Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 14, 2010

In Panopticon We Trust

Filed under: Futures,Privacy and Security — by Christopher Bellavita on September 14, 2010

In the late 18th century, Jeremy Bentham (of “greatest good for the greatest number” fame) wrote about the “panopticon”  —


According to the Bentham scholars at wikipedia:

The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the incarcerated being able to tell whether they are being watched, thereby conveying what one architect [Silke Berit Lang] has called the “sentiment of an invisible omniscience.” Bentham … described the Panopticon as “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.”

[The panopticon] design was invoked by Michel Foucault [in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison] as [a] metaphor for modern “disciplinary” societies and their pervasive inclination to observe and [normalize]. Foucault proposes that not only prisons but all hierarchical structures like the army, schools, hospitals and factories have evolved through history to resemble Bentham’s Panopticon.”

The homeland security debate about privacy versus liberty focuses almost exclusively on how government erodes privacy rights.

Less emphasized (at least in my reading) is the role the private sector plays in privacy intrusions.  Maybe because many people voluntarily surrender privacy to the private sector, under the guise of increased efficiency, convenience, and choice — to say nothing of the difficulty determining what privacy you actually surrender if you have an account on Facebook or Google.

What will the future be like in this domain?  Will big brother arrive not with a government ID card, but with a cents-off coupon promise to make life better through interoperable data bases?


My colleague, Richard Bergin, brought the brief videos (below) to my attention.

The first (about 2 minutes long) is about ordering a pizza in the future.  Most of the information (in the scenario) comes from private sector data bases.

The second video (less than a minute) is a story about how radio frequency ID (RFID) will make life at the grocery store better for all of us.

The last video (around a minute) shows why every right thinking family man or woman would want to have one of these things implanted, as soon as possible.

Ordering pizza in the future

Shopping in the future

Making sure the health information needs of you and your loved ones are taken care of

September 13, 2010

Assessing the terrorist threat

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 13, 2010

Access this link for a copy of the report: Assessing the Terrorist Threat by Peter Bergen and Dr. Bruce Hoffman.

From the Bipartisan Policy Center’s September 10 news release:

“The threat that the U.S. is facing today remains significant and dangerous, but has developed since the 9/11 Commission presented its report six long years ago,” said Congressman Hamilton. “The changing nature of the terrorist threat makes it necessary for America to constantly reexamine its counterterrorism assumptions and approaches. The level of threat posed by al-Qaeda and its allies is not fading into the past.”

Key findings of the report identify an increase in homegrown terrorists in the United States, underscoring how much the threat has changed since September 11, 2001. Al-Qaeda leadership is becoming increasingly ‘Americanized’ and U.S.-based jihadist militants do not fit any particular “ethnic, economic, educational, or social profile,” according to the assessment.

“We are seeing more Americans turning on their country, going abroad and making common cause with terrorist groups,” said Dr. Bruce Hoffman, one of the report authors. “The array of perpetrators and the nature of their plots against America are remarkable and there is no single government agency responsible for deterring radicalization and terrorist recruitment. The terrorists may have found our Achilles heel – we have no way of dealing with this growing problem.”

“Al-Qaeda has made a strategic shift away from spectacular attacks, like 9/11, to less sophisticated, more frequent attacks,” said Dr. Stephen Flynn, a member of the NSPG, at today’s press conference. “The smaller-scale attacks are almost impossible for the national security and intelligence communities to detect and intercept.” As the attempted Christmas Day bombing in Detroit and foiled plot in New York’s Times Square illustrate, “the national security community, local law enforcement and the American public need to adapt to the increasingly domestic nature of the threat.”

“We are here to remember, but also look forward and reassess, reexamine and look at what the threat is today,” said Governor Kean. “The American people have lost their focus on the threat and while we’re not trying to make people panic, this report reminds us that we cannot be complacent,” said Congressman Hamilton.

September 12, 2010

Vulnerable, Fallible, Fragile

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on September 12, 2010

At the base of the Christchurch Firefighters' Reserve sculpture, which is crafted of steel salvaged from the World Trade Center towers, native Maori placed the silhouette of a koru or fern representing hope, rebirth and new life.

Princeton scholar and author Robert Wuthnow‘s recent book Be Very Afraid traces the cultural origins of our nation’s responses to nuclear weapons, biological threats (both natural and manmade), terrorism and climate change. In the book’s final chapter, he summarizes three frameworks for reconciling our relationship to these threats, their effects and the uncertainty we feel about the future as a result of their pervasive influence over us as a people and human beings as a species. The more I reflected on our nation’s response to 9/11, the more I was drawn to Wuthnow’s distinctions.

What makes our modern awareness of these threats unique and so distinct from the past is the influence of science both on their emergence and our understanding of how to deal with them. Phenomena our ancestors would have described as acts of God can no longer be dismissed so easily; we have become the authors of our own destiny. Even the most devout among us sees a distinctly human hand at work in the perils we face.

More importantly, however, we accept some responsibility for these phenomena and how we deal with them, if only to assume we must carry on on in whatever way we can manage to fulfill those responsibilities that make up so much of our daily lives. This, we have come to realize, is an artifact of our humanity: Action in spite of awareness of our own insignificance.

Nine years ago, as the country woke to the first new day after the horror of the worst attacks against Americans on our native soil, we were faced with choices, that although not new to us, certainly awakened in us new and different understandings of our relationship to evil and one another. We felt closer to one another as Americans and more dependent on the goodwill of others. But soon enough, our sense of loss and fear became cause for anger.

For many, the attacks presented new evidence of our vulnerability. The United States was no longer beyond the reach of its adversaries. What we once saw as strengths — our geography, technology and democracy — no longer shielded us from those who meant to do us harm. No one, it seemed, could consider themselves entirely safe anymore.

Others saw in the attacks or in the way we responded to them, evidence of our fallibility as a people. We became a target not because others hated our freedoms, but because we failed to adequately avail ourselves of the opportunities they presented us with. For people of this view, the attacks served more as a question mark than an exclamation point. What, they wondered, should we do to make things right? For many, if not most, the answer was clear. The only appropriate way to answer was to respond from a position of strength. We must prove, they proffered, that we are not as weak and feeble as the attacks made us seem. This, however, produced widely varied responses that have only deepened the ideological divides among us.

In the end, at least for me, the attacks proved something more profound. They demonstrated yet again the fragility of our human condition. They proved not only our fallibility and vulnerability, but also laid bare innate qualities that cause us to think and act in ways that demean us and diminish our humanity. The attacks and our responses to them demonstrated that both our adversaries and ourselves share tendencies to stereotype, oversimplify, and place our reasoning faculties in service of our emotions.

These tendencies and the conditions they reveal in us are just cause not for retribution but repentance. Our fragility should make us more aware of our dependence on compassion and the need to greet one another and the challenges we share with empathy.

The coincidence that this 9/11 anniversary falls as it does immediately after the Muslim holy day of Eid-al-Fitr marking the end of Ramadan and between the Jewish high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur should have served to underscore the need for us to look back on these events with a sense of awe and repentance. Our retrospective sense of wonder should not arise from the fact that these events occurred in the first place. It is neither the fallibility of our imaginations nor lapses in our preparedness that should attract our attention. Rather, the fact we have neither succumbed to the assault nor prevailed over our adversaries should give us pause.

