his pocket with red letters in’t.

Nay, then, he is a conjurer.

Nay, he can make obligations, and write court-hand.

I am sorry for’t: the man is a proper man, of mine honor; unless I find him guilty, he shall not die.

Come hither, sirrah, I must examine thee: what is thy name?


Be wary of the man! He has thoughts and ideas and experiences.  He has competence.  He can lead.

Let me alone. Dost thou know how to write thy name? or hast thou a mark to thyself, like an honest plain-dealing following-type man?

Sir, I thank God, I have been so well brought up that I can write my name.  And with good people around me, I can lead.

He hath confessed: away with him! he’s a villain and a traitor.

Away with him, I say! hang him with his badges and honors and ideas about his neck.

Exit one with the Leader

January 20, 2010

Values vs Value: Making Our Efforts Count

Filed under: Events,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Mark Chubb on January 20, 2010

The Haiti earthquake response, now in its eighth day, has already begun to illustrate the difficulties confronting American leadership in the Information Age and the Age of Terrorism.  These two great trends, both prone to exploitation by extreme points-of-view and over-the-top rhetoric, put the United States in an unenviable damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t position.  As such, a commitment to our values matters more than ever.

During a BBC news broadcast yesterday, callers from around the world offered deeply divided opinions of the response effort and the United States’ role in it so far. More than a few offered their own interpretations of the motivations behind these actions, which, it is safe to say, vary substantially from official accounts.

Mainstream U.S. media have been quick to criticize too, quickly highlighting what they consider both the extreme highlights and lowlights of the response efforts so far. Perhaps the most counterproductive of these efforts has been the tendency of media to compare and contrast the responses of different international teams.

I have been particularly struck by the effort to paint the United States response as lumbering, self-serving, obstructionist, and over-the-top.  In contrast, some international teams have been lauded as nimble, quick, precise, and caring.

As William Cumming noted in his comment on my last post, this is a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions. Both Katrina and the Indian Ocean Tsunami pale in comparison. In the first instance, not due to the scale of the destruction but in the lower death toll. In the latter, not due to the immense human toll but in the widely distributed scope of the damage.

Port-au-Prince encompasses the worst aspects of both of these disasters: The earthquake wrought devastation that is both immense and intense because it is concentrated in such a small and densely populated urban area already affected by great deprivation.

Such a massive disaster requires an equally massive response. But this poses another difficult dilemma. I say dilemma not problem, because it cannot be easily solved. As American task force commander LTG Ken Keen put it, getting aid to Haiti is like “pushing a bowling ball through a soda straw.”

No one, not the United Nations nor even the United States, can erase the disadvantages accumulated in Haiti over time that complicate and indeed compromise the response there. A massive disaster requires a massive response. But it also requires understanding that this equation will remain unbalanced in proportion to the scope and scale of the catastrophe even as our compassion seems equal to the task at hand.

Quick, nimble, and precise responses, like those exemplified by teams from our allies Israel, Italy, and Germany will produce striking successes, but always on an isolated scale. Meeting lingering challenges requires logistical muscle and concerted coordination efforts.

And this is precisely where value-focused and battle-tested leadership is most important. In a disaster, when the normal order is so suddenly and completely disturbed and the senses of place and purpose become disrupted, command and control strategies may seem appropriate but they do little good when no one is in a fit condition to respond or lacks the capacity to do so.

Coordination requires a different set of skills. In military circles, we often talk of C4I: Command, Control, Communication, Cybersystems, and Intelligence (emphasizing analysis). These elements still have a role, but disaster response has a flip side that requires us to employ these resources differently. In disasters like Haiti, we need to think and act in terms of a different C4I paradigm: Clarification, Creativity, Collaboration, Commitment, and Intelligence (emphasizing synthesis).

Our values, not just the value we commit in terms of human, financial and material capital (which has been substantial, if not unprecedented), make the most difference in a disaster. When we resist the temptation to engage unproductive emotions by criticizing the efforts of others and instead take the opportunity to work with anyone else willing to lend a hand, we can achieve great things, if only on a small scale. Criticism requires no special skills, but neither does caring. If you can only do a little, make it sure counts.

