Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 25, 2010

High Performance vs. High Reliability

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on February 25, 2010

In Portland, Oregon, where I live, controversy erupted following the recent police shooting of an unarmed African-American man. This situation echoes many of the themes surrounding the so-called intelligence failures associated with the attempted Christmas Day attack on Northwest Airlines flight 253. Despite their differences, both situations present us with evidence of the ever-present tensions between the competing demands for high-performance and the need for high-reliability in homeland security operations.

High-performing organizations focus on speed and success in aggregate. High-reliability organizations stress stability and security. High-reliability organizations assess the success of each engagement, and often each step of an engagement. High-performing organizations seek efficiencies. High-reliability organizations emphasize effectiveness. High-performance often involves risk taking, while high-reliability often implies (if not incites) risk aversion.

As I noted last week, those who seek to improve organizational performance often equate transparency with accountability. While the former may promote the latter, it is a necessary but not sufficient condition for achieving trust, especially in the absence of cooperation among diverse stakeholders with conflicting goals and competing interests.

Organizational reliability emphasizes cooperation as a means of building a team’s capacity to detect and correct errors before they produce unwanted and undesirable consequences. This often reveals itself as trust or confidence in the competence of others and their capacity to deliver the goods consistently. Trust promotes cooperation, but a history of successful cooperation often serves as a prerequisite for building trust among people, especially among groups composed of people with different values or cultural perspectives. In many, if not most instances, this requires the suspension of judgment or accountability so people can find the hidden meaning in situations, which in turn serves to unify participants in their commitment to a common purpose outside of but not necessarily inconsistent with group norms.

If a high-reliability organization can be described as one that operates in a complex, high-stakes environment yet commits fewer than the expected number of errors, then a high-performing organization could be said to achieve its stated purpose or mission despite its challenges and shortcomings because of its capacity to learn from its own and others’ mistakes.

Now, back to Portland. On the evening of January 29, a woman called police to an address in northeast Portland where a man expressing suicidal intentions was located with a woman and two children inside an apartment. The man’s brother had died earlier in the day of complications from a cardiac ailment leaving the man overcome with grief and speaking openly of a desire for police to take his life.

When police arrived, they established a cordon, made contact with the man and soon convinced him to release the children. As negotiations continued, police assembled and deployed a tactical team outside. When negotiators convinced the man to come outside and surrender, he walked out with his hands behind his head. Officers ordered him to raise his hands so they could see them, which he failed to do. In an effort to secure his compliance after repeated warnings, an officer approached him from behind and fired several non-lethal beanbag rounds at the man’s back with a shotgun. Witness accounts (recorded in grand jury testimony subsequently released by the court) portray a mixed assessment of what happened next, but agree that the man reached for his back and was subsequently shot by a police marksman. A single shot from an AR-15 assault rifle struck the man in the back killing him.

Police later established that the man was unarmed. A search of the apartment turned up a handgun inside a closet, not in a sock inside the man’s coat pocket as officers had previously suspected based on reports from initial informants.

This incident occurred against a backdrop of mistrust in police use of force and lingering suspicions that Portland police officers use force disproportionately against people of color. As such, community leaders and police union officials responded to the situation immediately and presented very different versions of the events.

Police claimed the shooting was justified by the risk the man would have posed if he had been armed and the uncertainty involved in assessing his state of mind and whether he was armed. Ministers from the African-American community expressed concern that the outcome resulted from the family’s request for assistance dealing with a grieving and distraught relative.  They also noted that the man had cooperated up until he was confronted outside the apartment by police whose tactics and demeanor departed dramatically from those that had enticed him to emerge from the apartment. This, they suggested, would lead a reasonable person to conclude police had overreacted and that their actions were informed by unacknowledged biases rather than the risks involved.

In response to the incident, city leaders initiated an internal investigation, called upon the District Attorney to petition for release of the grand jury proceedings and invited an inquiry by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. After hearing all the evidence, the Grand Jury declined to indict the officers involved in the shooting, and sent a highly critical letter to the police chief and commissioner citing poor communication and lack of coordination among police on the scene as key factors leading to the shooting. They also questioned the training and procedures for dealing with such events. The results of the internal and DOJ investigations are months away, and likewise so is any accountability for the incident and its precursor conditions.

Without recounting the Christmas Day attack and its fallout in full, it has been acknowledged at the highest levels that systemic rather than individual failures allowed Mr. Abdulmutallab to board the flight and come as close as he did to succeeding with his plot to bring down an airliner full of innocent travelers. President Obama has taken political if not personal responsibility for the failure of intelligence agencies to coordinate their efforts and reach timely and complete conclusions about the threat Mr. Abdulmutallab posed. This has in turn resulted in a demand for future accountability for improvements both in intelligence and airport security processes and practices that will presumably help avoid future failures by encouraging cooperation as a means of restoring trust absent any greater transparency.

What lesson should we take from these two very different incidents and their consequences? Well, for starters, we should recognize that high-performance and high-reliability organizations are ideal types. That is, they do not typically exist in a real world that demands trade-offs between efficiency, effectiveness, economy, and equity. Insofar as these two types represent ideals, they also reflect competing conceptions of what ends organizations should serve and the means of achieving them.

A better question for us might be, “How do we strike a harmonious balance between reliability and performance?” This takes us back to the framework I proposed in last week’s post.

Every situation that calls for us to make a high-stakes decision involves trade-offs, not clear-cut solutions. The decisions we make (and don’t make) and the actions we and others take in response to those decisions too often presume an ideal answer exists. Even when that may be true, it often proves hopelessly unrealistic if not patently unreasonable to assume we can affect an ideal implementation of that solution. And even if we should be lucky enough to hit such a home run, we can never expect such an approach to please everyone.

In the end, managing expectations, not just meeting them, is among the most important responsibilities leaders have when it comes to promoting homeland security. That remains true whether we emphasize transparency or accountability and whether we can rely on trust or must build it through cooperation. Knowing where we are on these continua will help us steer a safe course, even when we know neither our destination nor the best course to get there.

February 24, 2010

Recovery: Eight Principles vs. 12 Steps

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on February 24, 2010

I like to think we can learn more from studying others’ successes than focusing on our own failures. Emergency management and homeland security offer endless opportunities to do both, but we often fail to acknowledge the pitfalls associated with one approach versus the other.

Perspectives on recovery are not unique to emergency management and homeland security. Psychologists, social workers, therapists and counselors have developed and refined an approach to managing addiction that defines recovery in terms that should seem fairly familiar to emergency managers and homeland security professionals whether or not they have struggled with such issues in their personal lives.

The 12-steps to addiction recovery begin with an acknowledgement of powerlessness and an overture or openness to assistance from a higher power.  Acknowledging the need for change, the addict is encouraged to “make a searching and fearless moral inventory.” Having made such an assessment, the addict is encouraged to seek forgiveness and make amends to those harmed by her behavior. The addict must then humbly commit herself to making self-reflection, repentance, and reconciliation a consistent and ongoing part of her life. This leads to the ultimate steps of aligning one’s thoughts and actions with the intention to do what is right and encourage such actions in others.

The recent publication of a draft National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) presents an opportunity to see how much we have learned since Hurricane Katrina. A comparison of the principles guiding the NDRF with the recovery strategies of those coping with addiction might prove insightful for several reasons. Not the least of these is the fact that we (as a nation, if not a profession) have been in denial of the need to address recovery systematically and strategically for many years. Like addicts, our tendency to engage in serial self-defeating behavior has been enabled by a system that has tended to put restoration ahead of renewal and reflection ahead of re-norming or reforming obsolete ways of thinking about and dealing with our circumstances.

In contrast to the 12-steps to addiction recovery, the NDRF identifies eight core principles anchored in transparency and cooperation and derived from stakeholder submissions as the prospective core of federal disaster recovery policy and process:

  1. Individual and family empowerment
  2. Leadership and local primacy
  3. Preparation for recovery
  4. Partnership and inclusiveness
  5. Communications
  6. Unity of effort
  7. Timeliness and flexibility
  8. Resilience and sustainability

As I read through these principles and the accompanying documentation released by the Disaster Recovery Working Group, I was overtaken by the impression that the efforts that produced them were formulaic acts of penance for Katrina rather than genuine acts of contrition. Reconciling ourselves with our past requires much more than a simple act of atonement for the mistakes of Katrina.

Unlike the 12-steps to addiction recovery, the eight principles guiding disaster recovery do not start with the recognition of the helplessness and hopelessness of our present situation and a commitment to leaving past patterns of behavior behind. While they make a welcome overture to more engagement and give a nod to the importance of resilience and sustainability, the eight principles and the accompanying narrative take far too much for granted when it comes to suggesting how we might go about achieving such lofty goals.

By failing to acknowledge either the need for humility in the face of tragedy or the need to reconcile people with the reality of their situation, the recovery framework misses an important opportunity to convince people that the challenges they face reflect their previous failures to adequately prepare. Absent “a searching and fearless moral inventory,” how will we know people are prepared to do the hard work required to mitigate vulnerabilities to future disasters?

Confronted with the realities of a disaster and the resource limitations that invariably arise, not the least of which is the patience of those responsible for or affected by the process, recovery tends to fall into one of four familiar patterns:


The Recommission strategy avoids the hard work of doing anything more than what is immediately necessary to put things back as they were. It is particularly well suited to situations that are not wholly inconsistent with our expectations of self-efficacy and that do not overwhelm our resources. Most disasters fall into this category.

The Reconnection Strategy describes the sort of response typical when the damage experienced is greater but not beyond what we expected in aggregate but beyond what we are willing to tolerate in future. This situation reflects the sort of incident typified by the Northridge earthquake.  With some outside technical help, an infusion of resources, and some  minor to moderate adjustments, such as improvements in building codes and better emergency planning, we can make significant improvements to guard against similar failures in future events.