It is my most fervent hope that in the time before the tenth anniversary of 9/11 that we will come to recognize that our best hope of achieving the sense of order, stability and consistency we crave in world affairs will come from engaging others with empathy. It may be too much to ask Americans to love their enemies. The pain remains too raw, too great and too real for many. But we can defeat our adversaries by avoiding the temptations to see the worst in others, to seek simple answers to complex problems and to rely more on organizations, institutions and nations than individuals to make the world a better place for us all.

To the extent that the future is in our hands, we all share a responsibility to guide the work of our hands with our heads and hearts to produce a just and peaceful world.

September 11, 2010

Please remember

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

Please pause a moment to remember where you were when you heard, what you were doing, what you were thinking, what they died for, the pain, the sadness of that day.

Does it seem like nine years ago?

Or an instant?

I have a colleague who thinks we should replace the phrase “Never Forget” with a different phrase:

“Please Remember.”

I have another colleague who shared his memory of that day.



This does a little to explain what I experienced during the 911 attack and the weeks and months after.  I was in a special and unique position to experience the attack firsthand and then be assigned to … national security efforts immediately after and as we went to war in Afghanistan.

In my [military] career I had many close calls and experienced personnel losses, yet two traumatic events stand out where I experienced loss of life of people I knew and was close to.  One, my best friend in my aviation squadron was killed as he crashed when landing on an aircraft carrier   That was early in my career.

The other, 911, when seven people I had assigned to work in the … Command Center were killed in the attack.  In five more minutes, I would have been among them.

I lived in an apartment on Arlington Ridge, about one mile from the Pentagon.  On September 11, I had a mid-morning meeting with people who worked for me … in the Pentagon, so I decided to walk there since I had the time.  It was a nice sunny and mild morning in DC.

As I was getting dressed, the television news said that the World Trade Center had been hit by an airplane.  I saw the tower and the smoke and fire on live TV.  My instincts told me immediately this wasn’t an aviation accident.  From the damage in the building I thought it had to be a large commercial jet, not a private small aircraft. I put my uniform on quickly, still looking forward to the walk to the Pentagon.

Halfway on the walk to the Pentagon is a Starbucks in Pentagon City.  As I was waiting at the counter for coffee, the TV showed the second tower, live, in smoke and flames, exactly like the first.  I knew immediately then we were under attack and this was no accident or fluke.  My sense of duty overwhelmed me. As the skipper, I knew I had to get to the Pentagon quickly. Now.

As I walked across the Pentagon parking lot, I heard the roar of a low flying large jet and couldn’t believe where it was. There was no reason for it to be there in that airspace.

The airliner was flying low.  It had an unstable look as its wings were rocking and its nose yawing.  It kept descending, much to my wishes that it wouldn’t. The wings began clipping the tops of the light poles in the lot.  I knew what was next, braced for the impact, and watched it plow right into the side of the Pentagon.

I was about 300 yards away. I felt the heat first. Then the blast.  I couldn’t believe it.

For what seemed like a long time – really it was just short minutes – nothing seemed to happen except the immediate flames and smoke billowing skyward out of the building.

Slowly at first, then in volumes, people began streaming from the building.  My immediate sense was to get inside the Pentagon, because where the plane hit the building was exactly where my people were in the command center.  I knew very soon I wasn’t going to be able to get inside, so I started helping, directing people away to safety as they streamed out.

Many were confused and needed guidance on where to go, which was anywhere really, just away from the now hotly burning building.  I kept looking for the people who worked for me …, desperately hoping they were among the safe.

I found out a day later they were all killed in the command center, where I would have been in five more minutes.

I watched the Arlington Fire Department roll up to the Pentagon in their lime green fire engines, thinking how overwhelmed they were going to be, with two engines fighting this huge inferno.  I wanted to join them, help them, but I knew the best thing was to just stay out of the way.  And so I did what I could, administering first aid, aiding and comforting people on the grassy area, and just doing what I could in a time where no one felt they could really do anything that was anywhere near adequate.

Meanwhile, every time a plane flew in to or took off from Reagan National Airport, many people believed it was bringing another attack.  They ran each time a plane flew over. It was chaos, until all the airplanes were finally grounded.

I stayed at the Pentagon for hours, perhaps hoping I’d see my people appear alive at any moment.  I must have looked exhausted because a Navy chief petty officer who I knew said “Captain, you’ve done your best, it’s really time for you to go home now and please do, sir.”  I agreed as he pointed me the route out, so I walked home and realized while I was walking, I had shed my bomber jacket and uniform shirt and was in just my t-shirt; I must have used the clothes for first aid or blankets.  I don’t remember it.

At home, I stayed.  I called the Director … and reported in over the phone.  Two days later, I was ordered to the Joint Staff to start up and direct the … Task Force.

I boarded a shuttle bus at Arlington Navy Annex to ride to the Pentagon and report in to the Joint Staff.  I was in grief over the deaths of the seven people who worked for me. I had assigned them all to work there and now couldn’t help but believe I had sent them to their deaths.  I got off the bus and walked past the smoking ruins and rescue crews still carrying bodies out.

At that point, I didn’t know what we, the Nation, had in store and whether our very survival was part of the stakes.  We had every reason to believe more attacks were coming.  It was a very vulnerable feeling, not knowing who the attackers were and how we were going to find them.

As I walked in to the Pentagon mission center, people looked fearful and without a sense of mission or reason to be there.  Some knew who I was, and felt calmed that an experienced officer had been sent to lead them.  That calmness spread, fortunately, for probably the big reason I was ordered there is because of my command experience and ability to lead in tough situations.  People were relieved they had a leader to get them organized and functioning.

The next day, when we in the task force were definitely not yet operationally functioning, the general visited our Center and asked for a briefing on the … situation in Afghanistan.

He of course sensed it, and I told him directly that we were not yet ready to brief him like I knew he expected to be briefed.  So after summing up a few things for him that I knew from the intelligence traffic, I asked him to give us another 48 hours.   This was a defining moment for the task force, one of those situations where all eyes rise to the leader because no one else knows what to do.  People watched their commander stand up to the general. It had a remarkable and coalescing effect on the entire group.  It seemed they were then ready to accomplish anything.

The motivation and innovation of this intelligence group took hold immediately.  An Army sergeant went to Borders bookstore and bought out the entire stock of the book on how the Soviets fought their war in Afghanistan.  It was a great idea; we learned quickly this war in Afghanistan would be long and protracted.  We were also perplexed about the caves in Afghanistan and how to figure out where in those caves the Taliban were hiding.  A Marine captain had the idea of contacting the cave divers, spelunkers, so we asked several international spelunker societies and groups about their knowledge of the caves in Afghanistan.

The next week, with our … center barely in an operational status, some Congressional staffers visited and were very piercing and skeptical with their questioning concerning any foreknowledge we could have had of al Qaeda and Taliban.  They began to berate some of my officers and NCOs, insisting that we all should have had knowledge of the 911 attacks.  I interceded into this insulting line of questioning and stopped it, and told the staffers that any further questions would be directed to me and not to the line analysts in the center.

Out in the hall, the staffers and I had what could be called a shouting match (well, they were shouting) and finally I directed them to leave.  They said I had no authority to direct them out and my response was that they were interfering with the good order and discipline of my command and I would call the master at arms if they didn’t leave immediately.  They left; we never heard from them again.

A week later, a U.S. Senator who was the Chair of [a] Senate Committee, visited our center, commended the people for doing the hard work they were doing and on the way out, personally apologized to me for the actions of the staffers.  Again, this was another defining moment for my people, who realized then the important work they were doing in extremely difficult and stressful circumstances….

