Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 30, 2010

Killing a fellow citizen: Four frames on the present reality of Anwar al-Awlaki

Filed under: Legal Issues,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 30, 2010

Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war; the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty, to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they, at length, become willing to run the risk of being less free. The Federalist No. 8, p. 33 (Hamilton)


The President will not confirm or deny, but it is likely a secret document has authorized agents of the government to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, a citizen of the United States (shown above).  Mr. al-Awlaki has not — yet — been charged with crimes against the United States.  No court hearing or other aspect of regular due process has been undertaken to consider charges against the accused.

No matter how else we might disagree, I hope we can all agree that unilateral action by the executive to kill a citizen is a serious matter deserving careful consideration by citizens.

Last weekend a number of citizens gave the issue more careful attention than is typical of the blogosphere.  See context and comments at: al-Alwaki and us: Where do the rights of citizenship end?

In these comments — and elsewhere — I perceive four frames-of-reference being applied to the prospect of the President’s men or women killing our fellow citizen:

1. What is the most pragmatic choice? What decision and action is most likely to reduce the immediate threat of Mr. al-Awlaki?

2. What is the most ethical choice? What is most likely to reinforce sustainable relationships? (Some of the relationships are international, some interpersonal, some are relationships between values, others…?)

3. What is the best legal approach? What principle and/or precedent and/or argument preserves or advances an appropriate balance of liberty and security?

4. What is the best political choice? What decision-making and action-taking process is most likely to sustain democratic principles and practices under duress?

I understand the responsibilities of citizenship include listening to my government, listening to my fellow citizens, observing reality as best I can, and applying my values and reason to reach a decision — or identify further information needed to reach a decision or to justify a non-decision — which I should then communicate to my fellow citizens for their consideration.

Since the weekend I have tried to behave as a citizen and have concluded: 

  • There is sufficient pragmatic justification for the executive to take unilateral action to kill Mr. al-Awlaki.  
  • There is a substantial ethical justification for lethal action.  I can imagine a thoughtful chief executive feeling ethically compelled to take such action.
  • The authorization to kill a citizen without judicial review is almost certainly illegal and unconstitutional.
  • The political implications of unilateral lethal action by the executive against a citizen depend a great deal on what happens in the future and how the decision is used by others.

In other words, for me it is a split decision. (The confines of a blog — with any hope of being read — make it difficult to justify these conclusions.  But in links provided at the close of this post I point you to sources that had particular influence on my deliberations.)

This deliberating has, however, helped identify criteria by which I could square these four frames and reach a more coherent decision.   The legal framework for extraordinary executive action of this sort must be made much more explicit.   It is the secrecy of the executive in this matter that most offends our legal standards and generates the greatest potential for profound political mischief.

There is an urgent need — and the case of Mr. al-Awlaki presents the opportunity — to establish a new body of law that much more clearly and precisely sets out due process appropriate for the so-called Age of Terror or this Long War or our struggle against violent extremism.  Whatever we call this challenge,  we are faced with “continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger” and we do not need Alexander Hamilton (or even Lee Hamilton) to tell us why this is a threat. 

Among the strongest nations, once liberty is earned it is seldom taken away by outsiders.  But mortgaging liberty on a false promise of security is a recurring tale.  Too often the debt is called.   In his big, difficult, and wonderful book Terror and Consent, Philip Bobbitt writes,

The states of consent must develop rules that define what terrorism is, who is a terrorist, and what states can lawfully do to fight terrorists and terrorism. Unless we do this, we will bring our alliances to ruin as we appear to rampage around the world, declaring our enemies to be terrorists and ourselves to be above the law in retaliating against them. We will become, in the eyes of others, the supreme rogue states and will have no basis on which to justify our actions other than the simple assertion of our power. At the same time, we must preserve our open society by careful appreciation of the threat that terror poses to it and not by trying to minimize that reality or to appease the sensibilities of people who would wish it away… We must do this because an open society depends upon a government strong enough and foresighted enough to protect individual rights. If we fail to develop these legal standards, we will find we are progressively militarizing the domestic environment without having quite realized that we are at war. And, when a savage mass strike against us does come, we will react in a fury that ultimately does damage to our self-respect, our ideals, and our institutions (p. 394).

To avoid this self-generated harm there is a need for legislative action prior to the savage mass strike (or cumulative small strikes?).  What is effective and appropriate due process for a “state of continual danger”?  

An explicit legal structure and set of procedures is needed.  I advocate developing this through legislative action — as opposed to judicial action — to more fully expose issues involved.   The legislative process is much more adept at educating and involving citizens.  Through the legislative process we are more likely to cultivate the attitude of readiness and resilience that is most conducive to preserving our liberties.

The upcoming lame-duck session of Congress would be an opportune moment to open hearings on reforming due process guarantees for the present age.

For further consideration:

Pragmatic arguments

Times Topics: Anwar al Alwaki

Who is the world’s most dangerous man?

Anwar al Awlaki: the new Osama bin Laden?

Ethical arguments

Moral Man and Immoral Societyby Reinhold Neibuhr

The Irony of American Historyby Reinhold Neibuhr

Act and Being by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Legal arguments

Executive Order 11905, Section 5, paragraph g: Prohibition of Assassination. No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.

Authorization for the Use of Military Force, September 18, 2001

Hamdi et al v. Rumsfeld (I was especially taken by the Scalia dissent.)

Political arguments

Terror and Consent by Philip Bobbitt

The Federalist Papers by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay

Second Treatise of Government by John Locke

Threats to world water supplies

Filed under: Biosecurity,Catastrophes,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 30, 2010

Today’s edition of Nature includes a report worth the attention of anyone engaged in risk strategy.  According to the authors,

Our study found that vast areas across both the developed and developing world arrive at similarly acute levels of imposed threat to their freshwater resources. Sources of degradation in many of the developing world’s most threatened rivers bear striking similarities to those of rivers in similar condition in wealthy countries. However, the highly engineered solutions practiced traditionally by industrialized nations, which emphasize treatment of the symptoms rather than protection of resources, often prove too costly for poorer nations.

Reliance of wealthy nations on costly technological remedies to overcome their water problems and deliver water services does little to abate the underlying threats, producing a false sense of security in industrialized nations and perilous water insecurity in the developing world. In addition, lack of comparable investments to conserve biodiversity, regardless of national wealth, help to explain accelerating declines in freshwater species.

More at the Guardian

More at http://riverthreat.net/

More at Nature (subscription required)

September 29, 2010


Filed under: Legal Issues,Organizational Issues,Strategy — by Mark Chubb on September 29, 2010

American Socio-economic Fairness

Source: Cohort Zero at http://www.cohortzero.com/

I spent last weekend attending a course on mediation in the hopes of learning skills that might prove useful in crisis management and public engagement since these processes often become framed not just as failures but as conflicts as well. Although familiar with the field before taking the course, the two days of instruction and practical role play were a pleasant reminder that we always have alternatives to thinking and acting in the ways we usually do. At the same time, I was reminded that breaking old habits of mind is an acquired skill that requires lots of patience and practice.