January 19, 2010

The Fort Hood Shooting: Lessons About Vigilance in Homeland Defense and Homeland Security

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Homeland Defense — by Christopher Bellavita on January 19, 2010

On Friday (January 15), the Department of Defense released Protecting the Force: Lessons from Fort Hood

The people in and around Ft. Hood responded to the November 5, 2009 shooting about as perfectly as one could hope.

Four minutes and twenty seconds after the first 911 call, “the assailant was incapacitated.”  Two minutes and fifty seconds later “two ambulances and an incident command vehicle … arrived on the scene….”

But still, 13 people were killed; 43 wounded or injured.

The Report is a painfully somber reminder that freedom’s price remains eternal vigilance.

For most of the past 20 years, the authors note, “our forces have been engaged in continuous combat operations.”

Eternal vigilance does not mean simply staying alert.  It also means as good as we get, it’s never going to be perfect.  There will always be surprise.

Freedom demands a vigilance that knows it will be surprised.
Here are some excerpts (with my headings) from the Report.  It is a well written and comprehensive — within its charter – document.  But sadly for many people in homeland defense and homeland security, it is not the first time such a report has been written.

The Report’s uniqueness may be found mostly in lessons that possibly are new to the DoD, but that are disquietingly — even banally — familiar to civilians in the  homeland security realm.

DoD force protection policies are not optimized for countering internal threats. These policies reflect insufficient knowledge and awareness of the factors required to help identify and address individuals likely to commit violence.  This is a key deficiency.

The time has passed when bureaucratic concerns by specific entities over protecting “their” information can be allowed to prevent relevant threat information and indicators from reaching those who need it—the commanders. In this rapidly changing security environment throughout our government, the Department of Defense can exercise its role to set the bar higher to establish a new force protection culture, with new standards and procedures for sharing information, to recognize and defeat evolving external and internal threats.

While leaders at Fort Hood responded well under the stress of a rapidly evolving crisis, we are fortunate that we faced only one incident at one location. We cannot assume that this will remain the case in the future. Our command and control systems must have the right architecture, connectivity, portability, and flexibility to enable commanders to cope with near-simultaneous incidents at multiple locations. …. Considering the requirements for dealing with multiple, near-simultaneous incidents similar to Fort Hood, a review of the Unified Command Plan may be in order.

During the initial stages of the attack at Fort Hood, commanders and first responders, unsure of the nature of the threat, and in an effort to maximize their security posture, set and maintained Force Protection Condition Delta. There were apparently no indications that the rest of CONUS DoD force was immediately notified of the event; most installations and units first found out about the event through the news media. This was a single event, but had it been the first in a series of coordinated, near simultaneous attacks, most other DoD installations and facilities would not have been properly postured for an attack. The timely sharing of incident information could have served to alert other forces within the Area of Responsibility to take the prepare-and-defend actions necessary to harden themselves before a near simultaneous attack comes to them.

[Compare this with complaints from some pilots in the air during the December 25th attack on NW 253 that the first time they heard of the incident was on the ground when they turned on CNN — e.g.,  Pilot furious at U.S. for silence on bomb ]

A Common Operational Picture is “a single identical display of relevant information shared by more than one command.”…. A Common Operational Picture provides a standardized, continuously updated, multiple-user capability to produce reports, mapping, imagery, and real time information sharing between multiple subscribers.  Information sharing and establishing a Common Operational Picture is vital to coordinating efforts of multiple emergency response agencies’ and facilitates’ collaborative planning at all echelons to achieve situational awareness…. Services have not widely deployed or integrated a Common Operational Picture capability into installation Emergency Operations Centers….

In 2009, the Department directed the Services to be in compliance with the Federal framework for emergency response by 2014. Compliance with this guidance will enhance the ability of the Department’s installation and facility emergency personnel to work with first responders from Federal, State, and local jurisdictions to save lives and protect property….  The Department of Defense guidance was promulgated in part to align the Department with national response policies and establish the Installation Emergency Management program.  The Installation Emergency Management program directs the Services to adopt the National Incident Management System, which Federal, State, and local agencies have already adopted. ….  Currently all 50 states have complied with the Federal requirements.