As the weeks and months passed, our … center was part of many innovative operations, made necessary by the stakes of what 911 brought.  We helped initiate many warfighting solutions … to and from the battlefield, which was very satisfying.  We helped win back Afghanistan from the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, watching as the provinces fell, one by one and the U.S. established control.

Even then, my sense was that this victory was only going to be a temporary one.   From the history books, I knew that Afghanistan was not going to be won.  [Nine] years later, Afghanistan hasn’t been won and it has been very frustrating to watch the Taliban reestablish itself.   Now, I worry that my own son will soon be in the fight.

Of the many things that stay with me from 911 and its aftermath, I will mention three.  First is the loss of our people.  I spent a lot of time attending funerals and memorials, commemorating these dedicated lives.  I am most aware I ordered these people to work in the Pentagon, sometimes against their wishes.  They went and they served, because I asked them to.  As every leader knows, among the most haunting things is knowing you have sent people to give the ultimate sacrifice.

Next, is knowing what good people can do in extreme circumstances.  Then, we all thought we were working inside a huge and vulnerable target that could be hit again at any moment.  The pressure and stress this put on people was tremendous.  I saw what good leadership, calm and confident and decisive, can do and is what my entire … career had prepared me to do.  Recognizing this, the people who worked for me presented me a beautiful hand made wooden plaque, which I treasure.

Last, is the September 11 voicemail my son left when, not knowing how or where I was, he told me that he hoped I was OK and that he knew I would be and that I should call him soon.  And the email my daughters sent, saying they wished they knew where I was and they would worry until they heard from me.

Those are only three things, out of many I could have mentioned.  But 911 has shaped and changed what I feel about many things, including that life is valuable, vulnerable, fleeting and worth making important moments and memories with people you care about.

Dies irae, dies illa. Day of wrath, day of anger

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 11, 2010

Verdi Requiem

Selecting the link immediately above will display a YouTube video of the Verdi Requiem performed by the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra (Brazil). Following is the Latin original followed by an English translation of the opening lyrics drawn from the Catholic mass for the dead.

Dies irae, dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla,
teste David cum Sibylla.
Quantus tremor est futurus,
quando judex est venturus,
cuncta stricte discussurus!

Day of wrath, day of anger
will dissolve the world in ashes,
as foretold by David and the Sibyl.
Great trembling there will be
when the Judge descends from heaven
to examine all things closely.

Tuba mirum spargens sonum
per sepulcra regionum,
coget omnes ante thronum.

The trumpet will send its wondrous sound
throughout earth’s sepulchres
and gather all before the throne.

Mors stupebit et natura,
cum resurget creatura,
judicanti responsura.
Liber scriptus proferetur,
in quo totum continetur,
unde mundus judicetur. 

Death and nature will be astounded,
when all creation rises again,
to answer the judgement.
A book will be brought forth,
in which all will be written,
by which the world will be judged. 

Judex ergo cum sedebit,
quidquid latet, apparebit,
nil inultum remanebit.

When the judge takes his place,
what is hidden will be revealed,
nothing will remain unavenged.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
quem patronum rogaturus,
cum vix justus sit securus? 

What shall a wretch like me say?
Who shall intercede for me,
when the just ones need mercy?

September 10, 2010

The strategic implications of religious bigotry

Filed under: Radicalization,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 10, 2010

The strategic implications of religious bigotry have seldom been more apparent.   Nine years ago a handful of violent bigots transformed our world.  In recent days a broader bigotry has been exposed very close at hand.  The minor gods, Fear and Hate, command quite a congregation.

Wednesday night was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.  The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as the Days of Awe.  This is a time specifically set aside for reflection, repentance, and reconciliation.  I am not Jewish, but I welcome the invitation to these essential disciplines.

In the Rosh Hashanah liturgy there is a prayer-poem that strikes me as especially appropriate to these days and the choices we will make in these days. This too, I would argue, is part of our strategic landscape… even more difficult to fathom than earthquake, fire, or plague.

We shall ascribe holiness to this day.

For it is awesome and terrible.

Your kingship is exalted upon it.

Your throne is established in mercy.

You are enthroned upon it in truth.

In truth You are the judge,

The exhorter, the all knowing, the witness,

He who inscribes and seals,

Remembering all that is forgotten.

You open the book of remembrance

Which proclaims itself,

And the seal of each person is there.

The great shofar is sounded,

A still small voice is heard.

The angels are dismayed,

They are seized by fear and trembling

As they proclaim: Behold the Day of Judgment!

For all the hosts of heaven are brought for judgment.

They shall not be guiltless in Your eyes

And all creatures shall parade before You as a troop.

As a shepherd herds his flock,

Causing his sheep to pass beneath his staff,

So do You cause to pass, count, and record,

Visiting the souls of all living,

Decreeing the length of their days,

Inscribing their judgment.

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,

And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.

How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,

Who shall live and who shall die,

Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,

Who shall perish by water and who by fire,

Who by sword and who by wild beast,

Who by famine and who by thirst,

Who by earthquake and who by plague,

Who by strangulation and who by stoning,

Who shall have rest and who shall wander,

Who shall be at peace and who shall be pursued,

Who shall be at rest and who shall be tormented,

Who shall be exalted and who shall be brought low,

Who shall become rich and who shall be impoverished.

But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severe decree.

For Your praise is in accordance with Your name. You are difficult to anger and easy to appease. For You do not desire the death of the condemned, but that he turn from his path and live. Until the day of his death You wait for him. Should he turn, You will receive him at once. In truth You are their Creator and You understand their inclination, for they are but flesh and blood. The origin of man is dust, his end is dust. He earns his bread by exertion and is like a broken shard, like dry grass, a withered flower, like a passing shadow and a vanishing cloud, like a breeze that blows away and dust that scatters, like a dream that flies away. But You are King, God who lives for all eternity! There is no limit to Your years, no end to the length of Your days, no measure to the hosts of Your glory, no understanding the meaning of Your Name. Your Name is fitting unto You and You are fitting unto it, and our name has been called by Your Name. Act for the sake of Your Name and sanctify Your Name through those who sanctity Your Name.

Today is Eid al-Fitr, one of the principal festivals of Islam.  This concludes the fast period of Ramadan, also committed to reflection, repentance, and reconciliation.

ACCIDENT in San Bruno, are there strategic implications?

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 10, 2010

Chronicle photograph by Brant Ward


(09-09) 22:03 PDT SAN BRUNO — With a thunderous roar heard for miles, a natural gas line explosion ripped through a San Bruno neighborhood Thursday evening, sending up a geyser of fire that killed at least one person and injured more than 20 others, and igniting a blaze that destroyed 53 homes and damaged 120 more, authorities said.

The wind-whipped blaze leaped from structure to structure in the neighborhood near Skyline Boulevard and Sneath Lane, west of Interstate 280, raging unabated for almost an hour as emergency crews rushed in and residents streamed out.

The central ball of fire, fed by the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. gas line, raged past nightfall before abating. By then, houses on several blocks and thick stands of trees were engulfed in flamesMORE

Given natural threats — such as earthquake — in the Bay area (or in your area), what are the strategic implications of this accident?

Given past evidence of terrorist ability to weaponize benign resources scattered across our shared landscape, what are the strategic implications of this accident?

