Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 14, 2010

Should there be a Goldwater-Nichols for citizen engagement in homeland security?

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Organizational Issues,Strategy — by Arnold Bogis on October 14, 2010

“We will support the development of prepared, vigilant, and engaged communities and underscore that our citizens are the heart of a resilient country.”

–National Security Strategy, May 2010

In defense-oriented circles, “Goldwater-Nichols” is shorthand for activity that improves cooperation and integration through reorganization and other measures.  It refers to a law passed by Congress in the 1980s that reorganized the Department of Defense and promoted unity among the various services.  In essence, Goldwater-Nichols is synonymous with the concept of jointness.

What does this have to do with the public’s role in homeland security?  Isn’t it pretty straightforward—get a kit, make a plan, be informed?  In addition, if you see something, say something. Oh, and if someone in your community exhibits signs of becoming “radicalized,” inform the authorities.  And don’t forget to buy the appropriate insurance for the risks present in your area. Etc., etc., etc.

According to national strategies and cabinet secretaries, the citizen plays a central role in homeland security.  There is a lot asked of the public, and the focus areas of these activities are spread across different disciplines and departments.  So is it fair to ask whose job in government it is to wake up everyday and think “how can we better engage the public across the full range of homeland security activities?” “Are there synergies that can be exploited?”  Or, instead, is this an area where the fabled “silos of excellence” are important—due to their distinct natures, keeping the particular responsibilities closest to their related government agencies?

Whole-of-government approaches are sexy (as government goes), theoretically efficient, and bring the promise of relatively quick results.  Yet they are difficult to implement in practice as bureaucracies are not configured to encourage or facilitate this type of approach.  A traditional approach where each department or agency concentrates solely on the area of engagement that coincides with their mission intuitively sounds wasteful, and given the level of success to this point, likely to fail.  However, it could be that given increased priority within their mission sets would result in each distinct effort achieving far greater gains when worked in (practical) isolation.

Personally, I have not yet made up my mind on the possible merits of a comprehensive vs. narrow approach, but it is a discussion that should happen.

For an idea that is considered central to our concepts of homeland security and resilience and as an anointed partner of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities, there is comparatively little effort or resources put towards strengthening the public’s role.

Just for perspective, here is a short list of citizen activities:

Prevention

See something, say something perfectly describes the actions of the Times Square street vendors who noticed Faisal Shahzad’s parked SUV was out of place and alerted passing police.   This campaign is going nationwide as DHS and DOJ promote it in conjunction with a Suspicious Activity Reporting initiative that hypothetically will allow law enforcement personnel to translate the somethings being said into useful information without infringing on civil liberties.

For a supportive view, see a recent New York Times op-ed by John Farmer Jr., a former senior counsel for the 9/11 commission, “How to Spot a Terrorist.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/28/opinion/28farmer.html?ref=contributors

Preparedness

This aspect has been covered many times by contributors and others on this blog, so I will simply add that an invaluable source of information on public preparedness from a citizen’s point of view is John Solomon, author of the blog “In Case of Emergency, Read Blog” (http://incaseofemergencyblog.com/).  He covers the subject from multiple angles, from innovations in public engagement to interviews with top homeland security officials, and practices what he preaches as a CERT member in New York City.

Mitigation

As the waters receded from the terrible spring flooding in Tennessee, some thoughts turned to steps that residents could take to help mitigate the damage from the almost certain next catastrophic deluge:

http://theklaxon.com/as-tennessee-dries-residents-mitigate

Response

FEMA Director Craig Fugate not only uses the word “survivor” instead of “victim” when describing those impacted by disasters, he recognizes that it is the public that will be the true first responder during any large incident.  In that spirit, Gregg Lord of the George Washington University led a project on “community medical resiliency,” a part of which is the idea that citizens can (and during a catastrophe, will have to) rely upon themselves to provide some measure of basic medical care as officials will be overwhelmed. (Disclosure: I worked on this project so I might be biased concerning the validity of the concept):

http://www.gwumc.edu/hspi/policy/commentary018_supplydemand.cfm

Recovery

It seems obvious that the public will be engaged in recovery activities following a disaster—they are personally involved.  What might not be so obvious is that there are steps that can be taken before an event that will help with recovery afterwards.  The theory behind this concept comes from Harvard Kennedy School professors Herman Leonard and Arnold Howitt, who have written that balancing resource allocation across leverage points (prevention, mitigation, preparedness, preparing to recover, response, and recovery) is vital for crisis management.  In their view, preparing to recover activities have been almost entirely neglected.

For the theory: http://www.hks.harvard.edu/var/ezp_site/storage/fckeditor/file/pdfs/centers-programs/programs/crisis-leadership/Acting%20in%20Time%20Against%20Disaster.pdf

For information on real world application: http://www.hks.harvard.edu/programs/crisisleadership/projects

October 13, 2010

Expectations

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Mark Chubb on October 13, 2010


As I sit here writing this post, the first of the Chilean miners trapped underground for more than two months is being lifted to the surface in a specially-designed rescue capsule lowered down a 28-inch diameter shaft drilled for the purpose of extracting the men. The preparations for this moment have been painstakingly detailed.

Since receiving news that the miners survived the collapse that entrapped them, people around the world have watched developments and many have tried to imagine what it would be like if they themselves were subject to the same fate. I am not among them.

My attention has been focused on the way in which those responsible for the rescue and those watching their efforts in rapt attention shifted as rescuers adapted to what was clearly an unforeseen circumstance. Like many disasters, this event did not conform to plans made beforehand. Rescuers clearly did not imagine they would have to attend to all of the details that arose when they realized how long it would take to reach those trapped.

When rescuers first made contact with the miners, they faced the dilemma of telling them it would take months of drilling or digging to reach them. As a result, rescuers shifted their attention to making the miners’ stay underground as predictable and bearable as possible. When drilling progressed faster than expected, they had to shift gears again to manage the expectations of families who waited on the surface for the return of their loved ones. All the while they had to deal with hundreds if not thousands of technical details and the expectations of millions of onlookers.

Indeed expectations were a big part of this story. When it was clear the miners had survived the collapse that prevented them from escaping the mine, their families expected officials would spare no expense or effort to rescue and return them safely. The miners themselves undoubtedly endured their fate with hope and good humor in large part because they expected to be rescued after it became clear to those on the surface that they were still alive. No one questioned whether these expectations were reasonable, just as no one seemed to doubt the ultimate outcome we are now witnessing on live television.

This stands in stark contrast to the dashed expectations of Gene Cranick whose house in Obion County, Tennessee caught fire and burned to the ground before his eyes on October 4. When he called 911 to report the fire, dispatchers for the fire department in nearby South Fulton checked to see whether he had paid his $75 annual subscription fee to receive rural rural fire service. Sadly, he had not.

