Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 31, 2010

In blessed memory of fallen heroes, to retrieve their valor for these days

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 31, 2010

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

General Order Number 11,  Grand Army of the Republic

In the Illinois of my youth, lilacs were one of the few flowers available on Memorial Day.  At the town square the crowd arrived with purple bouquets, woody branches pressed together in aluminum foil.

The civic liturgy was unchanging: An invocation, the Pledge, an eighth grader reciting the  Gettysburg Address more-or-less from memory. 

Then we  ambled behind the American Legion honor guard to the cemetery.  Each year the seven-block stroll slowed a bit as the young men who Pershing  led ashore (Lafayette we are here!) shuffled further into their sixties and beyond.

At sunrise  Boy Scouts had marked each veteran’s grave with a small American flag.  The lilacs — and a few daffodils and tulips — were placed beside each flag.   The best coronetist or trumpeter in the high school band — not always so good — played taps.

Doc Welch probably knew, but I doubt many others  knew the Whitman poem.  Certainly I did not.   What could it mean to give a sprig of lilac to these dead I had never known?  What does it mean to remember those who have died, known and unknown?  Does remembering those now dead decide, in any way, how we shall live today?


When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed,
And the great star early drooped in the western sky in the night,
I mourned, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.


O powerful western fallen star!
O shades of night -O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappeared -O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless -O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.


In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-washed palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle -and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-coloured blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.


In the swamp in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.

Solitary the thrush,
The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.

Song of the bleeding throat,
Death’s outlet song of life, (for well dear brother I know
If thou wast not granted to sing thou wouldst surely die.)


Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities,
Amid lanes and through old woods, where lately the violets peeped from the
ground, spotting the gray debris,
Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes, passing the endless grass,
Passing the yellow-speared wheat, every grain from its shroud in the
dark-brown fields uprisen,
Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards,
Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,
Night and day journeys a coffin.


Coffin that passes through lanes and streets,
Through day and night with the great cloud darkening the land,
With the pomp of the inlooped flags with the cities draped in black,
With the show of the States themselves as of crape-veiled women standing,
With processions long and winding and the flambeaus of the night,
With the countless torches lit, with the silent sea of faces and the unbared heads,
With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the somber faces,
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn,
With all the mournful voices of the dirges poured around the coffin,
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs -where amid these you journey,
With the tolling tolling bells’ perpetual clang,
Here, coffin that slowly passes,
I give you my sprig of lilac.


(Nor for you, for one alone,
Blossoms and branches green to coffins all I bring,
For fresh as the morning, thus would I chant a song for you O sane and sacred death.

All over bouquets of roses,
O death, I cover you over with roses and early lilies,
But mostly and now the lilac that blooms the first,
Copious I break, I break the sprigs from the bushes,
With loaded arms I come, pouring for you,
For you and the coffins all of you O death.)


O western orb sailing the heaven,
Now I know what you must have meant as a month since I walked,
As I walked in silence the transparent shadowy night,
As I saw you had something to tell as you bent to me night after night,
As you drooped from the sky low down as if to my side, (while the other stars all looked on,)
As we wandered together the solemn night, (for something I know not what kept me from sleep,)
As the night advanced, and I saw on the rim of the west how full you were of woe,
As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze in the cool transparent night,
As I watched where you passed and was lost in the netherward black of the night,
As my soul in its trouble dissatisfied sank, as where you sad orb,
Concluded, dropped in the night, and was gone.


Sing on there in the swamp,
O singer bashful and tender, I hear your notes, I hear your call,
I hear, I come presently, I understand you,
But a moment I linger, for the lustrous star has detained me,
The star my departing comrade holds and detains me.


O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved?
And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone?
And what shall my perfume be for the grave of him I love?

Sea-winds blown from east and west,
Blown from the Eastern sea and blown from the Western sea, till there on the
priaries meeting,
These and with these and the breath of my chant,
I’ll perfume the grave of him I love.


O what shall I hang on the chamber walls?
And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls,
To adorn the burial-house of him I love?
Pictures of growing spring and farms and homes,
With the Fourth-month eve at sundown, and the gray smoke lucid and bright,
With floods of the yellow gold of the gorgeous, indolent, sinking sun, burning, expanding the air,
With the fresh sweet herbage under foot, and the pale green leaves of the trees prolific,
In the distance the flowing glaze, the breast of the river, with a wind-dapple here and there,
With ranging hills on the banks, with many a line against the sky, and shadows,
And the city at hand, with dwellings so dense, and stacks of chimneys,
And all the scenes of life and the workshops, and the workmen homeward returning.


Lo, body and soul -this land,
My own Manhattan with spires, and the sparkling and hurrying tides, and the ships,
The varied and ample land, the South and the North in the light, Ohio’s shores and flashing Missouri,
And ever the far-spreading prairies covered with grass and corn.

Lo, the most excellent sun so calm and haughty,
The violet and purple morn with just-felt breezes,
The gentle soft-born measureless light,
The miracle spreading bathing all, the fulfilled noon,
The coming eve delicious, the welcome night and the stars,
Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land.


Sing on, sing on you gray-brown bird,
Sing from the swamps, the recesses, pour your chant from the bushes,
Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines.

Sing on dearest brother, warble your reedy song,
Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe.

O liquid and free and tender!
O wild and loose to my soul -O wondrous singer!
You only I hear -yet the star holds me, (but will soon depart,)
Yet the lilac with mastering odour holds me.


Now while I sat in the day and looked forth,
In the close of the day with its light and the fields of spring, and the farmers preparing their crops,
In the large unconscious scenery of my land with its lakes and forests,
In the heavenly aerial beauty, (after the perturbed winds and the storms,)
Under the arching heavens of the afternoon swift passing, and the voices of children and women,
The many-moving sea-tides, and I saw the ships how they sailed,
And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields all busy with labour,
And the infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each with its meals and minutia of daily usages,
And the streets how their throbbings throbbed, and the cities pent -lo, then and there,
Falling upon them all and among them all, enveloping me with the rest,
Appeared the cloud, appeared the long black trail,
And I knew death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death.

Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,
And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
And I in the middle as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars and ghostly pines so still.

And the singer so shy to the rest received me,
The gray-brown bird I know received us comrades three,
And he sang the carol of death, and a verse for him I love.

From deep secluded recesses,
From the fragrant cedars and the ghostly pines so still,
Came the carol of the bird.

And the charm of the carol rapt me
As I held as if by their hands my comrades in the night,
And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird.

Come lovely and soothing death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later delicate death.

Praised be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious,
And for love, sweet love -but praise! praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death.

Dark mother always gliding near with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?
Then I chant it for thee, I glorify thee above all,
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly.

Approach strong deliveress,
When it is so, when thou hast taken them I joyously sing the dead,
Lost in the loving floating ocean of thee,
Laved in the flood of thy bliss O death.

From me to thee glad serenades,
Dances for thee I propose saluting thee, adornments and feastings for thee,
And the sights of the open landscape and the high-spread sky are fitting,
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night.

The night in silence under many a star,
The ocean shore and the husky whispering wave whose voice I know,
And the soul turning to thee O vast and well-veiled death,
And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.

Over the tree-tops I float thee a song,
Over the rising and sinking waves, over the myriad fields and the prairies wide,
Over the dense-packed cities all and the teeming wharves and ways,
I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee O death.


To the tally of my soul,
Loud and strong kept up the gray-brown bird,
With pure deliberate notes spreading filling the night.

Loud in the pines and cedars dim,
Clear in the freshness moist and the swamp-perfume,
And I with my comrades there in the night.

While my sight that was bound in my eyes unclosed,
As to long panoramas of visions.

And I saw askant the armies,
I saw as in noiseless dreams hundreds of battle-flags,
Borne through the smoke of the battles and pierced with missiles I saw them,
And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn and bloody,
And at last but a few shreds left on the staffs, (and all in silence,)
And the staffs all splintered and broken.

I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them,
I saw the debris and debris of all the slain soldiers of the war,
But I saw they were not as was thought,
They themselves were fully at rest, they suffered not,
The living remained and suffered, the mother suffered,
And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffered,
And the armies that remained suffered.