Most of the alternatives to conventional conflict adjudication and resolution don’t just seem messy, time consuming and inefficient, they really are! Talking with one another and taking the time to appreciate others’ positions is terribly difficult, especially when we know we are right to begin with. But the sometimes “irrational” solutions that arise from alternative dispute resolution process often lead to genuine reconciliation, which in the end begs the question whether the adversarial win-lose approaches typical of other proceedings is not only irrational but unjust as well.

Something surprising often happens when we engage in open, honest and ongoing dialog with the objective of finding something of benefit to all parties, especially those experiencing differences with one another. We learn that other people face many of the same difficulties we do. And their bad decisions and actions, like our own, sometimes result from the best intentions, distractions or plain old poor execution. In other words, we are not the only people who have trouble dealing with uncertainty, time pressure, ill-informed or poorly articulated expectations and competing objectives. And we are not the only ones who have trouble accepting the consequences of our actions, especially when they fall short of what we want.

An effective mediator recognizes the importance of remaining neutral and letting the parties find their own ways to solutions that might otherwise never surface. Often this involves validating their feelings, expressing empathy for their position, clarifying their issues and interests and summarizing what they said. Taking the time to do these equally with each party also helps model for the participants the behaviors that will lead them to find a satisfying resolution of their own making.

The instructor for my course — a middle-aged Israeli woman who was drafted at 18 years of age to serve as combat nurse in both the Golan Heights and West Bank just before the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War– seems particularly well-equipped to appreciate both the subtleties of these techniques and the genuine importance of their application to conflicts among people, whether they involve individuals, institutions or cultures. For the past 20 years, she has mediated a bewildering array of disputes ranging from the petty to the preposterous to the truly ponderous. In the process, she has acquired a deeper understanding not only of conflicts among human beings, but also of the conflicts within herself and by extension in each one of us.

As we talked throughout the two days, it became clear that she still holds very strong views about the conflicts in the Middle East. But she also made it clear that she is far more aware of the ways others see them too. As such, she is not one to advocate for, much less favor, quick fixes. I could not help but wonder how useful her input and that of others like her might be if they were given the mantle of resolving the dispute between Arabs and Israelis rather than relying on leaders whose vested interests in maintaining the power of the state and their own power often leads them to narrow conceptions of what’s workable.

As I contemplated the questions posed by Phil Palin on Sunday and thoughtfully debated by several of us over the past couple of days, I wondered what our discussions could achieve and whether similar efforts if engaged by a wider audience could actually create a more peaceful world. The course helped answer this question as well.

Change, whether from a state of conflict or chaos, to something more stable, even comfortable, requires participants to engage their heads, hearts and hands. Every conflict involves substantive issues. Often the absence of procedural fairness inhibits resolution, and adds to the frustration or fear of future consequences that brings people to impasse. It may be possible to resolve the issues at the center of a conflict without addressing the interests underlying the participants’ positions. But avoiding the hard work of examining participants’ emotions, biases and the values that inform them often leaves everyone wondering whether anything really changed. We all need answers to the why, what and how questions before committing ourselves to which direction we will go.

Some people cannot or will not participate in mediation. People who lack self-awareness or a capacity for empathy cannot engage mediation in any meaningful way. Yet that does not mean we, as their adversaries, lack alternatives, it just makes finding them, negotiating them and implementing them that much more difficult as we carry water for both (or all) sides.

During his campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama was widely criticized for suggesting we could and should engage those with whom we find ourselves in conflict. Those who struggled to accept his stance became all the more uncomfortable, if not incensed, when he received the Nobel Peace Prize for little more than suggesting we might make the world a more just and peaceful place by doing so consistently. Very soon afterward, the President was ridiculed by the right for suggesting that empathy was an essential quality in a supreme court justice.

Mediation is an intensely practical pursuit, not some sort of intellectual fantasy or philosophical exercise. It accepts that getting something better for each and every party often means one or more party must accept something less than that to which they might otherwise consider themselves entitled. Getting better results for all often involves accepting something less for ourselves rather than extracting something more from others.

Whether we want to see peace in the Middle East, improved employment prospects at home, an end to Congressional gridlock or a more equitable, efficient and accessible health care system for ourselves and our fellow citizens, we may have no better option than ending our obsession with and insistence upon justice. As we consider alternatives to the conflicts preoccupying us today, we would do well to talk with one another about how we might live if we were simply fair.

Further reading:

Dworkin, Ronald (2008). Is Democracy Possible Here? Principles for a New Political Debate. Princeton University Press.

Habermas, Jurgen (1984). The Theory of Communicative Action (Volume 1): Reason and the Rationalization of Society. Beacon Press.

Habermas, Jurgen (1987). The Theory of Communicative Action (Volume 2): Lifeworld and Systems: A Critique of Functionalist Reason. Beacon Press.

Rawls, John (1971). A Theory of Justice. Belknap Press.

Mumbai-type attacks pre-empted?

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 29, 2010

This morning the European angle on the last week’s surge in drone attacks in FATA is considerably different than that I am reading and hearing in the United States.  Some examples:

From the Guardian (UK)

A plot to launch “commando-style” attacks on Britain, France, and Germany has been intercepted and foiled by drone attacks on militants based in Pakistan, security and intelligence sources said last night. The plan for suicidal onslaughts similar to the 2008 atrocity in Mumbai – where 166 people were killed in a series of gun and grenade assaults – was disrupted after a combined operation involving US, UK, French and German intelligence agencies, officials said. British security and intelligence sources, who have been concerned for some time about the possibility of a Mumbai-style attack in Europe, confirmed that they believed a plot was being hatched from Pakistan. MORE

From Deutsche Welle (Germany)

An Islamist plot to launch simultaneous armed raids in major cities in Britain, France and Germany has been uncovered, media reports said on Wednesday. The attacks – planned from Pakistan and being tracked by anti-terrorism agencies – are said to have advanced to a planning stage… MORE

From Dawn (Pakistan)

Pakistan is investigating reports that a CIA missile strike killed a senior al-Qaeda commander as he traveled in a tribal region near the Afghan border, security officials said Wednesday.  If confirmed, Sheikh Fateh al-Misri’s death would be the covert US missile program’s latest blow to Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network. Al-Misri is believed to have replaced Mustafa al-Yazid, who was killed in a missile strike in May and characterized by the group as its No. 3 commander. MORE

Tuesday the Wall Street Journal’s lead story was focused on similar reports (andthe WSJ  is, in fact, quoted by European media).  But the Journal seems to be an outlier among its US peers.

UPDATE: Since  this post appeared very early this morning the New York Times has published an online piece that will also appear in tomorrow’s print edition: Al Qaeda is plotting attacks on European cities.  Some other related stories since this morning:

The Coming Terror War (Newsweek)

How European terror plot came to light (CNN International)

Terror Plot Foiled (SkyNews)

I am not really seeing much new (It is now about 1630 Eastern).  All the stories seem similar, but there is some additional background being reported.   It is difficult to from this angle to differentiate between original sources and the media echo-effect.  I think it is a tad interesting that the Pakistani army spokesman thought it would be helpful to dismiss the stories as “speculative” according to DAWN.