When the extent of the damage exceeds our resource capacity but does not significantly violate our expectations, we can embrace the opportunity to rebuild better than before by applying the Realization Strategy. This approach allows us to invest in our values, to remake our community consistent with our aspirations, often using someone else’s resources. This situation arises following many but not all floods, when recovery resources are invested in relocating activities out of flood plains or rebuilding structures to resist future floods.

The most difficult situation, the one that requires the most work, takes the longest, and often fails to succeed fully is the Reorientation Strategy, which arises when our expectations and our resources both prove inadequate to the tasks at hand. Catastrophes like Katrina and the Haiti earthquake completely reshape our sense of what we need to do and at the same time require us to undertake not only the routine work of daily living but the extraordinary efforts required to embrace a new reality.  Our past mistakes hang around our neck like a millstone in these situations, limiting our options and sapping our resolve.

Layered on top of all of these strategies is the demand for accountability, which often delays the recovery process by focusing on allocating responsibility for past mistakes rather than committing ourselves to the work needed to avoid making them yet again. This is not to say that accountability and recovery are inconsistent with one another, but only that the processes often compete with one another for our attention and our resources.

Succeeding with the work of recovery requires us to break with past practices. Past recovery efforts failed not just because we failed to work hard enough or to work together well enough. We failed because we shared the mistaken impression that working together, working harder, or both was enough in and of itself.

Like an addict and his enabling spouse, local, state, and federal officials and the public they serve have become co-dependent on one another and need someone sober to step forward and perform an intervention, preferably before we hit rock bottom. Neither the people of the United States nor her leaders can afford the luxury of assuming that either or both of them will do the right thing if only given the opportunity.

We have had too many opportunities to mitigate our vulnerabilities and build a more resilient nation but failed to do so. Today, our infrastructure and our economy teeter on the brink of collapse. Assuming transparency and cooperation will make up for our previous failures to maintain public trust and ensure accountability is no way to ensure a more resilient future for us all.

February 23, 2010

How to create a resilient infrastructure in 20 years for 1 trillion dollars, create millions of jobs, transition to green transportation, and do all of this at no cost to government.

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Infrastructure Protection,Technology for HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on February 23, 2010

The title of this post is a bit big.  But nowhere near as huge as the idea behind it.

The basic concept is to build new underground electric power transmission lines, natural gas pipelines, and telecommunication, cable TV, and Internet communication lines on rights-of-way already established by America’s 40,000 mile Interstate Highway System. The Interstate Highway System reaches nearly every part of the nation, and states own the rights-of-way along these roads. It makes sense to leverage this asset.

The idea — called the National System of Resilient Infrastructure (or NSRI) — was developed by Ted G. Lewis, at the Naval Postgraduate School.  Here are the details of this $1,000,000,000,000 idea:



Electric power, energy for transportation, and telecommunications capacity are three major economic drivers for the future economy of the USA.  But these sectors are in trouble, for a variety of reasons, including NIMBY (not in my back yard), lack of investment, and lack of vision.

To overcome these barriers, stimulate the economy, and develop a resilient infrastructure for the 21st century, the author proposes a “moon shot” scale effort to build a national system of resilient natural gas, electricity, and telecommunications infrastructure along the 40,000 miles of Interstate Highway.

This 20-year, $1 trillion project would be implemented by a public-private partnership structured much like a GSE (government-sponsored enterprise), and mainly funded by the private sector. Besides creating millions of jobs, enhancing our ability to transition to clean cars, trucks, and buses, the national system would be immediately self-sustained by usage fees, and therefore profitable. It would not cost the government any money, and would have an immense impact on the economy.

Infrastructure Equals Prosperity

The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, commonly called the Interstate Highway System (or simply the Interstate) is the largest highway system and largest public works project in the world. More importantly, it propelled the United States into a new era of prosperity. Today, virtually all goods and services are distributed via the Interstate, which is still expanding.

In the 1990s the 25-year old Internet was commercialized, stimulating economic growth so much that it produced a bubble in 2000. Yet, the federal government’s $200 million investment has already returned 100-fold on investment, after less than 20 years of growth. The future of the global economy increasingly depends on the Internet.

It is clear that relatively modest investments in infrastructure reap exponentially large returns due to economic growth, job creation, and innovation. Since ancient Rome, no nation on earth has achieved or maintained greatness, security, and prosperity, without plentiful energy, robust communications, and transportation capacity.

The economy of the 21st century will run on electrical power and Internet packets. Without these, the USA will slip into fourth or fifth place among nations.

The Challenge

The United States faces an “infrastructure challenge” and an equally big opportunity, today. The challenge is to rejuvenate our failing basic infrastructures: water, power, telecommunications, and energy.

Progress in green energy generation is stalled because of inadequate transmission capacity. Telecommunications capacity must be greatly increased to accommodate global 3D virtual reality, multi-party conferencing, and high-performance research and development in medical, environmental, and technical industries. Think of the possibilities of telemedicine piped directly into your home, or corporate meetings conducted with 100,000 participants from around the globe.

Advances in material science, bioengineering, medicine, green energy, revolutionary telecommunications, and green transportation will present great opportunity over the next 20 years to those nations prepared to capitalize on them.

These are the economic drivers of the future, but they require advanced infrastructure.

We know how to turn sunlight into electrons, but lack the distribution channel to transport electrons produced in New Mexico to markets in New York. We know how to telecommute via our computers, but lack the bandwidth for two-way, 3D telecommunication between grandmother and granddaughter across the continent. We know how to automate transportation systems to reduce auto accidents and congestion, but our highways are “dumb.”  In the next 20 years, cars will run on electricity and natural gas, but we lack the infrastructure to refuel them while achieving energy independence.

Venture capital is pent up, waiting for government to stimulate a “green economy,” but we do not currently have the market distribution infrastructure to make it possible.

We need a National System of Resilient Infrastructure (NSRI) to take advantage of opportunities that will create jobs and keep America economically strong.

The Solution

The National System of Resilient Infrastructure plan (NSRI) is designed to address two roadblocks in the way of the next stage of economic growth: NIMBY, and the enormous cost of rebuilding the power and telecommunications infrastructure of the 21st century.

NIMBY (Not-In-My-Backyard) is currently blocking many projects because people do not want power lines in their backyards. In addition, infrastructure is enormously expensive and unattractive as an investment because it does not give companies a competitive advantage. For example, the current 1 trillion dollar electrical power grid is fragile due to a lack of transmission capacity. It is also based on 1940’s technology. But who can afford to invest 1 trillion dollars to rebuild it?

NSRI proposes to avoid NIMBY by placing critical infrastructure underground. NIMBY can be avoided by building underground electric power transmission lines, natural gas pipelines, and telecommunication/CATV/Internet communication lines on rights-of-way already established by the Interstate Highway System. States already own these rights-of-way, and the Interstate Highway System reaches nearly every part of the nation. It therefore makes sense to leverage this asset even more so.

Energy, Power, and Communications infrastructure also requires storage nodes (for surge resilience), “service stations” (for distribution), and several network operation centers. The NSRI will be resilient because of its storage, security, and distributed architecture [decentralized assets].

Robust and redundant, able to transmit commodities such as Internet packets, electrons from solar farms, natural gas for future cars, trucks, and buses, and bountiful electrical power for future cyber businesses, the NSRI will be a quantum step forward for the nation and the economy.

NSRI is America’s 21st century “moon shot.”

How to Pay for It

The NSRI network would be constructed much like the Interstate Highway network, over a 20-30-year period at an estimated cost of $50 billion per year.

The author estimates it would cost $25 million/mile to build the necessary tunnels, pipes, wires, etc. The Interstate is 40,000 miles long, hence a total estimated cost of $1 trillion over 20 years.

This may seem high, but it represents 3.6% of the combined revenues of the natural gas, electrical power, telecommunications, gasoline, and broadcast industries, see Table I.


The Interstate Highway System is “pay-as-you-go”, with 90% of the funding coming from the Federal government, and the remaining 10% from the States. In its first year of construction, 1958, total costs were $37.6 billion. By 1991, the cost was $128 billion. But these billions contributed nothing to the national debt because they were paid for by a 40 cent per gallon tax on gasoline. Title II of the Highway Revenue Act of 1956 created the Highway Trust Fund to collect and dispense funding for the Interstate System.

Similarly, the NSRI would be financed through a Trust Fund established by Congress to create and operate NSRI. The NSRI financing plan needs to be worked out in detail, but two attractive options are: Option I: GSE (Government Sponsored Enterprise), and Option II: excise taxation, similar to the model used by the Highway Revenue Act of 1956.

Ultimately, the NSRI must be self-sustaining, through revenues generated by its use. A toll fee would be charged for use of the pipelines, communication lines, storage facilities, and service stations. These fees can be based on current regulated fees charged by telephone, utility, and pipeline companies – a familiar fee structure for these industries.

Option I: GSE: Ginny Mae, Sallie Mae, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are GSEs, i. e., government-backed enterprises listed on stock exchanges, and therefore, investor supported. The idea here is to raise the major portion of funding from investment banks, retirement funds, and personal investors through an IPO [initial public offering]. Like a GSE, the NSRI Trust Fund would be backed by the Federal government, and at some point reach a self-sustainable level through usage fees. This model, however, would probably require temporary taxation to raise the full $50 billion needed to initiate NSRI.

Option II: Excise Taxes: The Interstate Highway System was funded by a $0.40/gallon tax on gasoline (part Federal and part State). This tax can be rolled back as expenses are replaced with usage fees. Consider this: a 3.6% excise tax on revenues shown in Table I would raise $50 billion per year. Alternatively, an additional $0.40/gallon excise tax would raise $56 billion per year.

Both options are no-cost options for the Federal Government. Both options follow the Interstate Highway model whereby States own the infrastructure. Unlike the Interstate Highway model, however, the NSRI can easily achieve sustainability through an industry-accepted fee structure.