This event shows us, too, that there are no safe havens—for Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, their co-workers and their families. The challenge for the Department of Defense is to prepare more effectively for a constantly changing security environment.

Synchronize the Continental United States (CONUS)-based DoD emergency management program with the national emergency management framework. Our installations must have a common operating system that allows commanders to access real-time threat information, respond rapidly to changing force protection conditions, and begin response and recovery operations in near real time.  This is an aggressive goal, but it matches the goals and character of future enemies.

Act immediately with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to enhance the operation of the Joint Terrorism Task Forces. To protect the force, our leaders need immediate access to information pertaining to Service members indicating contacts, connections, or relationships with organizations promoting violence.  One additional step may be to increase Service representation on the Joint Terrorism Task Forces….  eGuardian is the only Suspicious Activity Reporting system that communicates directly with the FBI’s JTTFs, and if adopted by the Department of Defense would allow designated DoD law enforcement assets access to receive and input suspicious activity. This would also provide an additional method by which threat information would flow from the Department of Defense to the FBI, in situations where the Department of Justice has an investigative interest. Adoption of eGuardian is currently the recommended solution being proposed by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense for the Department of Defense.

In the Fort Hood incident, the alleged perpetrator held an active and current SECRET security clearance based on a February 2008 National Agency Check, with Local Agency and Credit Check of background investigation. Although accomplished in accordance with current guidelines, this background investigation did not include a subject interview or interviews with co-workers, supervisors, or expanded character references.  We believe that if a more thorough investigation had been accomplished, his security clearance may have been revoked and his continued service and pending deployment would have been subject to increased scrutiny.

The evolving security threat increasingly involves information exchanges using the Internet.   There are numerous DoD and interagency organizations and offices involved in defense cyber activities.  The Department of Defense does not have a comprehensive and coordinated policy for counterintelligence activities in cyberspace.

We especially note that as a result of the Force Protection Condition imposed by Fort Hood leadership during the crisis, a number of young school children remained closeted in their classrooms for a significant period.  Our recommendation is that those responsible for them at school (e. g. , teachers, administrative personnel) receive additional training to anticipate the special needs that could arise during a period of lengthy lockdown.

Our examination underscored that the Chaplain Corps has a great deal to offer in a mass casualty situation. Responding to mass casualty events requires more than the traditional first responder disciplines such as police, fire, and medical professionals. Comprehensive religious support that anticipates mass casualty incidents should be incorporated into installation emergency management plans and exercises.

… reinforce the fabric of trust with one another by engaging, supervising, mentoring, counseling, and simple everyday expressions of concern on a daily and continuous basis… We must be alert to the mental, emotional, and spiritual balance of Service members, colleagues, and civilian coworkers, and respond when they appear at risk.


One of the more interesting appendices in the Report was a literature review briefly summarizing the last 10 years of research on workplace violence — which is one mundane way to look at the November 5 event:

Each year, more than one million people in the U.S. are harmed by workplace violence, and an estimated 17,000 take their own lives in their place of employment.  The portrait of the “disgruntled” employee who “goes postal” and kills a supervisor does not encompass the full array of workplace homicides: customers, clients, peers, and superiors are also responsible. The rates of workplace violence in the U.S. Postal Service are actually lower than in the general workforce, so that organization, despite the popular phrase, does not provide a “worst case” for study.

The Report includes something else I had not read before:

Although domestic terrorism is far more common than international terrorism,[ my emphasis] research on terrorism focuses on the latter.  Motivations for domestic terrorism are diverse, and include animal rights, environmentalism, nationalism, white supremacy, religious causes, and right-wing politics. Overall, acts of domestic terrorism tend to occur in large urban areas and target the police and military forces.

The Report recommends the DoD become more aware of civilian law enforcement’s active shooter tactics.  One footnote recommends a Department of  Homeland Security “booklet” on active shooter response (available here, thanks to the Missouri Office of Homeland Security).

I don’t know how or why the Department of Homeland Security, the National Tactical Officers Association, the Fairfax County Police, the National Retail Federation, and the Retail Industry Leaders Association got together to produce what I thought was a very informative (for the uninformed like me) booklet.