It’s nearly dawn in London and some “new” news is beginning to emerge, a couple of interesting bits:

According to the Telegraph:

At least 20 Britons are undergoing terrorist training in Pakistan to launch Mumbai-style shootings and suicide attacks in Britain, intelligence sources have told The Daily Telegraph. MORE

According to The Sun:

Prime Minister David Cameron utilized the threat of a Mumbai-style attack on London to conduct a full-scale execise of response capabilities to such an attack.  MORE

The lead editorial in the September 30 edition of the Daily Times (Pakistan) offers an alternative to the effort (above) by the Pakistani army to discredit “speculative” reports about Mumbai-style attacks originating in Pakistan.  In part the editorial reads:

North Waziristan has been a hot issue for quite some time now for the western forces. The notorious Haqqani network is accused of providing safe havens to foreign terrorist networks. It has also been alleged that the Haqqani network has the covert support of Pakistan’s military establishment. With endgame in Afghanistan approaching, the military establishment thinks that it can pursue its ‘strategic depth’ policy without any repercussions. What it does not envisage is any international terror plots emanating from our soil. The Haqqani network itself may not be involved in pursuing such attacks outside the region, but its affiliates like al Qaeda are being provided with shelter and training in North Waziristan. Now that such plots are being uncovered, it is time to scrap this deadly foreign policy. A recent drone attack killed al Qaeda’s operational chief, Sheikh Fateh, in North Waziristan. It shows that the al Qaeda leadership is indeed hiding inside Pakistani territory. It is time that the Pakistan Army stops giving a free rein to the Haqqani network and launches a crackdown against all such elements that can lead to the destabilisation of the country, the region and the world at large.  MORE

September 28, 2010

Department of Homeland Security Cologne

Filed under: Humor — by Christopher Bellavita on September 28, 2010

From the intrepid marketing experts at The Onion:

If you smell something, say something.

The exotic essence of the Far East is absolutely nowhere to be found in this almost inescapable new Department of Homeland Security fragrance.
Formulated by the personal perfumier to Janet Napoloitano, DHS contains essential oils of capsacin, sandalwood, eagle tears, non-Lebanon cedar, and guns. Notes of vigilance, musk, tonka bean, and black cordura pat down the senses to preserve comforting overtones of vanilla. And a cool, commanding base of conditioned orange infusions evoke the powerful agency’s message that, while all may be serene for now, the future almost certainly holds a seductive hint of menace.

“I ‘spect it just growed”

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

The existing [congressional] standing committees have expertise and decades of experience with the policy problems of which [homeland] security is now a component, and their continued involvement in the development of legislation that affects their traditional jurisdiction is a possibility. Their leverage lies in the legislative process. — Congressional Research Service “Homeland Security: Compendium of Recommendations Relevant to House Committee Organization and Analysis of Considerations for the House, and 109th and 110th Congresses Epilogue;” Updated March 2, 2007, p.58


The leaders of the Department of Homeland Security now appear before 88 committees and subcommittees of Congress.9/11 Commission Report, 2004, p. 421


The … diffused and unfocused congressional jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security, and homeland security in general, not only imposes extraordinary burdens on the Department, but makes it far more difficult for the Congress to guide the Department’s activities in a consistent and focused way that promotes integration and eliminates programmatic redundancies, and advances implementation of a coherent national homeland security strategy.“Recommendations of the Select Committee on Homeland Security on Changes to the Rules of the House of Representatives with Respect to Homeland Security Issues” 2004, pp. 1-2.


Currently, nearly 90 congressional committees and subcommittees oversee [DHS]. With this many overseers, on a given day, there is a good chance that someone at DHS is being asked to testify before at least one of them. — Michael Chertoff, “Homeland Security: Assessing the First Five Years,” 2009, p. 182.


DHS … answers to eighty-six committees or subcommittees…. I suppose we should have been flattered by all the attention DHS and its components received from Congress. Certainly, we broke the modern record — and perhaps all records — for the number of times people in leadership positions of a federal department were cordially invited to take their seats in front of an array of senators or representatives, pour glasses of water, clear their throats, and testify. Tom Ridge, “The Test of Our Times, 2009, p. 259.


In the 110th Congress, 108 committees and subcommittees [oversaw] the Department of Homeland Security.


“Do you know who made you?”

“Nobody, as I knows on,” said the child, with a short laugh.

The idea appeared to amuse her considerably; for her eyes twinkled, and she added,

“I spect I grow’d. Don’t think nobody never made me.”

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852, Chapter 20

September 25, 2010

al-Awlaki and us: Where do the rights of citizenship end?

Filed under: Legal Issues,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 25, 2010

Anwar alAwlaki is a citizen of the United States.  He has publicly advocated violence against the United States.  He has been directly linked to — and taken responsibility for — several murderous attempts against US citizens, including the shootings attributed to Nidal Hasan at Ft. Hood, Texas.  Mr. al-Awlaki — currently assumed to be operating out of Yemen — is perceived by many as a significant emerging leader of anti-US terrorist operations. 

It is widely understood the President has authorized lethal action against Mr. alAwlaki.  Some have argued that the current military offensive in Yemen, largely funded and otherwise supported by the United States,  among other purposes seeks to capture or kill the rogue citizen. The father of Mr. alAwlaki has petitioned the federal district court in Washington D.C. to enjoin the extra-judicial killing of his son.

According to several news reports, earlier today the US Department of Justice invoked the state secrets doctrine in seeking to have the father’s lawsuit dismissed.  This doctrine was recently sustained in a major decision of the typically “liberal” Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights are representing the father.  In response to today’s Justice Department action the civil rights groups released a statement saying, “The idea that courts should have no role whatsoever in determining the criteria by which the executive branch can kill its own citizens is unacceptable in a democracy… In matters of life and death, no executive should have a blank check.”  In late August the ACLU and CCR argued, “It is well established that the government cannot use extrajudicial killing to punish people for past acts, but only to prevent grave and imminent threats.”

I cannot yet find online access to the court documents.  If you know where to get access, please let us know by leaving a comment.

Thanks to the Great Gray Lady — and her reporters and webmasters — you can access the DOJ Motion to Dismiss at http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/world/26AlAulaqi_MTD.pdf

The Times report on the legal action, written by Charlie Savage, is headlined: State Secrets Cited in Effort by White House to Block Suit

The Center for Constitutional Rights provides background on the Plantiff’s case and the original complaint and motion (scroll to the bottom) at http://ccrjustice.org/targetedkillings

Fair warning to those ready to comment on this issue.  I will “unapprove” any comment that does not demonstrate evidence of having read the MTD or otherwise gives attention to the substantive concerns on both sides of this case.  Regular readers know I tend to be rather stubborn on the rights of citizenship.  I bring that bias to this issue, but bias is not enough.  There is too much noise to just generate more noise.   A close reading and analysis of the contending issues would certainly be worthwhile.


September 24, 2010

Hiding from the truth hurts more than accepting a hard truth

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on September 24, 2010

On September 10 a Virginia school used the video linked immediately below during the morning announcement time.  The school serves students from kindergarten to fifth grade.