When told firefighters would not be attending his fire, Mr. Cranick offered to pay the fee or whatever costs the fire service would incur in responding to fight his blaze. They demurred.

Public, political and media outrage came fast and furious from every quarter. It seems there is something the left and right of the political spectrum can agree on after all. While some commentators acknowledged that Cranick bore some responsibility for failing to pay his subscription (in fairness, he claims he simply forgot), no one seems to consider it reasonable that firefighters decided not to respond even if they accept the political decision to deny fire cover to rural residents who fail to pay for their maintenance.

Arguments that firefighters had a duty to respond hinge on two assumptions: one moral and one material. The moral argument would have us believe that firefighters cannot or should not reasonably withhold their services from those in peril or need nor should they be instructed or expected to do so by those for whom they work. The material argument holds that the response of firefighters makes a difference in the outcome, which reinforces the moral imperative that indicates they should respond when called upon to do so.

Here’s where expectations come into play. Is the moral argument dependent upon the material one or truly independent of it? Do we believe firefighters have a duty to respond because we believe their actions make a difference? If so, are these expectations absolute or simply reasonable?

Firefighters attend many fires like Mr. Cranick’s with little appreciable effect on the outcome. In other words, they achieve a result not too much different — at least materially — from the effect that would have occurred had they not responded. When the fire has grown bigger than firefighters can control, whether because of delays calling for help, the length of time it takes to reach the fire, or the conditions that allowed the fire to start and grow big enough for someone to detect, firefighters simply busy themselves getting things in place while the fire consumes enough of whatever is burning to decay to a size the attending firefighters can suppress.

All of this activity, like that we have witnessed in the Chilean desert, has the purpose, in part, of reassuring us that everything will be alright in the end even if the damage cannot be stopped immediately much less undone. This is rarely the case though. Fires cause damage, which in many instances simply cannot be repaired. The firefighters’ attendance reassures us though that someone–more importantly someone in officialdom–cares about our fate, and somehow this makes it possible to carry on and get our lives back together or something close enough to it.

No one is known to have survived 69 days trapped more than 2000-ft underground before. Preparations to treat the miners for the myriad problems they may experience as a result of their exposure have been made ready. But we don’t yet know how the story will end. Even if rescuers have made adequate preparations to treat the physical effects of their confinement, the miners will have to make psychological adjustments to accommodate their newfound fame and the problems left on the surface that have not gone away during their absence.

What remains to be seen, however, is whether our expectations have been raised beyond reason by watching the spectacle of the miners’ rescue. Does this raise the bar or does it simply help us appreciate what it means to be human?

October 12, 2010

Homeland security as a legacy concept

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

A few weeks ago a friend suggested that homeland security was a legacy concept.

Legacy is a polite word. It is used as a synonym for something no longer in fashion. It also refers to what’s left when somebody dies.

In the computer world, legacy means something that has been superseded but that is difficult to get rid of because it is still widely used.

————————————–

“Homeland security’s outlived its usefulness,” my friend said.

To paraphrase the rest of his argument:

Most terrorism prevention is either law enforcement or military work; sometimes both. The concept of “homeland security” does not add much value to what the police or the defense department already do.

Emergency management takes care of things that can’t be prevented. Except for a few very well publicized events, the nation’s emergency management enterprise does a good job responding to disasters. Covering emergency management with a coat of homeland security paint doesn’t add much.

To many state and local agencies, homeland security means “what we have to do to get emergency management grants so we can prepare for the events we will actually experience.”

Public health may not have performed perfectly during the H1N1 season; but it’s not obvious how incorporating public health into the homeland security stew made anything better.

DHS component agencies — Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, TSA, Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service — take care of their areas of responsibility. Why do they need to be connected to the same federal overhead agency?  And does anyone recall why we keep the Customs part of Customs and Border Protection separate from the Customs part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement?

What do any of the overhead management agencies in DHS actually contribute to making the nation more secure? Is there any evidence other than rhetoric about the value overhead agencies add?

Sure there is DHS rhetoric about value:

“We are a unified Department with a shared focus: strengthening our Nation – through a partnership with individual citizens, the private sector, state, local, and tribal governments, and our global partners. We must also coordinate across Federal agencies, while shaping homeland security policy and coordinating incident management.”

But that language comes from the DHS “One Team, One Mission, Securing Our Homeland” strategic plan. It was issued in 2008. By DHS Secretary Chertoff. It’s still featured on the DHS website, in spite of language on the same web page that says

“…it is important to acknowledge that this Strategic Plan is a living document and will be revised as needed to guide a dynamic Department and its ever-changing requirements.”

If the strategy has not been revised in two years, is that evidence of a legacy strategy and a moribund department?  Or should we look at the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review as the new living document?

There is little question “homeland security” as a concept has been replaced at the national level by “national security.” Last year the homeland security council staff dissolved into the national security staff.  The country no longer has a national homeland security strategy.  The 2007 National Homeland Security Strategy was replaced, with little fanfare, by the May 2010 National Security Strategy.

If homeland security is not already dead, it’s getting there.

————————————–

I dismissed my friend’s argument out of hand — meaning I didn’t think much about it. Or rather I tried not to think about it.

But the thought would not go away.  What if he was right?

I asked colleagues what they thought of the idea.  Most agreed with my first reaction: the idea is wrong.   There are no unambiguous measures of whether we are better prepared to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks and catastrophes today than we were a decade ago.  But the consensus of people I asked was agencies were better at sharing information and working together than they were in early 2001.  Is that improvement because something called “homeland security” served as an organizing and funding device? Possibly.  Probably.

No, I don’t think homeland security is a legacy concept.

But what if it were true? Or at least in the early days of being true? What kind of argument could be constructed to support the claim that the nation is moving beyond the concept of “homeland security?”

What if, like a soft green blanket, homeland security was what the nation needed to get past the trauma of the first years of this new century? How would we know when it was time to let go? When it was time to move on?

October 9, 2010

AfPak Report to Congress: Unclassified and now accessible

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on October 9, 2010

Last Thursday, September 30, the President reported to Congress on the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Courtesy of the American Federation of Scientists Secrecy News Project, you may now read the report for yourself.   It is a 1.25 megabyte download from: http://www.fas.org/man/eprint/wh-afpak.pdf

I hope we will all give the document substantive consideration, right now a comment on process:  It is reasonable — especially in a republic — for the executive to engage in discreet and confidential conversations with the legislature.  In principle, I have no problem with the practice and, in fact, would prefer to see a more principled pattern of such practice.