September 9, 2010

On our ninth 9/11 seeking a simple strategy

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 9, 2010

Saturday it will be nine years.   I was in Montgomery, Alabama assessing Air University’s ability to educate 21st century warriors.   One of the criteria was “strategic agility.”  Indeed.

Strategy is a mystery word. Other mystery words: love, resilience, courage, evil, goodness, truth, beauty and many more.  These are concepts predisposed to complicated explanation and vigorous disagreement.  Poets are more helpful than others in making sense of these words.

While Homer certainly did his bit, strategy does not attract many modern poets. Since 9/11 we have been offered mostly the prose of scholars, policy makers, wonks, and such.  Some examples:

National Homeland Security Strategy (2002)

Catastrophe: Risk and Response (2004)

The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation (2007)

Worst Case Scenarios (2007)

Terror and Consent (2008)

Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (2010)

National Security Strategy (2010)

Less exalted, I am the author and co-author of two more:

A Homeland Security Strategy for the New Administration (2008) The certificate for this website is out-of-date, but otherwise okay.

Resilience: The Grand Strategy (2010)

The HSPDs (2002-2009) featured here on Sunday and Monday are also intended as expressions of strategic thinking, although half the collection has been critiqued as non-strategic.

Before there was strategy there was the classical Greek stroma which became the Latin stratum.  This was something spread haphazardly or scattered, as in, “The sheep are scattered across the plain.”  English derives strewn from the same Greek root.

Then there was the classical Greek: agein or ago, meaning to drive, lead,  bring, or organize, as in, “The dog drives the sheep toward the enclosure.”

Strategos is the Greek compound of these two words.  We typically translate it as General.  But more literally the Strategos organizes what is spread or scattered. 

Strategy does not emerge from nothing. The ancient Strategos — and the modern strategist — begins with the landscape and assets scattered across it.   Given the nature of the threat as I know it; given the resources — both strong and weak — available; given the contours of the context; and given my purpose, how can I maximize my advantage and minimize my vulnerability?

Effective strategy is innately reductionist.  The benefit of strategy, if any, is almost always a matter of focus. In the midst of crisis and uncertainty an effective strategy informs half-made decisions and rash actions across the battlefield.  My tactical contribution is to hold this ground…  take that hill… wait until I see the signal and then move right.  My individual action or restraint has purpose to the extent I understand the strategy. Knowing the strategy I can see the broader consequences of my failure or success.

In the midst of battle, strategic purpose must be as simple as possible. When the battle goes badly, as it usually does,  strategy survives when it is well enough understood  to allow for adaptation on the run by dozens of independent actors.

We are long past the era of decisive battles, but simplicity — perhaps elegance — of strategy is still helpful.

None of the preceding homeland security strategies are — yet — sufficiently simple, this certainly includes my own drafts.  Like most great powers the very strength of the United States discourages focus and simplicity.  Our many responsiblities — and our significant capacities — encourage distraction and complication.

At Gaugamela Darius gathered 100,000 or more to battle Alexander’s 47,000.  The Persian King chose the battlefield and physically shaped it to his advantage.  Alexander’s basic strategy was the same as his father’s: infantry defends, cavalry attacks.  On this day the 25 year-old Macedonian conceived his cavalry as a wedge to overturn the King-of-King’s advantages.  The concept worked and he won an empire. (Alexander’s tactics at Gaugamela were not so simple, but that further demonstrates the value of a simple strategy.)

A retired Colonel comments, “A bad goal is better than no goal.”  He goes on to explain that in battle the aggressive pursuit of a strategic objective is — or should be — like a scientist’s hypothesis.  It organizes the probing and sensing of complexity.  The strategy facilitates tactical adaptation as the (null) hypothesis is proven. I don’t think the Colonel has encountered the Cynefin Framework, but he has applied it.

Osama is no Alexander, nor are his minions.  We have not, however, found and articulated a concise strategy that effectively matches  our assets to our landscape and our threat.  We are scattered.  We are strewn. We are in need of focus.

Strategy is nothing more than a few words — the fewer the better — mere thoughts given sound or scratched on a page.  But the right words capture the moment.  With well-chosen words an opportunity is perceived and claimed. With the same words resources are applied, a grave risk is repulsed, and purpose achieved.

Because the god has granted you great skill in the art of war,
you wish the same preeminence in counsel.
But you cannot claim all gifts to yourself.
To one the god has granted excellence in combat,
to one other to be a dancer, to another beauty with lyre and song,
and in the breast of another Zeus of the wide brows implants
wisdom — a lordly thing — and many profit beside him and many are saved,
one man’s comprehension can surpass all others.

Now I will tell you the way that seems best to my mind.

(Poulydamas to Hector, The Iliad by Homer 13.726-734)

Who is our Poulydamas? Where can we find him?  Or has he already spoken and we have failed to listen?

Natural, accidental, and intentional risks

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 9, 2010

Immediately above this post I address the role of strategy in homeland security.  I approach the issue abstractly (even pedantically). Below are some late Wednesday news reports that situate the need for strategy more concretely. 

Homeland security often references “all-hazards.”  I prefer shared attention to natural, accidental and intentional risks.  The categorical distinctions are, I perceive, helpful in a way the short-hand “all hazards” is not.  Yesterday’s headlines help make clear some important strategic overlaps and distinctions between the three categories… with just a bit of integrative thinking.

NATURAL: Wildfire in Boulder and Detroit

 Denver Post photograph by Meghan Lyden

FROM THE DENVER POST: One of the largest and most destructive fires in Boulder County history has burned at least 92 structures, from mansions to outhouses, officials’ preliminary survey of the area northwest of Boulder found Tuesday. Officials posted a list of addresses on the Boulder County website Tuesday night, which 3,500 evacuees have eagerly awaited. Officials did not know how many of the lost structures were homes. They said another eight structures were damaged.

FROM THE DETROIT NEWS:  An “act of Mother Nature” sparked by high winds and some fires labeled suspicious burned at least 19 other homes on the city’s east side alone — most abandoned, Detroit Fire Chief Gregory Williams said…  The flames, within a four-hour period, were fueled by low humidity and wind gusts of up to 50 mph that downed power lines, further fueling the blazes. Power was out for 36,000 customers — most in Wayne County — Tuesday night, down from 50,000 earlier, DTE Energy said.


 FROM THE FINANCIAL TIMES: The report identified eight critical factors that led to the accident, including weaknesses in the cement, design and testing of the Macondo well; misreading of pressure tests even though the well was not completely sealed; and the failure of the blow-out preventer – the stack of valves on the seabed designed to stop gas and oil escaping – to operate.

The full Deepwater Horizon: Accident Investigation Report (3.64 megabytes) is available here: http://media.ft.com/cms/81c95386-bb39-11df-b3f4-00144feab49a.pdf

INTENTIONAL: Pakistani Police Arrest 3 Connected to Times Square bombing

FROM DAWNThe police on Wednesday claimed to have arrested three accomplices of Faisal Shahzad, the main suspect/accused of Time Square bombing plot in New York.  Police said that arrested suspects Akhtar, Shoaib Mughal and Shahid had provided financial help to Shahzad. All the suspects belong to Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), police added. Police also claimed to have recovered maps of Time Square, Pakistan parliament building and several other sensitive installations from the vehicle of the suspects.

Last week a TTP leader threatened attacks in the US and Europe “very soon.”  Over the last 24 hours there have been four US drone attacks in Pakistan killing several TTP members. (See more from the Associated Press.)