Please click on this link: Video shown to elementary school students on September 10

It is not clear what, if any, classroom discussion preceded the video or followed the video.  It is very clear, however, that some parents complained and the school back-pedaled as fast as possible.

I am purposefully not identifying the school.  I don’t want to further complicate the life of administrators, faculty, or others.

In my judgment the video is about as benign — even banal — a treatment of the tragedy as possible.  I hope the media piece was not the only message.  Nonetheless, in combination with age-appropriate discussion the use of such media on the school day closest to 9/11 strikes me as useful, even important.

Next year will be the tenth anniversary of a day that transformed our nation and well-beyond. It would be irresponsible for schools to not give attention to the day and its consequences.

Over the last couple of years there has been a good deal of talk about how to better involve the schools in emergency preparedness generally.  I perceive the talk has failed to move toward much action precisely because of concerns for how some parents will respond.

A riff for our times: Risk readiness requires authentic relationships, focused on tough realities, working together toward resilience.

Given the foundational importance of relationships, we should be mindful of parental concerns, even providing parents the opportunity to opt out their child.  But we cannot afford to obscure, neglect, or avoid the tough realities that should motivate personal and neighborhood readiness… especially in our schools.  Efforts by schools to engage these tough realities should be encouraged.

Cognitive denial of risk — especially prospective risk — is a natural tendency.  It is an especially dangerous remnant of our evolution. This innate predisposition was helpful 10,000 years ago; it is now one of our biggest threats. Our only means to combat this evolutionary maladaptation to the contemporary risk environment is through self-conscious learning and doing.  Our formal educational system must be part of this process.

(I apologize for my technical incompetence in being unable to embed the video.  I have several maladaptations which trouble my effectiveness.)

Leading Indicators? Cyber, Yemen, and how Islam is portrayed in Texas textbooks

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on September 24, 2010

According to the BBC:

One of the most sophisticated pieces of malware ever detected was probably targeting “high value” infrastructure in Iran, experts have told the BBC. Stuxnet’s complexity suggests it could only have been written by a “nation state”, some researchers have claimed. It is believed to be the first-known worm designed to target real-world infrastructure such as power stations, water plants and industrial units.  MORE

SUNDAY UPDATE: “The Iranian government agency that runs the country’s nuclear facilities, including those the West suspects are part of a weapons program, has reported that its engineers are trying to protect their facilities from a sophisticated computer worm that has infected industrial plants across Iran. The agency, the Atomic Energy Organization, did not specify whether the worm had already infected any of its nuclear facilities, including Natanz, the underground enrichment site that for several years has been a main target of American and Israeli covert programs. But the announcement raised suspicions, and new questions, about the origins and target of the worm, Stuxnet, which computer experts say is a far cry from common computer malware that has affected the Internet for years. MORE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES

According to CNN:

Yemeni forces have laid siege to a southern town believed to be a militant stronghold in what amounts to an intensified effort to combat terrorism, a senior defense official said Thursday… In an exclusive interview with CNN, Rashad al-Alimi, Yemen’s deputy prime minister for defense and security, said Yemeni forces have surrounded the village of Hawta in southern Shabwa province, a stronghold for the offshoot terrorist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. MORE

SUNDAY UPDATE: Yemeni security announces end of clashes in Huta, militants manage to escape.  MORE FROM NewsYemen and the Associated Press.

According to the Houston Chronicle:

As a Muslim who grew up going to Texas public schools — and sees challenges facing today’s Muslim students — Imam Islam Mossaad said he was taken aback by a resolution to be considered Friday by the State Board of Education asserting the need to fend off a pro-Islamic, anti-Christian bias in textbooks.

“There are Muslim students who even feel they have to change their name. They have to create some other ethnicity, so that their classmates don’t say, ‘Oh, here comes Osama,’ or ‘Watch out, he’s got a bomb,’ ” Mossaad said at a Monday news conference with other clergy members against the proposed resolution. Critics say it inaccurately describes current social studies texts. MORE

SATURDAY UPDATE:  “Publishers were put on notice on Friday when a divided State Board of Education vowed to reject textbooks with a pro-Islamic and anti-Christian slant, sending a message that critics say promotes fear and prejudice. The resolution, approved by a 7-6 vote, says that multiple world history textbooks are tainted with views that demonize Christianity and favor Islam.” MORE FROM THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE

September 23, 2010

Crafting catastrophe, choosing resilience

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 23, 2010

If you have not read Assessing the Terrorist Threat by Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman, stop, read no further, download, and carefully consume the 43 concise yet comprehensive pages.  Below I will focus on a secondary –tertiary? — aspect of the report.

Bergen and Hoffman write, “al-Qaeda is believed to lack the capability to launch a mass-casualty attack sufficiently deadly in scope to completely reorient American foreign policy, as the 9/11 attacks did.”   They  characterize the 9/11 attacks as “catastrophic.”

How were the 9/11 attacks catastrophic?   Bergen and Hoffman are too skilled as writers to offer pedantic definitions.  Their meaning is nonetheless reasonably clear.  Among other outcomes, the complete reorientation of American foreign policy in response to the attacks transformed a disaster into a catastrophe.

In previous posts I have offered a — very pedantic — definition of catastrophe.  The term originates in ancient Greek drama and signals a reversal of fortune and a sudden shift in the plot.  Our expectations are upended. Nothing is the same after the catastrophe.

In reviewing the failed Christmas Day underwear bomb, Bergen and Hoffman argue, “If Umar Farouq Abulmutallab had succeeded in bringing down Northwest Airlines Flight 253, the bombing not only would have killed hundreds but would have had a large effect on the U.S. economy, already reeling from the worst recession since the Great Depression, and would have devastated the critical aviation and tourism business. It also would have likely dealt a crippling blow to Barack Obama’s presidency.”

Notice how the potential consequences depend on social interpretation of the event.  Why would the bombing of an airliner have the effects projected? Bergen and Hoffman offer projections regarding how media and public would make meaning  of the event and adjust attitudes and behavior to that meaning.

When the cause is natural or even accidental a plane can crash and its consequences are limited largely to the families of those on the plane.  Bergen and Hoffman make a (reasonable) assumption that a successful terrorist attack amplifies economic and political consequences.  That is certainly the terrorists intent.

The authors do not, however, make much more of this line of argument until their penultimate paragraph:

It is also important to acknowledge that how Americans respond to terrorist attacks can influence the worrisome trend by terrorist groups to radicalize and train recruits to carry out less sophisticated operations on U.S. soil. If any attack can succeed in generating significant political and economic fallout, then there is a greater motivation for undertaking these attacks. Alternatively, terrorist attacks that have limited potential to inflict serious casualties or cause disruption become less attractive if Americans display a greater degree of resilience by being better prepared to respond to and recover from these attacks. Since as a practical matter it is impossible to prevent every terrorist attack, the United States should be working in any event to improve the capacity of its political system, along with citizens and communities, to better manage how America deals with such attacks when they occur.