In this particular case everyone in the system — White House, Hill, and the Fourth Estate — knew this pdf would eventually be available on the net.  It does not advance confidence in our system for this document to be gamed and made available by a non-governmental source.   Give advance copies to Congress, fine.  But in my judgment this kind of report should have been released by the White House not later than Thursday, October 7.

–+–

Monday, October 11 Update

The AfPak report strikes me as a reasonably accurate and professional account of what is happening and not happening in-theater.   If its Congressional readers learned anything new, they have not been paying attention. (Which again highlights that such reports ought to be provided by the government to the governed in order to facilitate their consent or dissent.) 

The report is operationally focused.  There are strategic implications — and rather clear implications — but they are understated or unstated.

In terms of Pakistan, the reader comes away with a sense that anything anyone might claim as true is  exquisitely precarious.   The political situation is especially surreal.  That this warped reality includes the world’s sixth largest military, nuclear weapons, and arguably the core of world terrorism reinforces the sense that Salvador Dali might be more effective than Richard Holbrooke as our AfPak special representative (and, of course, Dali is dead).

A few recent headlines to further complicate the context:

Pakistan’s nuclear arms push angers America — Pakistan has been secretly accelerating the pace of its nuclear weapons programme, infuriating the US which is trying to cap worldwide stocks of fissile material and improve fraught relations with a fragile ally in the Afghanistan war. (More from the Telegraph)

Non-proliferation: A nuclear exchange — More than 100 cold-war era research reactors run on uranium pure enough to be used in a nuclear weapon. But switching to safer fuel isn’t easy. (More from Nature)

Member of AQ worked at six US nuclear plants  —  A New Jersey man accused of joining Al Qaeda in Yemen spoke openly of militant views while working at American nuclear plants, according to a report by the inspector general of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that proposes tightening personnel security rules. (More from the New York Times and the NRC IG (redactions)) 

           Premonition of Civil War by Salvador Dali

 

Health Care Reform and National Security? Connecting the Dots

Filed under: Biosecurity,Preparedness and Response — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on October 9, 2010

Today’s guest columnist is Dr. Gloria N. Eldridge, a health and security policy analyst in the Washington, D.C. area, who offers her thoughts on the nexus between health care reform and national security.

We have all been bombarded since the 2008 elections with politicians or pundits projecting what national health reform proposals or the actual bill will mean in terms of our family member’s visits to the doctor’s office, the money coming out of our pockets for health care expenses, or our choice of health insurance carrier in the future. What about connecting the dots between policy sectors and considering what the measure means for national security and our preparedness for a homeland security event?

The twin bills of national health reform, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, P.L. 111-148) and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (HCERA, P.L. 111-152) of 2010 bolstered national security.  The United States is better prepared for a homeland security event, such as a terrorist attack or a natural disaster, after national health reform than before.  For one, every American will have insurance coverage in case they require health services after an event.  Second, Medicaid eligibility is rationalized with all individuals with incomes below 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL) eligible for coverage.  Previously, Medicaid’s cobbled eligibility standards left most poor single adults and others uninsured and state officials scrambling to negotiate federal financing for the uninsured’s health services costs after an event.  Sixteen million uninsured, a half of those newly covered under the 2010 measure, are scheduled to receive coverage under the new Medicaid rules.  Third, national, state, and local officials will not have to build and negotiate institutional frameworks in the wake of an event.  Instead, these institutional frameworks will be in place ahead of time.  The politics of building institutions can, therefore, be removed from our response.

September 11, 2001, Terrorist Attacks in New York City

Consider the events following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  New York City’s (NYC) Medicaid computer systems were damaged during the attacks, and state and city officials had to negotiate with the federal government regarding financing the health care of the uninsured.  The Medicaid program, a program financed by both federal and state dollars, became an instrument of the homeland security state.  A temporary public health insurance program called Disaster Relief Medicaid (DRM) was created, and nearly 350,000 New Yorkers – including many who were uninsured — enrolled within four-months after the attacks (Kaiser 2002).  In designing DRM, the requirements of a planned Medicaid waiver initiative called Family Health Plus, scheduled for implementation in the fall of 2011, were used.  Medicaid maintains federal minimum requirements for state governments but states retain the ability to “waiver” federal requirements through petitions.  For DRM, the usual NYC eligibility levels for parents were expanded from 87 percent to 133 percent and for single adults and childless couples from 50 percent to 100 percent of the FPL (Kaiser 2002).  Pre-reform Medicaid required an assets and resources test in order for individuals to be eligible, while the DRM did not.  DRM also implemented minimal documentation requirements, brief interviews, and the ability to use services right away (Kaiser 2002).

August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hits The Gulf Coast

In the days following the Katrina disaster, Congressional action was proposed in the Emergency Health Care Relief Act of 2005 (S.1716), introduced by Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ranking Member Max Baucus (D – MT) on September 14, 2005. The proposed legislation provided for temporary federally funded Medicaid coverage to low-income individuals affected by the hurricane.  It also planned to provide $800 million for uncompensated care provided to the uninsured hurricane victims (Lambrew and Shalala 2006).  This approach, however, was not supported by the G.W. Bush Administration.  Instead, Medicaid financing, through the waiver process, provided financing of health needs of many evacuees across state lines, as the hurricane created a Diaspora of more than a million evacuees to every state in the nation (Lambrew and Shalala 2006).

As Diane Rowland testified before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, “Under these waivers, states could provide up to five months of Medicaid or SCHIP coverage to eligible groups of survivors and could also create an uncompensated care pool to reimburse providers for uncompensated care costs.  The waivers did not allow states to expand coverage for adults without dependent children, regardless of income, and did not include any funding to support the temporary coverage or uncompensated care pools. Federal funding did not become available until the Congress authorized $2 billion for the Medicaid coverage and uncompensated care pools nearly six months after the storm through the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005” (Rowland 2007).

Discussion and Conclusions

Although members of Congress, and the American public, may not have thought of national health reform as a national security issue, it does prepare us for a national event – whether a natural disaster or terrorist threat.  Now that the 2010 national health reform is passed, all Americans will have health insurance if they require it after a major event.  In fact, the legislation requires all Americans to have health insurance.  State health insurance exchanges are being developed to assist with access to coverage.  Also, Medicaid is more rational with all Americans under 133% of poverty covered by the program.  This establishes financing guidelines between the federal and state governments, and it makes very clear the individuals who will receive that coverage ahead of time.  The health financing institutions developed during national health reform — whether the new health insurance exchanges or rationalized Medicaid eligibility – are in place.  The country will not have to negotiate these policy institutions shotgun.  This removes the political calculus that comes with developing health financing institutions from our post-event agenda.  We can focus on our nation’s security and our people’s health without the bipartisan wrangling that accompanies the creation of new institutional structures.

References

The Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured and United Hospital Fund.   “New York’s Disaster Relief Medicaid: Insights and Implications for Covering Low-Income People,” August 2002.