The intersection of catastrophic flooding and growing insurgent terrorism is of particular concern in Pakistan (and should be in the US as well).   Natural and accidental almost always travel together.  When intentional joins in the boundary between complex and chaotic has certainly been crossed.

Clearly, I could keep going in each category.  Our threats are strewn about.  Too often, so is our strategy.  Are there characteristics of our varied threats that suggest a common approach? Are there aspects of our vulnerability to one or more of the risk categories that suggest more-for-your-buck mitigation?   Is there an opportunity for a synergistic strategy?

It is no panacea, but I do perceive a broadbased approach to resilience — honestly pursued — would produce strategic benefits, strengthening our advantages and reducing our vulnerabilities.

September 8, 2010

Poverty, Population and Motion

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on September 8, 2010

Photo Credit: Otago Daily Times

Andrew Revkin’s Dot Earth Blog on The New York Times website carried an article on Tuesday morning that sought to explain the differences between the experiences of recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and New Zealand. In short, he summarizes the major factors influencing the vastly divergent outcomes as poverty, population and motion.

New Zealand is not only a relatively well-off country, but also a fairly egalitarian one as well. Although income disparities have grown in recent decades, like elsewhere in the developed world, especially the United States, there are no great gulfs between the rich and poor. Homelessness is quite rare, health care coverage is universal, and social welfare benefits are widely available to prevent people from slipping into poverty.

Marginal tax rates are relatively high in New Zealand. A population slightly more than that of a modest U.S. state must support all of the functions of government expected of a state while also providing for national defense, foreign relations, and other central government functions.

Since the mid-1980s the country has focused on improving the efficiency and accountability of government. A currency crisis at that time forced New Zealand to pursue aggressive reforms of its public and private sectors, which resulted in a move away from policies that ensured full employment by providing a state-sector job to anyone willing and able to work. These reforms started with the privatization of most state-owned enterprises; as a result much of the country’s critical infrastructure was sold off to private investors while maintaining a regulatory role for government that emphasized risk management, fair competition and accountability to shareholders.

Besides privatization, the government engaged in wholesale reforms of the public service that reduced the government workforce dramatically while adopting a more outcome oriented approach to public management. In recent years, the government has continued reforms and organizational development efforts intended to cultivate and motivate the public service ethos among state sector employees. The reforms were accompanied by significant structural reforms of monetary and fiscal policy, which emphasized inflation control and allowed the government to maintain a free floating currency, but the nation has managed to maintain nearly full employment ever since by adopting aggressive free trade policies.

Nevertheless, the economy has remained prone to external shocks due its geographic remoteness and dependence upon agricultural and extractive industries. Yet the country has earned an enviable reputation for creativity and productivity out of scale with its small size and enjoys access to rapidly developing markets in Asia and Africa that have sustained demand for its produce despite significant exchange rate fluctuations.

The country expects a lot of its citizens. New Zealand was the first parliamentary democracy to extend the voting franchise to women. They take voting seriously (turnout in national elections is typically around 80%), and require everyone who lives in the country for more than a year to register to vote even if they are not a citizen. Local and central government legislation requires government officials to actively engage citizens in the decision-making process on important strategic and policy questions, particularly those that fall within the ambit of local government. Every primary and secondary school in the country is overseen by a locally elected board of trustees.

A unicameral legislature and a Parliamentary executive oversee the central government. The introduction of mixed-member proportional voting in 1993 has ensured widespread representation of minority parties in government. As such, coalition governments led by one of the two major parties has become the norm.

Most Americans who know enough about New Zealand not to confuse it with Australia recognize its natural beauty and the population’s dedication to its beloved All Blacks rugby team. To be sure New Zealand’s natural endowments are incredible. But the country’s commitment to protecting this heritage is one of its most impressive qualities. More than one-third of the country is protected conservation estate owned and managed by the Crown.

New Zealand’s strategic national security environment is relatively benign compared to the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. But its military forces are first-rate, and its soldiers are well-known for their experience, skill and dedication. New Zealand forces are routinely deployed in some of the world’s hottest hot-spots in support of United Nations peacekeeping missions. New Zealand Special Air Service troops, engineers and medics continue to play key roles on the ground in Afghanistan.

What’s all this got to do with Andrew Revkin’s observations? Mainly it serves to support his observations about the factors that led to the favorable outcomes I outlined on Sunday. New Zealanders have invested not only their natural, economic and material capital but also themselves — their human, social, cultural  and political capital — in keeping the country the kind of place where they want to live. As such, it has taken on a uniquely hybrid culture that reflects its heritage as a mixture of peoples from European (English, Scottish, French and Dutch), indigenous (Maori), Polynesian (Samoan, Tongan, Nieuan, and Cook Islands), Micronesian (Fijian), and Asian (Taiwanese, Cantonese, Korean, and Japanese) and refugee (Laos, Cambodia, Somalian, Ethiopia, Eritrea, East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq) origins.

People who choose to live in New Zealand, starting with the indigenous Maori of Polynesian descent who settled the islands between 1000 and 1200 years ago, leave behind all that is familiar. Australia, New Zealand’s nearest neighbor, is not as close as it looks on a map. The places most Kiwis of all nationalities come from are much farther away, and until recently a trip to New Zealand was a one-way journey for most.

I can tell you with the confidence of first-hand experience that moving such a long distance away is always a risk. It involves substantial unknowns and a tolerance for ambiguity that most people find uncomfortable. Big risks involve a lot of inertia. It takes quite a bit of gumption to take them on, and once you’re committed it’s hard to stop or change course dramatically.

Kiwis are reconciled to the risks inherent in living in a place known as the Shaky Isles. They manage those risks actively by investing in decent building codes and sound insurance practices, including a fund dedicated to managing earthquake risks. These investments will play a significant role in helping those affected by Saturday’s quake and the hundreds of subsequent aftershocks put their lives back together. But it is the other investments they made in policies that prevent poverty and ensured the population was educated and engaged in its own governance that played the biggest role in mitigating the effects experienced so far.

The people of Christchurch have a lot of hard work ahead of them. Police report incidents of domestic violence have increased 53 percent since Saturday, largely as the result of the stresses on families caused by damaged homes and the continued shaking. But people are also helping one another in unprecedented ways. Student volunteers are self-organizing and engaging in “hard labor” helping people clear debris. People are taking in neighbors whose houses are no longer inhabitable. And volunteers from other parts of the country are coming into Christchurch to relieve colleagues who have been on the go since practically non-stop since  first temblor.

If the experience in Christchurch sounds like it is worth replicating, the path is simple: reduce poverty, create an educated and engaged populace, and move people to recognize the importance of taking care of what they have beginning with the place they call home and everything that makes it special.

September 7, 2010

Finding a gem in homeland security’s information swamp

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on September 7, 2010

Tony Hoagland is a poet.  He wrote (in the September 2010 issue of Poetry):

...our economic culture specializes in two things: surfeit and counterfeit.  The lack of relative scale between the component parts of our existence, the swamp of excess information in which we each day swim, and our paradoxical lack of influence on that world — they make us ill.  We have communication sickness.  Add to that our drastically increased sense of corruption of commercial and political speech, and the instability of language — surely our resulting collective dizziness is a fundamental symptom of modern life.”


Greta Marlatt is a reference librarian at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Dudley Knox Library.  She specializes in national security, homeland security,  and intelligence issues.

Part of her mission (along with her colleagues in the Homeland Security Digital Library) is to help cure the communication sickness Hoagland describes – at least when it comes to homeland security.