How we respond determines if an event is catastrophic or not.  How the survivors interpret the event is crucial.  We are, ultimately, the authors of the plot.  We are the heroes of the play.  Our orientation, our decision, and our collective action determines how the plot will conclude and its meaning.


Today is the anniversary of a resilient decision.   2490 years later we still live with the consequences of  a choice made by survivors.

The entire city and its port had been evacuated.  Tens-of-thousands of women, children and elderly were parceled out to islands, neighboring towns, and mountain hide-aways.  Families were separated.  Nearly every able-bodied male — from 14 to over fifty, slave and free — was with the fleet or in the army.

From their wooden ships the men of Athens could see smoke and flame rising from the Acropolis, a sure sign the Persians had vanquished the small band of priests, priestesses, the blind, lame, and stubborn who had barricaded themselves atop the sacred hill.

The Spartans and King Leonidas had fallen at Thermopylae six weeks before.  The invaders had swept through Northern Greece.  There was no repeating the miracle at Marathon.  Athens fell before the  seemingly irresistable onslaught.  

On the evening of September 22 a decision was made — and then unmade — to abandon Athens entirely and make a final stand at the Isthmus of Corinth.  Even in the unlikely event (if you accept Herodotus) the Isthmus could have been held, such a decision would have utterly changed human history.

The decision to stay and fight at Salamis emerged from a mix of fear, realism, strategy, trickery, and desperation.  Acts of courage on each side were fully matched  by cowardice and dumb luck on every side.  

Until the morning of September 23, Xerxes had been the hero.   Then in the narrow strait between the sandy shores of Salamis and Mt. Aigaleos the plot suddenly shifts and Thermosticles — conflicted, corrupt, creative and probably  irreplaceable  — wins the day and cracks the door for what we now know as Western Civilization.

A huge Persian army still threatened and winter was fast approaching as the people of Athens returned to their ruined homes and desecrated temples.  Somehow they came to see this as a great opportunity.  Over the next two generations there was an efflorescence of architectural, philosophical, literary, and scientific creativity.  The foundations of our civilization still stand on the ruins Xerxes left behind and what the Athenians decided to do in response.

On this day twenty-five centuries ago the Battle of Salamis set the stage.  The resilient choice was made at the broken threshold and empty hearth of each bereaved Athenian.

What will we choose? 

For further consideration:

Yesterday the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs received testimony from Secretary Napolitano, FBI Director Mueller, and Michael Leiter, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center.   I have had trouble accessing the Committee site — too much demand? — but you should be able to find the prepared testimony and perhaps video of the actual testimony at http://hsgac.senate.gov/

On Monday the Congressional Research Service released a report on American Jihadist Terrorism.  The public can access thanks to the Federation of American Scientists.

In March the Congressional Research Service produced good overview on International Terrorism and Transnational Crime.  This is also available from the Federation of American Scientists.

UPDATE: About 2:00 Eastern today (Thursday) Bruce Hoffman posted a summary of yesterday’s testimony, the CRS piece linked above (American Jihadist Terrorism), and the BPG report co-authored by Dr. Hoffman and Mr. Bergen.  It is a helpful crystalization of the core message of the important report (rather than the more tangential aspect on which I have focused).  Please see Dr. Hoffman’s post at The National Interest: Where’s the Beef?

September 22, 2010


Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Organizational Issues,State and Local HLS — by Mark Chubb on September 22, 2010

This week we learned that the longest recession since the end of the Second World War ended last December. I for one am glad somebody shared this fact, because it’s not so obvious from where I sit at the moment. Judging from the fiscal effects on the homeland security and emergency management employment markets, the housing market is not the only part of the economy underwater.

My personal employment situation is far from secure, as I have held a limited-term appointment for the last two years while a colleague served a three-year active duty assignment with the National Guard. With his separation from active service, he will resume his former position at the beginning of October, which leaves me about a month to find new employment while we work together on the transition.

As I have surveyed the homeland security and emergency management employment landscape, a couple of things have become all too readily apparent to me. First, the vast majority of positions on offer at any given time are with federal agencies or contractors. Second, most of these are located in the Washington, DC metro area or at least in the eastern half of the United States. And third, the pay afforded federal employees and many of their contractors is vastly superior to anything on offer at the state or local level, unless of course you work in a unionized police or fire department with tenure-based compensation.

Put simply, emergency management and emergency preparedness pays squat all and you will be hard-pressed to find employment in a federal agency without veterans preference credits, highly specialized skills, a top secret security clearance, a willingness to relocate and good connections. Professional homeland security and emergency management practitioners, especially those at the state and local level, are generally over-educated and under-compensated. Those without educational credentials are often far better paid than those with them, even when work experience is taken into consideration.

This is not the first time these observations have occurred to me. I married a city planner. We met while working for the same city back in the mid-1980s. She quickly made me aware of just how lucky I was to be working for the fire department, where my position afforded me a salary superior to hers despite no educational prerequisites and only comparable experience.

My wife was laid off 15 months ago despite 25 years of experience and a graduate education. She has had one interview for a position since then. Prospects for her re-employment as a city planner are bleak to non-existant. And no one seems willing to look beyond her previous job titles or the duration of her unemployment to see the skills she offers in terms of strategic thinking, public engagement, business process development and project management.

In light of current economic conditions, I am, of course, concerned that I may soon join my wife among the ranks of the long-term unemployed. But I am also concerned that the situation, if indeed we are in some sort of a long, slow recovery, has not been accompanied by the sort of strategic realignment necessary to improve efficiencies and accountability for outcomes in the future that should have become evident to all as a result of the collapse that precipitated it. And this should be a very real concern to anyone committed to the homeland security enterprise for many reasons.

Chief among these is the evidence that our so-called recovery will exacerbate social and economic tensions that pit the haves against the have-nots. Income inequality remains at unprecedented levels and is increasing even as the ranks of those in poverty increase. This creates ideal conditions for radicalization, which is already far too apparent in our domestic political discourse as well as our international relations and security situation.

The second problem this poses is the tendency to centralize expertise and capability for generating and implementing solutions far away from the sources of the problems. Failing to engage and develop local capability remains a significant vulnerability, especially since so many of the investments made in recent years have gone to already “fat” agencies and the production of paper plans that largely sit on shelves collecting dust. Efforts to slim these agencies down as the fiscal crisis dragged on have led to cuts of brain and muscle leaving the fat largely intact.

The strong tendency to preserve the status quo ante leaves many pressing problems unaddressed. Not the least of these is the need to diversify the ranks of our public safety forces so they can more effectively engage the communities they serve. (Why is it such a large percentage of the adverse impact employment discrimination cases reaching the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years originated in fire service agencies?)

I interviewed with a fire department just last week that serves a community where the Hispanic/Latino population is approaching 20 percent. Of their 400 or so uniformed staff, four are women and only one is Hispanic. In the city where I live and work, the vast majority of rank and file public safety staff in the police and fire departments live far outside the city they protect despite making a median salary more than twice the median wage. In other words, we are exporting our wealth and importing skills required to supply essential services.