Lambrew, Jeanne M. and Donna E. Shalala.  “Federal Health Policy Response to Hurricane Katrina: What It Was and What It Could Have Been,” JAMA 296, no. 11: 1394 – 1397, September 20, 2006.

Rowland, Diane.  “Health Care In New Orleans: Before and After Katrina,” Testimony before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Committee on Energy and Commerce, United States House of Representatives, March 13, 2007.

October 8, 2010

Pakistan puzzle: Where’s Ludwig Fichte?

Filed under: Radicalization,Risk Assessment,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on October 8, 2010

Did you you see the video of the skydiver solving a Rubik’s Cube while free-falling?  (Here’s a link.)  His name is Ludwig Fichte.  It reminded me of what we are trying to do in AfPak.  The biggest difference is Fichte had a parachute.  We don’t.  Not really.

Consider just a few of the headlines related mostly to Pakistan over the last several days:

Sunday/Monday

Osama bin-Laden criticizes Western response to flooding in Pakistan.

Travelers warned of terrorist plans to attack targets in Britain, France, and Germany.  Western intelligence sources suggest terror teams trained in Pakistan have already deployed to Europe.

Drone strike kills German terrorists-in-training in North Waziristan.   Several media reports suggest connections to same Hamburg cell involved in planning 9/11 attacks.

Taliban attacks NATO supply caravan “held hostage” by Pakistani military.  On September 30 the Pakistani military restricted most border crossings into Afghanistan in apparent retaliation for the death of two Pakistani soldiers in a cross-border operation by NATO forces based in Afghanistan.

Germany downplays terror threat to Europe.

590,000 flood victims remain homeless in Southwest Pakistan. It has been eleven weeks since the first floods struck Pakistan… In Sindh province, in the south, flooding is still happening. Since mid-August floods there have to varying degrees affected almost a third of the province’s 30.4 million residents, and around 1.6 million people are still displaced.  (Source UNHCR)

Tuesday

Pakistan political stability threatened by slow flood aid.

Pakistan floods reduce Afghan food supply.  Some basic food prices have doubled in Afghanistan.

NATO apologizes but Pakistan military continues to block Khyber Pass and other supply routes.

Faisal Shahzad sentenced to life in prison.  The wanna-be Times Square bomber was (poorly) trained in Pakistan

Wednesday

Briton tagged to lead terrorist cell confirmed killed.  Abdul Jabbar, who claimed to be forming the Islamic Army of Great Britain, was killed by a September drone attack, according to several media reports.  Pakistani intelligence officials have strongly denied the story.

According to the Wall Street Journal,  the  White House  is telling Congress that, “The Pakistan military continued to avoid military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or al Qaeda forcesin North Waziristan…”  U.S. officials say they are increasingly frustrated by Pakistan’s decision not to send large numbers of ground forces into North Waziristan. “This is as much a political choice as it is a reflection of an under-resourced military prioritizing its targets,” the unclassified, 27-page report finds.”

Thursday

Britons training in Pakistan for terror attacks.  Intelligence sources suggest at least twenty holding UK passports are currently in North Waziristan.

Fifty tankers torched.  At least 150 NATO oil tankers have been detained at just one border crossing.  Up to 6500 transports of all kinds are estimated to be waiting to be let through to land-locked Afghanistan. NATO claims the supply slowdown has not impacted ISAF operations.

US apologizes for incursion that resulted in transport restrictions from Pakistan to Afghanistan.  Despite  expressions of regret by the US ambassador and Charman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff  no change has occurred at the border.

Two drone attacks kill eleven.

According to Bloomberg, the White House update to Congress on operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan concludes, “The flooding (in Pakistan) has led to a “military status quo” that “could ultimately result in militant gains if extremist groups remain undisturbed in their safe havens.”

At least eight people were killed when two suicide bombers exploded at a major Sufi shrine Abdullah Shah Ghazi in the port city of Karachi late Thursday, according to DAWN.

A US terror alert issued this week about al-Qaida plots to attack targets in western Europe was politically motivated and not based on credible new information, senior Pakistani diplomats and European intelligence officials have told the Guardian. The non-specific US warning, which despite its vagueness led Britain, France and other countries to raise their overseas terror alert levels, was an attempt to justify a recent escalation in US drone and helicopter attacks inside Pakistan that have “set the country on fire”, said Wajid Shamsul Hasan, the high commissioner to Britain. (More from the Guardian)

This list is obviously just the tip of a proverbial iceberg.  I am posting on Thursday night.  No doubt overnight and Friday will bring plenty more.  Like an iceberg what really worries is what cannot be seen.

With less than 30 days until the — historic? — mid-term elections, would most Americans or even most candidates list our relationship with Pakistan as a top issue?  I don’t think anyone needs to carefully consider survey results to answer with a confident no. 

It’s tough for a democracy to solve a complicated problem to which the vast majority of the demos is not giving some serious attention.  Republics were supposed to do better at this, but we live in a populist age where the old republican virtues have atrophied.  I don’t have an easy solution for our demonstrated tendency to neglect clear priorities until its (almost?) too late.  I’m just say’in (as Glenn Beck might say). 

The YouTube of Fichte solving the Rubik’s Cube uses as its soundtrack the song “Falling” by the New England rock band Staind.  The lyrics offer some good counsel regarding our Pakistan puzzle:

you in your shell
are you waiting for someone
to rescue you
from yourself
don’t be disappointed
when no one comes

don’t blame me you didn’t get it
don’t blame me you didn’t get it
don’t blame me you didn’t get it
i already told you
that falling is easy
it’s getting back up
that becomes the problem
becomes the problem
if you don’t believe you can find a way out you become the problem
become the problem

you all alone
are you waiting for someone
to make you whole
can’t you see
aren’t you tired of
this dysfunctional routine

don’t blame me you didn’t get it
don’t blame me you didn’t get it
don’t blame me you didn’t get it
i already told you
that falling is easy
it’s getting back up
that becomes the problem
becomes the problem
if you don’t believe you can find a way out you become the problem
become the problem

i already told you
that falling is easy
it’s getting back up
that becomes the problem
becomes the problem
if you don’t believe you can find a way out you become the problem
become the problem

falling is easy
it’s getting back up
that becomes the problem
becomes the problem
But if you believe you can find a way out then you solve the problem you’ve solved your problem

October 7, 2010

What if FEMA threw a party and no one showed up?

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS — by Arnold Bogis on October 7, 2010

Did you know that September was “National Preparedness Month?”  Well, considering the readership of this blog I am sure you did.  But more importantly, did the general public?  I’ll go out on a limb and guess that the answer is no.