Dr. Lewis can be reached at tlewis[at]nps.edu

February 22, 2010

Amerithrax Investigation Ends: Ivins Acted Alone

Filed under: Biosecurity — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on February 22, 2010

On Friday, the Department of Justice ended its  investigation of the 2001 Anthrax attack, which killed five, sickened 17, disrupted postal service, and caused the evacuation of a Senate building.  In order to bring closure to what has been a much-questioned and controversial investigation, the Department issued an investigative summary, along with tons of additional documents, some requested by FOIA requests.  The nearly 3000 pages of documents can be found at: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2010/February/10-nsd-166.html.

According to a press release issued by the Department:

The Amerithrax Task Force, which was comprised of roughly 25 to 30 full-time investigators from the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and other law enforcement agencies, as well as federal prosecutors from the District of Columbia and the Justice Department’s Counterterrorism Section, expended hundreds of thousands of investigator work hours on this case. Their investigative efforts involved more than 10,000 witness interviews on six different continents, the execution of 80 searches and the recovery of more than 6,000 items of potential evidence during the course of the investigation. The case involved the issuance of more than 5,750 grand jury subpoenas and the collection of 5,730 environmental samples from 60 site locations.

The conclusion of the report:  Dr. Bruce E. Ivins at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (“USAMRIID”) was the lone individual responsible for creating and mailing the “RMR-1029” anthrax-infected letters.  Ivins committed suicide in July 2008.

The report includes two sections describing an early suspect, Dr. Steven Hatfill, who “became widely known in August 2002 as a person of investigative interest.”  The report spends a page and a half explaining why Hatfill was an early suspect and how he was eliminated through scientific breakthroughs.  The report contains no mention of the  apology and $5.8 million settlement Hatfill received from the government for being wrongly exposed as a suspect.

The report lays out what would have been the government’s case against Ivins if he had lived.  First, it discusses “opportunity, access, and ability,” noting that:

  • RMR-1029 was the source of the weapon and originated from Ivin’s flask
  • Ivins had suspicious lab hours just before the Anthrax was mailed
  • Other suspects who could have accessed RMR-1029 have been ruled out

In terms of Motive, the report notes:

  • Ivins life’s work appeared destined for failure, absent an unexpected event
  • He was increasingly being criticized for his efforts
  • He felt abandoned in his personal life

The report then assesses his mental health before proceeding to evidence that revealed that the envelopes used were sold at a post office in Maryland/Virginia and included language that was similar to the writings of Ivins.  The report then said that Ivins acted suspiciously and took many actions that suggested he had a guilty conscious.  It also noted that he had a habit of using false identities and ended with evidence showing the letters had been mailed from Princeton, NJ, across from a sorority for which Ivins had a “long-standing obsession…dating back 40 years.”

Not everyone appears satisified with the report.  Congressman Rush Holt, who has introduced the Anthrax Attacks Investigation Act of 2009, stated that “Arbitrarily closing the case on a Friday afternoon should not mean the end of this investigation,” adding that the “evidence the FBI produced would not, I think, stand up in court.”

Holt has long been a critic of the investigation and his legislation, which had been introduced in previous years, would establish a Congressional commission to investigate the 2001 anthrax attacks and the federal government’s response to and investigation of the attacks.

While it is not clear that the legislation is needed to review a single investigation, especially nine years after the fact, it is clear that the government should have a systematic approach for dealing with a biological attack, whether committed by a sole actor or a terrorist organization.  The report issued by Justice does not explain what has been done on the preparedness and response side to assure that U.S. officials are prepared.  Its release, however, does give the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services opportunities to highlight their efforts on the biosecurity front.  If those efforts are not enough and more needs to be done, then now is a good as time as ever to start pushing biopreparedness and response.

February 19, 2010

What is an act of domestic terrorism and does it matter?

Filed under: Legal Issues,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on February 19, 2010

The incident yesterday in Austin, Texas raises questions on what is terrorism or, more specifically, what is domestic terrorism.  Reports have varied on whether yesterday’s attack, in which 53 year old Andrew Joseph Stack III – after setting fire to his house  crashed a Piper Cherokee PA-28 into a building housing nearly 200 IRS employees, is an act of terrorism.  He left behind a suicide note, ranting about taxation in the U.S. and the IRS.

In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security said “”At this time, we have no reason to believe there is a nexus to terrorist activity. We continue to gather more information, and are aware there is additional information about the pilot’s history.”  The White House gave a more tempered answer, with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs telling reporters,  “I am going to wait, though, for all the situation to play out through investigation before we determine what to label it.” Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo called the incident “a criminal act by a lone individual.”  Meanwhile, Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX), a Member of the House Homeland Security who represents the area hit,  suggested it was an act of terrorism, saying, “We saw a deliberate and intentional attack against a federal building,” he said. “It’s something that’s exposed a weakness we haven’t seen since 911… that airplanes can fly into buildings.”

For what it is worth, the New York Times ran a piece entitled “In Plane Crash Coverage, Networks Use the Word ‘Terrorism’ With Care,” detailing how the various outlets used and didn’t use the word terrorist and criminal.

So was the incident a terrorist attack?

Under Section 802 of the USA Patriot Act, a person engages in “domestic terrorism” if he commits an act “”dangerous to human life”” that is a violation of the criminal laws of a state or the United States, if the act appears to be intended to:  (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.  Additionally, the acts have to occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

At face value – the incident would appear to fit within what is a very broad definition of terrorism.  Let’s take a look:

  • Stack flew his plane into a building — an act that is certainly “dangerous to human life” and “a violation of criminal laws.”
  • It is arguable that he was trying to influence the policy of the government or, more likely, affect the conduct of the government by mass destruction.  In his suicide note, he says “Violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.”  He also says, in referring to the IRS and taxation, “I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well.”

Of course, the bigger question – does it really matter how this incident is labeled?  The individual committing the act perished in the attack.   The definition of domestic terrorism is relevant mostly to the legal means of gathering information in the investigation, allowing for the seizure of assets, disclosure of educational records, and, ironically, the disclosure of taxpayer information. It also has implications for living individuals who have been labeled as terrorists, including the banning of their ability to handle sensitive biological materials. In this case, the  act, however you want to label it, has been committed.   Many of the materials above could assumingly be gained through the criminal process.

So does it matter?  Besides the statistical notekeeping on incidents, we also must think of the psychological effects of whether the act is criminal or terrorist and how that affects the citizenry’s behavior. There have been studies on these issues and I would welcome comments from those who are experts or more knowledgeable about this effect.

One last note —  the incident could also raise questions about the Federal Protective Services, which has long been responsible for the protection of government buildings and has faced numerous personnel, morale, and operating challenges within DHS.  To be fair, however, how the FPS could have prevented a plane crash into a building in its current operational mode, is hard to say.   In any event, expect hearings and assessments on how to better protect  government buildings around the country.

February 18, 2010

Crisis Distribution: What Homeland Security Can Learn From McDonald’s

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on February 18, 2010

In yesterday’s post, Mark Chubb offered a conceptual perspective about managing the nation’s affairs, especially with respect to disaster response.

The author of today’s post, Daniel W. O’Connor, comments on a similar theme.

Dan has spent 25 years doing and thinking about response.  The views in this post are his own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency.


What must emergency planners and disaster consultants learn from tragedies like the  2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti?  What happens if a  7.0 earthquake hits San Francisco, a 5.0 hurricane rolls up through the East Coast,  or a nuclear weapon is detonated in New York or Washington?

Response and recovery will always lag if it’s linear and single-purpose. That only leads to delayed response, logistical crises, and more death and chaos. Unfortunately, the response and recovery abilities of many Homeland Security functions are rarely tested outside of ‘gamed’ and/or artificial exercises.

There has to be a more efficient way, and perhaps there is.

In planning parlance, the more efficient way is called a networked or multiple node strategy.  We see it in everything from computers, to the placement of cellular phone towers, to fast-food restaurants. That is why I call it the “McDonald’s Solution.”

Simply put, each of McDonald’s 47,000+ restaurants in the U.S.  has 95% of the same offerings, menus, capabilities, and so on. But they also have a built-in surge capacity. So if one outlet runs out of hamburger patties, there’s no need to go back to the long logistic chain for more.  The local McDonald’s network simply flexes to meet the new need, and then adjusts its logistics later. Yes, the company’s highly sophisticated user data tells the store what its expected volume will be. But planning is never reality, and if there’s a disruption, a leak, a parade marching by, the node reaches out to another node and voila: a networked response.

What happens in a real disaster is more consequential than missing two-all-beef-patties. But the strategy offers valuable lessons, particularly for shapers of disaster planning plans and procedures.

The conventional response in the face of natural or man-made disaster is to try and establish command and control as the first critical node of action.  This way of responding is both trained and, over time, instinctive.

However, I  believe we should move to offering multiple and near simultaneous small nodes of support built initially on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, moving from physiological (food and shelter and safety) to social needs. So rather than having the entire Haitian emergency response run out of the Port Au Prince Airport, creating huge bottlenecks and deadly delays in getting to the 9 million dispossessed Haitians in life-saving time, we might consider a different and much more effective approach.

Imagine dropping in a security team to secure an area, then establish a secure site for other teams to quickly follow. These teams would be made up of people who can provide a menu of needs: Security, doctors, nurses, engineers, food, and water specialists, aid workers and a host of other providers, shaped by the secondary assessment — a crisis triage team. The teams would be inserted by OSPREYS,  followed by other forms of air transport getting aid packages on the ground quickly.

Like McDonald’s and for that matter any commercial service with analogous logistic needs, these teams would have a pre-packaged ‘product.’ They would be linked in a non-linear way and have the capacity to help each other without diminishing the team or the network. The result, I believe, would not just be a much faster and more effective response in saving lives, but would also begin creating social order and reconstructing buildings, communities and families. The threat of mob dynamics would be considerably diminished as well.