But who cares.

Eternal vigilance means sometimes you have to get into someone else’s lane.

January 16, 2010

Al Qaeda’s plan for defeating Al Qaeda

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on January 16, 2010

The devastation in Haiti remains at the front of media and human attention.

But homeland security does not allow one to pay attention only to one issue at a time.

In this 4 minute video, Jarret Brachman (former director of research for West Point’s counter terrorism center) explains Abu Yahya al-Libi’s ideas about how to defeat al Qaeda.

al-Libi is an al Qaeda official who apparently believes the US is too inept to do anything with this information.

Perhaps this is old news for you. But maybe not. al-Libi talked about his six step strategy for defeating al Qaeda in September 2007.


January 15, 2010

Homeland Security – Helping Haiti

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on January 15, 2010

Following up on Mark Chubb’s posting earlier today, it is worth noting the Department of Homeland Security’s resources and assets that are being used to aid in the aftermath of the earthquake.

The Coast Guard has sent four cutters to Haiti, in addition to its existing capabilities in the region.  Spenser Hsu of the Washington Post wrote a detailed piece this morning on what the agency is doing.

FEMA is coordinating (through an interagency process) the deployment of state and local Urban Search & Rescue teams from the United States.  According the United Nations, there are 17  teams from around the globe who are in Haiti, with 10 more along the way.  The arrival of additional teams has been slowed by the lack of capacity and resulting chaos at the Port-au-Prince Airport.

Customs and Border Protection has provided support aircraft to relief efforts.

Also noteworthy is that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has halted all deportations of illegal immigrants from Haiti indefinitely.  The agency, however, has not granted protective status to those immigrants or yet revealed a long-term course on what status to grant (or not grant) the immigrants.  UPDATE:  On Friday afternoon, The Department of Homeland Security granted “protected status” to Haitian nationals in the U.S. as of January 12, 2010. Here is the  Statement from Janet Napolitano released a few minutes ago:

As part of the Department’s ongoing efforts to assist Haiti following the devastating earthquake, the Secretary announced the designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian nationals who were in the United States as of January 12, 2010. This designation will allow eligible Haitian nationals in the United States to continue living and working in our country for the next 18 months. Providing a temporary refuge for Haitian nationals who are currently in the United States and whose personal safety would be endangered by returning to Haiti is part of this Administration’s continuing efforts to support Haiti’s recovery.

DHS has also, through a press release and on its website, promoted efforts by the Obama Administration to facilitate civilian relief to Haiti. Those wishing to donate (or seeking information on friends and family) are being directed to the White House’s website.

What Are We Protecting? Competition or Compassion

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on January 15, 2010

On Wednesday, January 13, fourteen Senators wrote their chamber’s leaders calling for urgent action by the Congress to aid earthquake ravaged Haiti.  Their letter stated that assistance to the people of Haiti was in the United States’ national security interest.

In the days following the earthquake, President Obama has repeatedly pledged urgent and ample assistance. Military assets, international aid supplies, and government rescue teams were deployed within hours, and have already had an impact in terms of establishing aviation and sea-based supply lines through Port-au-Prince’s ravaged airport and seaport.

Meanwhile, individual Americans have responded with unprecedented speed and generosity to calls for donations to the American Red CrossCatholic Relief ServicesDoctors Without BordersMercyCorpsOxfamSave the Children,UNICEFUnited WayWorld Vision, and a host of other relief agencies online and by SMS text message. Corporations have pledged in-kind support, and at least one major credit card company has waived processing fees on donation transactions (albeit after a media outcry).

Despite the overwhelming show of support for Haiti and its impoverished people, one might reasonably ask what the United State’s national security interest there is. The country has few strategic resources, poses no military threat, and its fervent religious culture does not seem to breed the sort of extremism that has fostered terrorism eslewhere. So what’s on the line here?

The answer seems to be simple: America cannot afford to ignore the plight of people so like those who suffered from the poor response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  As the nation seeks to rebuild its image abroad, it is becoming clear that the moral authority of the United States and its people rests not upon our ability to project power but on our willingness to extend protection. Put another way: This is a question of compassion, not competition.