Building off of Mark’s earlier post, I would like to take the discussion of preparedness in a slightly different direction.  As someone speaking from the perspective of a citizen rather than an emergency management official, I have to say that current efforts to engage the public are failing.  I do not know personally anyone that realized it was “National Preparedness Month,” or took it upon themselves in the last month to get a kit, make a plan, or become informed about any threat.

This despite the fact that I live in Boston, Massachusetts and our summer was bookended by events that presented teachable moments that seemed perfect for promoting preparedness.  Yet unfortunately these opportunities were wasted by officials.

The first was what became known as the “Aquapocalypse:” on an unseasonably warm May afternoon there was a sudden break in a water pipe supplying water to Boston and much of eastern Massachusetts.  As Governor Deval Patrick described it, “a catastrophic disaster” leading to a “boil water” order that meant that two million affected residents would have to either boil their tap water for drinking and cooking, or use bottled water.  The reaction was predictable, a mad dash across the region to buy water.  Police were needed to restore order at several stores.  What might have been different if more people had several days of water already stockpiled in their homes?

The second was Hurricane Earl, roaring up the waters off the East Coast threatening to be the first hurricane to make landfall in New England in almost two decades.  Fortunately for the residents of the Cape and Islands, this unwanted Labor Day weekend guest weakened and drifted eastward.  Unfortunately for the residents of Massachusetts, this is the second missed opportunity this year to promote a message of preparedness for future disasters.

Why wasn’t there a vigorous campaign by public officials to promote disaster preparedness in the wake of both the “Aquapocalypse” and Hurricane Earl?

Disaster preparedness can have a cascading effect.  Using the Aquapocalypse for example, as the number of people scrambling for bottled water decreases, it provides opportunity for less fortunate members of the community.  For every individual with a middle class and higher lifestyle that bought up water, there were those less privileged and unable to engage in consumer combat, such as the elderly and sick, that were at greater risk of going without clean water.  Those that can prepare should, not only for their loved ones but the farther reaching affects on those in their communities who have a much harder time dealing with catastrophe.

As it gets further from both events, it is understandable yet still troubling that officials missed the opportunities to use these events as teachable moments.  Obviously the first priority for officials during these types of events is immediate public safety. When the backup water supply’s safety was unknown, it was prudent to call for boiling tap water or using the bottled variety.  In the case of Earl, the potential for landfall required the vigorous preparations made by local, state, and federal agencies.  Officials at all levels reacted correctly to both events.  At least in regards to the short term issues.

I cannot be certain, but I would guess that such reactions are more common than not across this country.  If so, what kind of steps can be taken to move preparedness forward?

First, don’t let near-disasters pass without taking advantage of them.  For example, immediately following Aquapocalypse officials should have stressed that the water bought by the public should be saved as part of a disaster kit instead of being consumed, and those who strictly boiled tap water should have been encouraged to go out and buy a three day supply of water for themselves.

Second, preparedness activities should leverage community resources, contacts, and interactions.  Direct messages from the government at every level to citizens have met with mixed, at best, success.  Instead, neighborhood meetings concerning crime or business matters can also include reminders about preparedness.  Religious and secular groups should be engaged so that they reach out to their members with preparedness messages.

Third, government officials must include the private sector in this outreach.  For example, Harvard University provides information regarding criminal activities near campus.  Why not include regular preparedness messages?  Another option would be for large educational institutions and businesses to offer discounts on disaster kits as they currently do for computers and other items.

Increasing preparedness is a long term goal and one that will not be visible until the next catastrophe.  Yet teachable moments should not be wasted and preparedness messages not concentrated within one month a year.

October 6, 2010

Ready for What

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS,Strategy — by Mark Chubb on October 6, 2010
It Requires Less Thought than Normal Ideas

Source: Andertoons http://andertoons.com/

When emergency managers get together to talk about the state of their profession, the discussion often turns to preparedness, or rather the lack of it. In any conversation about this topic, it usually becomes clear before long that whether or not emergency managers consider their own agencies and partners ready, they almost universally consider the public at-large uninformed about hazards and uninterested in preparing for disasters.

I am sad to say this recurrent theme came through loud and clear when staff from my office assembled at the end of last week for a strategic planning retreat. People in every section echoed concerns that the community takes the threats we face too lightly. They complained that many of those who do recognize the hazards in our environment still rely too heavily on government and NGOs to come to their aid. And, they added, of those few in our community  who do “get it” and give of their time and effort as volunteers in programs like Community Emergency Response Teams, a small number of outsized egos require constant reassurance that their commitment is valued and suck up too much time and energy to make the effort worthwhile.

If you took their assessment at face value, you would have a hard time being hopeful. That is why its so important to listen to more than one side of the story, question your assumptions and the conventional wisdom, and reflect on the things you see and hear without undue regard for the opinions of others.

When I look at the community, I see something very different. People clearly understand that the situation is changing, and have already begun to adapt in ways that would have been unthinkable not so long ago.

When I spoke at a recent community meeting organized by a couple of citizens and attended by about 125 of their neighbors (something interesting and remarkable on its own, I’d say), I asked the crowd a couple of questions. How many people recycled at home? How about composting their food waste? And installing energy efficient lighting? Or adding a little more insulation to their walls or attic? Or bicycling and walking more often for short trips? In each case, an overwhelming majority of those in the room admitted they were engaged in these activities.

Then I asked, “How many of you, to your knowledge, have been personally and directly affected by climate change?” Maybe a quarter of the crowd was brave enough to indicate in the affirmative.

I suggested to them that the reasons so many of them engage in activities to reduce their carbon footprints, like the reasons so many of them attended the meeting that night, was due in part to the expectations that these were the right thing to do. And it helped that others thought so do. In other words, they had reflected on their own situations, the expectations of others and the potential future harm resulting from inaction and decided that they could justify small steps if they might contribute to avoiding some very large, even catastrophic consequences at some point in the future. What’s more, they could justify doing this even if they did not benefit much from their efforts personally. This, they agreed, was probably the case.

It remains to be seen whether individual efforts to reduce carbon footprints can arrest or reverse the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or they effects of escalating concentrations of carbon dioxide and other emissions on ecosystems, but it is clear that these efforts have effects on what others think and do. And these efforts can and do move markets and policymakers.

What’s this have to do with emergency preparedness you ask? Everything.

Emergency managers need to banish the word preparedness from their vocabularies. As an adjective, it conveys the wrong sense of things. As a verb, however, and especially as a transitive verb, preparing conveys specific and meaningful actions on someone’s part for some specific purpose. And it is this sense of purpose and the personalization of intention that make a difference.

Emergency managers, preoccupied as we with the scope and scale or hazards and vulnerabilities and the attendant consequences of not preparing, pay too much attention to the gap and miss altogether the small, simple steps being taken with considerable consistency toward making our communities more resilient. It’s just that many of these actions are informed by a purpose other than preparing ourselves for disasters rather than climate change.