What’s more, by letting each node with its own decentralized leadership get help to affected areas simultaneously, the need for a morass of linear logistics also dissipates. Then, as each node stands up, the command element of the response can adjust and shape its command and control function based on the nodes and not on geography.

Conceptually, it would be like combining a capability like the Marine Expeditionary Unit or a Special Forces Unit with a team of aid workers and communicators. Indeed, in the past century, these smaller units have played a growing role as governments discovered their objectives can sometimes be achieved faster and better by a small team of highly-trained specialists than a larger and more politically controversial conventional deployment.


Watching Haiti, it’s clear that the traditional command-and-control approach is almost exclusively linear and doomed to built-in inefficiencies that will cost billions in terms of lives, time, and opportunities. Having a single node of operation implies that if that node fails, the entire operation is doomed. In other words, rigid plans and onerous hierarchy can lead to worsening the initial crisis, which we saw in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

The best way to avoid an extended crisis is to move from it; vacate the crisis. The response to the earthquake in Haiti failed to make its primary consideration the essence of all triaging: getting help immediately to the neediest.

February 17, 2010

Transparency Does Not Equal Accountability

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on February 17, 2010

Last week’s provocative post on the Tea Party Movement took a partially satirical look (à la The Daily Show) at the current state of populist politics and its potential implications for homeland security. (Did anyone notice that the post was tagged under the “humor” category?) Whether the movement will result in a renewed appreciation of or commitment to maintaining the delicate balance between liberty and security or push the country toward armed insurrection and anarchy remains to be seen.

Underlying the movement though are two deep-seated sentiments that we ignore at our own peril, especially as we consider our responses to and recovery from the global fiscal crisis, terrorism, and the natural disasters in Haiti and elsewhere. Trust, or more importantly, the lack thereof, and accountability, or the lack thereof, occupy central places in the disagreements dominating political rhetoric.

We all know that trust in government and government officials has been on decline for decades. We may not agree on the reasons such trust has eroded, but the themes seem consistent enough despite differences in ideology. Put simply, too many of us consider the actions of those in power inconsistent with their stated values, and even more importantly, our stated values. These discrepancies reflect both qualitative and quantitative failings to meet expectations.

When things do not go as expected, we look for someone to accept responsibility. Failing that, we expect someone or some institution to exact or enforce accountability for the perceived or real shortcomings. This expectation arises despite limitations in legal prescriptions or institutional designs. We understand that organizations cannot act independently of the people who comprise them. Someone must be accountable for their design if not their intention or operation.

If such analysis were possible (it might be, but I haven’t yet figured out how to do it), we might find that trust has declined more or less in direct proportion to the lapses in accountability that have accompanied political and policy failures. Systemic error characterized by the altogether too-common use of terms like ‘no one’s to blame,’ ‘mistakes were made,’ and ‘I cannot recall,’ leave people hungry for certainty that someone understands what went wrong and is not only prepared to do something about it, but equally important, also capable of taking action.

So what do we do? Notwithstanding our thirst for consistency of action, abundant evidence indicates that trust is not a prerequisite for cooperation any more than cooperation itself ensures trust. People cooperate with one another for diverse and often complex reasons. In some instances, their agreements have less to do with the common good than their peculiar conceptions of what participation means to them or can deliver for them or those whose interests they represent.

It has become altogether too common, especially of late, to assume that transparency, as in openness or access, breeds cooperation and in doing so encourages accountability, if only through peer pressure or the influence of observer effects. That too seems inconsistent with experience, much less common sense. Flooding the market with information is one of the best ways to conceal your true intentions.


All four of these concepts have a place in the contemporary discourse about how to manage our affairs, especially as they relate to recovery from disasters whether associated with natural hazards or resulting from  human actions (cf. Boin, McConnell & ‘t Hart 2008). (In this sense, disasters simply represent really big errors or inconsistencies between expectations and outcomes.) Integrating them into recovery requires an appreciation of the process that reflects both the physical and cognitive work required of people experiencing loss. In this context loss includes all disruptions or deviations from the desired or expected course of events.

Cooperation and accountability represent processes that manifest themselves in concrete, often discrete actions. They both require people to interact directly with one another as well as the circumstances in which they find themselves. On the other hand, transparency and trust are conditions, one external and one internal, that represent our appreciation of or satisfaction with these interactions.

When these axes – transparency/accountability and trust/cooperation – are arranged perpendicularly to intersect with one another, the point where they cross describes a presumed ideal condition in which the forces are balanced. In the absence of cooperation and accountability (high trust/high transparency), the system tends toward authoritarianism.  High transparency and high cooperation tend to describe simple communal or tribal arrangements. High cooperation and high accountability tend to describe socialist arrangements. And high trust and high accountability are often associated with market systems that involve simple exchange relationships.

As the number of participants and their perspectives increase, the need for cooperation becomes more imperative but tends to come at the expense of trust. Transparency makes it easier for participants to judge the character and intentions of others but does not necessarily encourage them to trust one another. Situations which combine high levels of cooperation and high levels of accountability often succeed in the short-term, but at the expense of trust and transparency as the rationale for judgments and the equitable allocation of consequences becomes increasingly difficult for participants to independently assess. In the simplest terms, the more complex the environment and more diverse the governance roles, the more difficult it becomes to increase trust without increasing accountability.

The concerns about the future of the country evident in the Tea Party Movement are echoed by Progressive discontent with the efforts of the President and Congress to enact their social agenda. In both cases, increasing transparency, even if accompanied by increased engagement and cooperation, will produce few results unless those responsible for the current situation are held to account. Meaningful account recognizes that trust depends more upon certainty of outcome than it does reciprocity. People do not expect equal opportunity or equal outcome, but they will not countenance either circumstance for long in the absence of equity and genuine justice, which inevitably involve accountability.

February 16, 2010

What is Homeland Security Now? (Part 2 of Grading the QHSR)

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on February 16, 2010

The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review was released on February 1, 2010, and is available at this link.


Here are two quotes from the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review:

“The effort to strengthen the homeland security enterprise must begin with an evolution in how we think about homeland security itself.” [my emphasis]

“The QHSR process … and resulting report were designed to serve as a catalyst to spur the continued evolution and maturation of our Nation’s homeland security enterprise—the diverse and distributed set of public and private actors from all corners of this Nation.” [also my emphasis]

Evolution or one of its derivatives appears almost two dozen times in the Review.

At one level, perhaps the authors used it as simply a synonym for change.

I prefer to see something potentially more profound.

The biological world — and we are a part of that world — has faced threats for over 3.5 billion years.  As Sagarin and Taylor write in “Natural Security,” biological organisms have developed millions of ways to respond to these threats.

Read in a particular way, the QHSR can be viewed as acknowledgement that there is room in homeland security for both design and emergence.

But unlike nature who shapes biological evolution with a blind weaver’s skill, homeland security offers an opportunity for conscious co-evolution.  The QHSR calls it “stewardship.”

“Looking forward, and as we consider the evolution of homeland security and this enterprise, we recognize that the enterprise itself requires active stewardship.” [my emphasis]

I understand stewardship to mean taking care of something one has been entrusted with.  It is a style of leading notably different — much of the time — from command and control.

If the Review is serious about augmenting the existing homeland security machinery with an explicit evolutionary strategy, it means creating an environment that encourages more variation and less standardization, that supports local and regional decisions about appropriate levels of preparedness and resilience, and that offers flexible grant programs to reproduce and grow smart ideas.

I think I see evidence of those strategic shifts in the QHSR.

On the other hand, I could again be reading way too much into what the authors intended.

The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review describes how the 21st century meaning of homeland security evolved from our history.

“…[H]omeland security traces its roots to concepts that originated with the founding of the Republic. Homeland security describes the intersection of new threats and evolving hazards with traditional governmental and civic responsibilities for civil defense, emergency response, customs, border control, law enforcement, and immigration. Homeland security draws on the rich history, proud traditions, and lessons learned from these historical functions to fulfill new responsibilities that require the engagement of the entire homeland security enterprise and multiple Federal departments and agencies.”

Figure 1 — from the Review — illustrates the evolution.


Biological evolution does not require a vision.  It tries a great many things, mostly keeps what is functional and ignores what fails to add some sort of value to the gene pool.

Unlike nature, the QHSR has a vision.

A vision statement typically outlines a future one desires, in this case, a homeland security future for the nation.

According to the QHSR, the purpose of a homeland security vision is to help achieve “unity of purpose.”

“Unity of purpose”  appears three times in the Review.  “Unity of effort” shows up twenty three times.   This suggests getting cohesion around the vision is a huge precondition to ensuring a unified effort in the homeland security enterprise

I use to ask people what the vision was of homeland security.  I was not looking for an exact restatement, but rather the sense of it.

I had to stop asking.  I rarely got even close to a response that matched the official vision.

Instead I almost always got a reformulation — in Vision Words — of what the person I asked was already doing under the homeland security penumbra.


Prior to 2003 — according to the first homeland security strategy — the United States “never had a comprehensive and shared vision of how best to achieve” the goal of protecting the homeland from future terrorist attack.

Characteristic of the “All Security, All the Time” days after September 11, 2001, the 2003 homeland security strategy sought to remedy the Vision Gap by identifying 10 of them.

The 2007 strategic recalibration included a single comprehensive vision:

The United States, through a concerted national effort that galvanizes the strengths and capabilities of Federal, State, local, and Tribal governments; the private and non-profit sectors; and regions, communities, and individual citizens – along with our partners in the international community – will work to achieve a secure Homeland that sustains our way of life as a free, prosperous, and welcoming America.

The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review reduced the number of words in the vision by half, and included safety and resilience as core ideas.

The new vision is “to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards where American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive.”

I did not find much of a difference in the Review between the vision and the definition of homeland security.

The Review defines homeland security as “a concerted national effort to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards where American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive.”