These signs suggest that homeland security and emergency management are in retreat rather than advancing. Police and fire service agencies and their unions are setting the agenda at state and local levels while the federal agenda remains focused inside the Beltway and on staying off of the front pages of the few remaining national newspapers.

If making our country safe is about the decisions we make today to produce a better future for ourselves and others, we should think very seriously about the strategies informing this situation. Judging by the investments we are making (or not) in local expertise, capabilities and evaluation we may well have things back-to-front.

September 21, 2010

Growing ideas in homeland security

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

On Friday, the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security — sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security — will graduate its 27th and 28th master’s degree class.

I am posting the titles of their master’s degree theses to illustrate the range of topics covered.

Many of the theses — adding to what we know, think, and believe about homeland security — will be available through the NPS Dudley Knox library in a few weeks.

  1. The Significance Of The Fire Service Culture As An Impediment To Effective Leadership In The Homeland Security Environment.
  2. National Guard Civil Support Teams: Success, Sustainment And The Challenges In Between.
  3. Identifying Best Practices In The Dissemination Of Intelligence To First Responders In The Fire And EMS Services.
  4. Countering Violent Extremism, The Use Of Non-Governmental Organizations.
  5. Creating Unity Of Effort In The Maritime Domain: The Case For The Maritime Operational Threat Response (MOTR) Plan.
  6. Toward A Common Standard For Law Enforcement Response To WMD Hazmat Incidents.
  7. Emerging Threat To America: Non-State Entities Fighting Fourth Generation Warfare In Mexico.
  8. Homeland Security Within State Departments Of Agriculture: Success Factors And Barriers To An Effective Security Program.
  9. Where Do I Start? Decision-Making in Complex Novel Environments.
  10. State And Local Homeland Security Professionals: Who Are They And What Do They Do?
  11. Improving Disaster Emergency Communication.
  12. Can Local Police And Sheriff Departments Provide A Higher Rate Of Homeland Security Coordination And Collaboration Through Consolidation Of Police Services?
  13. Alternate Care Sites For The Management Of Medical Surge In Disasters.
  14. Medicine For The Masses: Strategies To Minimize The Consequences Of A Terrorist Attack During Mass Gatherings.
  15. Formal Critiques And After Action Reports From Conventional Emergencies: Tools For Homeland Security Training And Education.
  16. Filling Gaps In Interconnected Passenger Rail Security.
  17. Arctic Region Policy: Information Sharing Model Options.
  18. The Engaged And Empowered Community: An Essential Ingredient Of Homeland Security.
  19. Before The Emergency: A Framework For Evaluating Emergency Preparedness Alternatives At Higher Education Institutions.
  20. Striking The Right Balance: Fusion Centers And Privacy.
  21. Impact Of Incentives And Requirements On Collaborative Groups.
  22. Strategic Policy For Pandemic Vaccine Distribution.
  23. Making Sense In The Edge Of Chaos: A Framework For Effective Initial Response Efforts To Large-Scale Incidents.
  24. Measuring Disaster Preparedness In Emergency Medical Services.
  25. Filling The Gap Between NIMS And The Initial Law Enforcement Response In The Age Of The Urban Jihad.
  26. Enhancing FBI Terrorism And Homeland Security Information Sharing With State, Local And Tribal Agencies.

September 17, 2010

London calling. Dots suspiciously proximate? Too early to connect.

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 17, 2010


A Metropolitan Police spokesman said:  “Six men who were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 on Friday, 17 September, were all released without charge late on Saturday night (September 18) and early this morning (Sunday September 19).”  MORE from the Sunday Telegraph.

Within the first hour after the initial arrests most media reports were claiming the men were suspected of threatening Pope Benedict.  Within three or four hours the media claims were increasingly confident. 

 But even reading the same media reports it was possible to perceive particular police restraint regarding the arrests.  You can track my blog updates (below) signaling increasing skepticism.

Still, for several hours the media — especially broadcast media — gave considerable attention to allegations that six North African men had conspired to kill the Pope. 

Today the Sunday Mirror — not always the most credible source — is being quoted by other British media in explaining it was all a joke.

Six binmen accused of plotting to assassinate the Pope were arrested after they “joked” in the staff ­canteen about blowing him up with a rocket-propelled grenade.

The binmen – all of North African origin – were drinking tea on Thursday when they started to talk about how easy it would be to assassinate the pontiff.

One of the men said: “It would be pretty difficult to shoot the Pope, wouldn’t it, as his car is bulletproof?”

One of his pals then said: “Yeah, but I bet an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) would get through that easily enough.”

The group laughed, before changing the subject.

But a colleague at cleaning firm Veolia ­Environmental Services was concerned enough about the sinister comment to call the police.  MORE from the Sunday Mirror (UK)

Given the Pope’s schedule, the police were correct to give the tip serious consideration.  Without knowing more, I would not second guess the co-worker’s judgment or the value of see something, say something (or in this case hear something, do something).

But I do perceive the case encourages a bit more restraint by the media.  If two-hours in a bloody blogger began to smell something was not quite right, a good editor should have been able to make a similar judgment much earlier.


Original Friday noontime post begins below:

The BBC and plenty of other news outlets are reporting the arrest of five terrorist suspects in London on Friday late afternoon/early evening  local time.  Media is making a connection to the current visit of Pope Benedict to London.  No official statements are —  yet —  connecting the two events. (I am posting about 11:30 Eastern.)

On Thursday evening Imran Farooq, a leading Pakistani politician, was murdered in London.  According to Dawn, “The slaying could have implications for national political stability, especially if the MQM accuses its rivals of being involved. On Friday, an MQM leader said the party thought Farooq was killed in response to controversial statements made by another party leader. Farooq’s body was found in north London on Thursday with multiple stab wounds and head injuries. London’s Metropolitan Police said a 50-year-old man was treated by paramedics but pronounced dead at the scene. No arrests have been made, and police said they were waiting for formal identification of the body.”  Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, has reportedly been largely shut down as a result of the murder.

Earlier today in comments focused on the upcoming London Olympics — not on either matter noted above — Jonathan Evans, the head of the UK’s MI-5 domestic intelligence service said, “So, to sum up the Al Qaida related threat. The country continues  to face a real threat from Al Qaida-related terrorism. That threat is diverse in both geography and levels of skill involved but it is persistent and dangerous and trying to control it involves a continual invisible struggle. Counter-terrorist capabilities have improved in recent years but there remains a serious risk of a lethal attack taking place. I see no reason to believe that the position will significantly improve in the immediate future.”  (The full transcript of Evans’ speech is available via the Telegraph.)

I arrived early for a lunch. Traffic was not nearly what I expected.  It will be a long lunch… not unrelated to the topics above.  By dessert the dots may be completely disentangled, mere temporal coincidences.   But it is worth being attentive and I decided — since I had the time — to share the attention with you.

Update following dessert (about 3:30 Eastern): A sixth suspect has been arrested.  British media are also increasingly confident in claiming a connection with the Pope’s visit.  The connection seems mostly a matter of those arrested being street-cleaners with assignments near the venue for a speech by the Pope. 