The earthquake only compounded the problems Haiti already faced. It exposed not only the inadequacies of existing arrangements to promote sustainable prosperity, but also the consequences of neglecting the important connections between social and economic development in our own hemisphere and political stability.

Distinctions between homeland security and national security, hard power and soft power blur and fade to insignificance in the face of such a catastrophe. At a time when we have become better known and even resented for our preoccupation with competition and our relentless consumption, this is a time for America and Americans to display the sort of uncommon and uncompromising compassion our unparalleled liberties afford us.

January 14, 2010

Where is the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on January 14, 2010

The first Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) was supposed to be delivered to Congress on December 31, 2009.

The QHSR is a comprehensive review of homeland security that “will guide the Department for the next four years and inform the nation’s homeland security policies, programs, and missions.”

Unless it was delivered in secret, the QHSR appears to be a bit late.

The potential significance of the QHSR might be evidenced by the national outrage over the Obama Administration’s failure to deliver the report on New Year’s Eve.

There is no telling how many New Year’s Eve parties were ruined because the report was not available.

I know instead of reviewing the QHSR — as we planned — my family was forced to go to Plan B, watching Ice Age 3: The Dawn Of the Dinosaurs.

My children only started talking to me again yesterday.


A  reliable source told me the report is being reviewed by the White House, and will go to Congress on Friday, January 15th (probably around 6 pm, when Friday things happen in Washington).

I also heard two rumors too good not to pass along:

One rumor said that the Department of Defense wants the QHSR to be coordinated with the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).  The QDR is due on February 1, 2010.

There is a certain sense in that, especially since in Presidential Study Directive 1, the president (or someone who works for the president) wrote:

“I believe that Homeland Security is indistinguishable from National Security — conceptually and functionally, they should be thought of together rather than separately.  Instead of separating these issues, we must create an integrated, effective, and efficient approach to enhance the national security of the United States.”

Another rumor said the Department of Justice wanted a hold placed on the QHSR.  I have no clue why.


I am guessing the final touches were being put on the QHSR when the Northwest Flight 253 incident happened.  I figure someone wanted to make sure the Review covered the hornets released from Abdulmutallab’s underwear.

Better to get the Review turned over to Congress late — but complete —  than meet the New Year’s Eve deadline — but with truck sized holes in it.

Whatever the reason, once the report is released, I can only imagine how carefully the Commentariat will review it to prove:

1. The Obama Administration is ignoring terrorism, and

2. The Obama Adminsitration is over-reacting to terrorism.

January 13, 2010

Houston, We Have a Problem

Filed under: Aviation Security,Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Mark Chubb on January 13, 2010

story in Monday’s New York Times once again highlighted the growing problem facing the United States in its efforts to combat terrorism: We’re swimming in sensors and drowning in data. Terrorism and its extremist adherents have no better ally in their efforts to harm us than our innate tendency to mistake problems of being for problems of knowing, and in doing so to tie ourselves in knots.

As inconceivable as the motivations and actions of terrorists may seem to us, their behavior does not pose an unimaginable much less unknowable threat. Although we may not know when, where, or how they intend to strike, we can be pretty sure they will.

Our inability to wrap our heads around the “why” of terrorism leads us to oversimplifications and misapprehensions about the nature of the terrorist threat on one hand and a tendency to over-reach in our efforts to know who they are and what they are up to on the other. This leads us to frame the problem of terrorism primarily as an effort to identify and interdict unknown enemies.

Our preoccupation with finding out whom we should target leads us to collect more information than we need, and, consequently, far more than we can intelligently manage. As such, it becomes not only increasingly difficult, but also increasingly impractical to assemble a coherent picture of the threats facing us.

With the possible combinations so numerous, we see few options besides throwing everything we have at the problem of sifting and sorting the data every way we can. But that’s the problem: We cannot sort or sift fast enough. Picking up the pace does no good. No matter how fast we work, we still make little or no progress.

Thankfully, looking for answers does not always require us to look for evidence. Sometimes all the evidence we need is already available, and all we really need to ask ourselves is “what does it all mean.”