Passing the visions, passing the night,
Passing, unloosing the hold of my comrades’ hands,
Passing the song of the hermit bird and the tallying song of my soul,

Victorious song, death’s outlet song, yet varying ever-altering song,
As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling, flooding the night,
Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and yet again bursting with joy,
Covering the earth and filling the spread of the heaven,
As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses,
Passing, I leave thee lilac with heart-shaped leaves,
I leave thee there in the dooryard, blooming, returning with spring.

I cease from my song for thee,
From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, communing with thee,
O comrade lustrous with silver face in the night.

Yet each to keep and all, retrievements out of the night,
The song, the wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird,
And the tallying chant, the echo aroused in my soul,
With the lustrous and drooping star with the countenance full of woe,
With the holders holding my hand nearing the call of the bird,
Comrades mine and I in the midst, and their memory ever to keep, for the dead I loved so well,
For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands -and this for his dear sake,
Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul,
There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.

 Walt Whitman

May 28, 2010

Where is homeland security on the new national security map?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 28, 2010

Just in time for this weekend’s beach trip, the new National Security Strategy is ready for your reading pleasure!

Starting Tuesday, June 1, Homeland Security Watch will commit all next week to examining how and why (if?) homeland security is part of the long-awaited National Security Strategy.

To give this examination context, please scan the following collection of presumably related documents.

The National Security Strategy is available from several sources.  The way it is presented at the White House Homeland Security site is interesting… speaking of context.

Wednesday John Brennan previewed the NSS in a speech at CSIS.  Do you hear what John hears? Does that sound like homeland security to you?

How well is the NSS calibrated with the now venerable Quadrennial Homeland Security Review?

How about those ancient texts, still surfacing in caves and garbage dumps across the National Capital Region, called Homeland Security Presidential Directives?  Is yesterday’s new testament a radical rejection or an inspired fulfillment of the old canon?  Are new such epistles now to be expected?

For the full old testament experience be sure to review both the original and deutero-National Strategy for Homeland Security. (Personally I have always preferred the literary quality of  the revelation according to Richard Falkenrath.)

There are plenty of other sources worth referencing, but surely we have all memorized the report of the 9/11 Commision by now.  If you have other must-reads, please use the comment function to point us to them.

In any case, read-up, gird your loins, and show-up next week to join the discussion.

May 27, 2010

Risk Makers and Risk Takers

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

Yesterday, Phil Palin made the case in this blog for the importance of public private partnerships in promoting homeland security, and, in particular, pursuing successful efforts to resolve the Deepwater Horizon crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. He offered a fairly conventional view of the role of the private sector as innovator and creative risk-taker. He also offered an altogether too common view of the public sector, which he described as risk averse.

Those of you who follow this blog closely will no doubt have observed that Phil and I agree far more often than we disagree despite having very different backgrounds and political leanings. Today, then will be an exception to that trend. While I arrive at the same conclusion as Phil–resolving crises requires concentrated effort and cooperation, often among people with different objectives, I think a compelling case can and should be made that the roles played by the public and private sectors before, during, and after a disaster operate much differently than Phil described them.

Let’s start with the notion that risk-taking is a particular strength of the private sector. This view is typically associated with the classic case for entrepreneurship, which holds that the people who create companies and build enterprises do so at great personal risk. Historically, these risks involved the possibility of losing the entrepreneur’s own capital and reputation. This view holds that failure is not an option for a real entrepreneur because it equals financial and reputational ruin.

As Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in the January 18, 2010 issue of The New Yorker, real entrepreneurs rarely see themselves as risk-takers. Indeed, they prefer the sure thing. Risk is for chumps. Confidence comes from seeing an opportunity with clarity, and knowing how to leverage one’s competence to meet the need before or better than anyone else can. Skilled entrepreneurs loath risk, and go to great lengths to minimize and control it.

In their book Switch: How to Change When Change Is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath, outline successful strategies for managing individual and organizational change. In essence, their approach is about minimizing or controlling the sense of dread that accompanies risk aversion, which represents the biggest impediment to successful change.

One of the case studies they use to illustrate their approach involves BP. Like most major oil companies, BP invests heavily in exploration. Finding new fields is a classic risky proposition. Most companies drill many test wells before they find one good producer.

As the Heaths tell the story, when BP took stock of its operations it saw the costs and consequences of drilling dry holes rising faster than theirs and their shareholders’ tolerance for the risks associated with their conventional (and above average) strategies for striking oil. After reviewing the processes they used to decide where and when to drill test wells, they identified a way to improve the success rate dramatically. To discourage their exploration managers from making bad bets, they adopted a simple stratagem to sum up their approach: “Drill no dry holes.” When failure is not an option, success is not assured. But the strategy BP adopted paid off, and BP made their already good record of exploration success even more exceptional.

Minimizing risks is not just a question of mindset though. Companies pursue many strategies to hedge their bets. A skilled entrepreneur prefers to play games where skill matters more than chance. When chance plays a role, a good entrepreneur always covers her bets. But is it realistic to apply assumptions about the risk taking behavior of entrepreneurs to large, multinational corporations and their executives? Is the chairman or CEO’s risk the same as that of an entrepreneur embarking on a new venture? Clearly, the answer is no. If we have learned anything from global financial crisis, it is that those at the top of the socioeconomic pyramid rarely face a genuine risk of ruin. As a consequence, to the extent that they really are risk takers, they may operate more like gambling addicts than careful bettors.

This raises another question then. If a large corporation does not operate in the same way an entrepreneur does by selecting the game to play, deciding when and where to play it, and knowing when to hold or fold his hand, how then does a big enterprise avoid making bad bets? One way is to hire the right people. Another is to write the rules of the game. Sometimes these strategies are hard to distinguish from one another, especially when it comes to hiring talented people who have an intimate knowledge of the rules by which the game is played and special access to those who interpret and enforce them. Questions about whether or not BP engaged in such conduct have been raised.

If BP can find people in government willing to exchange public service for the prestige associated with offering their specialized knowledge and access in return for higher salaries, then we should scrutinize them and the public sector as well. Assuming the ex-public servant was skilled at what she did, jumping at the opportunity to make a better salary in the the private sector is a classic case of pursuing self-interest over the public interest. That does not make our former public servant a bad person, but neither does it make the company she joined a good corporate citizen.

When public servants pursue the public interest, they really have just two options for promoting the public good. They and their agencies can participate or they can regulate. By participate, I mean engaging in the production or delivery of goods or services used by others. When we look at the sorts of activities that fall under this ambit, we see monopoly enterprises that may be protected from competition but little else. The risk of failure and loss is everywhere. In fact, the risks are so big and so endemic that we need special rules to indemnify the government and its agents against inadvertent harm done to individuals for the benefit of the protecting the people as a whole.

In those instances where we expect the government to regulate on our behalf to preserve or protect a public good, the risk of failure is no less real than it is in instances where the government participates as a market actor. Indeed, much of the backlash over regulation arises from the perceived risks of involving those unfamiliar with or at a distance from transactions in decisions about them, particularly when they themselves have very little on the line in comparison to the market participants. As I have already noted, companies consequently expend no small effort to understand or influence how government and its agents perform the regulatory role. In many instances, this amplifies the risk by presenting opportunities for agency capture even when individuals do not pass through the revolving door.

As far as sweeping generalization go, I think it is unwise to suggest that companies are better positioned as partners because of the risks they take. Likewise, it seems foolish to assume that government and those elected and appointed to serve the public interest will always put their own interests above those of the public they serve. Indeed, the nature of the risks faced by individuals, companies, industries, and communities that go to the heart of public interest are so big that neither the public nor private sector can manage them alone. As such, neither is necessarily better positioned than the other to remedy the situation when things go wrong.

So far this analysis has focused on behavior that influences public and private actors before a crisis becomes apparent. When people recognize the risk of something bad happening has been realized, they clearly have different expectations of how public and private actors should respond. These expectations shape the roles each party plays and influence the allocation of responsibility when all is said and done.

In the case of the Deepwater Horizon crisis, clearly there is plenty enough blame to go around. But worrying about that right now just gets in the way of capping the well and remedying the damage. Getting the job done requires both the public and private sectors to recognize that a crisis is defined not by the realization of risk alone, but also by the loss of confidence in the capacity of those responsible for problems to fix them. By now it has become all too clear that we are in this mess together, and we have no choice but to work together to get out of the trouble we are in.

May 26, 2010

Do Not Interfere

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on May 26, 2010

Last week, we learned that Admiral Dennis Blair, President Obama’s director of national intelligence, is stepping down. It is widely assumed that Blair’s resignation came at the administration’s urging, if not the President’s request.