When I look at my own community, I see people investing increasing effort in making their neighborhoods and the city better places to live. And their actions are shaping expectations and decisions in powerful and positive ways.

More people are planting gardens. More people are taking an interest in where and how the food they eat is produced. More people are making purchasing decisions based on the contents rather than the packaging. More people are saving than spending.

Okay, I’ll admit that last one might be a bit problematic at the moment, but the intention clearly reflects a realization that the excesses of the past are no longer sustainable and a new approach is required. The challenge then for emergency managers is not convincing people to do something, it is seeing that the things people are willing to do are small, simple, sensible and socially reinforced.

Preparing communities for disasters could become sexy if we could just settle for evolution rather than revolution. Community resilience should be a question of “ready for what?” rather than a question of “ready or not?”

October 5, 2010

Current homeland security reading

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on October 5, 2010

Here are the abstracts (and links) from current articles in two homeland security-related journals: Homeland Security Affairs and the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management

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Homeland Security Affairs

Homeland Insecurity: Thinking About CBRN Terrorism — Albert J Mauroni

This essay examines the threat of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) terrorism and specifically what the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has done to address this threat. The author suggests that DHS has erred by using DOD planning scenarios and DOD concepts for CBRN defense that are not easily applied to homeland security. The DOD response to support state and local emergency responders is not appropriate for today’s conditions. The author identifies a methodology for reviewing DHS policies and suggests that there are more moderate, sustainable strategies to address the threat of CBRN terrorism.

Natural Security for a Variable and Risk-filled World — Raphael Sagarin

The twenty-first-century faces a range of severe threats to security including conflicts with non-state actors, emerging diseases, natural disasters, cyber-attacks, and climate change. This diverse set of problems would benefit from a common solution framework that can illuminate their root causes and be applied broadly to security analysis and practice. One such framework is evolutionary biology. 3.5 billion years of biological evolution have led to an enormous variety of security solutions that nonetheless share a key commonality: natural security is adaptable. Organisms in nature achieve adaptability through a decentralized organization where threats are detected and responded to peripherally, by managing uncertainty and turning it to their advantage, and by extending their adaptive capacity through symbiotic partnerships. This essay demonstrates how the basic tenets and many of the specific strategies of natural security systems can be applied to the analysis, planning and practice of security in human society. A case study from the IED attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan is used to show how organizational structure, uncertainty, and symbiotic relationships all play a role in both creating and ameliorating security threats.

Homeland Security and Support for Multiculturalism, Assimilation, and Omniculturalism Policies among Americans – Fathali M Moghaddam and James N Breckenridge

Although Americans’ views concerning illegal immigration have garnered enormous media and pundit attention, this article argues that policy preferences concerning legal immigrants with diverse racial and ethnic origins deserve the attention of homeland security professionals. Using a representative probability sample of more than 4,000 Americans, the study presented here found a majority preference for an alternative to assimilation and multiculturalism – two policies emphasized traditionally among academics. The publics’ preferred policy – omniculturalism – cuts across American sociodemographic differences, yet predicts critical variations in the perceived threat of terrorism, the priority of terrorism, confidence in government, and support for aggressive counter-terrorism measures.

More is Better: The Analytic Case for a Robust Suspicious Activity Reports Program — James E Steiner

The U.S. government defines a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) as “official documentation of observed behavior that may be indicative of intelligence gathering or preoperational planning related to terrorism, criminal, or other illicit intention.” The homeland security, law enforcement, and intelligence communities formally recognize the value and usefulness of SAR in identifying, disrupting, and dismantling violent extremist groups. The ACLU and others are concerned over the threat posed to civil liberties by a large SAR program. The U.S. government has worked with the civil liberties community to address such concerns, but there is another, non civil-liberties claim made by these critics that has generated support for limiting the SAR program – namely that a smaller program would be better in terms of program efficiency and effectiveness. In other words, these civil rights advocates and organizations are now evaluating the analytic merits of intelligence officers having more or less data available to do their job. This article acknowledges the progress made in protecting civil rights, but rejects categorically the call to reduce or limit the size of the SAR program. The article presents two analytic requirements for the collection of more rather than less information through the SAR process to increase the probability of identifying pre-operational terrorist activity and to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of critical infrastructure protection regimes. In statistical analysis, more information is better.

Threat-based Response Patterns for Emergency Services: Developing Operational Plans, Policies, Leadership, and Procedures for a Terrorist Environment — Robert T Mahoney

Emergency services are in the front lines of responding to terrorism and are directly threatened. Current response patterns are based on routine emergencies and insufficient to meet new WMD threats. These departments must ensure security of their personnel, critical assets, re-define allocation of resources, prepare for crisis leadership, and develop training methods and response patterns for this threat. This requires a series of related steps starting with a comprehensive risk assessment. Using the knowledge gained in this assessment informs the successive steps, and overcomes traditional, parochial approaches to developing new response patterns. Planners, trainers, and command personnel must develop these new patterns. All emergency personnel must understand, be trained, and be prepared to operate in both routine and crisis status that are different, because a terrorist crisis condition is different from the daily, routine condition.

Building Resilient Communities: A Preliminary Framework for Assessment — Patricia H Longstaff, Nicholas J Armstrong, Keli Perrin, Whitney May Parker and Matthew A Hidek

There is a growing need in the fields of homeland security and disaster management for a comprehensive, yet useful approach to building resilient communities. This article moves beyond the ongoing debate over definitions and presents a preliminary framework for assessing community resilience. Pulling from an interdisciplinary body of theoretical and policy-oriented literature, the authors provide a definition of resilience and develop a theory of community resilience as a function of resource robustness and adaptive capacity. Moving forward, the article develops the groundwork for further operationalization of resilience attributes according to five key community subsystems: ecological, economic, physical infrastructure, civil society, and governance. Through the examination of each community subsystem, a preliminary, community-based, resilience assessment framework is provided for continued development and refinement. When fully developed, the framework will serve as tool for guiding planning and allocating resources.

Organizational Innovations in Counterterrorism: Lessons for Cyber-security, Human Trafficking, and Other Complex National Missions — Daniel R Langberg

Today’s national security environment demands whole-of-government approaches to complex national missions ranging from combating terrorism and trafficking in persons to securing cyberspace. These and many other twenty-first-century security challenges require an agile and integrated response; however, our national security system is organized along functional lines (diplomatic, military, intelligence, law enforcement, etc.) with weak coordinating mechanisms across these functions. Recent reforms in the U.S. government counterterrorism community offer valuable insights into this challenge as well as organizational lessons that can be applied to other complex national security missions. Specifically, the Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning (DSOP) within the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) provides an innovative and promising model for a national level interagency team that can support the National Security Staff in strategically managing a priority mission from a whole-of-government perspective.