“A concerted national effort” is all that stands between the vision and the definition of homeland security.  I wonder if that “actionable clue”  was intentional.

As I mentioned in the initial QHSR post, the authors reinforce the definition/vision construction by highlighting what it connotes, as opposed to denotes:

“…[H]omeland security is meant to connote a concerted, shared effort to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards where American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive.”

Semantically, I think the QHSR could have made clearer distinctions between the vision of homeland security and its definition.  But from the view on Mt. Connote, I think I get the point.


So, what is homeland security now?

As best I can tell from the Review, it is a concerted and shared effort to make sure the American homeland is safe, secure and resilient.

That’s the bumper sticker.

The Review summarizes where this effort should be directed:

“Ensuring a shared awareness and understanding of risks and threats, building capable communities, creating unity of effort, and enhancing the use of science and technology underpin our national efforts to prevent terrorism and enhance security, secure and manage our borders, enforce and administer our immigration laws, safeguard and secure cyberspace, and ensure resilience to disasters.”


I used to think “What is Homeland Security?” was a question that troubled only academics.  Practitioners were too busy doing homeland security to be overly concerned with how to define it.

I attended a conference last week where the question came up again.  Many of the practitioners in the room were concerned there is not a universally accepted definition of homeland security.

I think the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (especially Chapter III) does a more than adequate job clarifying the scope and depth of homeland security.   By doing that, the Review  contributes to the continued evolution of our understanding about homeland security.

But I do not believe it has much of a chance putting an end to the “What is Homeland Security” question.

I believe not having a precise definition is a good thing for homeland security.

We will know with increasing clarity what homeland security is only as we continue the co-evolutionary work of helping it emerge.

February 15, 2010

Happy… Washington’s Day (or Presidents’ Day)

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

The federal government is largely closed today in honor of Washington’s Day or, if you prefer, Presidents’ Day.  A little history – the federal celebration was first codified into law in 1885 to celebrate George Washington’s Birthday, which is February 22.  Ironically, today’s celebration will never actually be on the 22nd as the 22nd is never the third Monday of February, a requirement Congress placed on celebrating the day in the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1971.

In 1968, an attempt was made in Congress in an early draft of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act to rename today in honor of both Presidents Washington and Lincoln, the latter’s birthday falling on February 12.  After debating the issue, Congress decided against renaming the holiday.

In the mid-80s, there was a push from advertisers, fresh off a Valentine Day’s high, to start calling the day Presidents Day.  Makes for better sales,  I guess.  Several states, in turn, have renamed today as Presidents Day or, in at least one case, “Washington and Lincoln Day.”

If you work for the federal government, are home from school, or are with an employer who is closed for today’s holiday, check out this link for some ideas on how to celebrate today.

As far as security, it is a quiet day today relatively on the security front.  A few highlights from the last few days:

  • Congressman Peter King and Senators Kit Bond, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham are calling for John Brennan, the Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, to resign.  The latest reason?  Mr. Brenner’s citation of recidivism rates at Guantanamo.  Interestingly enough, press accounts report that his comments were strikingly similar to those made by Condoleeza Rice in 2005.
  • The sparring over which party is better on national security also continued on the morning Sunday shows with Vice President Biden and former Vice President Cheney battling it out.   Did they agree on anything? Well, a few items including:
    • “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”- Cheney agreed with the Obama Administration’s decision to ask the military to drop its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
    • Some agreement on the decision to ratchet up efforts in Afghanistan.
    • Discussion over the “complexity” and “hardness” of decisions on a variety of issues, most of which have been reduced to political soundbites.
  • More focus on Iran’s announcement of increased levels in its uranium enrichment program.  Secretary Clinton was quoted by the New York Times this morning as saying that the U.S. is “developing a significant regime of sanctions that will indicate to [Iran] how isolated [it is] from the international community as a whole.”
  • Washington Post is reporting that the Christmas Day bomb suspect was not read his rights until nine hours after his arrest. The Post has included a timeline of events, starting with Northwest Airlines Flight 253 entrance into U.S. airspace to the reading of Miranda rights to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Happy Washington’s Day or President’s Day or Washington and Lincoln Day.  If you are looking for a more obscure President to recognize today,  here is a link to Time’s “10 Most Forgettable Presidents.”

February 14, 2010

This Year’s Valentine

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on February 14, 2010
A poem by Philip Appleman (Courtesy of Phil Palin)

They could
pump frenzy into air ducts
and rage into reservoirs,
dynamite dams
and drown cities,
cry fire in theaters
as the victims are burning,
I will find my way through blackened streets
and kneel down at your side.

They could
jump the median, head-on,
and obliterate the future,
fit .45’s to the hands of kids
and skate them off to school,
flip live butts into tinderbox forests
and hellfire half the heavens,
in the rubble of smoking cottages
I will hold you in my arms.

They could
send kidnappers to kindergartens
and pedophiles to playgrounds,
wrap themselves in Old Glory
and gut the Bill of Rights,
pound the door with holy screed
and put an end to reason,
I will cut through their curtains of cunning
and find you somewhere in the moonlight.

Whatever they do with their anthrax or chainsaws,
however they strip-search or brainwash or blackmail,
they cannot prevent me from sending you robins,
all of them singing: I’ll be there.

Where the U.S. went right on the Christmas Day bomber

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

Stephanie Cooper Blum wrote today’s post


I cannot believe it is Valentine’s Day and we are still talking about what transpired on Christmas.

In former Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s Feb. 12, 2010 editorial in the Washington Post, he argues that the FBI should have transferred the Christmas day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, into military custody as an enemy combatant because

(1) there is legal authority and precedent to do so and

(2) the administration has endangered our nation by letting the enemy know that he is cooperating.

At first blush, perhaps, these arguments have an appeal (they certainly seem to be gaining support), but I respectfully would like to question both assertions.

FIRST, Mukasey argues that the Supreme Court case Hamdi v. Rumsfeld provides authority to treat Abdulmutallab as an enemy combatant. While the plurality in that decision did hold that Hamdi could be detained as an enemy combatant as long as the government provided a chance for him to challenge that designation in a neutral forum, Mukasey omits a critical fact:

Hamdi was captured on an actual battlefield in Afghanistan.

In fact, when arguing the case before the Supreme Court, the government defined an “enemy combatant” for purposes of the litigation as someone who was “part of or supporting forces hostile to the United States or coalition partners in Afghanistan and who engaged in an armed conflict against the United States.” (internal quotations omitted; emphasis added).

The plurality then stated: “We therefore answer only the narrow question before us: whether the detention of citizens falling within that definition is authorized.” (Emphasis added).

Therefore, while Hamdi provides support that individuals caught in combat zones can be labeled “enemy combatants,” it does not provide such authority for individuals caught in peaceful civilian areas in the United States.

Furthermore, as I explained in my February 11 post , two cases are more applicable than Hamdi: Padilla and al-Marri, like Abdulmutallab, were captured by the FBI in the United States and not in a zone of combat. In both of these cases, the Bush administration transferred these individuals into military custody as enemy combatants, and in both of these cases, the Supreme Court was ultimately in a position to rule on the legality of the matter. And in both of these cases, the respective administration transferred them to the criminal justice system before a ruling.

If Hamdi (which occurred in 2004 and before Padilla and al-Marri were to reach the Supreme Court) provided legal clarity on the matter for individuals captured in peaceful civilian areas, then there would not have been legal uncertainty surrounding the underlying authority to hold Padilla and al-Marri as “enemy combatants.”

SECOND, many pundits in addition to Mukasey criticize the administration for not obtaining actionable intelligence by its decision to treat Abdulmutallab as a criminal defendant.

Then, when the administration defends itself by explaining that it has, indeed, been obtaining actionable intelligence, the administration is lambasted for revealing to the enemy that Abdulmutallab has been cooperating.  If national security was the real concern – instead of politics – critics would not be placing the administration in the untenable position of being damned if it does, and damned if it doesn’t.  

Mukasey states: “Once his former cohorts know he is providing information, they can act to make that information useless.”

In this respect, I truly wonder whether Al-Qaeda is out there pondering in some strategy session whether to change tactics based on the fact the administration says Abdulmutallab has been cooperating.   If he was held incommunicado as an enemy combatant – as Mukasey seems to advocate — would the enemy assume that he was withstanding whatever interrogation methods were being used and therefore not change tactics?  Would Al-Qaeda assume that no news is good news?

This is not some case where we secretly capture an Al-Qaeda operative and can feel confident that the enemy is not aware we are interrogating him.  Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a plane over Detroit.  It was a pretty public event.   While I hate to speak for Al-Qaeda, I think we can safely assume that Al Qaeda realized he was compromised as soon he burned half his body without taking down the plane.

I am not trying to make light of complicated legal issues or the fact that 200 people almost lost their lives.   The issues are complex and the consequences are dire, which is all the more reason I think this conversation would be more productive if it was based on facts and not half-truths.

My bet is that Al-Qaeda wished Abdulmutallab were treated as an enemy combatant, held incommunicado, subjected to coercive interrogation, and even held indefinitely because that would fuel the narrative in its favor allowing it to gain more recruits. After all, this is also a war of ideas.

If the criminal justice system can result in Abdulmutallab’s detention for life and actionable intelligence, then we get the added bonus of doing the right thing in the eyes of the international community.  And that bet just may pay off in the long run.

The views in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent views from the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Justice.

Stephanie Cooper Blum is an attorney for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) where she advises on civil rights and civil liberties issues. She previously served as a member to the Department of Justice’s Task Force on Detention Policy, worked as an employment litigator for the Transportation Security Administration, and served as a law clerk to three federal judges. Ms. Blum is the author of “The Necessary Evil of Preventive Detention in the War on Terror: A Plan for a More Moderate and Sustainable Solution,” published in 2008. She holds a master’s degree in security studies from the Naval Postgraduate School, a J.D. from University of Chicago Law School and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Yale University. Ms. Blum has written various articles on homeland security issues and is an instructor at Michigan State University’s Criminal Justice School. She can be reached at scooper at] aya.yale.edu.