Sadly, Blair’s departure comes at a time when confidence in American intelligence activities and analysis has become strained in response to sustained scrutiny following the Ft. Hood shooting, the failed plot to blow-up an airliner on Christmas Day with an explosive device concealed in a passenger’s underwear, and the recent attempt to detonate a Rube Goldberg-style car bomb in Times Square. After each instance, pundits inside and outside the Beltway wondered why analysts “failed to connect the dots.”

The post of director of national intelligence was created by Congress and established by the last administration at the urging of the 9/11 Commission. The Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) ostensibly oversees the budgets and operations of sixteen agencies that collectively contribute to a comprehensive picture of the threats facing the nation. The ODNI plays a critical role in processing and packaging the intelligence analysis that informs and shapes White House policy.

Consideration of who should replace Blair in the top job have surfaced conflicts between Congressional leaders and the administration that reflect competing conceptions of the problems confronting the agency and its leader. Media reports suggest that Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Lt. Gen. (Ret.) James R. Clapper, Jr. is the administration’s preferred candidate. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, seems to prefer Leon Panetta, the current Director of Central Intelligence, arguing that civilian oversight is crucial to establishing ODNI’s independence and stimulating the change and accountability Congress intended. The administration’s critics contend that Clapper would be too inclined to defer to Defense when conflicts arise.

You don’t have to have much experience in government, much less the intelligence community, to see that ODNI and its director have a thankless if not impossible job. Indeed the problems facing Blair and his successor could be seen as a metaphor for the problems facing the country in the post-9/11 era.

During the Cold War, a clear and common enemy made the lack of coordination among intelligence agencies far less problematic. The threat itself was complicated, but not unduly complex. The actions of our adversary and its allies was more like a puzzle than a mystery. As such, intelligence efforts focused on gathering information and analyzing each scrap for signs of the adversary’s capabilities and intentions. More often than not, the former informed our appreciation of the latter.

Capabilities and intentions are no less important today, but the threat posed by our current adversaries is far different. And the relationship between intentions and capabilities is reversed. Although our adversaries may share a common ideology, they come at us from different places and perspectives. And their grandiose designs shape the risks they are willing to take to attack us. As such, understanding how their intentions shape such efforts should inform the steps we take to interfere with their plans, interrupt their communications, and interdict their operatives.

Al Qaeda, its affiliates, and their sympathizers may like to think they pose a threat to our continued existence, but it is far more accurate to think the seeds of such a demise are ours alone to sow. If this is the case, what then should we make of the choice now before the administration and the Senate? What will it take to get America’s intelligence services to work together rather than simply staying out of one another’s way? Is it reasonable to assume one person or one agency can accomplish such a Herculean — or is it Sisyphean — task? What would success look like? And how do we make sure that DNI does not come to mean little more than Do Not Interfere — as in do not disrupt the status quo?

Crossing cultures: public-private partnerships in homeland security

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 26, 2010

To achieve the goals of homeland security the public and private sectors need each other.  But there are serious challenges to effective collaboration.  The challenges begin with the fundamental stance-on-reality of each sector.

Creativity is the essence of business culture.  Depending on the enterprise, creativity may focus on invention, product innovation, exploration, distribution,  marketing, or a range of other possibilities.   Without creativity, no business can long survive. 

Given this focus on creating something new, business is risk-taking. Failure is understood as a natural outcome of taking risks.  Recognizing failure, learning from it, and moving on as quickly as possible is part-and-parcel of the creative process.  Managing the risk of failure is of concern to business, but the need-to-create is given consistent priority in the most successful firms.

While open to creativity, government is principally concerned with safety.  Stability and predictability are highly valued.  Instability and lack of predictability are perceived as threatening.  Failure is seen as the outcome of insufficient preparation, poor management, and/or deception.  The public sector is risk-averse.

British Petroleum and Transocean pioneered new approaches to deep water exploration and oil extraction.  They were reaping the benefits of their creative risk.  They are now paying the costs of failure (and trying to minimize the costs and move on as best they can).

Government officials reacting to the  failure of the Deepwater Horizon have been quick to perceive greed and deception.  Business people, even those with no relationship to the energy industry, have been inclined to perceive the unfortunate consequence of risk-taking. Government officials promise to ensure this “never happens again.”  Business people endeavor to  “never-say-never” about opportunity or risk.

Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the national incident commander, has continued to speak of a partnership between British Petroleum and the federal government.  At the same time Interior Secretary Salazar has repeatedly claimed to have his manly Colorado cowboy boot on BP’s presumably plumy foreign neck.

Is this a good cop (Allen)/ bad cop (Salazar)  routine? Whether or not the Admiral’s approach is politically effective, it is more conducive to facilitating unity-of-effort in containing and stopping the oil spill.

Woodrow Wilson wrote, “there should be a science of administration which shall seek to straighten the paths of government, to make its business less unbusinesslike.”  The future president wrote this in 1887 during a time when American business was especially creative… and exploitative, polluting, expansive, and increasingly rational and empirical in its methods (cost accounting, for example, was emerging in its modern form).  

Early manifestations of “scientific management” captured Wilson’s admiration.  In the 1880s Frederick W. Taylor was already using time-motion studies and developing the insights published in his 1905 Principles of Scientific Management.  How might public administration become as effective as business management?  But then we might ask, effective at what?

Management (and administration?) consists mostly of  deciding how resources are applied to reduce risk and seize opportunities in order to achieve purpose.  Public purpose and private purpose are not the same and their views of risk are often at odds.   Can we exploit the tension in a productive way?

Some call for the government to do more in regard to the disaster in the Gulf. But it is not clear what more the government can do.  In this case the government is largely dependent on the expert capabilities and capacity of BP and its industry partners.   The Washington Post quotes one energy expert as saying, “Uncle Sam has almost no institutional ability to control the oil spill. For that, you need people with technical authority, technical skill and firms with industrial capabilities.”

The greater the scope and scale of any disaster, the greater our dependence on private sector expertise… and the more complicated the public-private partnership.  Hence the profound importance of framing, training, and exercising the partnership prior to a crisis.

In the aftermath of a wide-spread catastrophe, federal, state, and local government (what’s left of it) will have a crucial role in shaping the conditions for effective response and recovery.  But most of the actual restoration of essential services will be the task of the private sector.  Given this reality, we need more proactive cultivation of public-private partnerships well in advance of disaster.

With an earthquake, hurricane, or serious terrorist attack the troubled public-private relationship encounters a crucible of death, injury, and destruction. When and where this will next happen is unclear.  But it is entirely predictable it will happen and — as we have seen in the Gulf — neither sector is well-prepared to work with the other.  Both are more inclined to react than to prepare.  Each is suspicious of the other.  Many in the media are motivated to aggravate the tension and accentuate any emerging conflict.

The public sector’s reflex for safety and risk aversion can be helpful to the private sector’s readiness for (and even avoidance of) the worst case. The more devastating the disaster, the more we need the creative and risk-taking urgency of the private sector.  But neither sector entirely excludes the concerns of the other.   It is not an issue of either-or; it is a matter of allowing the strength of each to emerge — even merge — together.

For further consideration:

House Energy and Commerce Memorandum on events immediately prior to the explosion (May 25) and related New York Times report.

Crisis hits home, spreading arc of anger (New York Times)

The New Culture War by Arthur C. Brooks (Washington Post)

Lessons from the Oil Spill (Interfaith Voices Audio)

Public and Private Management: Are they fundamentally the same in all unimportant respects? by Graham T. Allison, Jr.

Guiding Principles for Public-Private Collaboration (World Economic Forum and the United Nations)

May 25, 2010

Why science matters

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Christopher Bellavita on May 25, 2010

If Deep Horizon happened on CSI, NCIS or any other related puzzle show, we would know by now precisely how many barrels or gallons or whatever measure you want of oil are flooding from the bottom of the Gulf.

But Deep Horizon is not happening on TV, the Internet, Twitter or Facebook.  It is happening within 615,000 square miles of a sea governed by discomforting laws of physical reality.