So far official reports on the arrests  are  understated.  Comments from Scotland Yard imply an entirely precautionary intervention, rather than clear evidence of a assasination plot against the Pope.

Within the last few hours, according to the BBC, “Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism unit, SO15, has taken over the investigation into Imran Farooq’s murder.”

Analyzing the MI-5 chief’s speech in The Guardian, Richard Norton-Taylor, argues, “Evans correctly warned that the assumption that terrorism was 100% preventable, which he said had been imported from the US media, was “nonsensical”… Intelligence gathering and countering terrorism is, crucially, a question of judgment, nuance and managing risk.”

Update at day’s end, TGIF:

The MI-5 chief’s speech — to the Worshipful Company of Security Professonals (I hope feathered hats are involved) — is a measured but comprehensive consideration of the terrorist threat to the United Kingdom. With the exception of his attention to the risk posed by dissident IRA elements, the principal points are very similar to those made by Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman in their September 10  BPA report: Assessing the Terrorist Threat.  

The Bergen/Hoffman report is, by the way, a good read and only 43 pages (including a detailed bibliography).  It helps to have no more than two authors and articulate, organized thinkers at that.  They offer a particular take on resilience that I will address in my Thursday post next week… pending emerging events.

Saturday Update

Nothing really new (and credible)  that I can turn-up  on the supposed plotters of the Pope’s assassination.  The big event today is an outdoor prayer vigil in Hyde Park scheduled for 6:15PM.  Security will be tight, but these open-air events are always nightmarish for law enforcement planners. Tomorrow the Pope moves on to Birmingham to preside at the Beatification of John Henry Newman, and then fly back to the Vatican.

Life in Karachi has largely returned to normal today after being locked-down Friday – the Muslim sabbath – upon hearing the news of Imran Farooq’s Thursday evening murder in London.  The dead political leader’s father says a Karachi burial is being planned.  No date has been set.

According to the Telegraph, next week the British Defense Secretary will warn of severe vulnerabilities associated with a past due Solar Super-flare.  NASA scientists are predicting a so-called “solar maximum” sometime in the  next two years.

So, there, MI-5, I will match your terrorist threat and raise you a natural threat of Hollywood proportions.

September 16, 2010

Homeland security: Ceding the high ground

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 16, 2010

An excerpt from Secretary Napolitano’s September 10 remarks to New York City first responders:

Tomorrow is also a reminder that each of us bears a unique sense of responsibility to one another, to our communities, to our states, and to our nation. Whether you are a police officer on the street, a firefighter, a doctor, a businessman, a student, or a stay-at-home parent, you – we – are the very backbone of our nation’s homeland security. We are all interconnected in the effort to protect this country.

Right around this time last year, I gave a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations here in New York where I described a new framework for how we’re approaching homeland security. It didn’t involve a complex restructuring of DHS or big, flashy new programs. In fact, we streamlined operations, prioritized efficiency, and organized ourselves around our core missions.

Our starting point was the idea of interconnectedness and mutual responsibility. The question we kept asking was: “how can we do a smarter and better job of broadening the collective mission of protecting the homeland?” And our answer was this: we do it by seizing every opportunity to build a bigger and stronger security team and then equipping that team to succeed.

Therefore, over the past year and a half, I have made one of my very top priorities for DHS to get information, to get tools, and to get resources out of Washington, DC, and into the hands of the men and women serving on the front lines. That includes you – the first responders – but it also includes citizens, community groups, and our partners in the private sector.

This may not generate big headlines. But this hometown-centric approach has a big impact on our ability to be effective – and more important – to support you in the field.

The Secretary seems intent on being heads-down and practical.  Avoid flashy promises, make expectations realistic, and keep ambitions in-check.   As I listened to her I thought, again, about what Art Botterell had written in response to my September 2 post:

In our ambition we’ve defined Homeland Security so broadly as to make it for all practical purposes impossible. Now the very scope of the turf we’ve carved out threatens to swallow up our ambitions. What can we learn from this?

By the same token, we’ve always had ideological divisions in this country. What makes our current environment different, IMHO, is that folks seem to be entertaining an unbounded ambition to make their own ideologies, if not universal, at least unchallengeable.

The common factor, I’m afraid, is that many of us have been acting as if we only need to feel a thing in order to make it so. Passion has become its own rationale. It’s not so much that the center doesn’t hold as that each of us individually seems to imagine we are, and have a right to be, that center. More than anything else I think a bit of humility is what we need.

And so yes… there’s nothing like a real emergency to help us get in touch with our own limits, dial back our personal and institutional ambitions, and refocus ourselves on our obligations to one another. So maybe this natural hazard will offer us a brief respite from man-versus-man arguments over who and what comprises the Homeland. (I did not ask Art’s permission to move this comment to the front page.)

The natural hazard referenced was Hurricane Earl, which stayed well out-to-sea.  As a result, our abstract arguments over the homeland continued apace. (I don’t even agree with Art on capitalizing the word.)

I have, though, continued to reflect on Art’s comment.  I am tempted to offer a riff on the Baby Boomers’ sense of entitlement (including my own), the dangers of esteem-based parenting, and self-criticism as a lost skill.

I will stick to something just a bit — but barely — more practical.

I am an advocate for broadening the homeland security discussion.  Spend any time with me and you will hear, “What’s the strategic objective for that?” or “Why is that important?” or “How does that reinforce (or challenge) policy X?” or “What is the relationship between A and Z?”  Regular readers can imagine I sometimes see relationships where no man has gone before (and for good reason).

There are substantive motivations for this broadening. There are also instrumental reasons.  I bet the instrumental is more important than I want to admit. 

For example, homeland security competes for mind-share —  attention, funding, and more — with defense, diplomacy, and intelligence. Over the last half-century all of these older disciplines have created sustainable ecological systems.  By this I mean they each have far-reaching networks of political, intellectual, and institutional support.   Think tanks, corporations, academic departments, fellowships, conferences, journals, and much more foster a shared lexicon, common–  if contentious — concepts, and a rich web of personal relationships.

While the defense, diplomatic, and intelligence communities spend plenty of time on tactics, operations, and nuts-and-bolts, there is clearly a high priesthood and a sustained engagement in “high-end” strategizing, conceptualizing, and such.   Homeland security? Not so much.

I generally consider the homeland security core as consisting of law enforcement, firefighting, public health, emergency management, and the owners/operators of critical infrastructure and supply chains. Give any of these groups, alone or together, a real problem (e.g. hurricane, fire, pandemic) and they will tackle it with a vengeance.  Pose an abstract question of strategy or policy and it can be tough to keep the conversation on track.

As a result, others shape the strategic and policy context.  Consider most of the staff and members associated with the Bipartisan Policy Center’s new Terrorist Threat Assessment.   No critique of substance is implied by noting the absence of many with deep connections to the homeland security core listed above. They are mostly distinquished  veterans of long-time work in defense, diplomacy, or intelligence.  Law enforcement gets the most traction, usually through former prosecutors.  Even the BPC’s project name signals the issue: National Security Preparedness Group.  (If you access the link, please notice that the URL reads homeland-study-group.  This suggests to me a conscious rebranding at some point.)