Ms. Marlatt’s talent is the ability to “calibrate the relative scale”  of what’s valuable in the myriad homeland security-related reports produced — like freeway exhaust — daily.  She tempers the surfeit and junks the counterfeit.  She has somehow figured out how to transcend the “collective dizziness” cajoled by homeland security’s information perfume.

Cutting through the purple, Ms. Marlatt has the most far reaching search strategy of anyone I know in homeland security.

Here are some of Greta’s gems — by which I mean documents about issues I’m actively interested in that I probably would not have found because I did not know they existed before Greta told me.  (Information about how to get your own copy of greta’s gems is at the end of this post.)

Air University  Strategic Studies Quarterly,  Fall 2010, v. 4, no. 3 http://www.au.af.mil/au/ssq/fall10.asp

  • How Terrorist Groups End: Studies of the Twentieth Century
  • Cyber Deterrence: Tougher in Theory than in Practice?

American Red Cross

American Security Project


Center for Immigration Studies (CIS)

Child Welfare Information Gateway

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

Council on Foreign Relations

Department of State

Heritage Foundation

Institute for Business and Home Safety

National Guard Bureau

Pew Hispanic Center

Small Wars Journal

Unity Abandoned Buildings Outreach Team

US Institute of Peace (USIP)


There may be other people like Greta and her colleagues in the homeland security enterprise.  I will think wistfully for a moment about what the enterprise would be like if those information gurus — wherever they are —  had the chance to systematically attack what William James might call the “blooming, buzzing confusion” of homeland security’s information swamp.

The “gretalinks” blog can be found here.  You can also ask to be added to her weekly email by sending your request to “gretaslinks [at] gmail.com” remembering, of course, to substitute the “@” for “[at].”

Wistful moment is over.  Now back to actually reading what she provided.

New Zealand television “Things to Know” advice after the Christchurch earthquake

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on September 7, 2010

This is from the TV New Zealand website.  I don’t know what internet access is available after the quake, but from the perspective of someone (me) who’s never managed an earthquake response, the list and links look helpful and well organized.  It’s almost as if someone thought this through before the event.

From the perspective of someone who’s been through a half dozen earthquakes (me) — all of them minor — the site has the kind of information I want to know if minor turns to major.

I suppose we have the equivalent information in this country. I’m traveling in California, and if there were a large earthquake right now (and if I had internet access), I’m not sure what site I’d go to for advice.

Maybe I ought to find out, especially considering it’s National Preparedness Month.

(This looks like a good place to start: http://www.shakeout.org/.)

But whatever site I go to, I doubt I would find writing like this: “Bus services have recommenced.”

Or bank account numbers.


Canterbury quake: Things you need to know

5:42PM Tuesday September 07, 2010

Help lines and official websites
Information and updates for Canterbury residents can be found at the Canterbury Earthquake website or the Environment Canterbury website.

Also check out the Civil Defence website for important information and the Chch City Council website .

Other important numbers are:
Earthquake Government Helpline (24 hours): 0800 779 997

Healthline (24 hours): 0800 611 116

Earthquake Commission (EQC): 0800 DAMAGE 326 243

For earthquake reports and monitoring, go to the Geonet website.

For Non-English language speakers who need support, the Language Line service which provides interpreters in forty languages is available via the Earthquake Government Helpline and Healthline.
If there is danger to life or serious danger to property, call 111.

Donation Information
The following organisations are accepting donations for those affected by the earthquake.

Salvation Army –  on their website or by post  PO Box 27 001 Marion Square, Wellington 6141, New Zealand.

The Red Cross – Make an automatic $20 donation by phoning 0900 33 200.

ASB –  Donations can be made at any ASB branch, via internet banking direct to the appeal account or through ASB Contact Centre (0800 803 804). Account details are: Canterbury Earthquake Appeal 2010, 12-3192-0015998-01

ANZ and National Bank – ANZ branch (account number: 01-1839-0188939-00) or at any National Bank (account number: 06-0869-0548507-00).

Kiwibank – The account number is 38-9009-0759479-00 and the account name is Red Cross.

BNZ – Donations can be made at any BNZ branch or online to:  Canterbury Mayoral Relief Fund Appeal Account: 02-0800-0840040-000.

BNZ Salvation Army Canterbury Earthquake Appeal Account: 02-0500-0989994-000.

BNZ Red Cross Canterbury Earthquake Appeal Account: 02 – 0500 – 0982004 – 000.

Water and Waste
People living in the Christchurch, Waimakariri and Selwyn Districts should assume at the moment that tap water is unsafe and contaminated until advised by the Council that it is safe.

All tap water should be boiled for three minutes before drinking, brushing teeth or washing/preparing food.

Councils will be testing water supplies intensively over the next few days and will advise when water is safe to use without boiling. Even though water may look clear, it should be treated as contaminated and unsafe to drink due to damaged underground water and sewerage pipes.

Water tankers are delivering water in the Waimakariri District and Christchurch City.

Sewerage and water supply infrastructure continue to be affected in the low lying eastern areas of Christchurch City and Waimakariri District as well as rural areas in Selwyn District.

There is currently discharge into the Halswell River in Selwyn District. For Christchurch city, waste water trunk mains are intact but there is significant localised damage, and the waste water treatment plant is still running on bypass.

Go to the Environment Canterbury website for information about emergency water locations.

For information about storing or treating water visit the Get Thru website .

Where water is not available, people should be advised to make a temporary toilet with a bin lined with two plastic bags.

The bin should be covered between uses.

The contents can be buried when the bin is no longer needed. Details of how to make a temporary toilet can be found here.

Welfare centres are open 24 hours: Welfare Centres – Canterbury Earthquake ( Ministry of Social Development website ).

The welfare centre at Burnside High School is closed due to aftershock damage.

There is one centre open in the Waimakariri District and a new welfare centre has opened up for Selwyn District residents at the Rolleston Community Centre

The District Council says additional centres will be opened in other locations around the district in the next 24 hours.

Psychosocial needs are gaining importance and likely to continue to increase.

A psychosocial support strategy is being developed with welfare and health agencies, including information for first responders.

Metro bus services started operating on Tuesday 7 September for Christchurch, Selwyn, and Waimakariri districts, with some exceptions.

Bus services have recommenced. For further information go to www.metroinfo.co.nz.

All schools will be closed until at least Monday 13 September.

For further information visit the Ministry of Education website .

For information about insurance and making a claim, go to the EQC (Earthquake Commission) website.

September 6, 2010

Homeland Security Presidential Directives: affirm and adapt, delegate and revise, or abrogate with simple elegance

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 6, 2010

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post.  The following is taken from a late 2008 memorandum recommending how to effectively treat the 24 Homeland Security Presidential Directives (HSPDs) that were extant in December 2008.   There is a rumor circulating that the National Security Staff will shift its focus from substantive re-writes of HSPDs to concise clarification of policy and strategy.  This was also a recommendation of this memorandum (see yesterday’s post).

The recommendations made below emerged from a consultation with several State homeland security leaders following Mr. Obama’s election.

Recommended Action for Specific HSPDs

HSPD – 1: Organization and Operation of the Homeland Security Council
Abrogate and replace (see annex for draft)

HSPD – 2: Combating Terrorism Through Immigration Policies
Delegate and Revise

HSPD – 3: Homeland Security Advisory System
Delegate and Revise.  This is a notorious system that undermines public confidence in Homeland Security.  But sudden abrogation would complicate several current procedures for jurisdictional alert and response.