Here is slightly more than 2 minutes of candor from President Obama’s science advisor. (Thanks, Arnold)

May 24, 2010

Where is candor?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on May 24, 2010

Today’s post was written by Daniel W. O’Connor



Pronunciation: \kan-der, –,dor\

Function: noun

Etymology: French & Latin; French candeur, from Latin candor, from candere — more at candid

Date: 14th century

1 a : whiteness, brilliance b obsolete : unstained purity
2 : freedom from prejudice or malice : fairness
3 archaic : kindliness
4 : unreserved, honest, or sincere expression : forthrightness


The Gulf BP oil disaster, the Arizona immigration law, the Wall Street Bail outs, intelligence collection, homeland security.  Where has the ability to be candid gone?

Based on the above definition of candor, I believe our leaders have lost the ability to be candid.   Some readers may find this naïve or idealistic, but the fundamental essence of protecting our Nation is the ability to be candid with our citizenry.

George Washington was very clear about this: “I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”

As the days march by we’re finding out that the oil spill in the Gulf is being vastly under reported.  News reports indicate the oil dumped into the Gulf is already the equivalent of five Exxon Valdez spills…five of them.  Some other reports are alluding to possible collusion amongst news agencies to ensure this does not become “Obama’s Katrina.”  I don’t think we are getting the full story yet about the spill.

In another story, the President of Mexico expressed his displeasure with the recent Immigration law passed in Arizona.   Rather odd that a president from another country is upset with a state law. Even odder that he’s given the opportunity to address Congress and lecture them on laws and such. Perhaps it’s the billions of cash infused into his country he’s concerned about.

And the failed Times Square Bomber happened to be a recently radicalized Muslim.  Just like the Army Major at Fort Hood and the failed Christmas Underwear bomber.   And yet, that theme is downplayed by leadership, as if to say it is not significant.

So, if Thomas Paine words are correct and “These are the times that try men’s souls,” then perhaps its time to understand that now more than ever, candor and our leaders’ requirement for it is upon us again.

Read past postings by Mssrs. Cumming, Palin, Chubb, and Bellavita —  all touch on the same theme:  now is not the time for rhetoric and politics, but hard answers and bold leadership.   We must be candid in our assessments and stop trying to evade our fate.   Why did our DNI resign?  Was it because of political expedience or institutional ineptness? Why can’t we simply state the obvious: we have an illegal immigration problem and radicalized Islamicists wish us harm?

Why can’t we see and say we have a debt problem and our  future is perilously moving towards a tipping point of no return?

And what does this have to do with Homeland Security?

Absolutely everything.   Last week, the 2010 National Level Exercise, Eagle Horizon, took place.   It was based on a nuclear weapon detonation in Indianapolis, Indiana with additional threats to Los Angeles and Washington DC.

Look up Eagle Horizon.  You may be surprised by the volume of reporting.  Virtually nil.

This exercise has been scheduled for two years, with millions of dollars spent, and thousands of DHS and component members participating.   Where are the news reports?   Where’s the dialogue?   Why did they choose Nuclear Weapons detonation in the CONUS?

My guess is there is a threat out there and group(s) of terrorists who want to do this very thing.   Could you imagine the orders of magnitude of fear and panic our Nation would experience if this happened?  Could you imagine the devastation and loss we’d experience?   They picked that scenario and those who perpetuated it for a reason.   The time for finger pointing and rationalization are over.

As for me, I am waiting for candor.    Let’s get it all out on the table.    Are we prepared for the truth?

The essence of leadership is to exhibit presence, vision, and example, all the while leveling with the citizenry with candor and fidelity.    If our current situation does not spur the necessary gravitas to speak plainly and with virtue, than unfortunately, a dark horizon looms in the distance.    This is not histrionic or melodramatic in any sense.  Character is never revealed in good times, but in trying ones.   If we as a Nation  fail to learn from the mistakes of former Empires and Nations we will most assuredly suffer the same demise and are destined to repeat their fall.


The Gospel of John, 8:32, reads: “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”

Those words are also inscribed in marble at CIA Headquarters.

May 21, 2010

60 Homeland Security Blogs

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

As other people who write for Homeland Security Watch note, the term “homeland security” covers a lot of territory.

It’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that one’s consciousness of the thing called homeland security emerges as one’s stove-piped mind dissolves.

The stove pipes are not built simply from one’s profession or jurisdiction. They are also formed from values, ideas and language.

I can say that another way.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was on the right track when he wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

I think effective homeland security people (and you know who you are) can hold way more than two opposing ideas and still function.

It doesn’t mean you don’t hold on a bit more tightly to one or two favorite ideas.  It does mean you recognize other people you work with have their own favorite ideas.  You can spend time in a urinating contest about whose ideas are right.  Or you can tap into your emerging homeland security consciousness and get the work done.


But this partially formed claim is not what I wanted to write about today.


There is a lot of data, information, knowledge and even some wisdom in homeland security.  Some of it is hiding within the Internet.

Here is a list of 60 places where I have found — at one time or another —  surprising, thoughtful, opinionated, challenging, funny, creative, outrageous, factual, irritating, or insightful ideas about homeland security.

They’ve sometimes also been the source of wrong, petty, or stupid ideas.

But, on occasion, so have I.

The list does not include every homeland security-related blog.  I excluded blogs whose style seemed more institutional than human.  But if you don’t find your favorite homeland security Thoughtful Spot in this list, please let us know.  The homeland security mind always has room for another opposing idea.


  1. AWARE
  2. Armchair Generalist
  3. CNAS Natural Security Blog
  4. Computerworld: Security
  5. Counter Terror Forum
  6. Counterterrorism Blog
  7. Danger Room
  8. Democracy Arsenal
  9. Digital Identity Forum
  10. Disaster Zone
  11. Domestic Preparedness
  12. FAS Strategic Security Blog
  13. Flu News Blog
  14. Flyer Talk on Travel Security
  15. Foundation for the Defense of Democracies
  16. FP Passport
  17. Get Ready for Flu Blog
  18. Global Guerrillas
  19. H5N1
  20. Hatewatch (Southern Poverty Law Center )
  21. Heritage National Security Blog
  22. Homeland Security Digital Library Blog
  23. Homeland Security News
  24. Homeland Security Newswire
  25. Homeland Security Watch
  26. Homeland Stupidity
  27. In Case of Emergency Break Glass
  28. In Case of Emergency Read Blog
  29. In General Counsel
  30. In Homeland Security
  31. Incident.blog
  32. Interoperability Streams
  33. James Fallows
  34. John Brown’s PD Review
  35. Law and Terrorism
  36. Liberty conspiracy
  37. Long War Journal
  38. Losantiville
  39. National Immigration Forum
  40. National Terror Alert
  41. No Quarter
  42. Open Source Data Base
  43. Operational Risk Management
  44. Perspective Intelligence
  45. Pump Handle
  46. Recovery Diva
  47. Schneier on Security
  48. Scott McPherson’s Web Presence
  49. Secrecy News
  50. Security Debrief
  51. Superstrain
  52. Terror Finance Blog
  53. Think Progress
  54. Thomas P.M. Barnett
  55. Threat Level
  56. Threats Watch
  57. TomDispatch
  58. TSA Blog
  59. Vacation Lane Blog
  60. Zero Intelligence Agents

May 20, 2010

Homeland security enterprise: each of us, all of us, whether we know it or not

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 20, 2010

The homeland security enterprise seemed especially busy on Wednesday:

The natural, accidental, and intentional threats on which homeland security is focused are taking up a lot of bandwidth. Many more bullets could be listed.  It is important to note that while DHS and its component agencies are in the middle of all these issues and events, it is not just DHS nor is it only a federal undertaking.

The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review helpfully defined the “homeland security enterprise.”   In the report’s executive summary we read:

Homeland security describes the intersection of evolving threats and hazards with traditional governmental and civic responsibilities for civil defense, emergency response, law enforcement, customs, border control, and immigration. In combining these responsibilities under one overarching concept, homeland security breaks down longstanding stovepipes of activity that have been and could still be exploited by those seeking to harm America. Homeland security also creates a greater emphasis on the need for joint actions and efforts across previously discrete elements of government and society.

Homeland security is a widely distributed and diverse—but unmistakable—national enterprise. The term “enterprise” refers to the collective efforts and shared responsibilities of Federal, State, local, tribal, territorial, nongovernmental, and private-sector partners—as well as individuals, families, and communities—to maintain critical homeland security capabilities. The use of the term connotes a broad-based community with a common interest in the public safety and well-being of America and American society that is composed of multiple actors and stakeholders whose roles and responsibilities are distributed and shared…

When trouble breaks — or is about to break — it is the total enterprise that is needed on-deck and readyFor me the core value-add that homeland security offers is a sector-crossing, stovepipe busting, strategic integration of risk-awareness, risk mitigation, risk-readiness, and consciously cultivated resilience.  Homeland security — the enterprise — does not always achieve this potential, but the potential remains potent.