February 12, 2010

The 21st Olympic Winter Games- Coordinating Security

Filed under: Events,General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on February 12, 2010

At 7:30 pm (EST) this evening, the 21st Olympic Winter Games will start with the official Opening Ceremony in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The Olympic Cauldron will be lit and each delegation will enter in alphabetical order (except for Greece, which always enters first and Canada who, as host, enters last).

For the opening ceremony, Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden will lead the American delegation, which will include Valerie Jarrett, U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson, and gold medalists Mike Eruzione, Peggy Fleming, and Vonetta Flowers.

For the next 16 days, athletes from around the globe will compete in 15 sports.  Several weeks later,  Vancouver will host the best of the best in five sports during the Paralympic Games.

While much attention has been paid to the preparations – both in Canada and among athletes – leading up to the games, many forget that the games also come with a significant amount of security preparations and diligence.  Currently, there are no credible threats against the Vancouver Games, according to U.S. and Canadian officials.

That said, organizers are very aware of the symbolism of the games – as well as the historic need for strong security.  The 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany were scarred by the kidnapping and murder of some Israeli Olympic team members by the militant group Black September.  The 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta saw the bombing of Centennial Olympic Park by Eric Rudolph, which killed one person and injured 111.

For the games starting tonight, Canada has put together its biggest domestic security operation in its nation’s history – a $900 million endeavor that covers more than 3,860 square miles, requires screening of 1.6 million ticket holders, and provides protection for 5,500 athletes and officials, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In addition, DHS estimates that nearly 300,000 people might cross the border to attend events or participate in the Olympic happenings.  Given this number, Customs and Border Protection issued a release on Tuesday reminding travelers to  have approved travel documents to speed up their trip across the border.

The proximity to the U.S. border means that the Department of Homeland Security and state and local officials in Washington state also must be prepared. Much attention has been focused on Bellingham, Washington, which is home to  the $4 million Olympics Coordination Center, where law enforcement, security, health and military experts from more than 40 agencies are stationed at the center to watch for potential threats and ensure that travelers can move across the border effectively and safely.  Customs and Border Protection helicopters will stream live video from their patrols into the Center.

Other security measures include:

  • NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) is providing air and marine surveillance in both the U.S. and Canada.   NORAD is enforcing a 30-mile airspace restriction around Vancouver.  Canadian CF-18 Hornets will be on call to intercept any aircraft that might wander into the restricted airspace.  In addition, all private aircraft traveling from the U.S. to Vancouver will be sent through 16 U.S. gateway airports for customs checks.
  • Last week, Secretary Napolitano issued a joint release with the Canadian Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews announcing a Shiprider pilot program designed to bolster cross-border security operations between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the U.S. Coast Guard to allow for cross-training, shared resources, and personnel.
  • DHS will have more than 200 additional personnel along the Northern border.
  • Military divers have set up security zones along the waterside surrounding the Olympics.
  • Cruise ships are housing a number of the security personnel assigned to the games.

These are but a few of the public efforts we know that the U.S. and Canadian governments (as well as other nations around the world) are taking to prepare for the games.  Tellingly, Secretary Napolitano will be heading the U.S. delegation attending the closing ceremonies.  While those performing “security” details for the Olympics will not leave the games with medals or honors, they certainly are owed accolades for all they have done leading up to the games and will do during the games leading up to those closing ceremonies.

February 11, 2010

Pundit Amnesia: Why take low-hanging fruit and plant it further up the tree?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on February 11, 2010

Stephanie Cooper Blum wrote today’s post.  Ms. Blum is an attorney for the Department of Homeland Security where she advises on civil rights and civil liberties issues.

Please note: The views in this essay are the author’s and do not necessarily represent views of the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, or any other government agency.

Ms. Blum previously served as a member of the Department of Justice’s Task Force on Detention Policy, worked as an employment litigator for the Transportation Security Administration, and served as a law clerk to three federal judges.  Additional information about Ms. Blum is included at the end of this post.


As the nation grapples with real problems, like aviation security, the economy, and healthcare, I am amazed by how many pundits are bashing the administration for what is a no-brainer decision:  trying “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in federal court.  Critics would sooner label him an “enemy combatant” and whisk him away to Guantanamo Bay, which the administration is trying to empty.    And I say this having authored a book conceding that sometimes detention outside the criminal justice system is a necessary evil.  But this situation in no way represents one of those cases and, with all due respect, it is not even a close call.

We have been here before (it was not even that long ago) and it did not go so well for legal clarity, our international standing, or justice. In 2002, the FBI arrested Jose Padilla at O’Hare airport for plotting to detonate a dirty bomb.  The Bush administration transferred him to military custody as an enemy combatant where he remained for 3.5 years, largely incommunicado, until they transferred him back to the criminal justice system, most likely to avoid a show-down with the Supreme Court over the legality of its approach.  In August 2007, Padilla was subsequently convicted on terrorism conspiracy charges in the criminal justice system where he is serving a 17-year sentence.

Accused sleeper-cell terrorist Ali Saleh al-Marri met a similar fate after his arrest in Peoria, Illinois. Detained by the military as an enemy combatant in 2003, he would eventually be transferred to the criminal justice system by the newly-elected Obama administration in February 2009, again as his enemy combatant case was pending before the Supreme Court.  Al-Marri then pled guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and was sentenced to 8 years.

The upshot from both Padilla and al-Marri is that the legality of capturing terrorists in the United States and labeling them as enemy combatants remains unclear.  Meanwhile, the criminal justice system successfully handled Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui (both received life sentences), just to name a prominent few.  Therefore, pundits who demand that we treat Abdulmutallab as an enemy combatant advocate an uncertain course rather than the proven legality and effectiveness of the criminal justice system.  What are the reasons for diving into such murky waters?

Granted, there are a couple reasons to at least argue for a law-of-war detention scheme.  The most compelling one is that trying terrorists in federal court could disclose sensitive intelligence sources and methods, especially because of the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause.  Another arguable reason is where a majority of the evidence comes from un-Mirandized statements, or worse, coercive interrogation.  We can assume that such reasons motivated the Department of Justice’s task force on Guantanamo Bay to recommend to the administration that approximately 50 detainees at GTMO be neither tried in a military tribunal nor federal court but instead be held indefinitely under Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force.   We can assume, even if we do not agree with the recommendation, that those 50 cases represent the most complex.  I say this based on a purely political observation: the Obama administration wants to close GTMO, it made a promise to that effect, and it does not look good to have to modify promises.  If the President ultimately agrees to detain 50 individuals (and that number appears to be going down) indefinitely under law-of-war authority, then I think it is fair to say that those cases truly are complex.

But this brings me back to the question before us:  is there any principled reason to argue that Abdulmutallab should have been labeled an enemy combatant and transferred to GTMO? Is his situation complex?

There really is no credible way to argue that prosecuting him in federal court would reveal sensitive sources and methods.  Not only do we have over 100 witnesses on the plane he tried to blow up, but he burned a significant part of his body while on the plane with explosives.  How would he explain that away?  He also appeared to make incriminating statements to government agents on the way to the hospital before the FBI provided him Miranda rights (and such statements would likely be admissible due to an emergency exception to Miranda.)    And while the FBI did ultimately provide him Miranda rights – a decision that Attorney General Holder has clarified was made after consultation with the intelligence community – Abdulmutallab has still provided actionable intelligence, mainly, if we believe media reports, because the administration has brought family members over to convince him that he would be treated fairly by the U.S. justice system.    I doubt that strategy would work if he was whisked away to GTMO.  Whether true or not (and that is a separate post altogether) we can all agree that, at least in the international community, GTMO does not represent fairness or U.S. justice at its best.

Some argue that Abdulmutallab needed to be labeled an enemy combatant so that he could be interrogated using “methods” outside the criminal justice system – not to obtain evidence for a conviction but to gain intelligence to prevent future attacks.   This rationale is a laudable goal.  Assuming such “methods” even work, or more accurately, work better than the alternative, (again, another post), we all know that Obama banned most of the coercive interrogation methods from the Bush administration by executive order when he took office.   So it is not even clear to me what “methods” such pundits are referring to.  Of course, if he was labeled an enemy combatant, he would not have been provided Miranda rights.    But is that what this is about: providing him Miranda rights?   It is pure speculation that withholding Miranda rights and labeling him an enemy combatant would have produced more actionable intelligence than the status quo. Furthermore, as journalist Jane Mayer eloquently explains in The Trial , the criminal justice system has worked more effectively producing longer sentences than the few enemy combatants handled by military commissions.

And then there are those who argue that the American public wants Abdulmutallab treated as an enemy combatant; that they want GTMO to remain open; and they want coercive interrogation.  And, assuming this poll is true (apparently such people helped Scott Brown get elected to the Senate), it does not move me (although it is distressing). In 1967, 70 percent of the population opposed interracial marriage.  Meanwhile, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously (9-0) that such a prohibition violated civil rights.  This is a democracy; the public’s views matter, but only to a point.  The rule of law often protects the minority point of view.

Let me be clear:  I am not saying that, when it comes to terrorists, there should never be a case for a law-of-war detention scheme.  (It would be nice, however, as Benjamin Wittes and Robert Chesney point out, if Congress created some framework instead of relying on federal judges’ ad hoc approach.)

What I am saying is law-of-war detention should be reserved for the truly complex cases where there is a real – or at least – arguable necessity. Why take low-hanging fruit and plant it further up the tree?  Let’s recognize the complicated cases for what they are without co-opting the easy ones into that mold.  And let’s get back to the real substantive issues that are plaguing this nation.