Fortunately, this situation often arises when the stakes are high, making it a familiar setting for any experienced homeland security professional. Thos with experience know that gathering more information will not change the nature of a high-stakes problem nor will it make the solution any clearer. Indeed, just the opposite may be the case.

The popular Ron Howard movie Apollo 13 recounts the successful effort to save the crew of the crippled spacecraft after an unexpected explosion compromised the life support system aborting the original mission. In the movie (but apparently not in real-life), as the stakes became clear, flight director Gene Kranz played by actor Ed Harris, tells the engineers assembled to work out a strategy for saving the ship and its crew. “Failure is not an option.”

These words echo the sentiments expressed by President Obama during his scathing critiques of what he characterized as the intelligence failures that allowed the Nigerian Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab, who is accused of attempting to destroy Northwest Airlines flight 253, to board the Detroit-bound aircraft in Amsterdam despite apparent foreknowledge of his links to extremists. As the President noted, intelligence agencies had the information, but they did not know what it meant and did not act on what they did know before Abdulmutallab boarded the flight.

In a scene from Apollo 13, a group of engineers assembles in a meeting room and a box of assorted items representing the materials available to the astronauts aboard the crippled spacecraft is emptied before them. Their charge was to figure out how to combine these resources in a new way to achieve the goal of keeping the crew alive and returning them to earth safely.

This sort of situation as it applies to terrorism has confronted the west before. Other countries confront this reality today. Few can afford to act as the United States has in imposing new regulations and technical security requirements on its people and its trading partners. Instead, they adapted their behavior to the reality of the threat confronting them.

When IRA bombers threatened riders on London’s Underground, the operators of the system relocated vendors to improve sight lines and removed rubbish bins to make it harder to conceal an incendiary or explosive device. Passengers too became an integral part of the security arrangements.

Whether we can afford to invest in better technology or not, we should ask ourselves whether what we have to invest will prove worth the cost when we look back at the value obtained. If NW 253 teaches us anything, it is that the investments we have already made in airport security and intelligence gathering and analysis have not made the target that much harder.

Looking at the security landscape before us, we might discover that we are far better off than we realize. The same things that prevented the terrorists aboard United Airlines flight 93 from succeeding on 9/11 saved lives again on Christmas Day. When everything is said and done, relying on the resourcefulness and courage of average Americans is not such a bad thing to do when failure is not an option.

January 12, 2010

“6,700 Americans will die today”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on January 12, 2010

An outstanding column by University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal.

The entire article is worth reading.  Here’s an excerpt:

It might be unrealistic to expect the average citizen to have a nuanced grasp of statistically based risk analysis, but there is nothing nuanced about two basic facts:

(1) America is a country of 310 million people, in which thousands of horrible things happen every single day; and

(2) The chances that one of those horrible things will be that you’re subjected to a terrorist attack can, for all practical purposes, be calculated as zero.

Consider that on this very day about 6,700 Americans will die. …

Consider then that around 1,900 of the Americans who die today will be less than 65, and that indeed about 140 will be children. Approximately 50 Americans will be murdered today, including several women killed by their husbands or boyfriends, and several children who will die from abuse and neglect. Around 85 of us will commit suicide, and another 120 will die in traffic accidents.

No amount of statistical evidence, however, will make any difference to those who give themselves over to almost completely irrational fears. Such people, and there are apparently a lot of them in America right now, are in fact real victims of terrorism. They also make possible the current ascendancy of the politics of cowardice—the cynical exploitation of fear for political gain.

Unfortunately, the politics of cowardice can also make it rational to spend otherwise irrational amounts of resources on further minimizing already minimal risks. Given the current climate of fear, any terrorist incident involving Islamic radicals generates huge social costs, so it may make more economic sense, in the short term, to spend X dollars to avoid 10 deaths caused by terrorism than it does to spend X dollars to avoid 1,000 ordinary homicides. Any long-term acceptance of such trade-offs hands terrorists the only real victory they can ever achieve….


After spending hundreds of billions of dollars and imprisoning millions of people, it’s slowly beginning to become possible for some politicians to admit that fighting a necessarily endless drug war in pursuit of an impossible goal might be a bad idea. How long will it take to admit that an endless war on terror, dedicated to making America a terror-free nation, is equally nonsensical?