(I will be fully engaged until very late Wednesday and begin travel Thursday at O dark 30.  I probably won’t have time to update this post (queued up at 5:30 Wednesday night).   Just in case there is a breaking story overnight, I  do not want HLSwatch to seem purposely oblivious.    Best wishes for a peaceful and productive Thursday.)

Templates, uncertainty, imagination, thinking and doing homeland security

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 20, 2010

This blog is brought to you courtesy of a template.  Without a template the time and effort needed to program the presentation would be, at least for me, considerably more than the time and effort involved in writing the blog’s contents.

Yesterday Mark Chubb mentioned the remarkable convergence and effectiveness of fire safety codes.  A big part of the success has been the promotion of  “model codes” by the International Code Council,  National Fire Protection Association, and others.   These models have served as templates for hundreds of jurisdictions.  Whatever the template, many jurisdictions add their own unique elements.  But the existence of models has been crucial to widespread adoption.

A few months ago I was part of a government-to-government process that submitted a seven page concept of operations for an innovative approach to an aspect of homeland security.  We struggled and argued over each sentence, trying to communicate clearly, concisely, but also completely.  Three weeks after sending off the seven pages a request/instruction came back to reduce it to one paragraph.  We sent back the first two paragraphs of the seven pages as a single block.  Three weeks later approval was received to proceed.  No questions, no comments, nothing more than a single sentence stating a “revised approach” was approved. 

Perhaps I should simply give thanks for approval.  But I wonder if there is a shared understanding of what was approved.

More recently I filled in a Program Management Plan template for a multi-million dollar homeland security project.  The template was organized as a series of entirely reasonably questions for which very little space was allocated for answers.  Mostly the PMP was organized around what would be delivered, when it would be delivered, and how much it would cost. The PMP was less a program management plan and much more a financial accounting tool.  Such tools are important and helpful.  But a financial accounting tool should not be confused with a “program — management — plan.”

Monday this blog gave attention to the regional Oil Spill Recovery Plan (OSRP) that British Petroleum filed for its operations in the Gulf of Mexico.  It was clearly the output of a templated process.  I bet several answers for the Gulf of Mexico could be duplicated for the Persian Gulf or any other gulf.

Many years ago I was wandering the crowded hallways of the brand spanking new Department of Homeland Security when a template for State disaster planning was being developed.  During its first year DHS had received an amazing collection of good, bad, and ugly plans, each as unique as the state (and particular agency) developing the plan.

Over the years as the DHS template was refined the plans became increasingly similar.  There were fewer and fewer horrifically bad plans.  But the best plans also disappeared (at least in my judgment).  Further, the ability to use any “plan” as a way to see inside the head of the planner was essentially eliminated.   Many of the best plans had been explicit regarding what was unknown, ambiguous, and the cause of uncertainty.  The template discouraged this sort of thinking.

Where there had once been narrative, analysis, and argument (good and bad) the templates generated  largely  antiseptic and mostly well-organized information. My preferred definitions: information is organized data, knowledge is information placed in context, wisdom is knowledge applied effectively to solve a problem or seize an opportunity.

In the non-templated plans there had been occasional  outbursts of imagination.  In a few worrisome cases these edged toward the fantastically delusional. But in any case you could see a human brain struggling with a set of problems.  The template successfully smoothed these rough edges.

The template I am using to generate this blog has its limitations, but it is tolerant — even encouraging — of multiple points-of-view,  various ways of expressing points-of-view, and access and presentation of a depth of data, information, and knowledge.  When a template does not allow for this diversity and depth and range it threatens to undermine the potential for wisdom.

Templates should assist, not try to replace thinking.

For further consideration:

Dynamics and Quantitative Studies of Human Behavior (Santa Fe Institute)

Critical Thinking: A Concise Guide by Tracy Bowell and Gary Kemp

Project Zero (Harvard University)

We have met the enemy and he is powerpoint (New York Times)

May 19, 2010

Imagination Failures

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Strategy — by Mark Chubb on May 19, 2010

In his Monday post, my colleague, Phil Palin, wrote about the lack of any regulatory requirement to plan for the catastrophic failure of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico. In what for me was the punchline of his post, Phil wrote, “What I cannot find in any of these regulations or plans or instructions is significant attention to catastrophic possibility. This is not surprising. It is typical. I do not view this inattention as proof of regulatory or corporate malfeasance.  It is, though, a mistake.  It is a mistake we now have an opportunity to recognize and plenty of motivation to correct.”

It might be helpful then for us to review what we mean when we classify a decision or action as a mistake. Each decision or action we take (including decisions not to decide or act) has two components: its intention and its execution. When the execution matches the intention, we tend to view the performance as a success (cf. the folk notion of intentionality as described by Malle & Bennett 2002). Likewise, an execution that appears inconsistent with its underlying intention is readily appreciated as an error.

What then do we call a situation in which our execution matches its intention, but the intention is, at least in hindsight, ill-suited to the circumstances? How about a situation in which both our intentions and execution of them are inappropriate (that is, they produce unexpected or undesired results)?

We cannot rightly address mistakes without considering the intentions of those considered to have made them. Each discipline applies somewhat different standards to this assessment, however. And herein lies one of the difficulties now confronting us in the aftermath of yet another catastrophe whose origins seem to lie in what we so glibly called a “failure of imagination” in the months after 9/11 (Kean & Hamilton 2004:339-348; cf. Rowling 2008)

For a significant part of my career, I was involved in the development, administration, and application of building and fire safety codes. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, regulators in Europe began to wonder whether building regulations, or rather their prescriptive form, was inhibiting innovation in the design, construction, and building materials industries. Engineers and architects complained that building officials (many of whom did not hold professional qualifications in building technology) were insufficiently qualified to render judgments about their designs. Construction tradesmen complained that architects and engineers did not understand how buildings really worked. Politicians worried that building regulations, like other areas of government intervention, were no longer required. And the public assumed that the system was working to protect their interests, individually as well as collectively.

The most ardent advocates of performance-based regulations assumed that the vested interests of market participants would prevent failures without unduly hindering imagination. Few market participants questioned these assumptions, much less bothered to ask whether these assumptions were in fact conditions that would, if they proved false, render us vulnerable to very significant losses and disruptions that we had neither previously experienced nor imagined.

The case for government intervention usually rests on an assumption of market failure. For decades, we assumed that building codes were required to minimize the effects of negative externalities arising from the construction, use, occupancy, and maintenance of buildings. This argument assumed that what was good for a building owner and his agents might still expose others to unusual and unforeseen risks if these transactions remained unattended by independent scrutiny. This diagnosis of the situation required of us regulations that would protect innocent third-parties from the acts of building owners and their agents.

What changed our minds about this? Well, for one thing, we stopped having major conflagrations that burned down whole cities or at least major parts of them. We still had big fires that killed a lot of people for awhile, but as the codes got better these too all but disappeared. (The U.S. still has a higher fire death rate than many other developed countries, but the number of people killed in fires has dropped by about 2/3 since 1970, while the population has increased by about 50 percent. Fewer than 150 people die annually in commercial property fires, and almost all of these deaths involve explosions or intimate involvement with or proximate exposure to an ignition source.)

At the same time, the toll taken by natural disasters has increased, in large measure due to the effects of urbanization. Our expectations of buildings, even in the most rudimentary sense related to life safety, has evolved to consider measures that permit escape but still render the building uninhabitable after a major but not necessarily catastrophic event unacceptable or at least undesired. As the recent financial crisis has aptly illustrated, we expect our buildings to serve as stores of wealth not just by protecting their contents and facilitating productive activities but by serving as means of exchange themselves.

When I moved to New Zealand in 1999, I did so, in part, to see how so-called performance-based regulations worked in practice. Did they, like the reinventing principles being applied to other aspects of government involvement in society and markets, I wondered, make the country freer? Did they produce more innovation? Did this innovation yield social dividends or increase social welfare without compromising economic efficiency?