HSPD – 4: National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction
This is classified and outside the purview of this report.  A non-classified version exists that does a good job of communicating strategic intent.

HSPD – 5: Management of Domestic Incidents
Affirm and Adapt.  This is foundational to several other HSPDs.  The current HSPD needs much more attention to resilience, mitigation, the role of State partners, key issues of civil-military relations, and de-conflicting White House leadership roles.

HSPD – 6: Integration and Use of Screening Information
Delegate and Revise

HSPD – 7: Critical Infrastructure Identification, Prioritization, and Protection
Delegate and Revise. It is possible that an outcome of the review and revision process may be a new Presidential strategy statement related to this issue.  But, if so, the strategy statement should be disentangled from the significant operational and even tactical scope of the current HSPD.

HSPD – 8: National Preparedness
Affirm and Adapt.  Given both its content and relationship with other HSPDs this is among the most important HSPDs.  But it will require very substantial adjustments.  It may be the worst written and most confusing of all existing HSPDs.
HSPD – 9: Defense of United States Agriculture and Food
Delegate and Revise

HSPD – 10: Biodefense for the 21st Century
This is classified and outside the purview of this report.  A non-classified version exists that does a good job of communicating strategic intent.

HSPD – 11: Comprehensive Terrorist-Related Screening Procedures
Delegate and Revise (in tandem with HSPD 6)

HSPD – 12: Policy for a Common Identification Standard for Federal Employees and Contractors
Delegate and Revise

HSPD – 13: Maritime Security Policy
Affirm and Adapt.  This may be the most thoughtfully constructed of the current HSPDs and offers – in contrast with the other documents – the distinction between policy/strategy and operations/management as the goal of White House direction.

HSPD – 14: Domestic Nuclear Detection
Delegate and Revise

HSPD – 15: U.S. Strategy and Policy in the War on Terror
This is classified and outside the purview of this report.  A non-classified version has not been developed.  The lack of a non-classified overview lessens the likelihood of a layered and networked strategy of prevention, preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery.

HSPD – 16: National Strategy for Aviation Strategy
Delegate and Revise.  It is possible that an outcome of the review and revision process may be a new Presidential strategy statement related to this issue.  But, if so, the strategy statement should be disentangled from the significant operational and even tactical scope of the current HSPD.

HSPD – 17: Nuclear Materials Information Program
This is classified and outside the purview of this report.  A non-classified version has not been developed.  The lack of a non-classified overview lessens the likelihood of a layered and networked strategy of prevention, preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery.

HSPD – 18: Medical Countermeasures against Weapons of Mass Destruction
Affirm and Adapt. There is a need for more robust attention to the role of the States, private sector, and public education in developing core resilience.

HSPD – 19: Combating Terrorist Use of Explosives in the United States
Delegate and Revise

HSPD – 20: National Continuity Policy
Affirm and Adapt.  Careful review of possible second and third order effects should be undertaken in the process of adaptation.

HSPD – 21: Public Health and Medical Preparedness
Affirm and Adapt. As with most of the current HSPDs the document focuses so much attention on how that why is obscured. It has now been 12 months since promulgation.  Adaptation could provide for more focus on the strategic rationale and outcome.

HSPD-22: Domestic Chemical Defense
This is classified and outside the purview of this report.  A non-classified version has not been developed.  The lack of a non-classified overview lessens the likelihood of a layered and networked strategy of prevention, preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery.

HSPD-23: Computer Network Monitoring and Cyber-Security
This is classified and outside the purview of this report.  A non-classified version has not been developed.  The lack of a non-classified overview lessens the likelihood of a layered and networked strategy of prevention, preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery.

HSPD-24: Biometrics for Identification and Screening to Enhance National Security
Delegate and Revise (in tandem with HSPD 6 and HSPD 11)

(End of the original 2008 memorandum)

In my experience the most effective written guidance on policy or strategy is concise — even simple — and reinforced through constant communication and engagement.  In my world policy explains the goal and why it has been selected. Strategy explains broadly how the goal will be advanced.  A Presidential statement should usually attend to both policy and strategy.   As the National Security Staff considers how to translate the HSPDs into more effective forms, here are some key characteristics of effective strategic guidance.  (I think these are derived from someone else, but I don’t remember who):

How-to rules: They spell out key features of how a process is executed,
Boundary rules: They focus on which opportunities can be pursued and which cannot,
Priority rules: They help decisionmakers rank the accepted opportunities/problems,
Timing rules: They synchronize how one opportunity/problem is paced with other parts of the enterprise,
Exit rules: They help decisionmakers when to pull out of yesterday’s opportunities/problems.
Developing strategy as simple rules is not simple.  It takes hard thinking, testing, revising, and experience.  But in the end the simple rules provide effective guidance in a way a whole library of specific-use strategies cannot.  Best wishes in your important work.

September 5, 2010

Real-life Resilience

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on September 5, 2010

We have talked often about resilience on this blog in recent months. Some of you have commented that these discussions have often tended toward the theoretical if not the ephemeral. Many of you have asked for real-life examples of resilience in practice. Fortunately, the people of Christchurch, New Zealand are showing us what it really means.

The M7.1 earthquake struck New Zealand’s second largest city at 4:36 AM on Saturday. Emergency services immediately swung into action. People shaken from their beds quickly assessed their damage and checked on their neighbors. And a few businesses opened their doors to offer emergency supplies — in some cases below cost if not free — to those who had not prepared in advance.

Well-practiced plans ensured a preliminary damage assessment was conducted quickly and the information relayed to emergency operations centers at the local, regional and national levels. National-level resources were put on standby to provide specialized support and relieve Christchurch-based crews. International relief organizations and the U.S. military quickly offered their support, but none was accepted as no evidence of unmet need was evident.

As daylight came and the damage became evident, people got to work helping one another clear debris and cover holes in roofs caused by falling chimneys. People worked together to store potable water and assemble supplies that might be needed in the days ahead.

Grocers who could open their doors did so. Other businesses received support from vendors and telecommunications companies to get their electronic funds transfer systems up and running so they could open and supply customers’ needs.

The former state-owned telecommunications company, Telecom, made 300 public payphones free for local, regional and national calls. Other telecommunications providers worked together with Telecom and local emergency managers to ensure continuous communications was available via cellphone, especially for those using short-message service (SMS or text messaging).

The company responsible for local transmission of electrical power had restored service to 90% of customers by nightfall on the first day. Nearly all rural customers had power restored by the end of the second day.

Four welfare centers opened to receive people whose homes were too badly damaged to stay in and those who were simply too scared to return to their homes as aftershocks continued. By the close of the second day, though, only 220 people had stayed in shelters overnight. Most people sought shelter with family, friends and neighbors.

Roads and bridges suffered significant damage as did in-ground infrastructure, especially piped services such as water and wastewater. Air and rail transportation were disrupted initially, but the international airport reopened by early afternoon and rail service was restored in many areas the next day.

The prime minister, minister of civil defence emergency management and local MPs flew into the city on a military transport to offer central government support for the local and regional responses. Initial media criticism of the time lag between the quake’s occurrence and the formal declaration of a state of emergency has subsided as people have come to realize how effective the initial response has been and how little external assistance was required to deal with the initial effects of the temblor.