Connecting Puzzles, Dots, and Intelligence

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christopher Bellavita on January 12, 2010

Today’s guest contributor is Lt. Vinicio Mata, Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety.  Sunnyvale is one of the few cities in the country to have a single, unified Department of Public Safety.  That means public safety personnel in the department are cross trained — and depending on the incident — can respond as police officers, emergency medical technicians, or firefighters.

In March, Lt. Mata will receive a master’s degree in homeland security from the Naval Postgraduate School.


The “inability to connect the dots” has become a rallying cry for pundits who want to criticize the intelligence gathering, analysis and dissemination performed by various agencies.

The connecting the dots analogy is an inaccurate way to explain alleged failures in the intelligence world.

Intelligence analysis is not like following numbered dots sequentially from 1-100 and creating a picture. That implies that we know there are numbers, that they are sequential, and that we know the range of those numbers.

Analyzing intelligence is not as simple as connecting the dots.  It is more like putting a puzzle together.

Imagine you are given such a task.  But with these limitation:

You have a partial idea of what the picture should be.  But you don’t know how many pieces the puzzle is supposed to be.

From your experience and by looking at the size of the pieces, you estimate that it is a 1500 to 2000 piece puzzle. The pieces are inside a box.

The majority of the pieces that belong to the picture you are making are missing. These pieces are in the box mixed with pieces from many other puzzles that are in no way related to the picture you have been tasked to put together.

These other pieces look like the ones you need.  But they don’t fit.

In order to determine whether you are holding the right piece, every one of the pieces needs to be looked at, compared against the partial picture you have, and compared against the pieces you have already deemed relevant.

From the relevant pieces, you are expected to put a picture together that is clear enough to be actionable.

The puzzle analogy is a much more accurate way to think about what intelligence analysts have to do.  The information they have to analyze is often incomplete, seemingly unrelated, and not sequential.

Connecting dots is a children’s game.  Transforming data and information into intelligence and making sure it gets to the right people at the right time is a skill, painstakingly acquired.

January 11, 2010

Keeping the Skies Friendly?

Filed under: Aviation Security,General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on January 11, 2010

In 1965, Leo Burnett Co. designed a campaign focused on the theme “Fly the Friendly Skies” for United Airlines.  The campaign lasted more than 30 years, ending in 1996 when United took its advertising in a new direction, first focusing on “Rising” and then on “it’s time to fly.”  For those of you who may want to reminisce about some of those feel-good (and corny) ads, here are some links to a few of my favorite:

While seemingly random, this campaign came to mind as I was reading about what seems to be an increase in the number of disruption of flights  from unruly passengers.  On Wednesday, a passenger in Miami on  a flight to Detroit shouted that he wanted to “kill all the Jews” as the plane was beginning its takeoff. The plane had to turn around and the man removed.

Last Thursday, two F-15 fighter jets were scrambled by NORAD to escort a Hawaii-headed flight back to Portland, Oregon after a passenger became “uncooperative.” 

The next day, a flight from Atlanta to San Francisco was diverted to Colorado Springs and two F-16 fighter planes were sent from NORAD to escort the plane.

In this heightened environment, airlines and officials are more likely to take the cautious route and turn planes around or divert them when unruly passengers are reported.  Unfortunately, such actions for every drunk or misbehaving passenger complicate the nation’s aviation security efforts and cost significant amount of time and money.   While the military  doesn’t estimate costs,  one quote put the cost at $10,000 an hour for the scrambling of each jet. That cost does not include the additional cost for fuel, personnel, and resources to accommodate diversions.  Add to that the disruption of schedules and costs to travelers, the costs are outrageous.  To make matters worse, the diversions also frustrate an already strained flying public.

Post 9/11, the diligence and security of planes has increased – pilots, airline personnel, attendants, and passengers are more aware of their surroundings and fellow fliers.  While much attention has been paid to screening efforts in recent days, I wonder if the increasing phenomenon of plane diversions should also be examined to determine what solutions or alternatives may be in order.

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