In short, the answer was no to all of the above in one degree or another. By 2002, 10 years after New Zealand enacted its experiment in deregulation of construction, the country was confronting a full-blown crisis of confidence in building regulations spawned by problems with exterior insulation systems that threatened to bring construction lending and indemnification of builders, designers, and certifiers to a grinding, screeching halt.

Experts assembled to review the situation and redesign the building regulations quickly concluded that failures had occurred in both intention and execution. This led them to believe that government still had a role to play in preventing or managing the effects of market failure, but they diagnosed the cause of that failure differently. Negative externalities were not the cause, information asymmetry was. As such, they reckoned that any new system had to take account of both intention and execution.

Why is this significant? Information asymmetries produce problems for the first and second parties to a transaction, not just those exposed to their decisions, particularly when a transaction involves a high degree of complexity, as do most modern buildings.

When we started writing building codes, most people had practical knowledge of building trades or the mechanical arts as they were then known. Today, shop courses in which students learn craft-based skills have all but vanished from the secondary education curriculum (see Crawford 2009). By the time the crisis became evident in New Zealand it had become abundantly clear that our distance from such knowledge was an impaired ability to interpret price signals. Absent a better way of informing participants’ choices and framing their expectations of one another and the building itself, they had little hope of achieving performance much less improving efficiency or encouraging innovation.

Information asymmetry produces insidious effects. At best, the ambiguity accompanying complex transactions leaves participants vulnerable to problems of adverse selection in which they cannot readily distinguish the qualities that should form the basis for discriminating one course of action from another on the basis of its prospective utility. At worst, participants are lulled into a false sense of security that suggests their choices matter very little, which leads them to make decisions their morals might otherwise compel them to avoid.

Today, we live in an environment in which complexity like this has overwhelmed common sense to such an extent that the ethical codes of some professions all but compel conduct that in some circumstances seems immoral. One such provision in the Institute of Professional Engineers of New Zealand’s canon of ethics that prohibited one engineer from publicly criticizing the work of another engineer was even cited as the basis for efforts to silence a whistleblower who suggested in the wake of New Zealand’s building code crisis that even bigger problems than those exhibited by external insulation and building envelope systems threatened buildings’ structural integrity.

In a perfectly functioning market, we expect incentives to exert both positive and negative pressure over participants. As a consequence, we assume all actions to reflect the ordering of participants’ preferences. If we are not careful, this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy rather than a simplification that helps us understand the limits of our understanding and the efficacy of our interventions.

Our expectation that government can or should intervene rests not only on experience that markets perform their functions imperfectly, but also upon a desire to perfect the human condition by promoting the common good. If people were purely rational and acted only out of self-interest, we would not enjoy many of the benefits of innovation we now take for granted.

These innovations flow not from unbridled freedom, but from a desire to overcome the limits and constraints of the human condition, to free ourselves from restrictions that inhibit our potential. We measure this potential in many ways, and often sacrifice present welfare for future benefit even when it means others besides ourselves will enjoy the fruits of our labor.

As Phil noted, we now have a lot of motivation to look differently at the risks of technological failure surrounding efforts to supply our insatiable demand for oil. Where will we turn for the inspiration to inform our motivation?

Like the information asymmetries that plague complex transactions, a praise-blame asymmetry (Hindriks 2008) often affects our perception of and response to the choices before us.  The tendency to dispense praise and blame disproportionately will undoubtedly influence how the market responds to this event. It has already become evident that no amount of praise will improve the response or ameliorate the effects on the Gulf ecosystem or its inhabitants. Sadly, neither will blame.

Our best chance to correct both the information and praise-blame asymmetries always precedes the disaster. Recognizing that it is easier to dispense praise, if not rewards, as it requires no prior motivation or justification, has motivated more innovation in environmentally sustainable design than any regulations have to date (see USGBC 2010).

Rather than imaging all the ways in which a system might fail either through intention or execution, why not consider the ways in which we might encourage or promote the behavior we desire? How might we apply the lesson of this catastrophe to improve the quality and performance of other elements of our homeland security system?

May 18, 2010

“Losers by their patriotism”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on May 18, 2010

I know a man who was offered a high level political appointment in the Department of Homeland Security.  It paid slightly less than 145,000 dollars a year.

In a nation where the average family income is around 40,000 dollars, that seems like a lot of money.  It is a little less than he is now earning.  The cost of living in DC is about 15% higher than where he lives, so it would be a pay cut.

If he took the job, he would have to move across the country to live in Washington.  He would need to rent a place to live.  He’d have pay his own moving expenses.  He’d have to keep paying the mortgage on his current home, since the job life of a political appointee is about 2 years.

In return, he would get to influence policy and be permitted to work very long hours.  He would earn the opportunity to have every detail of his life examined by the media and by people opposed to his ideas. Any significant action he took would be guaranteed to be criticized by some important group.  At the end of it all, maybe he’d get to work for a consulting company and make up the lost income.  Maybe.

He said no to the offer.

I know another man who already lives in Washington, D.C.  Or close enough so he wouldn’t have to move if he were offered a senior level job.  I’ve known him for a decade.  I consider him to be dedicate to public service.

When I first met him he was a mid level executive.  After September 11, 2001, he advanced into a series of jobs with increasing executive responsibility.  In many ways, he made a difference.  The country was — at least at the margins — safer and more secure because of his efforts.

Several months ago he was offered and accepted a security-related policy position in the Obama Administration.

Last week I heard he left that job and accepted a position at a university.

He has two children just about ready for college.  As I heard the story, the university offered him a very good salary and tuition for his two children.

Homeland security begins at home.  He accepted the offer.

I’m not sure those two stories are especially unusual. Government has rarely been able to compete with the private sector when it comes to salary and benefits.  The country always seems to muddle through.  Talented people appear to show up when they are needed, regardless of what they could earn in the private sector.

The two stories would have been unremarkable to me had I not been reading Jake Rakove’s book Revolutionaries.  Rakove retells the story of the nation’s founders, but in a way that makes them appear much more human than heroic.  The book is not quite engrossing enough to be entertaining.  But it is leaving me with the sense the times Rakove describes are disquietingly similar to our own.  Not because we are on the brink of revolution.  But because contemporary government is again thirsting for the talents of men and women whose rational choice is to do something other than serve the public.

The anecdotes of today repurpose the nation’s founding concerns:

“If the Congress mean to succeed in this Contest they must pay good Executive Men to do their business as it ought to be & not lavish milions away by their own mismanagement.” Robert Morris, 1776

“A Soldier reasoned with upon the goodness of the cause he is engaged in and the inestimable rights he is contending for, hears you out with patience, & acknowledges the truth of your observations…. [But the same soldier would respond] that he cannot ruin himself and Family to serve his Country….” George Washington, 1776

[Securing adequate pay for officers remained] “the basis of every other regulation and arrangement, necessary to be made.” George Washington, 1776.

“[I]nterest is the governing principle” of all mankind.  The “motives of public virtue” that originally brought men to serve could not withstand the hard evidence that [Washington’s] officers were becoming “losers by their patriotism.” Quotes from George Washington, 1776.

Immediately after September 11, 2001, men and women from across the nation selflessly answered the call to help defend and protect a country at war.  That war has lasted longer than the first fight for independence.   Are those who remain in this apparently endless fight also at risk of losing by their patriotism?

May 17, 2010

Deepwater horizon: A lesson for public-private partnerships in planning and exercising for catastrophe

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 17, 2010

Tuesday, May 18 update:

Disaster plans lacking at deep rigs (Wall Street Journal)

BP response plan shows lack of readiness (USA Today)

BP, deepwaterdrillers unprepared for oil leaks, Lieberman says (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Original Post:

Transocean, the word’s largest deepwater drilling company, owns the Deepwater Horizon platform now scattered across the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.  Transocean was operating Deepwater Horizon under contract with a consortium of energy companies that holds the minerals lease on Mississippi Canyon block 252 (MC252).

British Petroleum, one of the world’s largest energy companies, is the majority owner (65 percent) of the MC252  lease and the oil well now spewing tens-of-thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf.  The lease was awarded by the Minerals Management Service of the US Department of Interior. 

As a condition of being awarded the MC252 lease, British Petroleum and its consortium partners undertook several commitments.  Title 30, part 250, section 107 of the Code of Federal Regulations specifies the following for all MMS leaseholders:

a) You must protect health, safety, property, and the environment by:

(1) Performing all operations in a safe and workmanlike manner; and

(2) Maintaining all equipment and work areas in a safe condition.