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Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management

A Review of Nurses in Disaster Preparedness and Response: Military and Civilian Collaboration; Felecia Rivers, C. R. Darnall Army Medical Center, Susan Speraw, University of Tennessee – Knoxville, Kenneth D. Phillips, University of Tennessee – Knoxville Jan Lee, University of Tennessee – Knoxville

Every year the world experiences numerous disaster events, both human-made and naturally occurring. These calamitous occurrences are of concern to health care providers for many reasons, not the least of which the reality that their incidence is increasing. Mounting event frequency and magnitude, coupled with increasing world population, results in human impacts that are devastating. Frequently these events call for the deployment of military force, to restore order and secure devastated neighborhoods, or to provide other forms of aid, including healthcare. These military forces often work in concert with community-based, civilian volunteers who participate in disaster response as part of non-governmental agencies. Thus, for health professionals both civilian and military, disaster events are of great concern. This review of the literature provides an overview of disaster studies and anecdotal articles that reveal some of the difficulties and lessons learned over time and recommend research topics for future studies.

Politics or Risks? An Analysis of Homeland Security Grant Allocations to the States; Stacia Gilliard-Matthews, West Virginia University and Anne L. Schneider, Arizona State University

In the days following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the nation’s elected officials created the USA Patriot Act. The act included a grant program for the 50 states that was intended to assist them with homeland security and preparedness efforts. However, not long after its passage, critics charged the Department of Homeland Security with allocating the grant funds on the basis of “politics” rather than “risk.” This study analyzes the allocation of funds through all seven of the grant subprograms for the years 2003 through 2006. Conducting a linear regression analysis for each year, our research indicates that the total per capita amounts are inversely related to risk factors but are not related at all to partisan political factors between 2003-2005. In 2006, Congress changed the formula with the intention of increasing the relationship between allocations and risk. However, our findings reveal that this change did not produce the intended effect and the allocations were still negatively related to risk and unrelated to partisan politics.

Understanding the Dynamics of Emergency Communication: Propositions for a Four-Channel Model; Laura E. Pechta, Wayne State University; Dale C. Brandenburg, Wayne State University; Matthew W. Seeger, Wayne State University

Researchers from a variety of fields have demonstrated the importance of communication in the management of emergencies. In fact, communication is arguably a core function that, if practiced effectively, can significantly enhance preparedness, improve coordination and cooperation, empower the public, facilitate logistics, reduce public anxiety and generally limit and mitigate harm. Much of this research on emergency communication, however, fails to capture the complex elements of the communication process, including the multiple stakeholders involved, the complex interactions between agencies, the diverse needs of various publics and the evolving role of the mass media and new communication technologies including social networks. While emergency management approaches typically view communication as a static, one-way process, current approaches emphasize the dynamic features of communication.

In this work, we seek to characterize the role of the public as participants (via social networking) in the process of emergency communication. In doing so, we draw upon research associated with communication between emergency response agencies on mass media and disasters. A four-channel model of communication is proposed as a way to connect previous research and represent the dynamics of emergency communication taking into account the use of new mobile technologies especially cell phones and internet-based tools. We argue that this model offers a technological enhancement to the use of emergent networks commonly found in the aftermath of large-scale emergencies. We then discuss ways in which the four-channel model could change the characterization of the emergency management communication structure.

Decision Evaluation of Response Strategies in Emergency Management Using Imprecise Assessments; Aron Larsson, Mid Sweden University; Love Ekenberg, Stockholm University; Mats Danielson, Stockholm University

This paper focuses on the decision evaluation of different response strategies in emergency management utilizing decision analysis with imprecise information. A method for the selection of response strategies in emergency management, as well as a model for the representation of catastrophic consequences, are proposed. In emergency management decision problems, the available estimates of probabilities, utilities, costs, and priority weights are often subject to large degrees of uncertainty and imprecision. When uncertainty prevails in the input data and large societal values are at stake, coping with this lack of precision becomes very important in decision making processes. The method employs representation of imprecision in probabilities, utilities, and weights on attributes in the form of interval statements and comparisons together with a formal, comprehensive, and comprehensible description of a catastrophic consequence facilitating the use of preferential statements between catastrophic consequences. The method proposed can be viewed as a more frugal decision analysis method, decreasing the efforts needed in elicitation of input statements which often is a cumbersome threshold for the use of decision analysis techniques. It is suggested as a complement to cost/benefit approaches and other approaches relying on inaccessible probabilistic data either when probability assessments regarding catastrophic events are too uncertain or when pure monetary scales are deemed inadequate.

Towards Shared Situational Awareness and Actionable Knowledge – An Enhanced, Human-Centered Paradigm for Public Health Information System Design; Chiehwen Ed Hsu, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston; William Chris Chambers, The University of Maryland School of Public Health; John R. Herbold, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston; Joshua C. Calcote, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston; Robert S. Ryczak, US Army; Robert F. DeFraites, US Army

Technology has exerted an increasingly dominant influence on the ways and means that objectives of informatics projects are pursued and has extended the capabilities of informatics systems in general. However, literature examining the importance of human links between situational awareness-related processes and decision-making capabilities remains relatively sparse. Substantial knowledge gaps exist in information system implementation between technology and public health surveillance. The purpose of this article is to present an enhanced conceptual framework, built upon innovative perspectives of a human-centered paradigm of implementation, to enable and enhance human-centric decision-making. To clarify this concept, we employ a case of situational awareness in the setting of a recent command post exercise in order to illustrate core concepts and practices. We divide the framework into methods, tools, and goals to broaden the context of discussion, and conclude with lessons learned from this field operation exercise. The present study could be of value to military commanders, policy leaders, and analysts across multiple disciplines, such as in the public health, counterinsurgency, and bioterrorism surveillance communities.

Catastrophe and “a revolution of the mind”

Filed under: Catastrophes,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on October 5, 2010

Editorial Note: For the last few months I have been responsible for Thursday posts at Homeland Security Watch.  Starting this week I will begin posting on Friday.  But I am sometimes impatient.  Below is a Tuesday editorial from DAWN – a leading newspaper in Pakistan — it captures what has been on my mind and is so much more credible than anything I would offer.  The consequences of the floods are still morphing.  The strategic implications of the floods — as well as the very tough human outcomes – are still emerging.  Shame on us if we do not engage the emergency while it might still be channeled in a roughly positive direction.  If catastrophe is what emerges and we have failed to do what we could — when we could —  what would this prove regarding our commitment to justice or care for neighbor or, more simply, a reasonably cynical recognition of near-term self-interest?