Stephanie Cooper Blum is the author of The Necessary Evil of Preventive Detention in the War on Terror: A Plan for a More Moderate and Sustainable Solution, published in 2008. She holds a master’s degree in security studies from the Naval Postgraduate School, a J.D. from University of Chicago Law School and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Yale University. Ms. Blum has written various articles on homeland security issues and is an instructor at Michigan State University’s Criminal Justice School. She can be reached at scooper [at] aya.yale.edu.

February 10, 2010

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party Is Not Being Held at Alice’s Restaurant

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Humor — by Mark Chubb on February 10, 2010

The Tea Party Movement – or at least a significant part of it – gathered in Nashville late last week for its first convention. Like an earlier assembly on the National Mall shortly after President Obama’s inauguration it attracted a large, angry, mostly white crowd. The Republican right’s effort to win over the movement’s adherents reflects the concern both major political parties have over its sudden emergence and their own unease about the future of conservatism (compassionate or otherwise).

Under ordinary circumstances, calls by the movement’s leaders for a new American Revolution might be seen as little more than a rhetorical flourish, a bit of hyperbole. Whether they imply something more sinister, even seditious deserves careful consideration.

As evidence of the nation’s deteriorating fortunes at home and abroad emerged from 2006 onwards, then-Senator Barack Obama tapped into the fuming sentiments of national disquiet he sensed on the campaign trail and vaguely if boldly branded himself the candidate of change. But now a significant number of Americans seem convinced that the change they got was not what they wanted. Did one or both of them mistake the other’s intentions or expectations?

Judging by the signs displayed at rallies around the country (and the firearms carried openly at others), the movement’s sympathizers seem concerned about more than taxes and deficits. They clearly see the election of Barack Obama as something more threatening, if not sinister, than a change in power from one major party to the other.

Before the election, the ill-conceived grounds for war in Iraq, the lingering threat posed by Al Qaeda and its confederates and the erosion of American prestige among the family of nations loomed large. As the election approached and economic fortunes flagged, jobs were lost, banks teetered on the brink and concern shifted to the home front. Not the homeland, but the home front; the one where families discuss their finances over the kitchen table and worry about their futures in both the short and long term.

As the depth and breadth of the financial crisis became clear, a rare, fragile and ephemeral bipartisan consensus bloomed around the idea that the situation required drastic action to avoid another Great Depression – or worse. Billions of dollars in cash and credit guarantees flowed into the fragile markets. Some banks lived, others died. Although many tears were shed, there was no time to mourn, and for some no time even to sleep. The crisis surrounding the risks posed by zombie banks produced zombie policy-makers who although aware of the unease created by their presence and actions were both unmoved by and unable to respond to it in any meaningful way.

Deep structural flaws persist in our economy. Not the least of these is the fact that the net worth of the top one percent of wage earners is more than twice that of the bottom 80 percent combined. Despite this yawning disparity and growing evidence of its adverse impacts on our health and national well-being, a large cross-section of the masses, now disabused of the notion that what’s good for General Motors is good for America, nonetheless sees no need for the government to level the playing field for the little guy. Indeed, laissez faire capitalism and democracy have become so conflated in the minds of Americans that a large segment of the polity seems content to live in poverty or at risk of entering poverty simply because it has become incapable of properly distinguishing it from liberty.

The invective directed at his two most recent predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, certainly got personal from time-to-time, as it does with all presidents, or, for that matter, leaders in general. But the broadsides directed at President Obama go beyond attacks on his personality, character or competence, and question his nationality, religion and patriotism, despite the ample evidence available to refute each element of the grand conspiracy theory.

Seemingly in defiance of reason, a surprising number of Americans believe the Office of the President is now in the hands of a Muslim terrorist with Bolshevik sympathies who favors the interests of fat-cat Wall Street bankers over those of Main Street merchants, family farmers and the hard-working, God-fearing Americans who believe they and their ancestors built this great and glorious country with their bare hands and innate ingenuity. This proposition would seem laughable on its face if were it not so firmly and fiercely held in whole or part by more than a select few Americans.

Like those afflicted by the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, Tea Party sympathizers seem particularly incapable of retaining in their short-term memories salient facts about the conditions in which they find themselves. At the same time, what they take for long-term memories often emerge clouded in a fog of nostalgia that provokes a fondness and a fervor that betrays a misplaced faith that things are what they seem now as opposed to how they really were. This is especially true of their recollections regarding the beliefs of the republic’s founders and the circumstances of our nation’s revolutionary birth.

It might surprise more than a few Tea Party activists to learn that Adam Smith (1723-1790) was not among the Founding Fathers. He did have a powerful influence on their thinking, but probably through his earlier work The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) rather than his now more oft-quoted edition, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). The latter work’s publication coinciding with the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, it hardly seems likely it exerted any influence at all on Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton or their compatriots. Far from being a believer in unbridled capitalism and unrestrained free markets, Smith saw both a more sanguine and salutary side to human nature than self-interest alone could accommodate and a clear and complementary role to that of markets for government as both a provider and protector of the public good.

The more I see and hear from the Tea Party activists the less they remind me of our forefathers in Boston Harbor and the more they bring to mind the gathering of the Mad Hatter and his fellows in the 1865 Lewis Carroll classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Those in attendance have many and mixed motives, and nothing is as it appears.

As President Obama has discovered, appearances matter and one must take matters as they are not as we might wish them to be. Taking things as they come leaves little room for idealism. Governments have only two options when dealing with an economy. They can regulate or they can participate. Lofty principles and fine rhetoric do little or no good. (Perhaps this helps explain why the Supreme Court of the United States considers money spent advocating or opposing a political position protected speech.) In almost every instance, a delicate balance of both is required.

Those who cleave to former Republican standard-bearer, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s exhortation, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!” would do well to recall the other half of that prescription: “Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”

Not so long ago, when the nation was mired in another war in a far-off land, great debates arose in all quarters about the country’s future. In his ironic masterpiece, which became a counter-culture anthem, Arlo Guthrie (Woody‘s boy), sang about the tendency of authority and conformity to overwhelm common sense at every level of government. The long ballad was neither a call to arms nor a longing ode for a socialist utopia. It gently urged us to recall what was important, and suggested the answer might be found dining together at Alice’s Restaurant – “where you can get anything you want” (except Alice, of course).

I increasingly find myself isolated from the political views of my family and close friends with whom I grew up in the Midwest. The estrangement is real and growing, and makes me wonder whether it bears any resemblance to the feelings that divided families whose members found themselves on different sides in the Civil War.

The call for a new American revolution has affected me. I get it. People are angry.  But I am revolted.

If anyone from the Tea Party comes looking for me, they can find me at Alice’s. If they agree to behave themselves (and leave their guns outside), I’ll buy the tea (and leave the tip). I just hope they like chamomile with a bit of honey.

February 9, 2010

Grading the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review: A- or B+? (Part 1)

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on February 9, 2010

It is always easier to critique than to create.

I say that as prelude to this unsolicited assessment of the first Quadrennial Homeland Security Review.  (This is Part 1 of my assessment.  Other parts will follow in the next few days.)

There is a great deal of intelligence, effort and reasonableness in the QHSR.  It is a document that should be read cover to cover, including the appendices, by everyone who has an interest in the homeland security enterprise.  However, if the Review were turned in to me as a seminar paper I would struggle deciding whether to give it an A- or a B+.

I would end up giving it a B+.

Let me explain.  I think it is a good piece of work.  With additional effort in clarifying some of the ambiguities and apparent inconsistencies, and in better crafting the presentation of the voluminous research, it could have been an A-.  I doubt the environment the QHSR authors worked in would allow it to be an A.

The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review starts out strong.  It seems to lose its way along about page 37 when it confront the massiveness of the mechanical task it has set out to accomplish.  Surprisingly (to me), it regains its bearings in time for the two page Conclusion and — more surprisingly — provides in Appendix A the best and most succinct articulation I’ve seen of Who’s Who In The Homeland Security Zoo, and what they do.

T.S. Eliot wrote:
“When forced to write within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost — and will produce its richest ideas.  Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.”

The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review does not sprawl.  No doubt there were numerous constraints on the collective that produced the document — a collective, I am told, that consisted of government employees.  The Review was not written by contractors.  In spite of — or maybe because of — the constraints, the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review sparkles more than occasionally with creativity and insight.

In some parts, the Review presents a carefully considered and disciplined analysis of how homeland security has evolved since September 11, 2001.  It is forthright about how much more there is to do, and the strategic path to get, not to the end, but to the next phase of this never ending enterprise.

The word “enterprise” appears enough times in the Review (over 100) to give “resilience” (used fewer than 100 times ) serious competition for the BuzzWord Award.  But the Review gave me a new appreciation for the meaning of “enterprise.”

While the word conveys the many pieces and shared goals of the homeland security domain, “enterprise,” also suggests the attitude needed to take advantage of the sometimes subtle invitation the Review offers:  “Homeland Security is about all of us.  Regardless of where you are, find something to do that will help and do it.”

In other words, the Review is an invitation to be enterprising, to look for opportunities within the uncertainty and ambiguity that is homeland security.

But the Review is not unconstrained optimism or creativity.  It is also a sometimes pedestrian working document that is one piece of a larger, almost “faith based” planning effort that continues to believe — in spite of years of disconfirming evidence — it is possible to align vision, mission, goals, objectives, programs, budgets, procedures, training, exercises.  Good luck with that.

The Review is mostly silent about what the new homeland security enterprise learned from the previous Administration’s efforts to do essentially the same thing.  If deliberate thinking and hard work were not enough to build and measure an efficient and effective Homeland Security Machine during the Bush years, it’s not clear what new ingredients will be added by the current Administration.  One is reminded, perhaps unfairly, of Dr. Einstein’s quote about “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”   But perhaps I am not being enterprising enough here.

In parts of the document — primarily in the first pages — the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review is brilliant.  It seeks to construct a new narrative about homeland security, one that moves past the largely reactionary (“reactionary” in a good way) story we told ourselves after September 11, 2001.