(b) You must immediately control, remove, or otherwise correct any hazardous oil and gas accumulation or other health, safety, or fire hazard.

(c) You must use the best available and safest technology (BAST) whenever practical on all exploration, development, and production operations. In general, we consider your compliance with MMS regulations to be the use of BAST.

(d) The Director may require additional measures to ensure the use of BAST:

(1) To avoid the failure of equipment that would have a significant effect on safety, health, or the environment;

(2) If it is economically feasible; and

(3) If the benefits outweigh the costs.

Catastrophic potential is often discounted by cost-benefit analysis.  From various news reports (many of which originated with a Huffington Post piece) it appears this may be the case with the MC252 lease. 

The private sector is not alone in discounting catastrophic potential.  Talk to your city, county, or State emergency managers regarding catastrophic preparedness.  You might time the increasing frequency of extended “uhhhs,” “umms,” and other signals of uncertainty (otherwise known as “thinking”).  Or you might ask yourself a similar set of questions and evaluate your own preparedness for an unlikely but high consequence event.

Continuing with lease commitments: 30 CFR part 250, Section 250 addresses what preparations the MC252 leasee must undertake for an oil spill:

The following information regarding potential spills of oil (see definition under 30 CFR 254.6) and hazardous substances (see definition under 40 CFR part 116), as applicable, must accompany your DPP or DOCD:

(a) Oil spill response planning. The material required under paragraph (a)(1) or (a)(2) of this section:

(1) An Oil Spill Response Plan (OSRP) for the facilities you will use to conduct your proposed development and production activities prepared according to the requirements of 30 CFR part 254, subpart B; or

(2) Reference to your approved regional OSRP (see 30 CFR 254.3) to include:

(i) A discussion of your regional OSRP;

(ii) The location of your primary oil spill equipment base and staging area;

(iii) The name(s) of your oil spill removal organization(s) for both equipment and personnel;

(iv) The calculated volume of your worst case discharge scenario (see 30 CFR 254.26(a)), and a comparison of the appropriate worst case discharge scenario in your approved regional OSRP with the worst case discharge scenario that could result from your proposed development and production activities; and

(v) A description of the worst case oil spill scenario that could result from your proposed development and production activities (see 30 CFR 254.26(b), (c), (d), and (e)).

(b) Modeling report. If you model a potential oil or hazardous substance spill in developing your DPP or DOCD, a modeling report or the modeling results, or a reference to such report or results if you have already submitted it to the Regional Supervisor.

The approved BP regional Oil Spill Response Plan (OSRP) (19.8 megabyte download) is mostly a specialized Incident Command System (ICS) model with an inventory of response equipment, call lists, and sample information forms. There is no evidence of any thinking per se complicating the plan.  Response is conceived primarily as a sequence of competent tactics responding to a mostly predictable event. 

This is typical of most “emergency plans.”  To plan once meant to develop a scheme of action anticipating strategic inflections.  Too often we now reduce a plan to something similar to a complicated wiring diagram.  This is one reason why so many plans remain comfortably ensconced on the planer’s or regulator’s shelf or hard drive.

Federal regulations — specifically 30 CFR, part 250, section 300 — address several aspects of pollution mitigation in offshore drilling. Sections 400, 500, and 600 specify several safety measures that must be in place.  There is particular attention to technical aspects of blow-out prevention.  Section 1500 gives attention to Well Control and Production Safety Training.  The Minerals Management Service also administers a significant program focused on prevention, mitigation, and preparedness for oil spills (see MMS website).

What I cannot find in any of these regulations or plans or  instructions  is significant attention to catastrophic possibility.  This is not surprising.  It is typical.  I do not view this inattention as proof of regulatory or corporate malfeasance.  It is, though, a mistake.  It is a mistake we now have an opportunity to recognize and plenty of motivation to correct.

No matter how strong the prevention effort nor how unlikely the catastrophe, there should be regularly updated plans for mitigating and responding to several — no-kidding — worst case scenarios. To have any hope of effectiveness the plans must be  regularly exercised.  Both public and private players must be involved in the exercises, assessments, and plan revisions.  This prescription is important far beyond offshore drilling and as close as your own neighborhood.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A dime of preparedness is worth a hundred bucks of response. An hour exercising is worth more than ten hours filling in planning templates.  A thoughtful plan, a meaningful exercise, a realistic evaluation, and a rigorous updating of both plans and operations is worth… well, it’s one of the rarest of finds.

For further consideration:

Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter R. Bernstein

The InfraGard Program and the Houston chapter’s full scale public-private exercise

Resources and outcomes of the May 12 hearing of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

British Petroleum’s Gulf of Mexico Response website

Deepwater Horizon Unified Command website

Southeast Louisiana Area Contingency Plan (PDF: large download)

MMS Notice to Leasees regarding Regional and Sub-regional Oil Spill Response Plans

(On Monday, May 17 beginning at 2:30  the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will conduct a hearing entitled: Gulf Coast Catastrophe: Assessing the Nation’s Response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.  Secretary Napolitano and others are scheduled to testify.)

May 14, 2010

Solving homegrown violent extremism through fractal geometry?

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christopher Bellavita on May 14, 2010

Today’s guest blogger is Judith K. Boyd.  Boyd is a Senior Fellow at the Long Island University’s Homeland Security Management Institute.


Nature has been using fractal geometry to solve complex problems since the beginning of time.   Perhaps it is time for homeland security professionals to tap into this mechanism to solve those nagging problems that don’t seem to be going away, such as, what causes a seemingly normal person to want to put a bomb in Times Square?

In his 1975 ground breaking book, “Fractals:  Form, Chance, and Dimension,” Dr.  Benoit Mandelbrot asserted that many forms in nature can be described mathematically as fractals, shapes that appear to be jagged and broken.

A fractal is created by taking a smooth looking shape, such as a triangle, and breaking it into pieces, over and over again.  Through the application of this simple principal, you are able to to transform that simple shape into a figure rich with complexity and texture.

The inverse of the fractal principle is that you can take something that appears to be complex and break it down into the repeating patterns that build upon each other to create the larger whole.

We can see this demonstrated graphically in the well-known woodcut, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” produced by the Japanese artist Hokusai in 1832.  From afar, we see an image of a large wave about to crash over a small fishing vessel.  And yet, if we look closer, we can see that the large wave is actually comprised of a repeating pattern of smaller waves.

The curves that repeat over and over are not random but rather, according to Mandelbrot, predictable shapes that can be described in mathematical terms.

How to apply this new language, especially in this age of nearly unlimited computing ability, is  yet to be fully realized.  However, it is clear there is tremendous potential for solving what have been seen, up until now, as unsolvable problems.

For example, when you plot the intervals between heartbeats and expand them, healthy heartbeats have an interval that may be measured through a distinctive fractal pattern.  Scientists such as Dr. Ary Goldberger at the Harvard Medical School have been analyzing how this signature may allow cardiologists to discover when a patient has a heart problem long before the heart attack occurs.

Another scientist, biophysicist Dr. Peter Burns in Toronto, Canada, has been studying how to develop mathematical models to detect small tumors.  Conventional technology, such as ultrasounds, do not have the capability to show the network blood vessels that grow around tumors as small as few tenths of a millimeter across in diameter. But an ultrasound does provide a very good image of the movement of blood.  Burns and his colleagues used the simple rules of fractals to create models of “normal” blood vessel activity — a well-organized network of vessels not unlike the branches of an elm tree.  This model may then be compared to an ultrasound image of a patient who might have a tumor.  Analyzing the image with fractal geometry principals reveals a pattern of blood flow not like a strong limbed tree but rather, a tangled mess of shrubbery.

This approach turns on its head the conventional wisdom that technology must get more and more precise in order to inform the doctor.  What fractal geometry allows us to do is analyze information available today in the absence of far more precise and intrusive technology.  The reason for this is because the human body, like nature, repeatedly demonstrates a tendency to naturally select those features and activities that are the most efficient and most productive.  Hence, the potential to understand what is “normal” and through comparison, identify what is not.

What else can we “see” through the application of fractal geometry?