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The lead editorial in the Tuesday, October 5 edition of DAWN

THE FORGOTTEN FLOODS

This summer the worst humanitarian crisis to have hit Pakistan — a country which has seen earthquakes, floods, droughts, insurgencies small and large and the loss of territory to date — in its entire history took place. But listen to the comments of politicians, glance through a newspaper or watch the news on television and it would seem like nothing of the sort took place over the summer.

Instead, political non-events, a judiciary-executive ‘clash’, a sporting scandal and sundry other, more minor, issues have combined to push the floods and their aftermath off the national radar. Where once politicians rushed to be seen among the ‘20-million’ flood victims, where TV anchors jostled to report breathlessly on the damage caused to hundreds of thousands of homes and rural infrastructure, where newspapers reported gravely on the destruction of millions of acres of standing crops and hundreds of thousands of livestock lost, now there is nothing. And ‘nothing’ is really not an understatement.

With the floodwaters having receded in most areas, excluding some significant parts in downstream Sindh, the emergency relief phase ought to be moving into the medium- and long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction phases in most flood-hit parts. But Pakistanis at large, other than the actual victims of the floods one presumes, know very little about what is being done by the state or international aid agencies or even the private sector here. It is as if the greatest natural disaster to hit this country, or most other countries for that matter, never really happened. Surely, with the nation’s attention diverted towards the theatre (or is it farce?) of politics in Islamabad, the on-ground realities of the flood victims and their future is being adversely impacted. To say this is not gratuitous criticism, but to know that even where the full attention of the state and society is applied to a problem, the desired outcomes are rarely achieved.

The point here is not to specifically criticise a particular government, a broken bureaucracy, an apathetic state, a disillusioned public or a cynical media. It is a collective failure that something so spectacularly disastrous as the floods was unable to jolt nation and state into paying close attention for more than a few weeks. The failure here is of the national consciousness. Investing in improving the human condition, especially of the underclass, has never been a priority in Pakistan, be it in terms of health and educational facilities, economic opportunities or life-saving interventions to recover from disasters, natural and man-made. State and society need a radical reorientation, a revolution of the mind, as it were, more than of the system.

October 4, 2010

News Reports: Eight Germans killed while training with Taliban

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

Drone attacks on Taliban targets in Pakistan continue to escalate.   According to breaking news reports, Pakistani intelligence officials indicate eight German nationals being trained by the Taliban were killed in the most recent attack late Sunday night or early Monday morning.

The reported hit on a mosque in Mir Ali in North Waziristan coincided with new warnings from the US, Britain, and Japan related to the possibility of terrorist attacks, especially in Britain, Germany and France.  According to Spiegel Online, “Intelligence and law enforcement officers in both the US and Europe have said that the information regarding the alleged terror plot was obtained during the interrogation of a German arrested in summer on suspicions of terrorism. He was allegedly on his way to Europe when he was detained and is now being held at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.”

Both German and French officials have, however, sought to discourage over-reaction. According to Deutche Welle, the German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizier said, ”There are currently no indications of any immediate threat of attacks planned against Germany. There is no reason whatsoever to be alarmist at the moment.”

Last week the recent increase in US drone attacks inside Pakistan was tied to an effort to disrupt planned Mumbai-type attacks on European cities. (See earlier related post by Homeland Security Watch.)  Late Saturday, ABC News headlined that terrorist teams are already poised to strike.  “The current concerns are for scenarios that include opening fire at airports in Europe as well as executing similar attacks at “soft” targets like tourist attractions or hotels. According to ABC News sources, the terror plotters have moved through the surveillance stage, checked back in with al Qaeda in Pakistan, and have received the go-ahead to strike.”

Both British and Pakistani intelligence officials have estimated that “dozens” of Europeans are currently being trained by the Taliban.  There have been several threats by the Taliban-in-Pakistan to launch attacks against European and US targets.

Late Monday the Telegraph is reporting,” Terrorist cells have already been sent to Britain and Germany to launch Mumbai style terrorist attacks, an al-Qaeda commander has claimed.”

CORRECTION? Subsequent reports by the BBC,  (and others) indicate the suspected terrorists in Mir Ali were killed when the drone hit a private home, not a mosque.

More reports – still mentioning the target hit was a mosque — from the Financial Times and Al Jazeera.

Some later reports are referencing five — rather than eight — Germans being killed.  In any case, the accuracy of such reports can vary widely.  The information almost always depends on paid informants inside the Taliban zone of control.

TUESDAY MORNING UPDATE:  About 4:30AM Eastern The Guardian reports that “at least five” Germans were killed when the drone “fired two missiles into a tribesman’s house.”   The BBC is reporting the bodies of the Germans (maybe only four) have been removed by the Taliban.

The escalated drone campaign combined with European travel alerts has increased public attention to the terrorist threat very much alive in Pakistan.  The Guardian’s report raises the obvious question:

While European officials are taking the US and British alerts seriously, there is speculation among people familiar with the intelligence material about the reasons for the timing of the alarms. “The threat was real, obviously, and it’s not over,” said a European source. “But why it’s been put on the market in this way is a different issue.”

October 1, 2010

Anwar al-Awlaki: Give the devil benefit of the law

Filed under: Legal Issues — by Philip J. Palin on October 1, 2010

   Thomas More confronting Cardinal Wolsey

Yesterday Dan O’Connor offered a comment in the form of a YouTube link.  According to the stats package only two people clicked on the link.  I was one of those.  Looks like Bill Cumming was the other.  I think the three minute link — to a biopic of a late Medieval/early Renaissance politician and lawyer —  is worth your time and relevant to our times… that, as always, try men’s souls.  The link is at the close of this post.

The video is an excerpt from “A Man for All Seasons.”  The man is Sir Thomas More — aka St. Thomas More –  an ambitious, sometimes ruthless, intolerant, repressive, and even cruel political leader who is also remembered as a model jurist, loving father and principled martyr to freedom of conscience.  I believe in a God of paradoxes, More is one of my proofs.

The linked video shows More at his best.  But it is not merely Hollywood hagiography.  More actually wrote, “I would uphold the law if for no other reason but to protect myself.“  The scriptwriter is quoting. (More on More is available from Luminarium.)

In our discussions regarding Mr. al-Awlaki we have disagreed regarding the sources, nature, and meaning of the law. The contributors (discussants?)have tended to perceive those of opposite opinion to be misquided and, even, potentially dangerous.  But we have not questioned the motivations of our opposites nor have we dismissed their arguments.  Rather than arguing, we are engaging in argumentation.   In this attitude and discipline we uphold the law and embrace the opportunity for the law to save us — individually and collectively – when each one of us inevitably chooses what is wrong.

Please view the brief link at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMqReTJkjjg

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