“In the closing days of 2001, the first narrative describing homeland security began to take shape: that despite the dramatic changes since the end of the Cold War, the world was still very much a dangerous place. The terrorists that had targeted this country clearly were determined to attack Americans at home, American interests anywhere, and our friends and allies everywhere. As the central part of this first narrative, our Nation believed that it needed to improve its vigilance, increase its preparedness, reduce its vulnerabilities, and strengthen its guard against any future attack in order to confront this threat.”

With a setup like this, I was expecting the Review would present an equally clear statement of the New Homeland Security Narrative.  I could not find it.  To me this is a deficiency in the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review.

What homeland security story should we be telling within the enterprise?

Al Qaeda tells a story that Islam is under attack all over the world and it is the duty of all Muslims to defend Islam.  I was looking for something of equivalent clarity in the QHSR.

But one can infer some of the new homeland security narrative by stringing a few of the pieces in the Review together.

(I should note that if one goes out looking for “red trucks,” one sees red trucks just about everywhere.  I bring a certain theoretical preference to my homeland security work.  I found enough material in the Review to support the claim that I am not the only one who shares that perspective, basically a complex adaptive systems view of the homeland security world (details later).  I have a friend — whose opinion I respect — intimately involved in the QHSR process who believes I am reading too much into the Review to support that claim.)

With that as a caution, here’s what I think the Review suggests as the New Homeland Security Narrative.

It has to do first with remembering who we are as a people.

Maybe we used different words in the old days, but securing the homeland was something Americans have been doing since before we were Americans, before the Republic was founded.  So America is coming back home to its security roots.

For example, several of the elements in the current homeland security enterprise — customs, immigration, borders, and maritime — used to be in the same organization.  The Review describes how over the years they were split into other organizations.  Now, like brothers and sisters who have matured enough to stop bickering about trivialities, they’ve come back home to once again work together.

OK,  hyperbolic hokey, but from a story perspective, it’s a start.

Another part of the narrative reminds the reader that homeland security is more than what the Department of Homeland Security does.  Operationally (as I was told), that means the QHSR is not the QDHSR — translation: the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review is not the Quadrennial Department of Homeland Security Review.  Congress told DHS to look at the entire homeland security enterprise, not just at the Department.

One of the appendices in the Review outlines the process DHS used to carry out that assignment.  I’ve already heard people criticize the Review, saying the process was as much window dressing as “coordinating with stakeholders” was in the previous Administration.  My (limited) experience and conversation with QHSR participants does not support that view.

Maybe there could have been fewer emails from on high that said, “Make sure to say ‘resilience’ a lot.”  But if nothing else, the national online conversation during the Review process was a first.  Perhaps one cannot find much of a direct link between that dialog and specific parts of the Review.  That’s for further analysis.

I think of it as similar to the dog who could talk, but who didn’t say much that was very interesting.  The fact that DHS even tried to involve the American people in shaping the Review is the point.  It was a sufficiently enterprising experiment to be worth replicating in the future and in other policy domains.  What might this effort to tap the collective insight of American look like two or three decades from now?  Whatever the answer, it began here.

That said, I was happy to see the Review did not include suggestion by one participant in the Dialog that we place mines along our borders.

The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review is mostly very careful in the way it uses language.  To its credit, it tackles head on the apple bobbing job of defining homeland security.  It devotes Chapter III to the issue.  The review answers the question “What is Homeland Security” in what I think is a very smart way.

It spends much of the chapter describing some of the history, functions, activities, and expectations of homeland security.  Then, like a cat who wants some of what you’re eating but doesn’t want to be too obvious about it, the authors of the Review introduce the notion of “connote.”

“[H]omeland security is meant to connote a concerted, shared effort to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards where American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive.”

Why “connote,” rather than”denote?”  Denote means to point at the primary sense of something.  A “denoting definition” makes an explicit claim about the primary meaning of homeland security.  For reasons the Review discusses directly and indirectly, homeland security does not have a single meaning.

“Connote” means to suggest a sense of what something is.  So, if you want to understand what homeland security is you don’t have to look directly into the sun.  It is enough for the enterprising reader to glimpse that homeland security

“connotes a broad-based community with a common interest in the public safety and well-being of America and American society and is composed of multiple partners and stakeholders whose roles and responsibilities are distributed and shared. Yet it is important to remember that these partners and stakeholders face diverse risks, needs, and priorities. The challenge for the enterprise, then, is to balance these diverse needs and priorities, while focusing on our shared interests and responsibilities to collectively secure our homeland.”

The connotation of homeland security does not trip from the tongue with Churchillian ease.  But — and this may be one of those places I’m reading too much into the Review — it is a way to embrace the many dimensions of homeland security.  It is a way to recognize the breadth of membership in the enterprise.

I think the connotation vs. denotation theme also symbolizes a major conflict in the Review (a potentially good conflict, one that can create a productive dialectic).  Some parts of the Review acknowledge the complex nature of the homeland security enterprise — and I mean “complex” in a phenomenological or sensemaking way that I will say more about in the next post.

The conflict is between interests that focus on the organic and evolutionary nature of the enterprise, and the Homeland Security Machine interests — relegated mostly to the back the the Review — whose phenomenological predisposition centers around such values as neatness, order, efficiency and control.  Evolutionists are ok with connotation.  Machine people require the precision of denotation.

My experience says control is not the property of a complex adaptive social system like homeland security; collaboration, coordination, cooperation, co-evolution are properties of such a system.  In my reading, the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review posits, but does not resolve or even address directly the fundamental conflict between these two ways of making sense of the homeland security enterprise.   I think that’s an important gap in the Review, particularly if the QHSR is meant to be a road map.

More about that concern in the next part of this analysis.  In the next post I will also address:

1. Is the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review the new National Strategy for Homeland Security?  Does it replace the 2003 and 2007 National Strategies?  If it does, why doesn’t it come right out and just say that?  Or if it is not the new strategy for the nation, will there be a new one, or are we still operating under 2007 rules?  Or does it matter?

2. If the vision of homeland security is:

“to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards where American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive,”

and if Homeland security is defined as

“a concerted national effort to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards where American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive,”

is the phrase “a concerted national effort” the only difference between the vision and the definition?  And does it matter?

3. In the definition/vision, is there some punctuation or phrase missing between the words “hazards” and “where American interests….”?  What could possibly be meant by “…other hazards where American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive?”   (OK, I know what the sentence is supposed to say, but I don’t think it says it.)

4. Do the authors of the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review set out a plan for applying complex adaptive systems theory to the homeland security enterprise?

February 5, 2010

QHSR: We have a strategy, what now?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on February 5, 2010

When Congress passed the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, it required the Department of Homeland Security to prepare a Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) to assess the status of our nation’s homeland security efforts and to “delineate and update, as appropriate, the national security strategy,” and to “outline and prioritize the full range of the critical homeland security mission areas of the Nation.”

The idea of requiring a QHSR had been discussed by the House Homeland Security Committee as early as 2005.  Members and staff had tried to figure out a way to organize the Department’s strategic thinking and to prevent what we saw at the time as a constant reshuffling and rebirth of programs and policies, as well as the development of strategy after strategy depending on the revolving group of people circulating through the agency.  The idea was to add formality to the agency’s strategic thinking and encourage it to follow the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) developed by the Defense Department.

This past week, DHS released its first QHSR, after having held many meetings and a unique online dialogue to elicit comments from various stakeholders, interested parties, and citizens.  So what does the report tell us about our homeland security efforts and the path forward?

First, it lays out the threats and hazards, as well as the global challenges and trends. Fortunately, it does so graphically as well as through text. Here is the handy visual provided by DHS:

 The report goes on to explain that there are three concepts that form the foundation for a comprehensive approach to homeland security:

Security: Protect the U.S. and its people, vital interests, and way of life;

Resilience: Foster individual, community, and system robustness, adaptability, and capacity for rapid recovery; and

Customs & Exchange: Expedite and enforce lawful trade, travel, and immigration.

After laying out the foundation of homeland security, the report goes on to discuss the five homeland security missions.  Again, a handy graphic is provided:

HOMELAND SECURITY MISSIONSThe report delineates under each goal specific objectives that the agency is striving for in the next four years.  The objectives are broad and often evoke what many would consider common sense. For example, in the section relating to cybersecurity (which falls under Mission 4 above), the following objective is identified:

Understand and prioritize cyber threats Identify and evaluate the most
dangerous threats to Federal civilian and private-sector networks and the
The speed of innovation in the cyber realm requires that sharing of
information and analysis occur before malicious actors can exploit
vulnerabilities.  We must continuously sharpen our understanding of risks to our
critical information infrastructure.  Risk management decisions must incorporate
cyber risks based on technological as well as nontechnological factors, and must
address the differing levels of security required by different activities.
Information and intelligence regarding emerging cyber threats and
vulnerabilities must be collected, analyzed, and shared appropriately and
promptly.  Homeland security partners must provide and receive information
and assessments on risks to and incidents involving information systems,
networks, and data in time to carry out their risk management responsibilities.
Finally, homeland security partners must use compatible information
architecture and data standards to maximize the appropriate acquisition, access,
retention, production, use, management, and safeguarding of risk information.

A common theme and finding throughout the QHSR? Homeland security is a BIG issue and requires lots of information sharing, collaboration, cooperation, and getting along. That said, the QHSR may help us identify what we are dealing with across the broad spectrum of homeland security but will it take us to the next step?  Is this a strategy that means something or will it become another strategy on the dust-covered shelves of homeland security strategies since 2001?

Hopefully, it will be the first and will help the Department move past its infancy stage, become a more efficient operation that is successful as “ONE DHS.”  And maybe, just maybe, that much needed collaboration with international, federal, state, local, and tribal partners will follow.

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