If we view humans and societies as machines, the potential to apply these rules begins to emerge.  If the ideas of al Queda are viewed as a network that is self-sustaining, what is the relationship between mass and energy use?  How much energy does the movement require to grow and branch off?  What are the trigger points for a new branch or offshoot to develop?  According to fractal code, there are rules that identify the pre-defined trigger points that will lead to a new branch off-shoot.   Hence, what appears to be a complex network is in reality, a repeatable process.  If you understand what makes the tree grow, you will understand how the rainforest is sustained.  Taken to its logical end, we should be able to understand the sum by analyzing just a few of its parts.  It may not be coincidence that Faisal Shahzad and Najibullah Zazi had roots in working or middle-class society, some college education and no previous criminal record.

Note to all Intelligence Community recruiters:  hire more mathematicians!


Note: If you are interested in learning more about fractals, here is a link to a 1 hour video from NOVA, called Hunting the Hidden Dimension

May 13, 2010

Accepting responsibility, being responsible, and our ability to respond

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on May 13, 2010

President Obama said, “”Let me be clear: BP is responsible for this leak. BP will be paying the bill.”

British Petroleum’s CEO, Tony Hayward, said the company is “absolutely responsible” for the clean-up of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“The difference between the oil spill and Katrina is we didn’t have people stepping up to the plate and saying, ‘I’m responsible’,” says Robert Green. “In Katrina, you didn’t have the federal government, the governor and the mayor all saying what should be done. We have leadership now.”


Shortly after the Times Square bombing attempt an extremist website reported, “The Pakistani Taliban announced its responsibility for the New York attack in revenge for the two leaders al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajir and Muslim martyrs.”

“It is looking like the TTP is responsible for this attempt,” John Brennan told CNN’s Candy Crowley.


“Homeowners that live near streams are responsible for their own flood insurance due to their decision of moving next to streams.  Most agree they should know what they are getting, streams can flood,” comments Loretta Arnold in the Examiner.

And just to be clear, according to the FEMA website, “… FEMA is not responsible for the design, construction, operation, or maintenance of levee systems and comparable flood protection structures. Likewise, FEMA is not responsible for implementing or enforcing State and local floodplain management regulations.”


To be responsible was originally to make a promise or pledge to another, often in exchange for value received.  The respondent promises to spend what is necessary to fulfill the obligation. 

The Latin root of response — spondere — is the same as for our English word spend.  We now think of spending mostly in financial terms, but to spend can involve a variety of outputs:  time, attention, talent, energy, and more.

 To re-spond is to promise back.  In exchanging vows the bride and groom respond to each other.  The godparent responds to the charge of the priest promising to spend time, energy, and more to assist the parents.  The bride and groom pledge to spend their lives with each other. 

Responsibility begins by being in relationship with one another.  Our ability to respond to one another often establishes the nature of the relationship.   Can I — should I — respond physically, intellectually, emotionally,  spiritually, financially, with patience or urgency,  restraint or passion, sympathy or anger, compassion or discipline?  Given the nature of the relationship, how should I respond?  Am I capable of doing so?

In Sunday’s edition of The Tennessean Craig Fugate, the FEMA Administrator, wrote :

In com­mu­ni­ties from Dyers­burg to here in Nashville, I’ve seen neigh­bors help­ing neigh­bors and local first respon­ders work­ing tire­lessly to help those in need.

FEMA per­son­nel are on the ground in Ten­nessee, as well as other states affected by severe weather, includ­ing Alabama, Mis­sis­sippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. On May 4, at the request of Gov. Phil Bre­desen, the pres­i­dent declared a major dis­as­ter for the state, which now cov­ers 30 coun­ties, with addi­tional assess­ments under way.

But it’s impor­tant to remem­ber that FEMA is not the team — we are part of the team. We’re work­ing closely with Gov. Bre­desen, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and local offi­cials through­out the west­ern and mid­dle parts of the state. The Ten­nessee Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency (TEMA) has done an excel­lent job coor­di­nat­ing the response efforts with local offi­cials. It’s impor­tant we rec­og­nize the tire­less work of all involved at the fed­eral, state and local levels.

But the team can only be as strong as its most impor­tant mem­bers: the gen­eral pub­lic. I’ve spent sev­eral days in the state, and Ten­nesseans have shown what can be done with vol­un­teers work­ing side by side local offi­cials, and neigh­bors help­ing neighbors.

Who is my neighbor? With whom am I in relationship?  What is the nature of the relationship?  How is my life entwined with their lives? 

In modern society these links can be obscured and easy to neglect.  We may be in relationship, but not be aware of it.  This lack of awareness — and the absence of anything more than an instrumental and anonymous connection — increases our risk of being irresponsible: unable or unwilling to respond.

Consciously entering into relationship, cultivating a mutual understanding of the relationship, and regularly investing in the relationship strengthens the scope, scale, and effectiveness of our ability to respond.

For further consideration:

The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

The Roman Stoics: Self, Responsibility, and Affection by Gretchen J. Reydams-Schils

The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy

The National Blueprint for Secure Communities by the National Council on Readiness and Preparedness

PrepareNow.Org: Supporting special needs and vulnerable populations in disaster by PrepareNow Partners (San Francisco)

May 12, 2010

The Big Ask

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Technology for HLS — by Mark Chubb on May 12, 2010

Tomorrow afternoon, I am scheduled to participate in a panel discussion on crisis management and technology at Portland State University’s Mark O. Hatfield School of Government. The event, sponsored by the campus chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha — the political science honor society, asks what role technology can or should play in helping us respond to 21st century crises.

The organizers tell me their focus remains squarely on crisis management not technology. The question in their minds is not whether technology has a place in managing crises, but how we should define that place. How, they wonder, will we know whether or not technology is helping us? From a practitioner’s perspective, this struck me as a very good question, and one that does not get asked often enough.

From where I sit, crisis management succeeds or fails on how well leaders manage its four phases, which I define as:

  • Awareness
  • Ambiguity
  • Adaptation
  • Accountability

Awareness involves signal detection, which in turn depends upon the salience of signals to those responsible for detecting and responding to them. Technology can improve signal to noise ratios, but may dull the sense of salience as people become overwhelmed by inputs, especially if those responsible for designing or operating the system lack contextual intelligence (see Nye 2008).

Ambiguity not uncertainty is the dominant feature of complex systems and their relationships with their environments, and no more so than in when these systems are in crisis. Successful decision-making in crisis situations depends not so much on the ability to gather information or even to organize it as it does on seeing the meaning or patterns hidden within it. Humans remain far better at reconciling the relevance of inconsistent, incomplete, competing, and even conflicting information than cybersystems. Ensuring such systems support the strengths of the people responsible for making decisions rather than using them to overcome weaknesses seems to me an essential step in preventing these systems from compounding rather than correcting our problems.

Most crises are adaptive not technical challenges (Heifetz & Laurie 2001). Although many crises present us with problems that require technological assistance, their hallmark remains the need to see our relationship with the problem and its environment differently from the way we did before our situation became apparent. Dietrich Dörner (1997) demonstrated that most of our problems managing adaptive challenges arises not from their scope or scale so much as our inability to see them as complex webs of interdependent variables that interact in subtle but important ways. His experiments demonstrate that we are particularly ill-equipped to manage situations in which these interactions produce exponential rather than quasi-steady changes in the situation. He further concludes, that when confronted with such problems, we have an altogether too predictable tendency to direct out attention in ways that are either too narrow and fixed or too broad and fleeting to do much good. Adaptive challenges, then, require us to keep the big picture in perspective and to engage others in its management. This is not something that cybersystems necessarily help us do better, as they engage people with a representation of the problem not its essential elements.

In the end, every crisis demands an accounting of what went wrong, and, if we are truly honest and maybe a bit lucky, what went right as well. Such judgments are as inherently subjective just as their conclusions are (or should be) intensely personal. Getting people to accept responsibility, learn from their experiences, and take steps to strengthen the relationships they depend upon to resolve crises is an innately human process. Cybersystems may help us engage one another over great distances in real time and keep records of our interactions, but they do not necessarily clarify our intentions or make it any easier for us to acknowledge the hard lessons we must learn if we are to grow.

Despite my concerns, I remain optimistic that technology can help us improve the effectiveness if not the efficiency of crisis interventions. But only if we do not ask too much of it or too little of ourselves along the way.


DÖRNER, D. (1996). The Logic of Failure. New York: Basic Books.

HEIFETZ, RA & LAURIE, DL (2001). The Work of Leadership. Harvard Business Review. Cambridge, Mass.

NYE, Jr., JS (2008). The Powers to Lead. New York: Oxford University Press.

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