Post-earthquake fires have been few and far between. About 500 buildings have been heavily damaged. No deaths occurred, and the local hospital treated about 100 serious injuries with only two requiring critical care.

The biggest ongoing problem may well be the geological damage to the aquifer. Significant flooding has resulted from the displacement of the layers of earth that separate the top level of the aquifer from the surface soils. Large parts of the city and adjacent small towns now resemble marshland.

Estimates of the cost of recovery are still being tabulated. Some initial estimates, which seem conservative, put the losses in the vicinity of NZ$2 billion. The country’s Earthquake and War Damage Commission has assets in excess of NZ$15 billion to cover many of the uninsurable public and private costs.

Gratitude that no one lost their life in this disaster has been tempered by the realization that a great deal of work lies ahead. People with whom I have communicated by text and email since the earthquake struck have made it clear that people there have the spirit to get the job done.

The surest sign of hope was the good humor with which people greeted the challenges they face. Several joked about their new circumstances in Facebook posts and a playlist of earthquake themed music was quickly compiled. Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys and Elvis Presley’s All Shook Up topped the list.


New Zealand Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management

Environment Canterbury >> Earthquake Update

Christchurch City Council >> Earthquake Update

Disruption Follows Quake >> The Press (Christchurch)

Christchurch Earthquake Photos

Twitter Trendsmap

Christchurch Rocks >> 13 Lessons Learned from the Earthquake

Canterbury Earthquake News and Information

Christchurch Earthquake Map Mashup

CrisisCommons >> Christchurch Quake Wiki

Google Earth Blog >> Christchurch Earthquake Visualization

HSPDs RIP, please

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 5, 2010

Last night I heard from the third “reliable source” in two weeks that a decision has been made to replace the current collection of Homeland Security Presidential Directives (HSPDs) with much more concise and truly strategic Presidential Statements of Strategy or some other nomenclature to be decided. 

I hope these rumors are accurate.  It’s the right direction.  Like most previous administrations, the White House was stumbling into the trap of mistaking effective policy  guidance with operational micro-management.  Two of my three sources suggest a senior official finally recognized that this tendency– among other problems — is a colossal waste of time.

As reported previously, I am a life-long Republican who volunteered on candidate Obama’s Homeland Security Advisory Council.  My last assignment was to work with a set of state homeland security leaders to review and suggest a revision strategy for the HSPDs.   I am sure this work has been lost and long forgotten.  Not all the ideas were mine.  Several of the co-authors are now senior administration officials.  I think it is worth retrieving… and in the spirit of transparency promised during the campaign, here is the memo.

A Review of Current Homeland Security Presidential Directives and
 Recommendations for Action after January 20, 2009

SECOND DRAFT: December 11, 2008

Statement of the Problem

The twenty-four existing Homeland Security Presidential Directives (HSPDs) often obscure and complicate the identification and understanding of strategic priorities for Homeland Security.

Sources of the Problem

1.    Many of the HSPDs serve an interagency coordination function that has been superseded by creation of the Department of Homeland Security (e.g. enhanced INS and Customs cooperation).
2.    Many of the HSPDs are operational rather than strategic.  Moreover, the operational frameworks set-out may not be well-suited to current and emerging conditions and complicate strategic adaptation.
3.    Taken together the HSPDs give much more attention to response than to prevention, preparedness, or recovery.  Mitigation is seldom considered.
4.    Between the first HSPD in October 2001 to June’s publication of HSPD 24 there is increasing attention to threats other than terrorism.  Beginning with HSPD 5 (February 2003) a goal is articulated to be prepared for all-hazards (or “terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies”). But there is an ongoing threat-orientation as opposed to a risk-orientation.  This is inconsistent with the risk-based foundations of both the existing Homeland Security Strategy and the strategy signaled by President-elect Obama.
5.    There is no significant or sustained attention to resilience and the distinction between catastrophic risk and other risk is implicit at best.  The current collection of HSPDs offers a broad view of the threat horizon, but very little guidance as to strategic priorities along that horizon.
Proposed Approach for Engaging the Problem
The most serious problems with the current HSPDs will be resolved as the new administration releases its own strategic guidance for Homeland Security. The early publication of an explicit White House Homeland Security strategy will be crucial to giving the current HSPDs badly needed strategic context.
But especially because so many HSPDs have considerable operational implications there is a need for diligence in adapting the HSPDs to emerging needs and the new strategy.  Simple abrogation would cause difficult and sometimes unpredictable consequences. 
To clarify strategic priorities while avoiding operational discontinuities it is recommended that most current HSPDs be treated in one of three ways:
Affirm and Adapt: Six of the HSPDs focus on strategic goals that are coherent with those communicated by the President-elect during the campaign.  In most of these more-strategic HSPDs modest edits will be needed.  The one exception in this category is HSPD 8 which should be affirmed, but will need substantial adaptation.
Delegate and Revise: Twelve of the HSPDs focus on operational processes that will benefit from review, updating, possible revision, or other actions but should not require a renewed statement of Presidential priority-setting.  Homeland Security Council staff should work with their departmental colleagues to “devolve” these ongoing operational matters to the most effective structures outside the White House. Final devolution may be formalized through Presidential action.
Communicate Strategic Intent of Classified Documents:  This review does not address specific revisions to the six classified HSPDs. Declassified versions of these key statements of policy and strategy should be made available, as is the case with HSPD 4 and HSPD 10.  Given the nation’s risk environment it is critically important that there be substantive understanding across the law enforcement, fire service, public health, emergency management, related disciplines and the private sector regarding core strategic perspectives and goals.
The exception to these three categories is abrogation of HSPD 1.  This document sets out how the Homeland Security Council is organized. This should be replaced.  A draft replacement is attached as an annex to this review.

Monday: Specific Recommendations for each HSPD

September 4, 2010

Pakistan Taliban threatens US and Europe (again)

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 4, 2010

After using suicide bombers to kill 33 in  Lahore and at least 55 in Quetta on Friday, a Pakistani Taliban official, Qari Hussain Mehsud, threatened to attack the United States and Europe “very soon,” according to the Daily Times of Pakistan.

Rob Crilly, reporting for the Telegraph from Islamabad, writes that Mehsud, “promised a fresh wave of attacks that would resemble the attempted Times Square bombing earlier this year.”  We can hope it will fizzle as quickly as the first, but it is typical of of the al-Qaeda franchise to repeat the original plan until they get it right.

The Taliban in Pakistan or TTP has been implicated in an unsuccessful attack on the Barcelona (Spain) subway and has previously threatened to attack Washington DC.   In May ProPublica reported a possible connection between the Times Square bombing and the TTP.  According to Sebastian Rotella:

The accused bomber, Faisal Shahzad, has admitted to training in the Waziristan region, a militant refuge where al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban are locked in a struggle with Pakistani ground forces and U.S. missile-firing drones. Shahzad, 30, told investigators that he had met with members of the Pakistani Taliban, according to a U.S. law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation remains open. Shahzad also indicated that he wanted to avenge recent slayings of militant leaders by U.S. missile strikes, the official said.

“He made references to having had some sort of contact with the Pakistani Taliban,” the law enforcement official said. “He made reference to his motivation being revenge for U.S. activity and involvement in Pakistan.”

On Wednesday, September 1 the State Department added the TTP to the official list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Crilly writes in the Telegraph, “Qari Hussain Mehsud, who commands suicide squads for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), said he was proud that the US had added his organisation to its international terrorism blacklist on Wednesday.”

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