When Steve Flynn, a member of the BPC’s preparedness group, wrote The Edge of Disaster, I enthusiastically called a colleague to suggest he read it.  He already had and responded, “Oh, you mean where Steve discovers emergency management?”  Well… yes, exactly.  Steve did a great job of restating core principles of emergency management within a meaningful strategic context.  The book was, by the way, published by the Council on Foreign Relations. 

Some of this reflects that nine years in, homeland security remains the new kid.  But much of this is also the result of homeland security professionals not stepping up to the challenge… or opportunity.   They (we?) have stepped up to the tactical and operational challenges with intelligence, courage, and creativity.  But there is something about the strategy and policy “game” that they (we?) seem to disdain.

I share Art’s frustration with most of our “man-versus-man arguments over who and what comprises the Homeland.” But my frustration is often with the lack of ambition reflected in the arguments.  In homeland security’s very practicality we too often cede strategic leadership to those with much less knowledge and competence regarding our domain.

A quick update on Pakistan

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 16, 2010

Al-Qaeda attacks Flood Response (and much more)

Ayman al-Zawahri, the AQ second-in-command has released a 44 minute audio recording which, among other issues, accuses the US and Pakistani governments of a poor response to catastrophic flooding.

“The primary concern of the ruling class in the government and army of Pakistan is filling their domestic and foreign bank accounts with dollars, and as far as they are concerned, Pakistan and its people can go to hell,” he said.

MORE from the Telegraph (UK)

Flood Aid Delay Hurts Terror Fight

Any delay in the rehabilitation of flood affectees could impact socio-economic and political environment, thus restricting the country’s efforts to curb the menace of terrorism, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said on Wednesday.

The PM suggested that the World Bank could make a global appeal to mobilise financial support for Pakistan.

“Pakistan is facing the biggest human and economic crisis in history because of the devastating floods and it is beyond any single country’s capacity to meet a challenge of such magnitude,” he said, adding that the country was simultaneously fighting the war against terrorism as a frontline state in the interest of international peace and prosperity.

MORE from Daily Times (Pakistan)

Militant Groups More Generous to Flood Survivors

During Eid, the government made the offer to farmers with 10 hectares or fewer to facilitate the planting of the wheat crop, the country’s staple food source,

But Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation, the charitable offshoot of the Lashkar-i-Taiba, an anti-India militant group believed responsible for the November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, and similar groups have offered farmers loans repayable only if the borrower can afford it. It has also undertaken to ensure food is supplied to farmers until the crop is harvested in April and May.

The foundation decided to make loans in kind because of concerns that farmers would spend cash on food and medicines, activists said.

Farmers constitute about 80 per cent of the 21 million people the Pakistani government says have been affected by the flooding, sparked by monsoon storms in late July.

MORE from The National (UAE)

After Action Along the Indus

Over the course of this week, the BBC’s Aleem Maqbool is following the path of the destruction caused by the Pakistani floods by travelling the length of the country on the mighty Indus river.

In the first instalment of his diary, he begins his journey in the north-western Swat valley, going from north to south through Fatehpur, Kanju, Mingora and Gatzai. He will finish it in the southern province of Sindh. Along the way he will see first-hand how local people have coped with the damage.

Begin with the first BBC report filed on September 13.

Drones Kill 15 in North Waziristan

Two suspected U.S. drone strikes killed 15 alleged militants in Pakistan’s tribal region Wednesday, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

They were the latest in a series of aerial assaults targeted at insurgents in North Waziristan, one of seven districts in Pakistan’s volatile tribal region bordering Afghanistan.


September 15, 2010

Local, Simple, Varied, Connected

Filed under: Futures,Strategy — by Mark Chubb on September 15, 2010

Predicting the future is always risky. That is if you expect to get it right.

Thinking about the future and the varied forms it might take usually takes one of two forms. The first involves preparing for the alternatives. This approach emphasizes the uncertainties. The second involves deciding how to influence factors within our control. This approach focuses on the drivers of change. Successful strategists cannot afford to overlook or emphasize either approach or dimension of change over the other.

Recently, I was asked to prepare a forecast for the next 10 years. The objective was to identify key trends that would shape emergency services in the coming decade.

Before attempting to imagine what the future would look like, I had to ask myself, how has the past shaped where we are today? This is very different from looking to the past as evidence of how the future might unfold. Instead, it asks what story arcs present in our current narrative are likely to project themselves into the medium-term future.

If these arcs or trends represent recurrent themes in human history, it may be worthwhile to look to the past to see how they play themselves out over time. This is not the same as looking to the past as a predictor of the future, which is what most of us are inclined to do. Thinking about why things happened as they did is quite different from asking how they turned out and expecting them same to happen again.

Much of the concern about the future these days focuses on what the world will look like if trends like climate change, urbanization, globalization, and radicalization continue to play out the same way they have over the past decade. Concerns about resource scarcity, especially petroleum and water, only compound anxiety about alternative future scenarios and the instability the factors driving them seem to suggest.

Could it be though that enough of us have already recognized and begun responding to these factors in ways that alter our future trajectory for the better? How will we discern this, especially if some of the undesired things we fear come to pass? A positive view of the future may not be widely recognized or reported in the popular press, but it has gained currency in many quarters as evidence of small, dispersed and very committed efforts to remake life beyond the current Industrial Era have begun to emerge with increasing frequency, urgency and intensity.

Many enterprises in the public, private and non-profit sectors have adopted triple-bottom line methods to measure their performance. This approach asks organizations to consider their environmental and social performance alongside their fiscal results. Looking at these three factors to the exclusion of technological and political developments is somewhat intentional. This approach assumes that these developments are in large measure artefacts of the other three. As such, the rise of radicalism, globalization and so on are directly related to how people experience and express (respond to) these underlying conditions.

Looking at the future through this lens, if only to align it with the way many organizations and institutions are now assessing themselves, therefore seems appropriate. Looking at economic, environmental and social performance provides us with a prism through which we can shed light on the political and technological changes we might experience.

Alongside these variables, I see four larger trends, which we might consider drivers, that will influence how we experience effects in each of these areas: I refer to them as local, simple, varied and connected. You might see other drivers in play, but I consider these four for the value they offer in looking at how individuals relate to communities and how communities relate to one another.

In each instance, we have to admit the uncertainty of arriving at any single, definable end-point associated with any dimension or variable. Looking at the extremes gives us a chance to consider the full range of plausible scenarios for each.

In most instances, individuals and communities will prefer a value somewhere between the two extremes represented by each diagonally opposite pairing presented in the matrix above. To the extent that this is true, the challenges to shaping the future to arrive at such conclusions are many. Not the least of these is our tendency to look to the past for answers rather than looking for new options and consulting others.

When I look at this table for opportunities to leverage key strengths of emergency services that can shape the future for the better, I see many opportunities. Thinking about the strengths emergency services bring into this environment — adaptability, tolerance for ambiguity, commitment to service — I see opportunities to approach problems with greater creativity and collaboration.

What does this analysis suggest to you? For which alternative futures should we prepare? How do you view our capacity to shape the future?

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